April 08, 2004


Okay, take as a given the Americans can't leave Iraq, if only for geostrategic reasons. Also assume that the violence this month is, in its own way, an opportunity... giving the Americans lots of freedom to revise their future arrangements for Iraqi self-rule, if the new plan promises to lead to a reduction in the violence. Also accept that there's very little anyone else in the world can do to rein the U.S. in from what it decides to do. Finally, assume that the endstate is to have the American military in Iraq pointing OUT, ie to do something, anything, rather than kill rebellious Iraqis.

The standard response to how to then "fix things" in Iraq have so far amounted to either a) send in more American troops; or b) rely more on international troops, by giving the UN a role, or c) re-establish and train an Iraqi army. None of these are proving palatable alternatives, for all kinds of reasons. An American troop increase would necessitate an increase in military spending and in manning levels... even then it would require the American military running all out just keeping Iraq going for up to three years until the additional brigades came on line and were usable. Foreign troops are scarce, and unmotivated, as their countries really have no stake in the Iraq outcome worth the body bags. And the Iraqi army, having been short-sightedly abolished, is showing a Dumpty-like distaste for reassembly.

So. What can you do? This was, it should be noted, not a big problem for the British in their expansionist phase. They, too, had a strong domestic resistance to increasing the standing army, or foreign military adventurism in general. So the traders who went overseas in the 1600s and 1700s had to shift for themselves. For most, this wasn't so bad, as North American Indians and Caribbean natives proved uninterested in fighting back for the most part, and the English army and navy could be counted on to weigh in if a foreign power got involved, sooner or later. In India, where there already was a substantial population, however, they had to try something else.

Between roughly 1645 and 1670, the Honorable East India Company raised its own nucleus of private military companies, comprising ex-English soldiers (Civil War veterans mostly, one suspects), which it then relied on for the defence of its trading forts until 1748. These units weren't security guards... the actual businesses and establishments used native-recruited "chowdikars" for that. Their primary purpose was to resist any kind of native revolt, and their secondary purpose to resist attacks by the French or their native proxies (the French in India relied from the start on European-trained and officered troops, not European ones). There were no English regular troops in India at all, in fact, before 1754. The naval equivalent, the Bombay Marine, was the leading agency in the fight against Indian Ocean piracy at this time... they had numerous large purpose-built fighting ships, and were seen as as good ship per ship as the Royal Navy itself.

By 1748, the John Company army consisted of two European infantry units, the Bombay (European) Regiment and the Madras Europeans, each with attached artillery. It was in that year that Maj. Stringer Lawrence took command of this force, and started recruiting native sepoys to expand its ranks, as the French had done for decades. Europeans found new roles as officers of the new sepoy units, and in an expanded (for the moment, all-white) artillery. By 1751, the force Clive commanded at the seige of Arcot was only 40% European. At Clive's victory at Plassey in 1757, white John Company personnel were officers and gunners for the most part, although all-white privately-recruited infantry units would remain part of John Company forces for another century.

In the case of India, necessity, and distance from the homeland, worked together to ease any concerns the British peoples might have had about retaining a state "monopoly of force." A similar approach could conceivably be grafted onto the Iraq situation, if the American people were also willing to relax that restriction. The key first step would be contracting out the formation of the new Iraqi army to some of the private contractors already providing the CPA and the major corporations with their security, and gradually removing the American military from that role as much as possible.

Problems? Oh, there's all sorts of them. I'm just pointing it out as how a similar problem was once handled by the last empire, that's all.

Posted by BruceR at 05:43 PM


For god's sake, someone shut down CBC Newsworld and spend the taxpayers' money on something useful. Antiques F'ing Roadshow all last night. Canada's "news channel." Jeez.

