Mark Twain is often quoted as having said that “history doesn’t repeat itself but it often rhymes.” There’s no evidence that Twain said that, but it doesn’t matter who said it when any thinking student of history knows it to be true.
Today’s question: is there a rhyme for our time?
After Germany violated the Versailles treaty by remilitarizing the Rhineland in March of 1936, the victors in World War could’ve taken decisive military action to enforce the peace treaty. As you may know, the Rhineland is the German industrial heartland.
The German military was weak in 1936, so if the allies had taken action, the history books might have read “France and Britain invade Germany to enforce peace treaty, one million people perish, democratically elected German leader Adolf Hitler imprisoned.”
But European “leaders” took no action. Three years later, war broke out anyway. Their inaction clearly emboldened Hitler. Instead of “just a million” dying, tens of millions of Europeans died, and tens of millions more from other parts of the world.
The above is an original thought I had years ago, and many others have surely had the same thought independently of me. And so when I think about Syria and North Korea and other geopolitical threats, and question the action taken against Syria last week, I also understand very clearly the risks of inaction.
Reasonable people can and do reasonably disagree about Trump’s decision to launch a cruise missile strike against an air base in Syria. However, what bothers me is the breezy gung-ho-ho-ho (to coin a phrase) of the most strident supporters of military action in every situation. They speak with the same self-assured and misplaced bravado we have heard from them so many times since 2001.
These people speak as if US-created regime change in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya have all been a success. It has not. Remember also that the best laid plans of and intervention by the CIA in Iran during three decades led directly to the overthrow of the Shah in 1979. In the end, what did we get in Iran for all those efforts? An oppressive islamist government, increasingly dangerous to the US and its allies, that has now been in power for almost four decades.
Looking outside the Middle East for a moment: has our support for the overthrow of a corrupt but fairly elected Ukraine government been a success? Critically review events in the Ukraine over the last 4 years and then judge for yourself.
As events develop, remember that not all chimes are wind chimes. Anybody who tries to chime in with the wind chimes will only find themselves alone and confused as the wind speeds increase and the wind chimes of war are blown away.
Get your own foreign policy chime, keep it out of the wind and play it as you see fit. Support effective action for whatever outcome you desire, and be skeptical of policies that have already proven to be failures.