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  • Accidental Wars

    Posted by Shannon Love on September 3rd, 2009 (All posts by )

    In this Reason Hit&Run post, the vile Patrick Buchanan takes a well deserved beating for his bizarre and ahistorical defense of Adolf Hitler in WWII. However, as loathsome, racist and stupid as he is, Buchanan is correct about one thing: Hitler did not intend to start a second world war that would drag in every industrialized country and leave 3/4 of the industrialized world in ruins.

    Instead, Hitler planned on fighting a short, sharp war in Poland. Based on his experience at Munich, he expected that France and Britain would either merely raise a token protest or that they would would fight briefly, realize that they couldn’t recover Poland and then negotiate a peace. He never envisioned that he would fight a gotterdammerung war of global destruction.

    Hitler miscalculated. In this he was far from alone. In the 20th Century every war that involved a liberal democracy resulted from the miscalculation of an autocratic leadership.

    We know Hitler blundered not only from Hitler’s own words but also from the degree of mobilization of the German economy and military. Hitler did not put the German economy on a war footing before invading Poland. Indeed, he did not do so until early 1943. The “phony war” from September 1939 to May 1940 resulted in large part because the Germans had no previously-fleshed-out plans to invade Western Europe. Hitler kept waiting for France and Britain to negotiate. The Wermacht had to scramble to come up with a plan to invade, and contrary to standard German practice the plan was constantly being revised up to the last minute.

    Hitler and most Germans viewed themselves as the protectors of Western European civilization against the threat posed by Jews, communism and eastern peoples in general. In Hitler’s racist world-model, everyone of Nordic blood, which included most of Western Europe, were natural allies and only the machinations of Jews caused them to war against each other.

    In Hitler’s grand plan, he would invade Poland in concert with Stalin and allow Stalin to invade the Baltic countries as well. France and Britain would within a few months accept this fait accompli, leaving Hitler to do as he wished five-plus years later in Eastern Europe. He never in his worst nightmares expected the war to spiral out of control and to involve the entirety of the industrialized world.

    The Imperial Japanese had a similar vision. They believed they could cripple the U.S. Pacific fleet at Pearl Harbor and then fortify their gains during the year or two it would take the U.S. to rebuild. Then they would lure the U.S. fleet into a decisive battle in the western Pacific, and/or force the U.S. to fight on the ground while invading fortified islands at a staggering cost in lives. They believed that the war would last only a couple of years, and that the vast majority of the fighting would be concentrated into several episodes of only a a few weeks each. They did not make plans for a long, protracted and constantly intense war.

    Likewise, Stalin did not envision the invasion of Finland as anything but a trivial exercise. Neither did he view Hitler as an immediate and direct threat following the non-aggression pact. After Hitler invaded western Europe, Stalin confidently predicted he was completely safe from Hitler, because he thought Hitler realized it would be suicide for Germany to launch a two-front war.

    So, what lessons should we draw from the mistakes of Hitler, the Imperial Japanese and Stalin?

    The major lesson is to discard the myth of the rational enemy of democracy. In the whole of the 20th Century, every enemy of liberal-democratic states has been in the grip of a delusional ideology. That ideology provided an erroneous world-view (a model of cause and effect) that led them to constantly misjudge the responses of liberal democracies to any actions they took.

    Stalin blundered badly in Korea. Seeing the “want to go home” riots among American military personnel in Europe after the end of WWII, combined with America’s relatively massive demilitarization, he appears to have concluded that America had no taste for a protracted conventional ground war. He judged that America would not fight just to defend a little peninsula in Asia that America had never had any relationship with. 50,000 dead Americans and another 20,000 from other free countries proved him wrong.

    The blunder of Korea caused Stalin’s successors to see that America could not ignore an overt invasion. Instead, they switched to a tactic of using heavily-supported proxy groups inside targeted countries or regions. This robbed Americans of a clear enemy and a clear moral case for war. Even so, the free world sucessfully fended off communist attacks around the world until our own internal conflicts crippled our responses.

    Ho Chi Min launched the Tet Offensive in the mistaken belief that the vast majority of South Vietnamese wanted to live under his totalitarian communist rule, and that if he could just throw off the shackles of America’s (as he saw it) imperialistic forces, even for a short time, the people of South Vietnam would rally to his side in mass. This was delusional. The vast majority of South Vietnamese had no interest in living in a totalitarian client state of yet another empire. The Tet Offensive collapsed into a crushing defeat that destroyed 95% of the Vietcong in South Vietnam. From that point on the war was fought as a series of outright invasions from North Vietnam. Only the chattering classes of the western world saved Ho Chi Min (and Pol Pot) from utter defeat.

