The Inexplicable Origins of World War III

Eric Medlin

Eric Medlin

History instructor. Writer. Rising star in the world of affordable housing.

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65 Responses

  1. Avatar greginak
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    says:

    Agreed. This is all bad and dangerous enough without excessive hyperbole. Because this is america there is always a need for the right amount of hyperbole. But the chances of ww3 or even a land invasion and subsequent draft are extremely unlikely. Calm the heck down and focus on bad enough likely dangers.Report

  2. Avatar LeeEsq
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    says:

    I don’t think this will lead to World War III but even a limited US/Iran war will be very bad. Trump is not a rational political actor. He isn’t even rational in the wAy that an authoritarian dictator like Franco or Pinochet can be rational. He is more like one of the more deluded Roman Emperors. People have a hard time recognizing this because the reality of somebody totally unsuited for the Presidency is too horrible to contemplate.Report

  3. Avatar Doctor Jay
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    says:

    I find it interesting that at this moment, your argument is “Liberals are overreacting and a bit silly”, rather than “This was a good thing because of X or Y”.

    The thing is, you can always find people who overreact and engage in hyperbole, regardless of what the topic is or what side of that topic the speaker is on. Because overreaction and hyperbole drive online attention in the form of likes, reshares and comments.

    I prefer to step back from that. I’ve read a lot of stuff from people who don’t like what just happened, but never, ever said anything about “WW 3” or a nuclear exchange, which seems quite unlikely. And these are people who are quite liberal, but just not inclined to hyperbole or overreaction.Report

    • Avatar Pinky
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      says:

      His argument was that WWIII talk is silly, because that’s all he was addressing in the article. He wasn’t talking about the full scope of military scenarios or whether they’re good. He addressed the hyperbole because the subject is the hyperbole.Report

    • Avatar Dark Matter
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      says:

      My kids and wife had concerns about WW3. I didn’t ask where they got it from, but I seriously doubt they went from “the US bombs someone” to “WW3” on their own.Report

    • Avatar Ozzzy!
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      says:

      Saying it’s complicated seems to be verboten these days, so you had to write a long string of words to say, dang it is complicated.

      Can we take back ‘it’s complicated’ please?Report

  4. Avatar Jaybird
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    says:

    The main thing that I’ve noticed is some variant of “Oh, X is happening? THIS IS WHY TRUMP IS SO AWFUL!” and when it comes out a couple of hours later that X did not, in fact, happen, “Oh, X didn’t happen? Trump doesn’t even have enough backbone to follow through on his bullshit!”

    There are a list of things I want to happen (good things!). (There is another list of things I want to avoid (bad things!).)

    To the extent that the good things happen, yay hurray.
    To the extent that the bad things are avoided, yay hurray.

    And responses that look for something to criticize even as the opposite was criticized yesterday gets me to wonder what the *REAL* criticism actually is.Report

    • Avatar Gabriel Conroy
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      says:

      That reminds of a story I heard a couple years ago (maybe before the election, but definitely when it was clear he was a contender) about some old lady who was cheated by Trump Inc. in a condominium deal. It was an example of how callous Trump was and how little he cared about people. Yet, if that old lady had had a satisfactory business deal with Trump, it would be evidence of how bad she was for doing business with him. It’s almost necessary for her to get cheated in order to make her sympathetic.

      I say what you say reminds me of that example (assuming I’m just piecing together some odds and ends I’ve heard), but I realize it’s not precisely analogous to what you’re saying, too. But too few people seem to acknowledge how much they hope things will go wrong for others–all in order to underscore how bad Trump is.

      (I don’t exempt myself from that type of thinking either, by the way. If we change the topic and the bad guy, I’m as likely to in some way root for a bad outcome in service of a less bad, or even good cause.)Report

  5. Avatar George Turner
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    says:

    One of the paths to a third world war is a Middle East that’s armed with lots of nuclear missiles. We weren’t a bit happy when India and Pakistan’s joined the nuclear club, but their focus is solely on Kashmir and any conflict is unlikely to spread beyond India and Pakistan. A belligerent Iran is bad, a nuclear armed belligerent Iran would be a disaster.

    Trump’s actions against Iran are the strongest push yet to prevent that, and thus prevent a nuclear armed region, one where Sunnis and Shias each have large numbers of warheads, which would be the rational response of Iran’s neighbors. The current confrontation may grow worse before it gets better, but even if it becomes a major shooting war, it’s still better than a world where Iran has hundreds of nuclear IRBMs and ICBMs, plus plenty of warheads that can find their way into the hands of proxy jihadist groups.

    Looking back at the 1920’s and 30’s and the rise of Fascism and Nazism in Europe, in hindsight it’s obvious that a whole range of more aggressive diplomatic and military measures applied earlier would have been far better than letting events culminate as they did due to a lack of allied resolve and hope that another great war could be avoided.

    One could point out that the severity of the Versailles treaty and the Allies demands of reparations set the stage for the path Germany took, and thus no sanctions should have been placed on Iran, but that horse left the barn long ago. Obama tried to turn Iran into a responsible member of the world community, and they instead used the breathing space to become even more belligerent. At this point further appeasement is likely similar to showing weakness over Czechoslovakia.Report

  6. Avatar Chip Daniels
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    says:

    Since the dawn of the nuclear age in 1945, there has never been another World War, that is, a war involving most of the superpowers.

    But paradoxically, we have seen nothing but nonstop low level wars ever since.

    There is not an American alive who has an adult memory of a time in which American soldiers weren’t fighting somewhere, and this doesn’t count our financial and logistical support for proxy wars.

