The winter of 1915/16 was “quiet” on the Western Front … a brief respite between Ypres (Spring and Summer of 1915) and Mont Sorrel (Spring of 1916). But a century after that “quiet” spell is a good time to look at how we got into the unholy mess called the First World War and where we are, strategically, today,
Only half tongue in cheek, I blame the Irish for the First World War.
As the 19th century drew towards its end the British people and the political classes were, generally, preoccupied with one issue: Home Rule for Ireland. The issue almost literally “sucked all the air our of the (policy) room” and certainly caused too many British politicians to look away from their vested interests and to forget the principles of their largely successful grand strategy:
But French politicians were only too well aware of their problem: Germany. Germany, from the 1830s, was rather like America in the 1850s, Japan, circa 1900 and China today: on the rise, growing quickly, and throwing its weight around, too. There had already been one Franco-Prussian war (1870-71) and then, around the end of the 19th century, it looked as though Germany might have its eyes on French colonies in Africa. (In fact, it appears that the Germans were worried about the French attacking them, seeking revenge for the humiliation of 1871.) The French response was to try to encircle Germany and to this end, France had established the Dual Alliance with Russia in 1892. The British, their confidence in both their policies and their army under strain as a result of the Boer War, and France were both worried by the Russo-Japanese war of (1904-05) which was about to erupt and so ministers met in an effort to resolve their own differences around the globe. The French kept “sweetening the pot” until the British agreed to the Entente Cordiale (1904) which, in my opinion, was the biggest single foreign policy blunder since Edward the Confessor named Harold Godwinson as the protector of his widow and, by implication, King of England … and we all know where that led: 1066 and All That.
Reactions to the Entente Cordiale were mixed …
… the French were overjoyed and the Germans were confused and worried. And all ~ including the hideous losses of the Great War, because the British politicians “lost the plot,” forgot their strategic principles and signed on to an alliance that upset rather than restored the balance of power.
But, that’s all water under the bridge, so to speak, and, as result of the horrors of 1914-18 we ended up with Russian Marxist-Leninist communism, something that would bedevil the world for a large part of the 20th century, and American hyper-puissance about which so many still worry in the 21st.
By the 1920s America was ready for its own golden age, akin to what Britain had enjoyed from the 1830s to the 1890s. The Great Depression and the Second World War got in the way, but each, in its own way, “set up” America for the 1950s when it became both the indispensable nation and also the most generous nation in world history.
Then came the 1960s and, again in my opinion, America, too, “lost the plot.” Although President Dwight Eisenhower had left America with a relatively “clean” strategic plate, the Kennedy administration seemed more inclined to use the military to test the limits of power rather than to promote and protect America’s vital interests. There was, quite simply, no way that Vietnam mattered enough ~ despite John Foster Dulles’ “domino theory,” about which even Eisenhower was sceptical (although he likely coined the term) ~ but President Kennedy cited it when he committed US forces to combat in Viet Nam. But, as I have explained before, the “decisive battle” of the Cold War between Russian communism and Western capitalism was fought in 1959, before Kennedy was elected, when then-Vice President Richard Nixon bested Nikita Khrushchev in an impromptu “debate” at a mock-up of an American kitchen at an exposition in Moscow. Pretty much the whole world saw it and, although it would take another decade for the “news” to sink in at NATO HQ in Brussels, in the Pentagon and in other defence ministries, the “war” was, effectively, won ~ it was all over but the cheering.
But America had found an enemy and no one,not Kennedy and Johnson or Reagan and Clinton, was ready to let it go.
Meanwhile, China shook off the mental chains of communist theory and began, in 1978, to look a lot like Germany circa 1850 … and it still does.
The US-led West should be looking at how we bring China, fully and willingly, into the “family” of great trading nations and require it do its full and fair share of keeping the global peace and freedom of the seas for free traders.
Step 1 is to detach ourselves from the petty, internal squabbles of the Islamic Crescent but, first, we have to slap down Da’esh/ISI/ISIS, and slap it down so hard that its cousins will not be inclined to pick up the pieces …
… then we need to leave the nations of the region, including Egypt, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Turkey to sort out their own problems, in their own ways ~ bloody as they may be. It is fine to sell them all weapons and ammunition, but we should not support one side or another, save, perhaps for Israel, Jordan and Lebanon.
Then we need to turn our, Western (which includes Japan and the Philippines) attentions to the tasks of:
- Bringing China, fully and peacefully, into the community of free trading nations; and
- Expanding trade and commerce so that more and more poor people can be brought into the middle classes.
The key to the growth of middle-class prosperity, which I have said is the key to peace and one of our most vital interests, remains Asia, for now, but every indication is that Africa is poised to grow and change and, for the moment, we have left Africa pretty much to China because we have been preoccupied with the Middle East and South-West Asia. We, all of the US-led West, needs to re-engage with Africa and more fully engage with the Chinese in the “battlefield of ideas,” and our best weapon on that field is the notion of free peoples trading freely for their own benefit and that of their children and grandchildren.
But, first, we need to get over our “enemy fetish.” We don’t need to fabricate enemies, we already have enough. We must swat the enemies we have … hard, and in an exemplary manner, and that means that we, Canada, must have adequate military forces to do our full and fair share of the swatting … lest we are “left out” of the strategic decision making.
The situation, in my mind, is clear enough. We need to convince the West, our friends and allies, to change course, to develop a coherent global strategy that leads all of us, including China and Africa into an era of peace and prosperity. We have gotten it wrong before, by forgetting our own vital interests. Let’s do it right, this time.