    The same type of misjudgment led Saddam Hussien to invade Kuwait in 1991. Based on his experience in the Iran war, he believed that he could inflict heavy casualties on any invading force trying to free Kuwait. Looking back at the American abandonment of Indochina, he believed the U.S. would be unwilling to suffer even a few thousand causalities. He expected the world to turn away from possible mass bloodshed and acquiesce. (He might have been right if certain Democrats, like the late Edward Kennedy, had been President. On the other hand, even a blame-America-first Democrat would have had a hard time ignoring an invasion in an area so vital to the world economy.)

    9/11 likewise resulted from the delusional belief by Osama Bin Laden and the rest of Al Qaeda’s leadership that the U.S. would not respond forcefully and effectively to a massive attack on two major cities. In the years leading up to 9/11 Bin Laden repeatedly pointed to both the U.S. abandonment of Indochina and the Soviet experience in Afghanistan to create a plausible argument (to his followers) that the U.S. would not hit back hard in Afghanistan, because America was so weak and craven that we would not pay the cost in lives necessary to do so. This idea resulted from his delusional model of not only America but also of general cause and effect in his entire radical Islam-based world model.

    Most of the attacks on Israel from the Islamic world have also resulted from delusional models. The biggest delusion that infects the Islamic world (and to a lessor extent the European chattering classes) is the idea that the state of Israel is nothing but an economic project of imperialistic colonialism. Based on this model, the Muslims and Europeans believe that if they can just make Israel too expensive a project, that the Jewish population of the world will abandon it for more profitable ventures. In reality, the existence of Israel depends on the desire of the Jews of the world to have nation-state refuge, and no amount of wars, pin-prick attacks or even widespread sustained economic boycotts will convince a people fearful of extermination to relinquish their one source of security. Indeed, terrorism, boycotts and similar attacks merely convince Jews they need Israel even more.

    The “Realist” school of foreign-policy thought is fatally flawed by its dependence on the presumption of the existence of the rational autocrat. The realist believe that even though autocrats hold vastly different ideologies, moralities and come from vastly different cultures and histories, they nevertheless evaluate real-world, on-the-ground conditions in the exact same way that someone inside a liberal democracy would. This idea depends on the premise that autocrats not only have all of the same information as do leaders of liberal democracies but also that they feed that information into the same model of cause and effect. As history has demonstrated repeatedly, they do not.

    It wasn’t “rational” for Imperial Germany to fight a war on two fronts. It was not “rational” for Stalin to ally with Hitler. It was not “rational” for Hitler to assume the western allies would ignore the invasion of Poland. It was not “rational” for Hitler to invade western Europe and then to invade the Soviet Union. It was not “rational” for the Imperial Japanese to pick a fight with a country with 10 to 15 times its industrial might. It was not “rational” for Stalin to blockade Berlin or invade South Korea. It was not rational for Ho Chi Min to believe that the people of South Vietnam wanted to live under his rule. It was not “rational” of Saddam Hussein to believe the free world would let him have Kuwait. It was not rational for Bin Laden to believe he could kill thousands of Americans and walk away unscathed.

    The 20th Century wars of liberal democracies have all resulted from the miscalculations of various autocrats, who had an exaggerated belief in their own military powers and who believed democracies to be weak, decadent and craven.  We can never predict autocrats’ behavior with any degree of certainty, because they view the world and us in an intrinsically different way than we do. They believe themselves capable of acts we see as obviously impossible. They believe we will acquiesce to actions that we clearly see we must respond to strongly. They believe they can outlast us in a conflict, no matter the degree of provocation they provide, when we know there are some things we must always fight for.

    This is why all such regimes must be continuously viewed as ongoing threats to the peace and security of liberal democracies. We should never base our policy on our estimations of what we think they will do, because we can’t think like they do or see the world as they do. We cannot get inside their heads. Instead, we should base our policy on what such regimes could do if they chose to.

    Any other standard is foolhardy and dangerous. Our own belief that we can predict the actions of those with alien world views is our own near-fatal hubris-driven delusion. It has led us to folly again and again in the last century. We must learn our lesson, because as our technology progresses and weapons grow more destructive and easily available the consequences of misjudgments grow more dire.

    Less and less can we afford to risk accidental wars caused by the misjudgments of autocrats.

    [Update (2009-09-4 07:19): Veryretired nails it in this comment:

    The conflict we face, and, as Shannon describes them, many of the conflicts we have faced in the past, are not fishing disputes with Canada, or trade dustups with the EU. We are dealing with an ideology which believes itself to be the word of god, whispered into the ears, or minds, of some very strange and dangerous men, indeed.

