Friday, March 24, 2006

The Smoke and Mirrors of Rich Lowry

Commentary by Martin Kelly
January 21, 2005

You just can’t keep a good neocon down.

Amidst the wreckage of what they’ve done, you’ll always find one who’ll say that nothing in Iraq is as bad as it seems, and that we all just need to stay the course and everything will work out just fine. This assertion will always be accompanied by an allusion to a document from which a few judicious quotes or general examples can be cobbled into an apparently reasonable argument supporting their case.

It’s all smoke and mirrors, of course, and a classic example appeared on the January 18 ‘National Review Online’, courtesy of the parent rag’s wunderkind editor, Rich Lowry.

Before he started rooting for arguments in the undergrowth of British colonial history, one of Lowry’s principal claims to fame is that on March 7 2002, he expressed ‘lots of sentiment for nuking Mecca’, a statement followed shortly thereafter by “By that call I did not mean an actual strike on Mecca. The article was only a literary fantasy and should not be considered more than that”.

In his defence, Lowry was writing in NRO’s ‘Corner’, a blog so pretentious and inward-looking it brings to mind the scene in ‘Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers’ where, after being startled by the sound of Fangorn Forest, Legolas exclaims ‘The trees are speaking to each other!’

But the boy demagogue certainly doesn’t get a free pass for his other infractions. Although it was the hatchet man David Frum who penned the NR’s disgusting ‘Unpatriotic Conservatives’ piece of March 2003, it was Lowry who passed it fit for publication. They are both equally culpable.

Amidst his other duties, which seem to include the incessant advertising of his TV appearances, Lowry pens a column for King Features Syndicate, and the January 18 effort was reprinted on NRO. It carried the innocuous title, ‘Been There, Done That’.

The focus of his piece was, unsurprisingly, that although the insurgency in Iraq looks bleak, there are historical analogies that mean the situation may not be as dire as it appears and that insurgency campaigns can be defeated. Referring to a book called ‘Counterinsurgency Lessons from Malaya and Vietnam’ Lowry set out to prove that the techniques adopted by the Brits in quelling the post-World War Two insurgency in Malaya could be successfully adopted in Iraq.

He failed. Utterly.

In fairness, he was failing even before he mentioned the title of the book. He referred to ‘the recent qualified victory of the British over the Irish Republican Army’. Victory? What victory? Former death squad commanders like Gerry Adams, the leader of the Provisional IRA’s political wing Sinn Fein, being permitted to sit in the Northern Ireland Assembly after they’ve ‘lost’ is a victory? A victory where the ‘losers’ refuse to hand over their guns? Yes, that’s victory! Now we know what the neocons mean when they talk about victory! Head for the hills!

He then says, ‘(given) their colonial history, the British had plenty of experience with such low-intensity conflicts, but had forgotten it after the conventional warfare in Europe of World War II.’ This insight may surprise the surviving veterans of Special Operations Executive, the Special Air Service and the Chindits, units that spent much of WWII engaged in low-intensity, guerrilla-type campaigns against the Axis in Europe, North Africa and Burma.

Lowry then narrated some of the techniques by which the Malayan insurgency, which started in 1948 and which was winning by 1950, was brought under control – smaller ops; securing the minorities; building a Malayan Army; organising elections; and promising independence. He fails to mention neither the Malayan Special Branch’s relaxed attitude to the muscular interrogation of suspects nor its indifference to assassination as an operational tool, perhaps other features the campaigns have in common.

But then, blithely and utterly without irony, Lowry finished his analogy with this sentence, the sheer import of which seems to have escaped him:

“Slowly, the air went out of the insurgency, which was officially declared over in 1960, 12 years after it began”.


It looks like the neoconservatives have the patience for a very long haul in Iraq, a very long haul indeed. Lowry should ask himself if his beliefs merit inflicting 12 years of body bags on America for the purposes of ending an insurgency in somebody else’s country, made possible by those who share those beliefs.

Because these are the reasons why Lowry’s analogy is totally wrong. Malaya was sovereign British territory; the insurgency was a threat to an already established colonial government to which the majority of Malayans were willing to show loyalty. Iraq was not American territory; the insurgency is only there because the neos insisted American troops had to go there. In Malaya, the insurgents were not fighting a force widely believed to be occupiers; in Iraq, the insurgents are. The Malayan insurgency did not appeal to the patriotism of most Malayans, based as it was on ethnic lines; the Iraqi insurgency might just appeal to the patriotism of some Iraqis, citizens of a nation independent for decades. And that’s even without mentioning the absence of any religious ideology on the part of the Malayan insurgents, unlike the current batch of Iraqi neck-smiters, souped up on petrodollar Wahhabism.

The whole analogy is dud. It’s a pity that the worldview Rich Lowry enjoys from his ivory tower doesn’t let him see it.
And by the way, Rich, over the course of the last 40 years there have been at least four IRA’s - the Official; the Provisional; the Continuity; and the Real. Make sure you know which one you’re talking about next time. For other readers, he was referring to the Provisional.