    But its not really a paradox, is it? The nuclear balance assures that we can make war on Vietnam, but not its benefactor the USSR; North Korea, but not China.

    More to the point, we can make war on any number of non-nuclear countries, but never, ever any nuclear ones.

    And because of our superpower status, these wars are relatively painless. The worst one, Vietnam had a tenth the casualties of WWII.

    But maybe the panic over WWIII is misplaced; Maybe we are like the frog in boiling water, sitting impassively as we bleed blood and treasure from a thousand cuts.

    For example, ever month, a check goes out to some old woman whose husband was killed in Korea in 1952, or Vietnam in 1968, or Lebanon, Grenada, Iraq.
    Every year we spend billions treating the men who are still hobbling around from those wars, everyone from the pimply faced kid being fitted with prosthetic legs to the WWII vet who is getting kidney treatment.

    Maybe we should begin to panic.

    Like the passengers on the Titanic who at some imperceptible point when the deck tilted just one more degree, realized they were in peril, maybe at some imperceptible point the American citizens will realize this is all a vast pointless waste, that we are less secure than we ever have been, that the more enemies we kill, the more enemies we have.

    Maybe its worth considering that we are already in WWIII, and losing badly.Report

    • Avatar George Turner
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      says:

      The number killed in all wars, and from violence in general, keeps dropping. Aside from the spike of WW-II, it has been dropping dramatically for centuries. Steven Pinker wrote extensively about it, and PBS NOVA devoted a two hour show to his finding. Review of The Violence Paradox.

      Our tolerance of violence, and tolerance of massive numbers of casualties, has likewise declined. For example, our military deaths in the Iraq War didn’t exceed drunk driving deaths in any state that starts with the letter ‘M’. During the Gulf War, operation Desert Storm, the military death rate dropped from peacetime levels because soldiers were fighting a war instead of negotiating highway traffic or driving home drunk from a bar. There was at least one month in Iraq where deaths from heart attacks exceeded deaths from enemy action. In contrast, the death rate in WW-I or WW-II was simply staggering, globally averaging hundreds per hour for years.

      Even in this conflict, more people died in the stampede at Suleimani’s funeral than died in our attack on him, and the Iranian missile response didn’t even kill anybody, and that’s from a country that used children as human minesweepers in the Iran/Iraq war, a war in which perhaps a million people died.Report

      • Avatar Chip Daniels
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        says:

        Yes exactly, which is why the endless wars are so painless because the number of people dying is so small that most of the time, few Americans are even aware that we are at war.

        Except…
        When 9-11 happened, Americans weren’t pacified by being told that “the number of people killed isn’t that big”.

        Very few Americans knew we were at war with Al Queda until September 11 2001; But in fact we were at war with them since the end of the 1991 Gulf War.

        The 9-11 attacks and the ensuing Iraq/ Afghan wars were the indirect result of the first Gulf War.

        What other enemies have we created over the past 20 years of war, that will only show up on our radar in 2025, or 2030, when some spectacular bombing or bioweapon or something happens, and Americans find themselves stunned by an enemy we never even knew we had, in a war we never knew we were fighting?Report

        • Avatar George Turner
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          says:

          Well, that’s kind of why we took out Soleimani. He was using the billions from the JCPOA to stir up revolts and terrorist attacks throughout the region, forward deploying Iranian missiles in Syria so he could strike at Israel, etc. I think he was funding the Houthis in Yemen to the tune of about $100 million.

          We can worry about the enemy we don’t know we have, but we certainly should pay attention to the highly aggressive enemies we know we’ve got right now. Suleimani was one of the key drivers of regional trouble, especially trouble aimed at the US and Israel. There are times when taking out Hitler or Napoleon results in a much better outcome.

          As I said above, the big thing we shouldn’t tolerate is a nuclear armed terrorist state with a martyrdom complex and the long-standing policy of striking us via proxies, because if we allow that to develop, the West will eventually lose entire cities, and our Southern border will have to become impenetrable by even the most determined and clever adversaries, while world ports will never be safe from annihilation via third party shipping container. Almost any other path to the future is preferable, so just kicking the can down the road isn’t a wise option. The question is figuring out the cheapest or best path forward. A spontaneous popular protest leading to a coup and regime change might be really great about now, especially for all the Iranians who are sick of totalitarian theocracy.Report

          • Avatar Chip Daniels
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            says:

            When do we take out King Salman, who is funding the other parties such as Yemenis that Soleimani was fighting?

            Come to think of it, why was Soleimani our enemy and KSM our friend? It could just as easily be the other way round, don’t you think?

            Or maybe neither one of them needs to be our friend, or enemy? Has anyone stopped to think about what strategic interest America actually has there?

            Maybe if the endless war was a bit more painful, with consequences that were more widely felt, we might have such a conversation.Report

        • Avatar Dark Matter
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          says:

          The 9-11 attacks and the ensuing Iraq/ Afghan wars were the indirect result of the first Gulf War.

          Are you claiming that doing nothing would have worked out better for us?

          And… would you make the same claim about Europe when war broke out there?

          Americans find themselves stunned by an enemy we never even knew we had, in a war we never knew we were fighting?

          The world has gotten smaller. That’s not going to change.

          One of the lessons to learn is just leaving the locals alone to settle their own differences can have really nasty effects on us if (when) the wrong side wins. That doesn’t mean we need to fight every war, but it does mean we can’t withdraw into isolationalism. We have interests in the world working. Occassionally we need to play global cop.Report

          • Avatar Chip Daniels
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            says:

            Imagine we had removed all our troops and bases from the Mideast after the Gulf War in 92.