    Our most significant peril is not that they are dangerous, but that we have mesmerized ourselves into believing they’re just like the guys down the hall, just looking for an edge before they make a deal. They are not.

     

    26 Responses to “Accidental Wars”

    1. tyouth Says:

      “the vile Patrick Buchanan takes a well deserved beating for his bizarre and ahistorical defense of Adolf Hitler in WWII. However, as loathsome, racist and stupid as he is,….”

      Shannon, I have to read the whole thing but I couldn’t get past the first sentences without a comment re. the above. I do believe that your take is extreme overkill. I won’t say I’ve heard or read everything that Pat has put forth but it seems to me that he is certainly not a racist, unless one naively confuses racism with culturism. I believe Pat’s argument would be something like this: ” there are cultural/historical reasons that South American countries have been largely in authoritarian, poverty stricken, and in turmoil while their neighbors to the north have done better”. He is right about that. He is correct that the USA has been diminished by the by the relative over-immigration of Hispanics at the expense of European immigrants (largely, I think, in a scam to import votes by Democrats, special shout-out goes to Ted Kennedy) for the last four decades. How could it be otherwise?

      Whether he is a “functionalist” or an “intentionalist” (did Hitler intentionally plan the holocaust or did the the Nazi functionaries improvise it as they went along) and disagreements over such rather interesting but really trivial historical distinctions certainly doesn’t call for your surprising castigation. But, I will read on.

    2. Sgt. Mom Says:

      Can’t recall the context or the ancient Greek historian who wrote it – I think it was an episode in the Peloponnesian War: “Of the Gods we believe, and of men we know … that what they can do, they will.”
      It always struck me as a brutally honest assessment.

    3. tyouth Says:

      I read on and to my surprise the overall body of your post, the thrust of your argument, simply (if at length) expounds upon your generalized agreement with what Buchanan said about Hitler’s specific intentions. I think you owe us a post about the “vile”, “racist” Buchanan.

    4. Shannon Love Says:

      Tyouth,

      Buchanan went off the rails sometime back in the 90’s. He has become my polar opposite in most every area. I read the pieces described that were written back in the 90’s and they were every bit as bad as implied. I haven’t read the new piece but I trust the assessment based on his previous work. Buchanan has the pattern of a classic anti-semite trying to downplay the Nazi and attacking Israel at every opportunity. He loudly opposed the liberation of Iraq and repeatedly said we did it only to protect Israel. He opposed free-trade and believes the government should regulate business…and so on.

      No, I don’t like the man.

      I read on and to my surprise the overall body of your post, the thrust of your argument, simply (if at length) expounds upon your generalized agreement with what Buchanan said about Hitler’s specific intentions

      Where he and I disagree is that Buchanan thinks the brutality of Hitler in the east was a result of the war and I think he planned it all along. His delusional world view did lead him to believe he could occupy Poland, murder its intellectual class and Jews while the rest of the world stood by. He began his extermination campaign immediately using special units trained and prepared for just that task. I think Buchanan’s anti-semitism leads him to fabricate a history of the war in which the Jews weren’t such victims or where victims of the Allies as much as the Germans.

      Hitler set out on a murderous rampage. He was never reasonable. There was never a time he could have been safely negotiated with. Contrary to what Buchanan says, any negotiation that left Hitler in power would have led to mass bloodshed eventually. Hitler caused the war because of his belief in the necessity to attack, murder and dominate everyone around Germany. You can’t jawbone someone out of that kind of insanity.

    5. Dan from Madison Says:

      “We know Hitler blundered not only from Hitler’s own words but also from the degree of mobilization of the German economy and military. Hitler did not put the German economy on a war footing before invading Poland. Indeed, he did not do so until early-1943.”

      Tooze in “Wages of Destruction” paints a much different picture and in a very convincing fashion. Hitler himself may not have put his country on a war footing until 1943 (making your statement valid), but his subordinates in various agencies certainly were working on it long before then, even back into the mid thirties if Tooze is correct, which I am thinking he is.

    6. Michael Kennedy Says:

      The Japanese might very well have been successful if they had confined their offensive to east Asia. I’m not sure Roosevelt would have gotten Congress to declare war if Pearl harbor had not occurred. The Germany First principle might well have left them to do as they wished for years. By that time, I doubt we’d have had the stomach for another war. Pearl Harbor, to paraphrase Metternich, was worse than a crime; it was a blunder.

      I also believe, having read “Downfall”, that without the atomic bomb, we might have ended up with either an armistice with Japan or occupation by the Soviets. Even the submarine blockade might not have led to surrender.

