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New book available! David Kaiser, A Life in History

Mount Greylock Books LLC has published my autobiography as an historian,  A Life in History.   Long-time readers who want to find out how th...

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Replying to a comment

My old friend Shelterdog has just posted the following comment on "Europe and the US." (I don't think that's where he meant to put it, but these things happen.)

" As I see it, the problem is this: if you have an international agreement that prohibits X, but the international community either lacks the fortitude to enforce the agreement or is blocked from doing so because of a veto in the Security Counsel, should we simply walk away. We turned our back on Hitler's atrocities, on those in Rwanda and (for several years) in Bosnia. Isn't that the consequence of your analysis? Whether planned or fortuitous, Obama's credible threat of military force seems to have broken the logjam, and he deserves credit for doing so without launching an attack. I don't know how that plays out when someone refuses to go along, or if Russia refuses to step in. And the much bigger question is what we do if Iran doesn't make a deal about its nuclear program, after multiple US presidents of both parties have--rightly or wrongly--drawn a red line and Israel has, too. To admit we'll keep talking but won't take military action would send a signal that a) countries like Iran can do whatever they want and b) Security Council members like Russia can simply veto any remedial military action, no matter how outrageous the situation."

To begin with, the statement, "we turned our back on Hitler's atrocities," strikes me as rather astonishing, since (as my new book describes) we built the world's largest Navy and Air Force and drafted about ten million men in order to defeat him, as indeed we did.  Of course, we wouldn't have defeated him without the help of the Soviet Union, whose atrocities you don't mention.  (We were in no position to do anything about those, of course, or about the deaths that occurred in Mao's China.)  In any case we identified Hitler as a threat to the security of the world and we defeated him.

Events subsequent to Rwanda and Bosnia have shown that our ability to stop ethnic cleansing is much less than starry-eyed liberal interventionists (e.g. our UN Ambassador Samantha Power) believe.  Four million Iraqis were ethnically cleansed--either driven out of Iraq or driven to new homes in Iraq--while the United States had about 150,000 troops in the country.  Doesn't that tell us something?  Rwanda is not the size of Rhode Island: it's the size of Maryland and it now has more than twice as many people as Maryland.  Do you have any idea how many troops it would take to stop a race war in Maryland? Far more, I suspect, than could easily be logistically supported in Rwanda.

We are therefore limited in our ability to stop atrocities in other countries by the scale of the problem.  We also need, for lots of reasons, the support of other members in the international community.  Syria, incidentally, has more than twenty million people, nearly as many as Iraq when we invaded it.

Our threat of force presented Putin with a diplomatic opportunity,. but frankly, given the way things were developing here at home I don't think it would have scared anyone very much.  Had Assad hung tough Obama would have lost the fight in Congress and how would that have helped anything?  Last but not least, regarding international law, building and using weapons--any weapons--is an attribute of sovereignty.  Nuclear and chemical weapons are illegal only to the extent that individual nations surrender their rights to build them via treaty--which Syria with respect to chemical weapons has never done.  Iran surrendered its right to build nuclear weapons (although not its right to enrich uranium) in the non-proliferation treaty, but it could denounce that treaty if it wanted to.  Israel never signed the treaty.

In short. . we disagree... just as we did, ironically, on another foreign policy issue in 1965-6.

 I have been traveling and will return next weekend with some comments on foreign and domestic crises.  


Bob Zacny said...

Mr. Kaiser: I hope you are planning to review or comment on some of the coming avalanche of JFK books. I read your book which led me to this blog and I have been one of your faithful readers ever since. You are a voice of sanity and reason and I thank you for your work. I could sure use your insight as to how to spend my limited reading time and dollars.

Bozon said...

Great post. Steps out, on some issues.

I'd rather comment on this one on my site, as it is already a reply here....and to a misplaced comment.

all the best