            We could have still held Israel in our protective alliance, but not fueled OBL’s rallying cry to get the foreigners out of their land.

            No one, anywhere tolerates foreign troops on their soil, and no one can blame them for reacting with rage.Report

            • Avatar George Turner
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              says:

              Or OBL might have succeeded in toppling the Saudi government, turning Mecca and Medina into terrorist shrines, giving Al Qaeda direct control of all those mosques Saudi Arabia built around the world, and allowing him to funnel hundreds of billions into schemes to burn the West in a sea of fire.

              One of the West’s interests in the Middle East is to try and make sure all the money from the oil doesn’t fuel crazed violence, where pretty much every oil rich country becomes a version of Iran, or worse.Report

            • Avatar Dark Matter
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              says:

              Osama bin Laden founded al-Qaeda in 1988. They were a really nasty organization right out of the box and doing heinous things on a large scale by 1992.

              The rage you’re talking about is the Saudi government decided to defend themselves from Saddam with the Americans rather than with Bin Laden’s crew. The Saudis realized (imho correctly) that they had lots of money and not much army, and Saddam had little money and lots of army. However putting OBL in charge of “defense” with an army which followed him personally seemed like the sort of thing which would lead to OBL taking over at some point.

              The US not on bases there probably leads to either Saddam or OBL taking Saudi Arabia, which very quickly becomes a discussion on how powerful do we want to let Hitler get before we do something.Report

              • Avatar Chip Daniels
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                says:

                The alternative history you are proposing is wild speculation.

                Which brings up the point; Most of our entanglements there are either the result of our own folly, or pre-emptive actions based on our fears of what could happen.

                Which is madness itself; We have no way of controlling the Mideast region, yet we are intent to crush any possible avenue of threat to us, no matter how speculative or far fetched. Our strategy only works if we achieve total and unrivaled control of a region we barely understand.

                There is no way to win when we are battling our own fears and imaginations.

                And just look at the result- America is less secure than we were a year ago, or ten years ago, or twenty. The region is more unstable and more hostile than ever before.

                At some point, we have to admit our current strategy is a massive failure.Report

              • Avatar Dark Matter
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                says:

                Wild speculation? OBL did make the offer to the Saudi gov, they exiled him.

                The serious problem with your reasoning is you’re assuming OBL would be a reasonable and nice guy if we just played our cards differently. Everyone wants to be a nice guy until those big mean Americans provoke them.

                Ted Bundy wasn’t going to be a nice guy no matter how big an army he had.

                OBL’s big skill (other than money) was charismatically describing mass murder in such a way that it was socially acceptable and even attractive for a certain cultural subset. He was really good at this years before the first Gulf War (he got started in ’79). His flavor of god is supposed to be in charge, and it’s the rest of the world’s fault that it’s not. He personally is supposed to be leading god’s army. He has Jim-Jone’s level Charisma to make that work. He has a list of reasons why it’s our fault (actually the Russian’s fault for the first decade or so), but the reasons are probably more excuses.

                Finding socially acceptable ways to channel this sort of thing is a serious problem even without him also having a Billion dollars to create his own army of mass murders.

                Our strategy only works if we achieve total and unrivaled control of a region we barely understand.

                Hardly. Our strategy is to knock down dangerous power structures when they get out of hand. You don’t need “control” to do that.

                …or pre-emptive actions based on our fears of what could happen.

                You make the best choice you can with the information you have.

                But Obama more or less believed exactly what you are saying and tried to act on it… and then flinched away from putting ISIS in charge.

                What we’re doing is awful, the other choices are worse.Report

              • Avatar Pinky
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                says:

                You asked us to “Imagine we had removed all our troops and bases from the Mideast after the Gulf War in 92.” We did, and you didn’t like our scenario, so you labelled it “wild speculation”. That’s frustrating. We’re all speculating, yourself included.Report

              • Avatar Chip Daniels
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                says:

                OK that’s fair.
                Any alternative history is speculative.

                I think we are currently trying to control the Mideast and reflexively view any resistance as a threat, which causes us to overlook possible avenues for non military resolution.Report

              • Avatar Dark Matter
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                says:

                …possible avenues for non military resolution…

                There’s a case for us using the military too often and incorrectly. However the real world alternative is NOT in 1992 OBL magically becomes a nice guy in spite of his many year history of being a murderous radical and a 4 year history of controlling an international death cult.

                All the solutions are ugly in the ME. Obama’s peace deal didn’t prevent Iran from getting nukes long term nor stop them from continuing to run around attacking the occasional embassy, oil refinery, and creating terror and chaos via their proxies.

                Syria is what the ME looks like when the US decides to not get involved. Bill Clinton views the biggest mistake of his Presidency as not stopping the Rwandan Genocide. Big picture, absent Pax Americana, various regional rivals create massive armies and/or go nuclear to defend themselves, and we look the other way as heinous things happen.

                And for all the WW3 hysteria, it looks like Iran isn’t going to kill anyone over this.Report

              • Avatar Chip Daniels
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                says:

                Pax Americana is the problem, not the solution.

                However devastating the Syrian civil war is, it doesn’t pose a threat to the United States.