    7. T. Greer Says:

      Shannon-

      I am not so sure about this. It is an unfair exercise of reasoning ex post facto. It is quite easy for us, the victors, to play armchair general 70 years after the fact, isn’t? It is easy to say that the decisions made by Hitler were irrational — he lost after all! If the decisions made by the Axis leadership were rational, surely they would have resulted in victory, right?

      This is a dangerous way to think of the world. The mere fact that certain decisions proved, in hindsight, to be fool worthy does not mean they were irrational. Most people have perfectly rational reasons for the decisions they make, even if they later to turn out to be mistakes.

      When your method of analysis is applied to other conflicts, its problems become a bit motr obvious. Were the expectations of the Bush Administration concerning post-Saddam Iraq irrational? Was Lincoln’s assumption, dashed by Manassas, that the war could be brought to a swift end by the capture of Richmond irrational? Was it irrational for the leaders of the early American Republic to believe that the capture of Canada would be “a mere matter of marching”?

      Were these republicans irrational, as your authoritarians are?

    8. Anonymous Says:

      His delusional world view did lead him to believe he could occupy Poland, murder its intellectual class and Jews while the rest of the world stood by.

      Why was that delusional? The Soviets obviously weren’t bothered. The Italians didn’t mind.

      In this country, Princeton’s freshman class chose Hitler as The world’s greatest living person in November of 1939, for the second year in a row, in a rout (Hitler got 93 votes, Einstein was 2nd with 27, Neville Chamberlain 15). So put the US in the “standing idly by” camp.

      If you put me in a time machine and sent me back to August 1939, I’d still have trouble putting money on the idea of the French going to war over Polish Jews.

      Expecting the world to respond with apathy to the murder of millions of Jews was probably the sanest thing Hitler did during the war.

    9. Helen Says:

      It was fairly rational for Stalin to assume that liberal democracies will do nothing about him murdering large numbers of the Polish intelligentsia and, indeed, to carry out similar clearances of “unwanted” classes in the other countries the USSR occupied. So, it really depends, doesn’t it.

      Also, Hitler may well have believed that the Polish army would behave just like the Czechoslovak army did in Sudetenland. He gambled in 1938 that the third largest army in Europe with equipment that the Germans were to use afterwards in their invasion of Poland would not fight and he was right. They did not. Poland was something else.

    10. tyouth Says:

      “No, I don’t like the man.”

      Well, this, and even taking all your criticisms of the man as factual, doesn’t to add up to “vile, loathsome, racist, and stupid”; not one of those adjectives seem earned. An unsubstantial rant.

    11. veryretired Says:

      I think this was a very nice thumbnail analysis, indeed, Shannon, so I am a bit mystified as to some of the comments.

      Part of the problem may be the use of the term rational. There is a distinct difference between being calculating, which would be the characterization I would give to the various plots and schemes that lead to so many conflicts, and which certainly applies to the instigators of WW2, and being rational.

      If I am getting your point, it isn’t that these various leaders and their disciples couldn’t think from A to B to C, but that their fundamental world view was irrational at its core, rendering much of their calculations and plans detached from the reality of the world they actually faced, and fitted to a fantasy world that never really existed.

      I concur with you that this is a very real factor in the actions of nations leading up to many wars, and especially the wars the Us has been involved in literally since the Revolution. Certainly the aristocrats in London couldn’t imagine a group of frontiersmen opposing the might of the Empire successfully, no matter what taxes or other measures were applied to them.

      The tragic misconceptions that brought about the Civil War, especially on the part of the Confederacy, but also on the Union side, led to an extended and bloody conflict that no one had ever imagined could happen.

      This leads me to another aspect regarding WW2 which I find to be critical. The mind set of the Central European, like Hitler, or the insular Japanese leadership, with some notable exceptions, is very small and parochial.

      This doesn’t mean their schemes were not grandiose, obviously they were, but the background and experiential references these minds were grounded in was unable to realistically conceive of the vastness of the projects they were undertaking, the depth of the rsistance they would inspire, or the true potential for disaster they were courting.

      In many ways, they looked at the world in an 18th century way—a series of set piece battles won more by the “spititual” superiority of their forces than any of the tiresome details of industrial capacity or logisticsl realities.

      We know that Yamamoto predicted 6 months of victories, and warned of the resilience of the Americans, whom he knew much better than many of his comrades.

      We also have many stories of Hitler, as well as Mussolini and Stalin in their own ways, demanding that his generals move entire armies across vast distances and make attacks without any concern for the realities of transport or supply.

      One of the significant points I get from your post is that to rely on our enemies’ viewing the world in an emprical or rational manner is dangerous specifically because they inhabit a fantasy world of their own construction, and will reject any troublesome facts that conflict with that vision.

