The Calendar is Still Not Omnipotent

Barack Obama responded to the murder by ISIS/ISIL of James Foley by stating, among other things, that “a group like ISIL has no place in the 21st century.”

Which paralleled his lecture about Vlad Putin’s actions, earlier this year:  “…because you’re bigger and stronger taking a piece of the country – that is not how international law and international norms are observed in the 21st century.”  Hey, what are you going to believe–Obama’s theories, or your lying eyes?

My response here to Obama’s comments concerning Putin are equally applicable to his more recent statement concerning ISIS/ISIL, aka the Islamic State…

The idea that the mere passage of time has some automatic magical effect on national behavior…on human behavior…is simplistic, and more than a little odd.  I don’t know how much history Obama and Kerry actually studied during their college years, but 100 years early 1914…there were many, many people convinced that a major war could not happen…because we were now in the twentieth century, with international trade and with railroads and steamships and telegraph networks and electric lights and all. And just 25 years after that, quite a few people refused to believe that concentration camps devoted to systematic murder could exist in the advanced mid-20th century, in the heart of Europe.

Especially simplistic is the idea that, because there had been no military territory-grabs by first-rank powers for a long time, that the era of such territory-grabs was over. George Eliot neatly disposed of this idea many years ago, in a passage in her novel Silas Marner:

The sense of security more frequently springs from habit than from conviction, and for this reason it often subsists after such a change in the conditions as might have been expected to suggest alarm. The lapse of time during which a given event has not happened is, in this logic of habit, constantly alleged as a reason why the event should never happen, even when the lapse of time is precisely the added condition which makes the event imminent.

Or, as Mark Steyn put it much more recently:

‘Stability’ is a surface illusion, like a frozen river: underneath, the currents are moving, and to the casual observer the ice looks equally ‘stable’ whether there’s a foot of it or just two inches. There is no status quo in world affairs: ‘stability’ is a fancy term to dignify laziness and complacency as sophistication.

Obama also frequently refers to the Cold War, and argues that it is in the past. But the pursuit of force-based territorial gain by nations long predates the Cold War, and it has not always had much to do with economic rationality. The medieval baron with designs on his neighbor’s land didn’t necessarily care about improving his own standard of living, let alone that of his peasants–what he was after, in many cases, was mainly the ego charge of being top dog.

Human nature was not repealed by the existence of steam engines and electricity in 1914…nor even by the broad Western acceptance of Christianity in that year…nor is it repealed in 2014 by computers and the Internet or by sermons about “multiculturalism” and bumper stickers calling for “coexistence.”

American Digest just linked a very interesting analysis of the famous “long telegram” sent by George Kennan in 1947: George Kennan, Vladimir Putin, and the Appetites of Men. In this document, Kennan argued that Soviet behavior must be understood not only through the prism of Communist ideology, but also in terms of the desire of leaders to establish and maintain personal power.

Regarding the current Russian/Crimean situation, the author of the linked article (Tod Worner) says:

In the current crisis, many will quibble about the historical, geopolitical complexities surrounding the relationship between Russia, Ukraine and Crimea. They will debate whether Crimea’s former inclusion in the Russian Empire or Crimea’s restive Russian population justifies secession especially with a strong Russian hand involved. Papers will be written. Conferences will be convened. Experts will be consulted. Perhaps these are all prudent and thoughtful notions to consider and actions to undertake. Perhaps.

But perhaps we should, like George Kennan, return to the same questions we have been asking about human nature since the beginning of time. Maybe we are, at times, overthinking things. Perhaps we would do well to step back and consider something more fundamental, something more base, something more reliable than the calculus of geopolitics and ideology…Perhaps we ignore the simple math that is often before our very eyes. May we open our eyes to the appetites of men.

12 thoughts on “The Calendar is Still Not Omnipotent”

  1. Making speeches like that allows him to comment in a deprecating way without being required to do anything real. In that sense, it’s politically useful. To him.

  2. It is very difficult to come to a rational conclusion about why the thirty years war occurred.

    A major consequence of the Thirty Years’ War was the devastation of entire regions, denuded by the foraging armies (bellum se ipsum alet). Famine and disease significantly decreased the population of the German and Italian states, Bohemia and the Low Countries; most of the combatant powers were bankrupted.

    It made no sense as we understand it but Europe was ravaged as badly or worse than World War II which had much more powerful weapons.

  3. Hey, what are you going to believe–Obama’s theories, or your lying eyes?

    His theories (or the way he sees things): He’s analogous to a man who is deep in debt and has a wife that buys a new BMW on their jointly held credit card. The wife leaves him and the car behind.
    Out of spite and bull-headed stupidity he torches the beemer rather than moderate his loss and sell the thing to gain as much utility from the situation as possible.