                Our attempt to impose a Western style democracy on Iraq caused as much devastation there as the Syrian civil war has on its nation and has led directly to Iran becoming much more powerful than it was before.Report

              • Avatar Pinky
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                says:

                I’m not crazy about what we have to do to maintain a Pax Americana, but historically what follows pax’s isn’t very paxful. A Dar al-Islam or a Chinese Mandate from Heaven would be a lot worse that what we’ve got now. The EU lacks all conviction while the Russian thugocracy is full of passionate intensity.Report

              • Avatar George Turner
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                says:

                Our Western style democracy was doing pretty good in Iraq. Their local papers devoted a lot of their ink to sports. Then Obama pulled back and Iran stepped into the vacuum, getting the PM to purge almost all the Sunnis from government. That created a hotbed of anger and resentment that was fertile ground for ISIS.Report

              • Avatar Chip Daniels
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                says:

                Um, no.
                The Bush administrators purged all the Sunni Baathists from power, allowing the Iran-aligned Shias to take power even before Obama was elected.Report

              • Avatar Pinky
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                says:

                A real problem with long wars is that administrations and Congresses change, and that can change policies. It’d be simple to blame one side or another, but it’s inevitable. Wars make foreign policy into a campaign issue.

                I notice that no presidential candidate in my lifetime has run on a platform of more war. I think everyone takes the office expecting that their own personal charm will solve more problems than the last guy. Then at some point there’s a briefing where it sinks in that this isn’t blackjack, it’s poker, and all the other world leaders want the pot as much as you do. I’d bet that this is why ex-presidents tend to treat each other with respect. I’d also bet that the rapid aging we see among presidents begins at such a briefing.Report

              • Avatar Dark Matter
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                says:

                However devastating the Syrian civil war is, it doesn’t pose a threat to the United States.

                Which is why we’re not there very seriously. Our interests are in not letting chemical weapons become the new normal for warfare and to prevent ISIS from expanding. So mostly to protect the world’s oil.

                Our attempt to impose a Western style democracy on Iraq caused as much devastation there…

                Oh for the days when the peace loving Saddam was in charge. If you’re trying to redo history, you need to deal with Saddam as he was understood at the time and not simply handwave what to do about him. When he’s not killing his own civilians he’s launching wars on his neighbors, with a stretch goal of trying to expand his WMDs.

                We instantly get a much happier world if we airbrush him out of existence, reality is harder.

                and has led directly to Iran becoming much more powerful than it was before.

                This is cherry picking. Over the last 18 years something that we didn’t like would have happened, but a lot of really good things also happened. Saddam is gone. Kuwait still exists and is free. The ME hasn’t collectively gone nuclear. There are some seriously nasty potential outcomes if we didn’t do anything.

                Obama tried to make the “things would be better without us” ideology work, pulled us out of Iraq, and things got so much worse even he had to go back. As bad as it is to have the Baltimore cops around, them simply leaving makes things much worse.Report

              • Avatar Chip Daniels
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                says:

                “So mostly to protect the world’s oil.”

                Seriously? How did that become America’s job, one that our young men should die for?

                What your logic leads to is America appointing itself the ruler and arbiter of the entire world’s disputes. A permanent imperial occupation, in an ever increasing number of places.

                This is textbook “How Empires Collapse” stuff.Report

              • Avatar Dark Matter
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                says:

                This is textbook “How Empires Collapse” stuff.

                Defense spending as a percentage of GDP is way, way down from the days of the Korean war and the Vietnam war. If our empire ends it will be because of social transfers, which make the wars look cheap.

                What your logic leads to is America appointing itself the ruler and arbiter of the entire world’s disputes.

                The alternative is Iraq, Iran, Egypt, SA, and a few others armed to the teeth and probably nuclear armed.

                If we were very unlucky then ISIS might also be on that list.

                That’s over and above the economic and other costs to the world, and indirectly the US, even if all of them go with the cheaper chemical weapons.

                The real world effects of what you’re trying to suggest are multiple genocides and multiple wars. Sryia times a lot.Report

  7. Avatar Gabriel Conroy
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    says:

    I’m going to offer a different view form what Eric says in the OP. I see more similarities (or to hedge, fewer dissimilarities), to 1914 than he does.

    1. The biggest similarity is a “meta similarity”: We cannot predict the future. We don’t know what spark of events might lead to a precipitous escalation.

    2. One reason 1914 unfolded the way it did was that Germany believed it needed to strike first (against France) once a credible whiff of a two front war came about. True, the presence of nuclear weapons makes the powers more gun shy than they might be. But it just takes one (or more) amoral or mad head of government, or a set of not very improbable situations, or a regime facing what it sees as an existential threat, to believe that being the first to use nuclear arms is a good idea. It takes a less mad/amoral head of government to think MADD style retaliation is a good idea.

    3. The alliances may not necessarily be ironclad, but the alliances of 1914 weren’t quite as ironclad as they seem in retrospect. I’m not an expert, but I understand that throughout July 1914, there was at least some question whether Germany really would back Austria Hungary. Italy ended up (eventually) entering on the side of the allies, not the Central Powers. And the UK might have stayed out of the conflict if Germany hadn’t invaded Belgium (or it might have entered anyway….we don’t know.) The alliances of 1941 wasn’t obviously ironclad, either. I suspect Japan would have attacked Pearl Harbor even without its alliance with Germany and Italy. It’s a strange thing, at least in retrospect, that Germany and Italy actually honored the alliance. (That’s not to say the wider war didn’t enter into Japan’s calculations–the US was probably set to enter the war soon against Germany anyway–just that Japan would have been foolish to count too much on the alliance itself.) Of course, most of the preceding is speculation on my part.