      The recent revelations about the beliefs of Iran’s bizarre leadership, and influences of various people and doctrines which can only be described as hallucinatory, reinforce this concern.

    12. Shannon Love Says:

      T. Geer,

      It is an unfair exercise of reasoning ex post facto…It is easy to say that the decisions made by Hitler were irrational — he lost after all!

      Well, no. I’m not making an argument about what autocrats did or whether they succeeded or not. I’m making an argument about what how they thought liberal-democracies would respond to their actions. In all the cases listed, they thought liberal-democracies would respond differently than they actually did. Look again at what I said. Hitler badly misjudge the response of the French and British. Even if had gone on to win the war, that misjudgment would have still remained. Likewise, the rest of my examples are about why autocrats started conflicts not whether they won them or not. After all, Stalin fought to a stalemate in Korea and Ho Chi Min recovered and won his war.

      Another good, although lesser known example, is a hysteria that gripped Soviet leaders in 82-83. They became convinced that NATO was going to launch a massive invasion from Germany preceded or followed by unprovoked limited nuclear strikes. This hysteria drove them chillingly close to launching a preemptive nuclear strike. Of course, no one in NATO or anyone else even contemplated launching such an attack even for a moment. There was no evidence that they were save the Soviets immersion in their own paranoiac communist fantasies in which the capitalist west would stop at nothing to destroy them.

      In all these cases, the autocrats ideology provided them with the data they acted on, not any objective evidence. Hitler’s ideology told him that capitalistic democracies were weak and his racial ideology told him that the people in the democracies were natural allies. Combine those two facets together and you get a logical conclusion that Aryan capitalistic democracies would not attack Germany over Poland. Even if France and Britain had acquiesced to his invasion, they would not have done so for the reasons he imagined. That is what I mean by delusional.

      Communist likewise had a very elaborate, very detailed fantasy that described the totality of human existence especially political matters. Like Hitler, they relied on the ideology to provide them with data. They believed that when western nations resisted communism they did so out class antipathy to communism just society. When western nations accommodated with communist countries, they did so out of weakness and the decadence of capitalistic society right before it fell into revolutionary chaos.

      You see the same behavior in Baathist, Jihadist, Al-Quada, the Iranian Mullahs, North Korea etc. Each has a powerful ideology that provides the raw data on which they work. It colors their interpretation of every action we take. We can’t predict their behavior because we cannot immerse ourselves in such an alien mindset.

    13. Robert Schwartz Says:

      Personally, I think describing Pat Buchanan as “vile, loathsome, racist, and stupid” is being very kind to him.

      Second, a number of the Boyz are fans of Tom Barnett. I was a fan for a while, but his repeated insistence that the Iranian regime should be dealt with as rational and self-preserving lead me to sour on him. I thought, and still think, that Bernard Lewis had the much deeper understanding of that regime, and that we must deal with them as the chiliastic fanatics that they are.

    14. Shannon Love Says:

      VeryRetired,

      If I am getting your point, it isn’t that these various leaders and their disciples couldn’t think from A to B to C, but that their fundamental world view was irrational at its core, rendering much of their calculations and plans detached from the reality of the world they actually faced, and fitted to a fantasy world that never really existed.

      Exactly, it is something akin to planning a space mission based on the premise that the Sun orbits the earth just because your ideology tells you it does. Their flights of fantasy are not as extreme as ignoring simple physical measurement but it captures the essence. Instead, they rely on the ideologies self-serving and self-aggrandizing stereotypes of the peoples in liberal-democracies to make decisions about the political aspects of wars.

      All the examples I mentioned had nothing to do with estimation of the material aspects of war. In each case, each autocrat knew that materially, they were outmatched should America or other liberal-democracies bring their full material resources to bear. They simply created a rationalization of why liberal-democracies would never do so.

      I think they create these fantasies because they have to in order to justify their own status and position within their own societies.

    15. tyouth Says:

      Personally, I think describing Pat Buchanan as “vile, loathsome, racist, and stupid” is being very kind to him.

      Words mean things. It just seems that these descriptions are being used because someone thinks differently, some would say only marginally differently, here. Bad form, bad habit.

    16. renminbi Says:

      The political classes of the democracies also lived in their own little dream worlds and damn near lost it all in 1940. This is just as true today especially of the solidly entrenched nomenklatura in Europe.
      Great point though.

    17. veryretired Says:

      Yes, Ren, but Shannon dealt with that. The delusions of the western leaders, in a broad outline, are precisely that our opponents are really like us, and can be dealt with if only we can come up with the right formula.

