Sunday, August 31, 2014

The High Cost Of Inaction


Consider the following scenario:
  •  Rising powers in Europe and Asia with militaristic ambitions begin to gobble up land, while the western world stands idly by.
  • A war-weary public in western Europe and the United States ignore the pretensions of would-be dictators.
  • Isolationism in America reaches a decades-long high.
  • Western leaders, without a clear strategy to deal with multiple crises that begin to envelop the globe, lurch from one policy to another, as one country after another falls victim to fanatical dictators.
  • Thousands, then tens of thousands, then hundreds of thousands of innocent people die in military conquests as the west frantically tries to ignore the burgeoning crises.
Am I talking about the world today? It sure sounds like it! However, I'm actually talking about the world in the years just prior to the start of World War II. As a student of history, I've been just as fascinated by how the world got to such a global conflagration as I have been about the war that ensued after the years of 1937-1939.

World War II could and should have been avoided. With resolve and willingness to use military actions, Hitler and the military leaders of Japan could have been defeated in 1937 and 1938 with a small fraction of the blood that would eventually have to be shed. When Hitler gobbled up Austria in 1937 and Czechoslovakia in 1938 and 1939, he was greatly overextended. Germany's economy was far from robust, and his military was not nearly the potent force that it would be just a couple of years later. However, as he conquered countries with no real pushback from western leaders, his appetite for conquest, far from being appeased, was greatly whetted, and his ability to make those conquests was greatly enhanced as he stripped the conquered countries of their resources and their manpower. Meanwhile hundreds of thousands died in 1937 in "The Rape of Nanking" as Japan's militaristic leaders conquer much of China and subject its inhabitants to the "Three All Policy". What were "The Three Alls?" Kill all, burn all, loot all!

However, the peoples of the west were understandably weary of war. The Great War (as World War I was known at the time) wiped out a generation of young men in Europe, leaving thousands of widows and children to fend for themselves. America as well as Europe was recovering from the Great Depression, and isolationism in this country was popular as the American people saw European and Asian events as something vaguely interesting but not really relevant to their day-to-day struggle to get by. The U.S. military was a skeleton of what it had been a few short years earlier.

As I write this seventy-five years to the day from the beginning of World War II on September 1, 1939, I am amazed and troubled by the similarity between the world of that day and the world of the summer of 2014. Consider these troubling facts:

  • Vladamir Putin of Russia earlier this year gobbled up the Crimea while the west stood idly by. After months of agitation by Russian separatists in Ukraine, including the shooting down of a commercial jet, Putin has invaded eastern Ukraine just this week. This is eerily similar to the

    manufactured "Sudeten Crisis" of 1938, in which Hitler's henchmen in the Sudetenland (the German-speaking portion of Czechoslovakia) agitated for months before Hitler moved in to "liberate" that area of Czechoslovakia in October of that year. We have imposed sanctions on Russia and made grand speeches, but this seems to mean as much to Putin as British Prime Minister Chamberlain's appeasement strategy did in the late 30's to Hitler.
  • The U.S. government under President Obama has tried it's best to ignore the Syrian crisis for three years. However, it has become increasingly apparent that the cost of this inaction is and will be astonishingly high. After completely withdrawing our presence in nearby Iraq in 2011 and drawing "red lines" against the Syrian genocidal leader Assad, then demurring to follow up when Assad boldly steps over them, an even greater menace has appeared on the scene. Had the U.S. stepped in three or even two years ago, ISIS could have been stopped before it ever really got started. However this new threat, which actually has been building under the radar for several years, has burst upon the world stage with savagery which has shocked the world, as it rapes, murders, pillages, and beheads in its quest to build an Islamic Caliphate in Iraq and Syria and eventually the greater Middle East. Meanwhile, the President of the United States plays multiple rounds of golf and attends fund-raiser after fund-raiser, taking time out briefly in between to consult with his advisors on the burgeoning crises. His candid admission last week that we don't have a strategy to deal with ISIS has even left members of his own party aghast at his "too cautious" approach, as Sen. Dianne Feinstein expressed. (See this astonishing NBC report, which really nails it.)
  • Flying under the radar at the moment, but possibly the biggest threat of all, is the Muslim Shiite government of Iran's rapid move towards acquiring nuclear weapons. Its leaders, who are just as fanatical in their own way as the ISIS militants, have vowed to destroy "The Little Satan" of Israel and "The Big Satan" of America. We refuse to take them at their word at our peril.
  • Israel, America's staunchest ally in the war-torn Middle East, and the only stable democracy, has seen its once-close ally the United States virtually abandon it as it deals with the Iranian government-backed Hamas terrorists who control the Gaza Strip.
  • Under the Obama administration, the U.S. military is rapidly reducing its footprint in the world and will soon be at pre-World War II levels. Much of the war-weary American public supports this drawdown, as isolationism attains the levels not seen since the days before Pearl Harbor.
Am I saying that I think that we are on the brink of a World War 3? No, but I am saying that it seems to me that we are seeing a similar set of circumstances now that resulted in a world conflict then. Then as now, appeasing tyrants never works. Then as now, the cost of inaction is exponentially greater than the cost of bold and thoughtful action. Then as now, irresolution in our leaders brings on contempt and scorn from our enemies, and emboldens them to take even greater steps towards conquest.

What happens next? Well, of course, no one knows. However, through our "lead from behind" policy of inaction, we have largely lost our best and least costly options. It is not too late for world leaders take a resolute stand against these growing menaces (as British Prime Minister David Cameron has done in stark contrast to President Obama).

As I have written before, although I look upon these things with concern, I do not despair. As a Christian, I know what the last page of the book will be! Christ will be the final victor in the end, when He closes the pages of history after a time of tribulation that will make the world wars of the 20th century like a picnic in the park. I don't write these things to needlessly alarm of frighten anyone. However, I believe that we need to prepare ourselves for tough times ahead.

P.S.  After I wrote this post, I went back and looked at what I wrote last year about these things.  I wish that I could have written today that things have turned around since then, but instead I've had to write that we are only further down the road towards a possible world-wide conflagration than we were then.  You can read what I wrote here:

A Colossal Failure
A Colossal Failure X 2
While America Sleeps

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