    3. The world system that 1914 destroyed (here I’ll follow the practice of referring to Europe as “the world” even though it isn’t) was in itself a Pax Post-Napoleon. 1815-1914 wasn’t without wars in Europe, but a continent-wide war on a grand scale was averted. The world system destroyed by the Napoleonic Wars and French Revolution was in itself a Pax-Westphalia. Those Pax’s were of course different from the Pax Americana, and just because they fell apart so violently doesn’t mean the Pax Americana will fall apart in the same way (though it will fall apart someday, either sooner or later). But the fact of difference doesn’t negate the possibility that it’s more fragile than we think, or that it might go out with a bang.

    In this comment, I find myself in an odd position. I’m generally one of those who says we should indeed ratchet down the hyperbole when it comes to Trump, even though I strongly disapprove of him and his presidency. I do fear, however, that his irresponsibility is more likely to bring on a world war than the actions of a more thoughtful person would. I think it’s unlikely (for many of the reasons that Eric states), and I think the danger is there with even the most thoughtful of presidents, but I think it’s more likely than Eric suggests.

    I’ll part by saying this is quite a thought-provoking piece. I may disagree with some aspects of it, but I’m glad he wrote it.Report

  8. Avatar Chip Daniels
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    says:

    An example of the complications of Pax Americana:
    https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/on-the-day-us-forces-killed-soleimani-they-launched-another-secret-operation-targeting-a-senior-iranian-official-in-yemen/2020/01/10/60f86dbc-3245-11ea-898f-eb846b7e9feb_story.html

    Basically, in order to weaken Iran’s ability to advance its interests in Iraq and elsewhere, the government decided to attack their operatives anywhere.

    So we launch an attack within the borders of a third country, Yemen to kill a guy who posed only a future threat.
    Not a threat to Americans in America, but to American troops that we have staged in Iraq, the country which both Iran and America are fighting to control.
    And of course, sooner or later we will blunder into making the Yemenis our enemies because no one likes foreign troops waging war on their soil.

    We’re locked in a terrible feedback loop.

    The Iranians are now moving to control Iraq because we removed the only person blocking them; And now instead of Saddam Hussein being the primary enemy of Iran, we have placed ourselves in that position, entirely by choice.
    And not surprisingly, once we placed our troops in the crosshairs, we have to conduct more, and more operations to protect them and inthe process, creating more enemies than we kill.

    There literally is no end game here, no visible path to anything that will ever result in a good outcome for us.

    We are just throwing more and more men and treasure into the meatgrinder, because everyone involved is too cowardly to admit what they know to be the truth.Report

    • Avatar Dark Matter
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      says:

      So we launch an attack within the borders of a third country, Yemen to kill a guy who posed only a future threat.

      “Future” threat? Did you read your own link? And Yemen is a failed state, calling it a “country” seems off.Report

      • Avatar Chip Daniels
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        says:

        Is this right to just kill anyone anywhere in the world limited to us, or is it acceptable for every nation to do it?

        Like China launching a drone strike on a car in downtown Dallas, or Russia gunning down a person in Omaha?

        Or would those be acts of war?Report

        • Avatar Dark Matter
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          says:

          Every nation has the right to defend itself. The attacked guys are/were creating terrorists and committing various acts of war like attacking embassies.

          You seem to want to treat them as innocent civilians, they’re seriously not.

          In the same situation, China and/or Russia could simply ask the US to have the people like that arrested, and we would. That’s the whole “rule of law” thing and you’ll note serious people aren’t accusing Trump of breaking the rule of law here because his case for doing this is so clear. It’s why Obama and Bush both considered doing it.Report

          • Avatar Chip Daniels
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            says:

            We killed an Iranian soldier who was on a mission in Iraq, on the grounds that he was about to kill an American soldier who was on a mission in Iraq;
            Does Iran have a right to defend itself?

            If an American general in Washington DC is planning a drone strike on a Iranian soldier in Iraq, can Iran rightfully send an assassination squad to take out the general?

            What if China asks us to arrest a Hong Kong democracy activist, calling them a “terrorist”; And we believe the person to be innocent, and refuse?

            Can they then just blow them up? Can they, like America with Afghanistan, demand we hand over anyone they call a terrorist, then rightfully overthrow our regime when we refuse?Report

            • Avatar George Turner
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              says:

              He was leading attacks on US soil, so we turned him into fertilizer. He was already sending out assassination squads to kill US persons. He’d been doing it for years. So we killed him.

              You see, the things he was doing are “acts of war”, and in war, we get to respond. When we were conducting airstrikes on Iraq, was anybody arguing that it was illegal for Iraqi soldiers to shoot back? No. Nobody advanced such an argument. In fact, Iraq kept firing scud missiles at our bases. One time they even tried to assassinate George Bush.

              Similarly, when Iran keeps attacking us, we can consider the attack an act of war and shoot back. We can, if we choose, target their commanders, or their soldiers, or their bases. They might target the same on our side, and then we see which side gets flattened first.

              This is not some novel concept.Report

            • Avatar Dark Matter
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              says:

              We killed an Iranian soldier who was on a mission in Iraq…

              What you mean is “We killed an Iranian soldier who has a history of war crimes and was actively committing more”

              See? Words matter. If you describe the situation as it existed rather than obfuscate who is doing what it becomes clear.

              If an American general in Washington DC is planning a drone strike on a Iranian soldier in Iraq, can Iran rightfully send an assassination squad to take out the general?

              Attacking the US embasy in Iraq is legally and ethically the same as attacking US soil. What are we doing in Iran which is compariable? Are we creating terrorists in Iran? Blowing up civilians? For that matter those sorts of activities are even illegal in Iraq.