      LBJ and Vietnam is the perfect example. I remember reading descriptions of Johnson’s political style, both as the Senate Majority leader, a position that he was very good at in terms of deal making and coalition building, and later, as President, a position in which he didn’t fit very well at all.

      When LBJ wanted something from someone, he invited the person, let’s say another Senator or a Congressman, over to his office for drinks. He stood very close to the person, holding their arm or shoulder, kept up a running sales pitch composed of crude jokes, blandishments, teasing, nudges, offers of various benefits if the person cooperated, and, if there was resistence, thinly veiled hints of bad things that might happen.

      Plum committee assignments, choice office space, more staff, invitations to junkets, the use of government planes, etc. were all part of the goodies offered. For those too dim to see the light, crummy commitees, tiny basement offices, cuts in budget and staff, no fringes or trips.

      More than one biographer described the effectiveness of “the Johnson method”, and his powerful position as the one who could put bills through or block anything he didn’t want.

      Stop now and think about Vietnam. LBJ micromanaged that war at a level unprecedented in US military history. Bombing campaigns, bombing halts, offensives, truces, escalate here, pull back there. Over and over again, the military was used to “make a point” or “send a message” to the North.

      It was the Johnson method at war. He wanted to wheel and deal, and simply could not comprehend another political entity who couldn’t be wheedled and tempted and pummelled into making some kind of deal, who was impervious. LBJ was a practical, western democratic politician. Faced with a total ideologue who would allow thousands to die rather than agree to anything less than complete victory, he was unable to comprehend the nature of the enemy.

      This is the very problem we face today, when large sections of the US, and western societies in general, simply cannot grasp the fanaticism we are facing. Thus the constant moves toward appeasing, understanding, equivalence, apologies, discussions, etc. as if this was a group of NATO countries just smoothing over some disagreements about tactics or procurement policies.

      The conflict we face, and, as Shannon describes them, many of the conflicts we have faced in the past, are not fishing disputes with Canada, or trade dustups with the EU. We are dealing with an ideology which believes itself to be the word of god, whispered into the ears, or minds, of some very strange and dangerous men, indeed.

      Our most significant peril is not that they are dangerous, but that we have mesmerized ourselves into believing they’re just like the guys down the hall, just looking for an edge before they make a deal. They are not.

    18. Shannon Love Says:

      Tyouth,

      It just seems that these descriptions are being used because someone thinks differently, some would say only marginally differently, here.

      In my opinion, Buchanan crossed the line from “thinks differently” to dangerous nutjob a long ago. I don’t wish to argue the point. If you’ve read the writings in question and find them acceptable there isn’t much else to say. I always make a point to load up my comments on Buchanan with invective just to make sure no one makes the mistake of thinking I agree with him. Sorry, if that set you off but I’m going to do the same thing the next time I write about the man.

      I would much rather be accused of going to far in vilifying him than create the impression I agree with him.

    19. tyouth Says:

      Shannon, Where do you go when someone says “kill the Jews and lynch the niggers”? Buchanan says nothing of the sort. You’ve inflated your rhetoric with respect to someone who simply, honestly, openly, and reasonably disagrees with you.

    20. Perry The Cynic Says:

      Shannon,

      You can argue the point, or you can argue the man; but if you mingle them, you lose the point.

      In my opinion, Buchanan crossed the line from “thinks differently” to dangerous nutjob a long ago. I don’t wish to argue the point. If you’ve read the writings in question and find them acceptable there isn’t much else to say. I always make a point to load up my comments on Buchanan with invective just to make sure no one makes the mistake of thinking I agree with him. Sorry, if that set you off but I’m going to do the same thing the next time I write about the man.

      First off, your post has some solid points (on the seemingly endemic mistakes dictatorships make in assessing democratic political resolve in the long run). I am puzzled as to why you brought up Buchanan at all. If you brought him into your post as a part of a factual argument (a foil of sorts), then to be useful you must address his particular arguments. If, as you seem to claim in comments, you refuse to address his arguments on account of your superior loathing of the man, then why bring him into your post?

      The only reason to mention a loathsome creature and yet refuse to address his particulars, is to bask in the rejection of loathsomeness you expect to share with your readers. Such a post is not about facts or arguments; it’s about affirming membership in a group. This puzzles me as it seems rather at odds with your usual form (focusing on facts and arguments that can actually sway people’s minds). It apparently also puzzles some other commenters. (Not knowing the gentlemen, I do not detect in their overt words any great love for Buchanan as such; and rather more confusion as to the particular structure of your argument involving him.)

