In light of the cease-fire that Trump has negotiated in Syria, Ace has some interesting comments. Do read the whole thing, but this is what I’m thinking about:
Is everything fixed, then?
Let me answer that with a question: Is anything ever fixed?
When I was younger and less experienced — and had seen less war — I was a big believer in the Rumsfeld Doctrine, “if the problem seems unsolvable, enlarge it,” that is, don’t chew about the edges if chewing about the edges doesn’t solve things, but go for the whole sandwich if need be.
I also believed the empty Neocon slogans about appeasement and Hitler and Clinton “just kicking the can down the road” in Iraq.
The empty sloganeering went like this: If we don’t permanently solve our diplomatic/military crises once and for ever, then we’re just “kicking the can down the road” and deferring problems until later.
It is very difficult to permanently solve problem – by war or diplomacy. But if you can get the shooting to stop for a significant period of time and allow people to get on with their lives, you’ve done well. We don’t know what will come out of the Syria deal – the problem is most emphatically not solved because most Kurds live in Turkey and Iran and while this is so, at least a portion of the Kurd population will pine for unity with their brothers. But, maybe this deal with allow the Iraqi and Syrian Kurds to start building a life and, just perhaps, rising stability and wealth will make the Kurds outside Turkey less willing to tangle with the Turks? Who knows; and maybe in 5 or 10 years there will be another crisis…and if there is, our job will be to assess our interests and only if we feel there is something crucial concerning us should we offer more than our good offices.
Kicking the can down the road is also not entirely a bad thing. In 1878, the Great Powers of Europe were at loggerheads over what to do with Turkish territory conquered by the Russians in a recent war. Russia, the victor in the war, naturally wanted to have everything her own way. But Austria and Britain weren’t keen on Russian domination in the Balkans. The Germans were at cross purposes because they were trying to keep on good terms with both Russia and Austria. Turkey, naturally, wanted to recover the lost territories. In the end, the British Prime Minister Disreali brokered a settlement which gave Russia some of what she wanted but not total domination of the Balkans.
What is interesting at the time was that the Austrian government was a bit divided on what to do – some arguing for peace even if Russia got advantage, others wanting war to the knife to push the Russians back. The “war to the knife” side saw that whatever deal was made, if it didn’t totally push Russia out, it would just be kicking the can down the road. That the basic problem would remain and would eventually flare up again. And, they were right. The 1914 war was started in roughly the same area and over roughly the same issue: who was to dominate the Balkans? An argument could have been made that the issue should have been fought to a finish in 1878 rather than 1914 – but, had it happened in 1878 then it doesn’t mean that peace and reason would then become triumphant. The aftermath of the actual war to the knife is now known and it isn’t pretty. But by making peace in 1878, the peoples of Europe were spared a major war for 36 years. That is quite a long time, actually. It was a pity that when 1914 came there were no Statesmen of the stature of Disreali (nor any generals who could win the war quickly), but who could foresee that? But even if someone had negotiated an 11th hour agreement in 1914 (as they did the year before in 1913 after the Balkan nations had fought Turkey), it still wouldn’t have solved the problem. Until Russia surrendered her desire for domination of the Balkans, war was always a prospect in the area.
As Ace also points out, World War Two is a bit unique. We were clearly attacked out of the blue and without just cause. Our enemy in Hitler was a purely evil man who had to be destroyed. And we unleashed unlimited power against the enemy – the destruction we wrought was only limited by our capacity to deliver it to the enemy. Had the war in Europe gone on past August of 1945, then Berlin would have been nuked rather than Hiroshima. The level of violence was really astonishing – especially after the allied armies broke into Germany. It is fairly well known how the Russians behaved – and orgy of rape, murder and pillage – but less well known is what the Anglo-American and French forces did. There wasn’t the mass rape and murder that accompanied the Russian invasion (though the French – via their Algerian troops – did permit a great deal of rape as revenge for German rapes in France) but the slightest resistance was met with overwhelming firepower; a great deal of looting went on; Germans were kicked out of their houses to provide billets for allied soldiers. It was a crushing, overwhelming defeat – a defeat so complete that the militarist Germans simply gave up on the concept. But, such a thing is unlikely to repeat itself: both in having such a purely evil enemy and having a political situation where ruthless application of power is possible.
So, can kicking isn’t a completely wrong thing to do. In fact, it is probably the best we can accomplish in most circumstances. With the hope that if its kicked far enough, it will be replaced by some other problem down the road. Because until the End, there will always be problems. There will always be people who feel they have been cheated and/or who think they have a right to someone else’s belongings. Because of this, war will always be in prospect and will, at times, break out. Our job is to permanently have a military ready to fight and then first try our hardest to broker a settlement and, failing that, give the enemy such a lesson about American power that they’ll shy away from trying it a second time. Other than that, we can only wait and see what happens and then deal with it as it arises.
In light of this, permanent alliances and international bodies are a blind ally: they commit us to certain actions even though future events might make a mockery of our commitment. Think about Turkey: suppose we had decided to fight them? Well, as they are NATO allies, that would technically require Spain to go to war against us in defense of their NATO ally Turkey. We hope for friendship – or at least tolerable relations – with all nations; but we can never tell what the future will bring. And, so, we can’t tie our hands in advance – we have to be free to decide as situations arise how we will deal with them.
They say we had to get into NATO and the UN because the world was changing and this is what we needed – but precisely because the world is changing (and always has and always will) it was wrong to get into them. It is time for us to disentangle ourselves and just move forward on the path which seems best to us at the time. It is time, that is, to start kicking the can down the road rather than rushing to war.