    The BMW is like the situation in Iraq 6 years ago. He and his people didn’t want it. He didn’t utilize the situation. Rather than insist upon a presence (of SOME sort for a time the U.S. govt. determines, based on stability of Iraq rather than an arbitrary time period) and see that it might be a good thing he torches the whole thing and pulls out. Instead of taking stock rationally (assuming here that he does want a strong successful U.S. of A.) he knee-jerks out entirely and entirely loses what money and blood have accomplished.

  4. Dinesh D’Souza calls it the law of conquest. For most of history, that is how nations grew or failed – through conquest, occupation, and holding onto the newly acquired people and resources.

    WWII was a huge war of conquest. Germany defeated and occupied many countries, as did Japan. The Allies turned all that around except that Russia consolidated all the territory and people it had “liberated” into the USSR. The UN was an attempt to put a lid on conquest, but it didn’t work very well. The USSR and China kept trying to extend Communism to other countries through conquest. That was what the Cold War (along with several small hot wars)was all about.

    The theory was that if they were contained, eventually they would collapse economically. (Has Communism ever worked? Nope!) It was a good theory. They did collapse economically. It just took a lot longer than we thought it would. Unfortunately, not many people understand what happened and why. Then, of course, there are the Commies imbedded in our political, media, and academic circles who are working to revise the history. In their version Communism only failed because it wasn’t done right.

    Whether Obama is filled with idealistic naivete’ in claiming that nations don’t follow the law of conquest anymore, or if it’s just his way of helping Vlad and the jihadis, comes back to the old question – knave or fool?

  5. “Russia consolidated all the territory and people it had “liberated” into the USSR.” No it didn’t; only the Baltic states, and parts of Poland, Finland, Romania, Czechoslovakia and Japan. Austria was let go altogether, and most of Eastern Europe was corralled into the Warsaw Pact, not into the USSR.

    “The USSR and China kept trying to extend Communism to other countries through conquest.” Though they were a permanent threat, and were really keen on spies and agents, they actually tried remarkably little conquest. The Chinese attack in Korea, plus the Russian on Afghanistan, stick out, the first being fought to a draw and the second defeated altogether.

  6. “Cuba..”: it was the USA under JFK that attempted the conquest of Cuba, not the USSR.
    “Afghanistan…”: I did say ” the Russian [attack] on Afghanistan”.

    “Central America”: I suspect that the USSR’s record there can hardly be as bad as the USA’s.
    “Congo”: how ever much they stirred the pot there, they didn’t attempt conquest. Did they?

    “And they must have just stumbled accidentally into Inner Mongolia and Tibet”: come now, China had claimed those territories long before there was a communist in China.
    “Don’t forget Vietnam.” I didn’t: China did attack Vietnam after the North Vietnamese had won their war on the South, and got a bloody nose for its pains. Maybe I should have mentioned that, but I’ve no idea what their motive was. Conquest? Punitive Expedition? Search me.

    “Also there was the matter of Greece, the subject of Communist aggression during the late 40s.” Good point: attempted and defeated. It’s particularly interesting because they didn’t share a border with Greece, in contrast to Afghanistan and Korea.

    I’d have thought that Americans might take pride in how well deterrence worked at inhibiting communist attempts at conquest, but apparently not. Odd.

    Another possibility: Spain – not exactly an attempt at conquest, but clearly an attempt to arrange that their sons-of-bitches were in control; had The Republic won, a Stalinist Spain would have been very likely thereafter I guess. And then Hitler would presumably have attacked it in ’41. How lucky the Spanish were to avoid those two things. But pre -WWII and therefore not strictly relevant to the discussion.

  7. ““Cuba..”: it was the USA under JFK that attempted the conquest of Cuba, not the USSR.”

    Actually, it was Castro acting as the USSR’s catspaw that conquered Cuba just as he lied about being a communist. The Soviets were very good at that. The exiles, who have made Miami the beating heart of the Caribbean, were the impetus to invade. They just didn’t get enough help. Kennedy chickened out. If he wasn’t going to provide the planned air cover, he should have refused to stage the invasion. The invaders were not US.

    “Afghanistan…”: I did say ” the Russian [attack] on Afghanistan”.

    Yes, you did

    “Central America”: I suspect that the USSR’s record there can hardly be as bad as the USA’s.”

    Only if you refuse to lift your head from the sand. Do you think that Sandanistas were a genuine local movement ?

    “Congo”: how ever much they stirred the pot there, they didn’t attempt conquest. Did they?” No, they and China just supported Olenga and he killed all the Europeans. Congo was a bad job from the start but they made it worse.

  8. Dearieme: China supported North Vietnam before they fought against them. The reason for the falling out was, as far as I can tell, division of the spoils, and the greater Russian/Chinese contest for control of their newly acquired SE Asian territories/colonies.

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