Thursday, July 5, 2007

From Defeat, an Empire

Here's a very interesting op-ed piece in today's NYT from a retired British general, on the global implications of the US War of Independence. Does this sound familiar?

Instead of trying to isolate the rebels and gain the support of the loyalist and uncommitted colonials, the British spent much of their time defending their bases and maintaining their supply lines, only occasionally venturing out on punitive expeditions. They never succeeded in cutting off the heartland of rebel resistance in New England by taking control of the Hudson River Valley. Nor was the British Army — the finest in the world — ever able to establish sufficient security in the countryside or counter rebel propaganda. It soon came to be regarded as foreign occupation force.

Finally, the British were never able to prevent a steady flow of arms, ammunition, instructors and fighters from entering the colonies from abroad. Thus Washington, whose Continental Army was down to a few thousand fit soldiers, managed to survive the harsh winter of 1777-78 at Valley Forge and rebuild his military strength. When the British switched their main effort to the Southern colonies, Nathanael Greene, probably the most successful insurgent leader in military history until Mao Zedong, was able to wear down Cornwallis’s army in the Carolinas to a point where Washington, now reinforced by the French, was able to beat the British in a conventional battle at Yorktown.

General Rose's conclusion:

Today, of course, the United States finds itself in much the same position as Britain in 1781. Distracted and diminished by an irrelevant, costly and probably unwinnable war in Iraq, America could ultimately find itself challenged by countries like China and India. Unless it can find a leader with the moral courage of Pitt, there is a strong probability that it will be forced to relinquish its position as the global superpower — possibly to a regime that does not have the same commitment to justice and liberty that the United States and Britain have worked so hard to extend across the world over the past two centuries.

Who shall that leader be?


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