      Note that none of this has anything to do with Buchanan as such; you could have picked any creature you consider loathsome for the same effect. After all, you said as much: the particular arguments in his piece are not relevant to you. So, yet again – why bring him up at all? I am a wee bit curious about that, now…
      — perry

    21. T. Greer Says:

      Shannon-

      I am still not sure your case cuts it. If your point is that authoritarian powers are irrational because they base their decision making process on a flawed assumptions and self-serving ideologies, than the counterpoint is really the same as before- democracies do it too.

      Just to take my previous three examples-

      The idea that a democracy would arise out of the dust of Iraq and that American power would be strengthened by a protracted expedition to rid the world of Hussein was not only false but the direct result of assumptions that had no grounding in reality. Not matter how much Bush and co. wanted it, Iraq was not going to pick itself up from 60 years of Baathist rule and sectional strife and turn into Switzerland.

      Both sides in the American Civil War expected the other to capitulate within a few months of the war’s beginning. In hindsight this appears silly, but in the eyes of contemporaries, it seems quite logical- the elite of both regions were convinced that their country best exemplified the ideals of the Revolutionary generation, had the most motivated and effective armies, and had an economy morally or technologically superior than the other.

      The only reason Thomas Jefferson could declare in 1812 that the capture of Canada was “simply a matter of marching” was the near omnipresent belief of his time that America was destined to rule over the North American continent and that the people of Canada were but hidden Americans just short of their own revolution. Again, those in Washington (not to mention folks like William Hull, who were actually fighting the war) held believes that sharply contradicted reality — and many Democrats believed that Canada was ripe for the picking near twenty years later! Not even two wars and the rise of the British Empire as the world’s sole super power could dash this ideology-driven belief out of their head!

      So no, I do not see anything particularly autocratic about making irrational decisions grounded in a ideology-driven world view.

      On the other hand, if your point is simply that those leading autocratic states have a vastly different worldview than those leading liberal democracies, I can concur. But it does not follow that trying to “predict the actions of those with alien world views is our own near-fatal hubris-driven delusion.” Pretending that autocrats are just like us is a near-fatal, hubris-driven delusion. But, this does not mean we cannot try to understand their worldview and predict their actions– I would go so far as to say that out very survival depends on us doing so.

      The afore mentioned Mr. Tooze claim’s to have found the method within the madness of Hitler; there are several authors who have claimed the same for our Takfiri enemies. Is it not wisest to try and understand our enemy’s ideologies and world views so that we may use them to our advantage? This is what the autocrats you have listed failed to do. Shall we also make their mistake?

    22. Ralf Goergens Says:

      It wasn’t “rational” for Imperial Germany to fight a war on two fronts.

      “Imperial” Germany actually was a constitutional monarchy and no less democratic as the rest of Western Europe, inclusing Britain and France.

    23. Jim Bennett Says:

      Ralf;

      “Imperial Germany” is one of the generally-accepted terms for the German state between 1871-1918 and isn’t really perjorative. The monarch was styled “Emperor” in English, and the title was adopted for the entirely logical reason that the state was a federation including kingdoms, and a king cannot with honor be a vassal to anybody less than an emperor — the same reason why Victoria had to be proclaimed Empress of India. And of course there was the business of referencing the Holy Roman Empire by the title of “Kaiser”. (I’m certain you know all this already but not everybdy does.)

      As to whether the German state was “as democratic as” Britain or France in 1914, I would have to disagree. There was a widespread franchise and a functioning legislature with a multi-party system, and effective courts with rule of law, true. But there was substantially less civilian control of the military than in Britain or France, and the Kaiser had far more actual control foreign policy, peace and war, and military affairs than the British monarch. These things were pretty much in Parliamentary hands in Britain long before 1914.

      As to the “imperial”” ambitions of Germany in 1914 in the generic rather than the legalistic sense, I think there is now quite a bit of recent scholarship on German war aims in Eastern Europe. I think it would be fair to say that the German state was seeking to control the region directly where possible and indirectly otherwise, and the state aims weren’t much diferent than those of Germany in 1941, except for the lunatic anti-semitism and racial theorizing. We can see what the German state wanted from the terms of the treaty of Brest-Litovsk in 1917, when they could pretty much write their own ticket. Looking at that, “imperial” seems to be a fair summary of their ambitions.

      By the way, given all of this, I still think that a reasonable negotiated peace would have been preferable in WWI any time after the battle of the Marne, to what actually transpired. Unlike Nazi Germany, the Imperial Germany of 1914 could be negotiated with.

      I strongly disagree with Buchanan and those here who agree with him. This has been a depressing thread. WWII is a case where the conventional wisdom is basically right and the revisionists are wrong. Avoiding WWI was logical. Negotiating with Wilhelmine Germany was possible. Negotiating with Hitler and expecting him to keep his promises was nuts. Churchill saw this clearly. Quibbling over might-have-beens of 1938 or 39 is a waste of time, in general.