              What if China asks us to arrest a Hong Kong democracy activist, calling them a “terrorist; And we believe to be innocent, and refuse?

              Here either China or the US is abusing the language, the way to figure out whom is to count corpses.

              If the “democracy activist” is leaving a trail of dead bodies, and just as importantly, is expected to create more, then yes, China has the right to act if we refuse to.

              A lot of what Iran is doing is best explained by them being at war with the US. If that’s the paradime we want to use… then it’s still legal to blow up soliders.Report

              • Avatar Chip Daniels
                Ignored
                says:

                You assume that America is the prosecutor, judge, jury and executioner of who China “legitimately” gets to kill.

                This whole “rule of law” thing you reference is a collaborative process. Meaning it only works when everyone agrees to the terms.

                What makes you think the world, our allies, will all agree on whether this “democracy activist” is not a “terrorist”.

                You can’t envision a scenario in which China sends a rocket into a Dallas suburb and the world closes ranks in agreement, accepting that this is now the legitimate way world affairs are conducted ?

                Of course you can’t, no one can because this entire American policy isn’t based on mutually agreed upon terms and norms but merely on convenience.

                When its convenient for us to call someone a soldier, they are. When it is convenient to call them a terrorist, they are. And when it is convenient to call them an innocent civilian, they are.

                We arguably committed war crimes in Iraq at Abu Ghraib and at Gitmo, crimes for which we hanged people after WWII. But of course that is inconvenient for us to admit, because then it gives other nations permission to behave as we do.

                Which is the entire problem with Pax Americana. We arrogantly appoint ourselves as the ruler of the world, with special privileges.

                And everyone has noticed, and they aren’t persuaded by our lawyering. We can coerce them into submission but we can’t coerce them into believing us.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird
                Ignored
                says:

                Yeah, within the last 10 years, I realized that maybe Henry Kissinger wasn’t as evil as I had always thought he was.

                Sometimes you have to make hard compromises and realize that not only does your political authority have limits to its jurisdiction, your *MORAL* authority has limits to its jurisdiction.Report

              • Avatar Dark Matter
                Ignored
                says:

                You assume that America is the prosecutor, judge, jury and executioner of who China “legitimately” gets to kill.

                Inside the USA? As a functional country the US has a monopoly on the use of force on it’s own territory so China never gets to kill anyone inside the US, they have to ask us to or they’re committing an act of war. Other “functional” countries would be Iran and China.

                You can’t envision a scenario in which China sends a rocket into a Dallas suburb and the world closes ranks in agreement, accepting that this is now the legitimate way world affairs are conducted ?

                Of course not. Are you trying to claim that the rules should be the same inside of functional countries which have a monopoly on the use of force and ones that clearly aren’t and don’t?

                We arguably committed war crimes in Iraq at Abu Ghraib and at Gitmo, crimes for which we hanged people after WWII.

                Arguably? We have arrested, tried, and convicted people for those war crimes. We may still have people in prison but whatever.

                As for “hanged” after WW2, we executed people for mass murder of civilians, i.e. running death camps.Report

              • Avatar Chip Daniels
                Ignored
                says:

                As if your just-now-invented rule about “functional countries” is something the entire world agrees to.

                As if our careful parsing of terms fools people who notice that our rules always seem to justify whatever it is we want to do at a particular moment.

                Notice how even Trumpists justify Russian meddling in our elections with “But America did the same thing over there!”

                It may or may not be true depending on the precision of their argument, but the point here is that for most of the world, our international record leaves enough doubt and uncertainty about our faith and fidelity to “rule of law” to where, if the Chinese did someday launch a drone strike in Dallas, a very very large chunk of the world would perceive it as entirely legitimate.

                And successive American administrations have done a lot to make this perception happen.Report

              • Avatar George Turner
                Ignored
                says:

                Man, it’s so confusing. If only someone, at some point in history, had started writing down some rules and norms for relations between nation states, and even gotten some countries to agree to some standards, then we might not be in a dark place where China keeps lobbing missiles at Dallas.

                I’m thinking of writing some kind of rule book so officials from different countries (I’ll call them “diplomats” because they should have college diplomas) could look up each recurring situation in the index and quickly flip to my handy suggestion on how to handle it. I’ll bet it will get me invited to lots of dinner parties.Report

              • Avatar Dark Matter
                Ignored
                says:

                As if your just-now-invented rule about “functional countries” is something the entire world agrees to.

                State monopoly on violence, in political science and sociology, the concept that the state alone has the right to use or authorize the use of physical force. It is widely regarded as a defining characteristic of the modern state.

                https://www.britannica.com/topic/state-monopoly-on-violence

                The monopoly on violence or the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force is a core concept of modern public law, which goes back to Jean Bodin’s 1576 work Les Six livres de la République and Thomas Hobbes’ 1651 book Leviathan. (wiki)

                As for the rest of your post, your answer to my question is “yes”. You really do want to treat the outback of Pakistan, where the government doesn’t even pretend to have control, as though it were downtown Dallas.

                And given how many times you’ve ranted against American white-nationalism, I find it amazing you can point to their foreign equivalents, who unlike ours leave dead bodies everywhere, and claim we’re the bad guys for trying to stop them.Report

              • Avatar Chip Daniels
                Ignored
                says:

                Who are you talking to?
                You keep thinking that this is an argument that can be resolved by Americans alone. Which is exactly the problem here.

