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Posted by on Feb 17, 2015 in Breaking News, Featured, History, International, Military, Russia, Terrorism, War | 11 comments

History Lessons Forgotten

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shutterstock_181590425 A quote from the philosopher George Santayana’s writing- “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”- is frequently used when someone is trying to make a point for or against war, or halting a nation’s aggressive behavior. One of the reasons for this is the ambiguity of the quote, as it can be interpreted to support different positions. Yet, there is truth in what Santayana wrote. National leaders tend to ignore the lessons of history except when it suits them, as their actions can look foolish at times when examined in the context of past events. Neville Chamberlain and the Munich pact he signed with Hitler in 1938 are also often employed as admonitions of history, to demonstrate that appeasement of dictators does not work. After Chamberlain had ceded a portion of Czechoslovakia to the Germans to avoid war, he returned to tell the British public he had secured “peace with honor…and peace for our time.” Of course, Hitler’s appetite was merely whetted by his annexation of the new territories and perceptions of British and French weakness. World War Two started shortly afterwards.

Western nations are currently facing three major threats to the order and stability that undergirds the world’s prosperity expected after the end of the Cold War. Leaders of the industrial democracies do not appear to be reacting in a manner that suggests an appreciation of history and instills confidence that Western ideals and values will be protected. The threats of course are from Putin’s Russia, the Iranian nuclear program, and radical Islam manifested by ISIS and Al Qaeda. In these conflicts, Western nations look to the United States to project its power to defend them, if agreements with Russia do not hold, or if ISIS and Al Qaeda are not defeated, or if Iran proceeds with the development of nuclear weapons.

Currently, the European Union, led by Angela Merkel of Germany and Francois Hollande of France, are hoping to limit Putin’s expansion in Ukraine by the imposition of economic sanctions on Russia. But though the Russian economy has been damaged by these sanctions (and the low price of oil), it is Putin who continues to speak (and act) from a position of strength. The military power is in his hands and his control of the media has guaranteed backing from the Russian people. There is also the European dependence on Russian energy as part of the equation and the volume of trade between the E.U. and Russia that sustains businesses in the E.U.

In addition, the Ukrainian armed forces are weak compared to Russia and Europe provides little in the way of military back-up. Germany spends only 1.4% of its GDP on its military, France 2.2%, compared to 4.1% for Russia and 3.8% for the U.S. (However, in actual dollars, the U.S. spends more on its military than all of Europe and Russia combined.) European powers do not want a direct military confrontation with Russia and Putin is using this knowledge to expand the territory he controls. It should be remembered that Putin backed separatists in Georgia (as he is doing in Ukraine) and still controls Georgian territory (Abkhazia and South Ossetia). Part of Moldavia is also under Russian occupation (Transnitria). Eastern Ukraine and these other areas have ethnic Russians residing there. But so do the Baltic states, Kazakhstan, and other countries that were once in the Soviet orbit. If Putin is not blocked in Ukraine, what will stop him from fomenting revolts in other states and grabbing more territory?

Radical Islam is obviously a major threat to the Middle East, but also to Europe as well as the United States. Yet European nations have done relatively little militarily or economically to aid in the fight against ISIS and Al Qaeda, aside from dealing with their own nationals who might pose a danger to them. Though the total GDP of the E.U. is similar to that of America, E.U. states are reluctant to fund the build-up of their armed forces or engage in military conflict. Combat seems like such an uncivilized way to solve problems in the 21st century.

The E.U. (and Russia) along with the U.S. are involved in the nuclear talks with Iran, imposed sanctions appearing to have brought Iran to the negotiating table. The question is what action the E.U. will take (along with the U.S. and Israel) if Iran is unwilling to halt its nuclear weapons program. In addition to increased sanctions, will the E.U. be prepared to bomb Iran or take any other military steps?

Before the European Union (and Japan) can be partners with the U.S. in the confrontations against bad actors who threaten to upset world stability and order, they must increase the size of their military forces and acquire greater amounts of modern arms. The United States cannot be and does not want to be the world’s policeman. Other Western democracies must be willing to ramp up economic sanctions when necessary, and the use (or at least the threat) of force if nothing else works in halting aggression and attempts at intimidation of free nations. If one appears weak and vulnerable, a bully will not back down.

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  • Markus

    History certainly provides lessons:
    1. Military actions against Russia end in disaster
    2. Attempts by the US to establish to establish compliant regimes in distant third world countries by military force lead to unforeseen consequences
    3. The Persians have not initiated large military adventures outside their own borders since they got creamed by Sparta
    …..should I keep on?
    “No man steps into the same river twice.” Heraclitus.

    • Rambie

      1- In so far as invading Russia, I’ll agree, though the data set is somewhat small yet irrelevant. No one (that I’ve seen) is talking of invading Russia. The discussion is defending Ukraine against Russia’s thinly veiled “rebel” aggression.

    • Rcoutme

      1. The Mongols seemed to have fared better.
      2. All actions lead to unforeseen consequences. Meanwhile, we have done a great deal of good in many different third-world countries. History includes history of success as well as failure.
      3. The “Persians” humiliated Genghis Khan’s emissaries. Ask them how that turned out.

      I currently oppose military action. Actually, I usually oppose military action. I am a Christian (of the old school) at heart and happen to believe that fighting is usually just not worth it. I do, however, recognize that sometimes it appears to be the least odious of options.

      We did NOT intervene directly with the Soviet Union. They disintegrated anyways (mostly due to economic mismanagement, with a little push from us, and our readiness to fight if necessary). So…not intervening can work? History’s lessons are not necessarily so easy to learn.

