It’s always interesting and a little frustrating to talk to the Brits about the disasters in Iraq and Afghanistan. Having established long and tragic histories in both countries during the 19th and 20th centuries, they took the stunning decision to follow the United States back into both those quagmires in the 21st, and now they’re stuck.
Yet they are full of pith-helmet wisdom from their old colonial days. Thus one rather senior diplomat, who asked to remain anonymous, told me recently that in Afghanistan, “What you [the Americans] need is a civilian viceroy there.” Another equally influential British civil servant started a discussion of Afghanistan’s potential mineral wealth by saying, “If you were a 19th-century empire builder, you would identify the areas with the most resources and put a massive blanket of security there.”
Well, we Americans are not 19th-century empire builders, or at least we never intended to be. But as we struggle to extricate ourselves from the ill-conceived imperium left over by the George W. Bush administration, we might as well admit there are some important lessons to learn from the Britain’s unhappy experiences. No, we don’t need a viceroy. No, we don’t need rapacious industrialists scarfing up mining concessions.
The author goes on to talk about the Rudyard Kipling book Kim. I know, yawn.