                Your argument isn’t with me, its with the billions of people around the world, who are trying to decide whether they should support a government that works with America, or against it.

                The people of Iran and Venezuela support their governments because they see America as an implacable enemy. They do however, see Russia as an ally, and are growing increasingly close to them.

                The African nations increasingly see China as a more congenial ally than America.

                The Europeans are not supporting America in its clash with Iran, because they have lost faith in our willingness to conduct ourselves as a collaborative ally.

                They see things this way not because someone gave them a clever argument, but because they witnessed our actions over the years.
                They witnessed how we unilaterally decided to attack Iraq, and angrily demanded they jump when we snapped our fingers and insulted them when they balked.

                They see how the American government treats Iraq as a vassal and contemptuously dismisses their calls for us to leave.

                The rule of law is a collaboration, which only exists when everyone has trust that the other members are acting in good faith.
                America has lost a lot of that faith, even with our allies.Report

              • Avatar George Turner
                Ignored
                says:

                Yes indeed, billions of people around the world are pining for a return to European colonial rule, when all peoples and nations were treated equally and fairly.

                *Goes back to binge watching Victoria and The Crown *Report

              • Avatar Dark Matter
                Ignored
                says:

                The people of Iran and Venezuela support their governments…

                This is nonsense. In the last month Iran has had to kill 1500 protesters. The people of Venezuela are more worried about the government being unable to supply jobs, medical care, money, or even food than they are about America.

                Both of these governments are only pretending to be democracies and if either had to stand a real election they’d be kicked out.

                The rule of law is a collaboration, which only exists when everyone has trust that the other members are acting in good faith.

                So we need to raise our level of ethics to… Iran, Russia, China, and Venezuela? Seriously? Should we start by starving our people and then shooting them in large numbers?Report

              • Avatar George Turner
                Ignored
                says:

                Twitter reports that the record for the most-liked Persian Tweet in history now belongs to Donald Trump when he gave his strong support to the Iranian protesters against their government.

                I didn’t even know he spoke Farsi.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling
                Ignored
                says:

                Jones: My fingers are getting tired of logging in and clicking.

                Smith: Yeah, but you know how much easier he is to deal with when he feels popular.Report

              • Avatar Chip Daniels
                Ignored
                says:

                The Iranians and Venezuelans hate their government but support them against the US because they hate us even more.

                The point is we are losing any possibility of leverage or bargaining position with both countries.

                They are rapidly moving into being protected by Russia or their own nuclear power at which point they will be beyond our ability to threaten or bully.

                And yes, international relations means working with nasty regimes and cooperating with them to establish a set of norms which are beneficial to all.

                Right now, the US uses only the tactics of bullying and threats and we are losing worldwide influence at a catastrophic rate.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird
                Ignored
                says:

                (Why do we want the US to have worldwide influence?)Report

              • Avatar Chip Daniels
                Ignored
                says:

                As the largest economy in the world we will have worldwide influence whether we like it or not.

                The question is whether we want to be influential in a beneficial way that leads to greater freedom and peace, or a to become a dangerous and unstable empire.Report

              • Avatar Dark Matter
                Ignored
                says:

                And yes, international relations means working with nasty regimes and cooperating with them to establish a set of norms which are beneficial to all.

                You mean things like not attacking embasies, not building terror armies inside other countries, not attacking shipping or other countries short of war?

                The good news is we already have those norms, and everyone (including Iran) agrees to them.

                The bad news is they don’t follow those norms… and that presents us with the question of what happens then. It’s the whole ‘what to do with bad actors’ problem, we have a similar issue with AQ.

                This general was the Iranian equiv of OBL, which is why the legality (i.e. those “norms” you’re talking about) of our actions is clear.

                If you have other solutions for what to do with this sort of thing, by all means, put it on the table. However pretending Iran is following the norms isn’t useful, nor is pretending that we can make some set of norms that they’re going to follow. That’s just an effort to pretend we don’t need to deal with bad actors, i.e. delibrate rule breakers. We’d be fine treating Iran like Germany if they’d behave like Germany.

                Similarly pretending there’s some magic course of action which gets OBL to follow the rules is also not useful. It’s like pretending we can eliminate crime by getting rid of the police.Report

              • Avatar Chip Daniels
                Ignored
                says:

                Norms also include not overthrowing other governments which are not at war with us. Norms also include honoring treaties we sign.
                But we freely ignore those when it is convenient. Do you think the world doesn’t notice?

                Terrorism is a tactic used by forces that are too weak to use other means.

                It can’t be eliminated without eliminating the forces that use it. And those forces can’t be eliminated without a multi pronged strategy that includes diplomacy and negotiation and alliance-building.

                Right now, we have very little willingness or ability to do those things.Report

              • Avatar Dark Matter
                Ignored
                says:

                1st, when you talk about us breaking norms, which events are you talking about?

                2nd, you didn’t even try to answer my question, what do we do with bad actors? Are you suggesting that if the USA goes full choir boy, Iran & OBL will/would decide that Jews and Infidels can be civilians and stop killing them?

                Terrorism is a tactic used by forces that are too weak to use other means.

                Mostly yes.

                And those forces can’t be eliminated without a multi pronged strategy that includes diplomacy and negotiation and alliance-building. Right now, we have very little willingness or ability to do those things.

                First, I don’t think these forces can be “eliminated”. Islamic fascism will be with us until it burns itself out. That could easily be 50+ years. Various other issues might also last that long.

