Tuesday, April 11, 2006

War, what's it good for? Absolutely, maybe, something?

I was reading the story yesterday about reports the Bush administration is preparing for an invasion of Iran, and I was reminded of a paper I wrote as a naive young high schooler on the topic Is War Ever Necessary, or something along those lines.

What got me thinking of that high school social studies exercise was this line in the Globe and Mail story, on the White House's view of the current Iranian regime:

… the White House regards Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as a potential Adolf Hitler who must be stopped.

Clearly, Bush et al are looking for a new selling-point for any future potential military. Iran hasn't invaded Kuwait so that's out, and while, ironically, the whole weapons of mass destruction thing might be a little more relevant here, once bitten twice shy. I guess they're hoping to gain more traction with Hitler references, and putting jokes about playing the Nazi card aside, while I'm not buying it, it is an interesting argument.

The Rhineland

In that high school paper I wrote oh so many years ago I used the Versailles Treaty, Hitler, the Nazis and the Rhineland to argue sometimes war can be necessary.

For the non-history majors out there, in the Treaty of Versailles that ended WW I a defeated Germany agreed to demilitarize the Rhineland, an area of Germany bordering France. In 1936, Hitler moved troops into the Rhineland in violation of Versailles, and France and England had every right to send in troops and kick them out. Germany still being very weak at that time, if they had Hitler would have quickly retreated in disgrace and might well have fallen from power. Instead, wrecked by indecision and internal political turmoil England and France did nothing, continuing their policy of appeasement, and Hitler got even bolder.

20/20, and The Prime Directive

So, a minor military exercise in 1936 could have prevented the bloodbath of World War Two. While in hindsight it makes a pretty compelling case for preemptive War, what was so clear even in 1940 wasn't so clear in 1936. Even if his scriblings in Mein Kamph were taken seriously at the time, who could have known what Hitler would have wrought?

So if we could go back in time to change history, should we? If science fiction shows have taught us anything it's that messing with the timeline can seriously screw things up, often for the worse. That's why Star Trek gave us the temporal prime directive. Go back and take out Hitler and democracy could flourish in Germany or Himmler could take his place, and a ruthless but competent Himmler would have been far worse than a ruthless but insane Hitler.

War if necessary, but not necessarily war

And that's why while it's intriguing, I can't buy Bush's playing the Nazi card to justify preemption vis a vis Iran. Don't get me wrong, I think that new Iranian president is batty and I don't want them having nukes (dido Kim Jong-Il and he already has them). I just don't think they've thought this thing all the way through. Regieme change, sure, but to whom or what, and what will be the consequences?

So, I think preemption as a cause for war can't be legitimate unless there is an immediate, verifiable threat. Speculation of future actions just isn't good enough, because the consequences just can't be predicted, and there are still other options. If those options are exhausted, then preemption should only be considered through broad international consensus.

The carrot does need to be accompanied by a big stick, but walk softly with it unless you're about to get sucker punched.

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Penny said...

I agree with what you say, but one also has to ask why Hitler was able to gain a foothold at all in Germany.

Seems to me it was the Allies who intentionally made Germany and the Reichsmark so weak that Germans were having to carry wheelbarrows full of paper currency to pay for a loaf of bread - while English, French and American visitors could have a field day with the exchange rate so favourable to them.

A lesson I take from this is that destroying the self respect of a country is not a good way to make friends with them.

After WWII,which was indeed a necessary war - partly because The Allies had treaties with the countries Hitler had invaded unprovoked - the allies did the right thing and helped with reparations.

Not to go back too far in the Middle East, after the Gulf War, the Americans made sure that sanctions destroyed any infrastructure the Iraqis had left, as a result of which untold people died from polluted water alone. And this was done deliberately. I no longer know where the web site is, but there are American documents attesting to the fact that this was waht they planned on having happen.

Hard then, to imagine Iraqis welcoming them with flowers.... and presto! Mission accomplished!

A BCer in Toronto said...

You're right about the effect the Treaty of Versailles had on Germany. While the Germans can't be absolved of responsibility for electing Hitler, and he was elected after all, the harsh treatment Versailles gave to Germany helped create an environment of extremism that helped Hitler come to power. As you mentioned, clearly the Allies learned their lesson after WW II with the Marshall Plan.

As far as the sanctions against Iraq post Desert Storm, I don't think it's quite an apt comparison. Certaintly Saddam tried to stir up anti-US like anger, using the sanctions the way Hitler used Versailes, to explain the poor conditions of his people. However, it's my understanding he was allowed to sell certain amounts of oil for medicine, food, etc., and instead diverted most of those funds to his own purposes.

While imperfect, sanctions seem like one of the few remaining diplomatic options, sort of war, when dealing with a "rogue state."

Red Tory said...

There’s a difference between a preventive and a pre-emptive war. The one prosecuted against Iraq was pre-emptive based on the imminent threat to US national security by WMDs that Saddam supposedly possessed and it was claimed was likely to be used. The one being contemplated against Iran would be preventive in nature; that is, denying them the capability to ever develop such weapons. The distinction may seem like minor hair-spitting, but it’s actually quite important when considering the grounds for war.

Regarding the Rhineland analogy, the allies would have been within their rights to have expelled Hitler from the region as it was a clear contravention of the Treaty of Versailles. (If only they’d had the gumption to do so…) Given the invasion was initiated by Hitler, such a response would have been neither pre-emptive nor preventive, although it may seem that way in retrospect from our historical vantage point.

I’ve noticed a lot of rhetoric being generated by the extreme right-wing these days comparing Ahmadinejad to Hitler and the Iranian theocrats to the Nazis. They did the same number on Saddam Hussein in the run-up to the Iraq War. That’s not to say that Ahmadinejad isn’t monkey fuck crazy or that Hussein wasn’t a brutal, loathsome dictator, but the comparisons are simply not appropriate. In fact, I had a couple of “Anonymous” Kool-Aid® drinkers who’d been huffing a too little much over at Powerline it would seem, drop by my place yesterday and accuse ME of being a Nazi and suggesting that I didn’t care about the Jews or the state of Israel because I thought the idea of going to war with Iran was nuts. And so it starts…

EX-NDIP said...

Why don't we send in Mr. Chamberlain?
He did such a good job last time . . . Maybe the French could solve the problem with Iran . . . they could threaten to send in the rioting unemployed youth . . . and threaten to send in the Renault burning malcontent muslims behind them . . . lol