    24. Jonathan Says:

      I agree with Shannon’s central argument but would add that the unreasonable, ideologically driven nature of many of our enemies is not the only reason why so many leaders of democratic countries misjudge them. There is also the issue of risk preference. Hitler, Saddam Hussein et al were willing to bet everything on a single decision, time after time. This type of behavior is inexplicable to many educated, middle-class, risk-averse westerners even though there are many examples of autocrats who behaved in unexpected and seemingly irrational ways. It is often prudent to assume that our adversaries are not like us and to plan for surprises. For us to assume that a foreign leader ought to behave as we would in a particular situation is a dangerous form of hubris.

    25. seydlitz89 Says:

      Interesting thread. Agree with T. Greer, Perry and Ralf.

      “The “Realist” school of foreign-policy thought is fatally flawed by its dependence on the presumption of the existence of the rational autocrat. The realist believe that even though autocrats hold vastly different ideologies, moralities and come from vastly different cultures and histories, they nevertheless evaluate real-world, on-the-ground conditions in the exact same way that someone inside a liberal democracy would. This idea depends on the premise that autocrats not only have all of the same information as do leaders of liberal democracies but also that they feed that information into the same model of cause and effect. As history has demonstrated repeatedly, they do not.”

      I’ve got a couple of comments concerning this paragraph of Shannon’s original post.

      First, if we define “realist” as based on the writings of Clausewitz/Morgenthau as opposed to those who came after Morgenthau, there is no presumption of rationality on the part of the political leadership. Clausewitz’s general theory has a rational element (subordination to politics/policy) as part of the “remarkable trinity” of war together with passion and uncertainty. That is two of the three elements of all wars are “irrational”, so there is no presumption of overriding rationality, a simple cause and effect relationship in deciding on war.

      Rather this type of realist view sees the decision to resort to war as highly problematic and loaded with unintended and tragic results, especially for the aggressor. Also war being an interaction between opposing wills, it is for the defender where the rational element plays the more active role, since following Clausewitz, war starts when the defender resists.

      Also following this view there is a link between tactics and strategy, the military aim suited to the political purpose: the military victory supplying the means to the political end which is a return to peace with the political purpose achieved. To achieve this both the means and the nature of the war in question have to be understood to an acceptable degree.

      Second, from the orignal post it seems that the leadership of liberal democracies basing their decisions on going to war on rational cause and effect models, on “real-world, on-the-ground conditions” is assumed. That is they are not influenced by the same ideological lenses as their autocratic counterparts. What exactly would be the basis for this assumption? Would not the liberal democratic leadership be influenced by domestic public opinion? Is that then assumed to be “rational”? If not, then is it assumed that the liberal democratic leadership acts “autocratically” when it comes to war making decisions?

    26. Ralf Goergens Says:

      Jim,

      thanks. I put ‘imperial’ in scare quotes not because I found it offensive but rather because it isn’t to be taken literally, i.e., the Kaiser as an absolute monarch, which he wasn’t, as you point out. And of course I meant to indicate that Wilhemine Germany shouldn’t be counted among the incalculabe autocracies.

      As to whether the German state was “as democratic as” Britain or France in 1914, I would have to disagree. There was a widespread franchise and a functioning legislature with a multi-party system, and effective courts with rule of law, true. But there was substantially less civilian control of the military than in Britain or France, and the Kaiser had far more actual control foreign policy, peace and war, and military affairs than the British monarch. These things were pretty much in Parliamentary hands in Britain long before 1914.

      Yes, the military was controlled by the Kaiser, but Parliament had control over the military budget. Wilhelm II: had to convince the representatives over and over again to get his way in military and foreign policy matters, as well as the expansion of the Kriegsgsmarine.

      As to the “imperial”” ambitions of Germany in 1914 in the generic rather than the legalistic sense, I think there is now quite a bit of recent scholarship on German war aims in Eastern Europe. I think it would be fair to say that the German state was seeking to control the region directly where possible and indirectly otherwise, and the state aims weren’t much diferent than those of Germany in 1941, except for the lunatic anti-semitism and racial theorizing. We can see what the German state wanted from the terms of the treaty of Brest-Litovsk in 1917, when they could pretty much write their own ticket. Looking at that, “imperial” seems to be a fair summary of their ambitions.

      The initial German war aims had been to secure the status quo by preventing a two-front war: Knock France out before Russia could be mobilized. Once fighting had gone on for years attitudes had hardened, so that the German leadership demanded more, not least to use the materials demanded at Brest-Litovsk on the Western front. The initial intentions can’t be judged by those of 1917.