                2nd I think our “inability” to negotiate, build alliances, and so forth is overstated. We do it when it’s useful, we don’t when it’s not, and it’s in the media’s best interest to overstate how bad a job is done. Big picture countries do what is in their best interest, the US bullying countries into backing sanctions or whatever is part of that.

                It would certainly be nice if we were more “polite” and “respectful” and so forth… but none of that changes the whole problem of Iran funding terror armies in other countries or OBL creating things like 911.

                Until you have a really good answer for what to do about bad actors it’s going to require a certain amount of force to deal with them.Report

              • Avatar Chip Daniels
                Ignored
                says:

                “Bad Actors” usually just means “People who work against American interests”.

                Like, The King of Saudi Arabia is currently financing war in Yemen where civilians are being slaughtered and the murder and butchering of a journalist.
                But is he a terrorist? Bad actor?

                The Russian president ordered the bombing of an apartment building full of civilians in Chechnya and the premeditated murder of several journalists. He authorized the cyber attack and influence campaign during our elections.
                Is he a terrorist or bad actor?

                And on and on.

                America has every right to defend itself against attack, and this includes going to war. And I wouldn’t expect otherwise.

                But Soleimani is not OBL and Iran is not a threat to us, and we have not exhausted our nonviolent means to resolve our issues with them.

                Our relationship with the Saudis, Turkey, Syria and Russia demonstrate this. They are all jockeying for power and influence in the Mideast, just like Iran is.

                Yet somehow none of them are considered terrorists or bad actors or mortal threats to America even though an argument could be made that they are, using the very same argument made against Iran.

                America IS “polite” and “respectful”…but only to those who can seriously harm us. When it comes to our relationships with them, we somehow find nonviolent diplomatic methods to resolve things.

                And the world sees this. They see how we treat a nuclear power like North Korea, and a non nuclear power like Iran.
                And they calculate accordingly.Report

              • Avatar George Turner
                Ignored
                says:

                But Soleimani is not OBL and Iran is not a threat to us, and we have not exhausted our nonviolent means to resolve our issues with them.

                Iran is a threat to us. Pretty much every day they threaten to kill us in a sea of fire, and the current impasse is because they’re developing nuclear tipped missiles to do just that. They even run videos showing them wiping out our aircraft carriers with nuclear ballistic missiles or atomic torpedoes. They mine the Gulf to try and sink our ships. They attack our embassies and bases with car bombs and rockets. They take Americans hostage and hold them for years. They send assassination squads around the world, blowing up Jews and regime opponents.

                The Saudis don’t do that. The Turks don’t do that. The Syrians don’t do that. Iran fuels the violence in violent places like Syria, Yemen, Lebanon, and Libya.

                They are in competition with Al Qaeda and ISIS for leadership of the global jihadist movement, which is why they’re engaged in a war against the Sunni jihadists. But unlike the Sunni jihadists, Iran’s jihadists control an entire nation.Report

              • Avatar Dark Matter
                Ignored
                says:

                “Bad Actors” usually just means

                No.

                bad actor (plural bad actors)

                (idiomatic, law) Individual or entity with the prior criminal conviction, or who has been sanctioned by the court or regulator.
                (idiomatic) Ill-intentioned, mean, ill-tempered person.
                Synonyms
                (law): criminal, wrongdoer, malefactor
                https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/bad_actor

                Like, The King of Saudi Arabia is currently financing war in Yemen where civilians are being slaughtered and the murder and butchering of a journalist. But is he a terrorist? Bad actor?

                For the War? Probably not. Wiki claims over 100,000 people have been killed in Yemen, including more than 12,000 civilians. One civilian for every 8 deaths in the context of a civil war isn’t great but it is expected.

                For the journalist? The definition of terrorist is someone who uses terror/violence and/or the threat of violence for a usually political end, so if we assume he was sending a message to other internal journalists then yes. That also was certainly illegal, a misuse of gov power, and puts us into the bad acting realm.

                Having said that, “terrorism” and bad actor are normally reserved for repeat offenders. One murder doesn’t make you a terrorist, it just makes you a murderer.

                RE: Putin
                Yes to both, although the cyber attacks weren’t terrorism.

                But Soleimani is not OBL..

                True, Soleimani was a much bigger deal for multiple reasons. He had state backing, active control, was good at his job, and was much more than just a symbol.

                and Iran is not a threat to us

                How many dead Americans and attacked embasies do we need before we can consider something a “threat”?

                we have not exhausted our nonviolent means to resolve our issues with them.

                This is always true. It was true when we killed OBL and even Hitler. The yardstick for this is not “have exhausted nonviolent means”, it’s “whether or not you reasonably think they will work”.

                He’d been doing this a long time and had a very extensive resume.

                Yet somehow none of [Saudis, Turkey, Syria and Russia ] are considered terrorists or bad actors or mortal threats to America even though an argument could be made that they are, using the very same argument made against Iran.

                Syria is weird on that list considering we’ve bombed them occassionally. As for the others, I’ve lost track, how many Americans have the Saudis, Turkey, and Russia killed recently?

                They see how we treat a nuclear power like North Korea, and a non nuclear power like Iran.

                Careful there. This is an argument for wrecking Iran while we can. All of the countries in that region consider Iran to be a bad actor. This includes Russia although they’d like us to go to war with them because it’d take oil off the market and they figure it’d weaken us.

                If all of them consider Iran a bad actor, then maybe the issue isn’t with us.Report

  9. Avatar Damon
    Ignored
    says:

    IF any WW3 comes about it’ll be China expressing it’s rise to superpower. The issue will be whether the US bows out or has a bloody conflict (and looses).Report

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