Monday, December 10, 2012


"The scholarly field embraced by this lively synthesis is busy, presently crossing into the 1970s, facilitated by arbitrary British and United States declassification schedules and the subsequent 'race to the archives'. The resultant source-bound redactions tend to privilege post-war British high official mentalities, which in turn has preserved the conceit of an 'Anglo-American Middle East'. Jeffrey R. Macris's book has this tendency, despite strong evidence, particularly economic and US ideological, that this idea was a naïve if not deluded British hope. Post-Second World War British elite overtures aimed at regenerating Britain's hegemony (with American help) were admittedly persistent. But they foundered, in all but contingent military respects, against steadfast American refusal to embrace full-scale political, economic, and regional system building, both in the Persian Gulf and the wider global periphery. Commander Macris's main aim is to seek instructive indications in British experience for future American methods of securing key Persian Gulf interests. But to put this beyond the realm of constructive anachronism demands recognition of why, essentially, British pre-eminence was so inimical to American overseas policy that, despite some Vietnam-era separation anxiety, it was cut loose in favor of prime security relations with Iran and Saudi Arabia, whatever this may ultimately have entailed. In many respects, how and why the British empire worked is indeed instructive for American policy-makers, but mostly to show how, in a cautionary sense, redemptive self-projection abroad so easily metamorphoses into various forms of antagonistic encumbrance. Current meditations on the meanings of empire, from right and left, embrace a wide array of metropolitan, colonizer, subaltern, cultural, economic, ideological and geographic perspectives.1 Macris sticks to politics and security, which are but two relevant analytical themes, albeit in need of new thinking. These themes however are the ones most frequently dismissed in current post-colonial scholarship as reactionary and inauthentic to the processes experienced by the imperialized 'other', whose voices should be traced and included uppermost, if real understanding is to follow. The key to the American epiphany on the Persian Gulf, during the Second World War, is nonetheless opposition to Britain's plans for a comprehensive and radical integration of strategic hegemony with political, economic and social 'guided development. By 1971 the latter had evaporated for lack of the U.S. underwriting which Britain had solicited in various forms since the days of Lend Lease. American forms of influence were deliberately less formal than British. But by 1991, and again in 2003, these forms of influence nonetheless required armed intervention to sustain. Macris explores how, from the late eighteenth century until 1971, British dominance at limited liability might suggest a model for future United States engagement".</blockquote>
Simon Davis, "Review." H-Diplo. 26 November 2012 in
"I have a different aim. In investigating Anglo-American policies toward Europe in war and peace, my book is concerned with British efforts to influence the Roosevelt and Truman administrations. It discusses Britain's attempts to keep America involved in Continental affairs after war and eventually to assume the burden of Greece. Above all this study deals with an issue that is fundamental in understanding the origins of the cold war: the evolution of Anglo-American relations towards the Soviet Union from wartime cooperation to the Truman Doctrine".
Terry Anderson. The United States, Great Britain and the Cold War, 1944-1947. (1981), pp. viii-ix.
The two above quotations present to the innocent reader something in the nature of a puzzle as to how one can readily explain the recent evolution of the field of Diplomatic History. Specifically, how a once ultra-empirical and fact based field of knowledge has in a good many instances devolved into something akin to the intellectual equivalent of bad porridge. It would appear that the infamous 'linguistic turn' has reared its ugly head in the once quiet and scholarly genre of diplomatic history. A field of study which was not so many years ago, labeled (not entirely inaccurately) as the study of 'what one clerk said to another clerk'. As to a concrete answer as to 'why', my own surmise would be something along the following lines: i) the need to 'popular' (with one's fellow academics of course); ii) the need to display and or better yet, be seen to display so-called 'cutting edge' scholarship (we shall leave aside the fact that much of what passes as 'scholarship' which is currently characterized as 'cutting edge' is in fact little more than an intellectual form of self-abuse / self-gratification). In short, the field has been subverted by people (one is not entirely sure if one can class them 'historians') who au fond have little or no interest in the field of diplomatic history qua diplomatic history and a great deal of interest in being seeh as being very comme il faute. In the case of Dr. Simon Davis, it is rather clear that for him the field of Diplomatic History is merely a stepping stone to some sort of gauchist apotheosis. Since, teaching as he does at 'Bronx Community College', he can hardly expect his poor students to be able to follow his mental ruminations in the upper regions of what one may term for lack of a better way of phrasing it: 'hot air'. In short, we are face to face with that paradox of intellectual chicanery first identified by Lewis Carroll:
'Then you should say what you mean', the March Hare went on. 'I do,' Alice hastily replied 'at least---at least I mean what I say---that's the same thing, you know.' 'Not the same thing a bit!' said the Hatter, 'Why, you might just as well say that 'I see what I eat' is the same thing as I eat what I see!'


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