Posted by BruceR at 03:01 PM


(See previous post.) Just putting together a few key dates in one place, for reference in what may be an interesting historical aside for some:

1612: The Hon East India Company (hereafter the Company) sets up first factory in India in Surat. Indian Marine (a private Company navy) is formed.
1635: First shipbuilding for the Indian Marine.
1639: The Company establishes itself in Madras.
1645: First records of European soldiers (independent companies of soldiers-for-hire, raised in England) employed by the Company in Madras.
1652: First appearance of European soldiers (30-strong) protecting Company holdings in Bengal.
1658: Headquarters of Company's military wing established in Madras.
1668: Britain turns over recently-captured port of Bombay to the Company. Security handed over to the Bombay Regiment, a privately raised unit comprising soldiers-for-hire recruited in Europe. First record of native soldiers (sepoys) being recruited.
1686: Company naval headquarters moved to Bombay; Indian Marine renamed as "Bombay Marine."
1690: Company founds Calcutta. Company possessions in this area defended by six companies of European Company troops, beginnings of the Bengal Army.

(fast forward a bit)

1757: Bengal Army under Clive defeats Indians at Plassey, securing all of Bengal for the Company
1760: Bombay Marine under Pocock drives French Navy out of Indian Ocean without Royal Navy assistance.

Posted by BruceR at 02:01 PM


I'm beginning to think what we're seeing in Iraq is the haphazard re-emergence of something that history hasn't seen for a while: a non-national armed force.

The most famous, and perhaps largest such, would be the Army of the East India Company ("John Company"), which comprised the strongest military force in India from 1668 to 1857, when it was absorbed into the Indian Army.

Company forces started out as a small group of private European (ie, white) military units, raised to serve the company in India solely, that were augmented with native-raised units as well (the Sepoy regiments). The British kept only a handful of British army units in India (the "Queen's Regiments"), mostly for use against external threats, with the Company army handling internal security for the most part. In situations like the Afghan wars, the "British" commander could take units from both armies, as needed. Only individual rank was not generally transferable between the two forces.

Much of India wasn't controlled by the Company, of course... many nominally independent princely states kept their own militaries to police their own areas, often with their own European officers. More on how this could end up applying to Iraq in a later post.

There's actually a Canadian precedent here, too, by the way: another "Company of Adventurers" deeded land by the Crown, the Northwest Company, may not have needed their own standing army for their more sparsely inhabited territory, but they did assemble a Corps of Voyageurs in the War of 1812 to fight alongside handfuls of British troops: being present at the capture of Mackinac in 1812, its successful defence in 1814, and the capture of Prairie du Chien in 1814. The first Mackinac victory had the convenient side effect (for the Montreal-based company) of crippling the operations of the American Fur Company, the Albany-based Astor concern. A year later, Astor's employees in Oregon would choose to sell/surrender their trading fort in that territory, then the only "American" fort on the Pacific, to another Northwest Company armed expedition, rather than defend it. This touched off a boundary dispute that would take some time for Britain and America to settle.

Posted by BruceR at 01:05 PM


Although it doesn't say specifically, given that it's an abandonment involving Ukrainian troops, with one fatality, it's likely this is an eyewitness account of the seige and abandonment of the Kut base by an American soldier on scene.

UPDATE: Account moved here.

Posted by BruceR at 12:15 PM


"All this will involve great sacrifices and the expenditure not only of much money, but of more of the English blood of which the noblest has already been poured forth. And we are not so strong as we were. At first all nations sympathized with us, but now they look on us coldly and even with hostility. Those who were our friends have become indifferent, those who were indifferent have become our adversaries; and if our misfortunes and disasters go on much longer we shall have Europe saying that they can not trust us, that we are too weak, that our prestige is too low to justify us in undertaking this task."

--Salisbury again, same speech.

Posted by BruceR at 12:27 AM


"Maybe we should have incinerated Fallujah... The only solution I see now is to crush these attackers with overwhelming force, and do so as quickly as possible. And if that means razing Fallujah and Ramadi, so be it."

--Bill Quick, Daily Pundit

"We were told that they were going to smash the Mahdi, but now we are to make peace with the smashed Mahdi. If you smash the Mahdi thoroughly he will be of no use to you, and if you do not smash him thoroughly he may maintain at the bottom of his heart a certain resentment against the process of being smashed."

--Robert Arthur Talbot Gascoyne-Cecil, 3d Marquess of Salisbury, speaking in 1885, the last time a "Mahdi" took arms against the West.

Posted by BruceR at 12:13 AM