Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Ferguson: Historian as Commentator

This long interview of Ferguson about his cover story in Newsweek about the Obama Administration's actions in Egypt raises a really interesting background question: does a deep knowledge of history give one a deeper insight into current events? Does Ferguson, who certainly is well versed in the history of the last couple of centuries, have greater insight into current events? Some random thoughts:
1. Ferguson loves controversy. I think this love of controversy may cloud his judgment.
2. As I mentioned in a comment to my last post (yes, I'm down to commenting on my own posts!), the author of Virtual History should know better than to criticize those who fail to forecast events.
3. I think that he is right in pushing the idea of scenarios. That is, consideration of multiple futures, not knowing which will prevail. Acknowledge the limitation of knowledge.
4. Is the Muslim Brotherhood so strong and so reactionary? I don't know. Does he, really?
5. He mocks Obama for calling Islam and religion of peace, and certainly a lot of evidence that it's not. But would he mock anyone if they said Christianity is a religion of peace? Certainly a lot of evidence that it's not. Religion, for a great many people, is considered no more seriously than their choice of language. They're born with it, enough said. This allows those who want to, to manipulate people rather easily toward violence. Violence and religion have an awfully long history. (See Rene Girard's works.)
6. I have some sympathy for Ferguson's argument that we need some greater sense of grand strategy.
7. One more interview on Parker-Spitzer: http://parkerspitzer.blogs.cnn.com/2011/02/14/niall-ferguson-obamas-handling-of-the-egyptian-crisis-was-a-foreign-policy-debacle/.
8. Perhaps U.S. policy was wise to play it both ways? Ferguson is quite critical of this, but I'm not convinced that it will necessarily prove so bad. You play both sides of the street, hedge your bets. If you don't screw the winner, the winner can forget easily enough if you offer the right attitude following. On the other hand: Iran 1979.

1 comment:

Stephen N. Greenleaf, Esq. said...

Another critique of Ferguson that I find a fair consideration: Jack Goldberg writing for The Atlantic: http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2011/02/niall-fergusons-deeply-unconvincing-obama-attack/71289/.