  • dduck12

    Very well said. Sad to say, it worked for Hitler and is working for Putin (I hope there are some sensible Russians), ISIS and Iran. That said, we must do everything economically against these people before we unleash the full military option. Although, sending military materials to the Ukrainians still makes sense to me.
    BTW, I may have missed a major condemnation of Russia at the U.N.
    Is that possible with their security council vote. Too much silence of the lambs.

  • Slamfu

    People who remember history incorrectly are also doomed to repeat it.

  • The_Ohioan

    Russians remember their history as well. The amount of trust they put in their government’s pronouncements, never very high, is falling along with the ruble and rising food prices.

    They remember Afghanistan – they approve of the separatists in Ukraine but disapprove of Russian soldiers serving there. Families of dead Russian soldiers are not told they died in Ukraine and to “sit down and shut up” about it or lose their pensions from the soldier’s service or even go to prison if they are persistent.

    Russian soldiers are being tricked into service in Ukraine and some are tearing up their contracts and leaving the military. The heads of the military and the security apparatchiks are losing money along with the oligarchs and won’t stand by for very long. Russian superiority doesn’t mean as much as monetary well being to some of them.

    Putin has a tiger by the tail and it may turn on him. Europe has no appetite for war and will apply whatever pressure they can to prevent it.

  • jdledell

    Frankly, I don’t see much difference in what Putin is doing and what the last half dozen U.S. Presidents have done. Putin is trying to establish a perimeter of influence around his borders. He is using stealth and military power to accomplish his goal of having Russian friendly regimes on his borders. Whether it’s parts of Georgia, Moldovia or Ukraine, Russia is not directly administering those territories but leaving it up to friendly locals.

    We did the same thing over the past 75 years. First we engineered a coup in Iran so that a western friendly government could be installed. We got into wars in Korea and Vietnam so that we could have friendly governments in place. We invaded Grenada or Panama so that unfriendly governments could be replaced. We invaded Afghanistan and Iraq so that friendly governments could be installed. Putin’s a piker compared with America’s military march across multiple continents.

    Treating Iran as an ultimate boogyman is not a sound policy. If Iran had truly wanted a nuclear bomb they could have had it by now. They have the technical expertise and the uranium refining capacity to do it. It appears they want breakout capabilities – ie build a bomb in a few months if it becomes strategically necessary. The Persians are a proud and ancient culture and they are not about to recklessly putting themselves in a position where it all could be destroyed. Iran has not invaded another country in almost 2000 years. Iran is a huge country and it would take many years of daily bombing runs to devastate the economic capacity of the country. Meanwhile while we are using conventional bombing, Iran would be hell bent to build the Bomb.. Can people get it through their heads that there is no military means to stop Iran from building a bomb. Even if we invaded and occupied the country, it is too large to get at every nook and cranny where bomb development could continue. Economic pressure and diplomacy are the only effective way to maybe stop Iran from getting the Bomb.

    ISIS and the reset of the Islamic terrorists are a real problem. We can play whack a mole for the next 100 years and never completely stomp out the Islamic terrorists who are sprouting in every corner of the world adding new members by the thousands. Should we bring our military and invasion forces to Nigeria, Chad, Somalia, Yemen, Egypt, Lebanon, Gaza, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Phillipines etc. The only effective antidote to Islamic terrorism is to bribe and/or encourage the muslim faithful in all these countries to disarm and reintegrate the terrorist into a normal peaceful society. That is going to take an enormous effort by the West over many decades to accomplish.

    • dduck12

      Wow, with all due respect, I usually agree with your opinions and of course your first hand knowledge in and about Israel. Not this time. I do not agree with your comparison of our previous actions to those of Russia’s action in the Ukraine. Ours may have been bad and I may agree with some of your viewpoints, but Putin’s are shameful and nakedly brutal and done without any regard for the truth. True, the U.S. may be way better than Russia in selling our “incursions” so we don’t have to bury our dead soldiers at night and threaten their families to shut them up. Our actions at least are somewhat transparent and “sold” to us under the eyes of a free press. Putin is a thug, pure and simple, at worst our presidents are inept, conned, misguided and/our paid for by the military industrial complex and/or driven by the mania to get reelected.—– There are 50 shades of evil, IMHO.

      • jdledell

        dd – I am not an admirer of Putin – he’s a bully and thug, I’m just trying to put things in perspective. Putin is a dictator and thus can implement military campaigns pretty much on his own authority. But he does use propaganda to keep his people behind him. It’s obviously a bit more complicated in the U.S. However, we use propaganda to get people behind a particular military campaign – see Bush and Iraq. The free press that we have was not much better at cutting through the Bush et al propaganda than the Russian press is.

        However, I am a very results oriented person and when I look at the Russian civilian death toll in it’s campaigns vs the U.S. civilian death toll in our campaigns – I think you’ll agree we win. I look at the square miles Putin has occupied in Georgia, Moldovia and Ukraine vs the square miles the U.S has occupied, again the U.S is the winner. Putin lies to his people, but something tells me there is a chance U.S. Presidents and politicians do the same.

        I am not saying that Bush and Putin or Obama and Putin are equal in their “evilness” but the results of our evil are comparably worse than Russias because we are so much more powerful. Great power begets great responsibility.

        • dduck12

          I know you did not express any of that nonsense equivalency BS.I just plain disagree with you on this one, perhaps I am too naive, but so be it.
          Be well

        • ShannonL

          I could have sworn the UN was the lead in the Korean war and Vietnam was the fight against the spread of Russian communism. You have a point on Iraq, but lets face it, the US was in shell shock and we were duped by a bunch of psychopaths under Cheney’s leadership.

          Apologizing for Putin by saying, “we/they did it too”, isnt going to stop his romp through eastern Europe. He has other places on his mind for sure….our reaction to the Ukraine will dictate how much of Europe he tries to retake.

          Not standing up to him now is what I would consider considerably naive.

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