Liddick: Art of the deal and war (column)
December 5, 2016
Seventy-five years ago today, Britain declared war on Finland at the behest of the Soviet Union. Not much happened on that front for another two years.
President Roosevelt sent a message to Japanese Emperor Hirohito, saying in part that the latter should, "for the sake of humanity," remove his fleet from their course toward Thailand, "to prevent further death and destruction in the world." Afterward, he joked about it with Harry Hopkins, who had been advocating a military response. Meanwhile, in the Pacific Ocean 660 miles north of Hawaii Imperial Japanese Navy Admiral Yamamoto received a terse radio message: "Tiger. Tiger. Tiger." We all know what followed.
International relations are not for the fainthearted or those with illusions about the evils lurking in the human heart. These should be especially clear to Americans, whose first international experience as a nation was a 15-year-long, two-part naval war to suppress piracy in the north African littoral. It was fought against, among others, the Dey of Algiers, who explained through intermediaries that it was his God-given right rob, kill or enslave all who were not Muslims. It was a war no European power would fight; but we did, and won, decisively. Europe was the main economic beneficiary. Sound familiar?
Managing relations between the United States and other nations is not for a president whose intent wavers from protecting and advancing the interests of this country, followed by those of our allies and associates. Thinking muddled by the hazy concepts of brotherhood among nations, clouded by the desire to be universally loved or corrupted by the idea that this country is unworthy to lead, is deadly in the international arena. History shows us clearly that nations have no scruples and, faced with weakness or wounds, will quickly act to reduce the competition. No one should doubt the fate of those who vacillate: in the banquet of nations, they are on the menu.
We have just had eight years of weakness, indecision and retreat. Do not doubt, therefore, that the next few will be unpredictably dangerous. Nations large and small will probe with slights, insults and aggressions; reacting strongly to the first two may make the last less likely – reducing the possibility for armed conflict.
It's already too late to do anything positive about Syria. Bashar Assad, with assistance from his Russian and Iranian friends, will butcher his way to victory there, becoming another stone in the Shiite royal road being built from the Caspian to the Mediterranean. There will be more mischief to follow in this volatile region, so to reassure both Sunni associates and Israeli friends, we must offer firm and unwavering responses.
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Similarly, those elsewhere must understand there will be a price to pay for challenging U.S. interests, and the price for using force will be intolerably high. In 1791, North African pirates thought themselves beyond our reach; in 1941, Japanese leaders thought a single, sharp blow destroying our Pacific Fleet would cow America, keeping it out of Japan's way. In both cases, war came by terrible miscalculation: one of strategic advantage, the other, of will. Potential opponents should no longer be allowed these illusions.
The opportunistic troublemakers of our time include Iran and North Korea, Russia and China. The former are ideological regimes who may delude themselves into thinking that we no longer have the power to touch them; the latter have apparently decided we no longer have the will. Both conclusions are deadly, not only because they are incorrect, but because they are perniciously so: Russian aircraft interfere with U.S. Naval vessels in international waters because presidential orders allow them to do so; change those orders and the results would be different and dangerous – because our behavior would not be the cringe Russia had come to expect. Similarly, a muscular response to Iran's harassment of naval vessels in the Persian Gulf would be startling – but probably produce, as previously, a period of quiescence in the region.
Viewed thus, Donald Trump's telephone chat with the recently-elected president of the Republic of Taiwan should not be seen as a blunder, a product of not having consulted with the Doyens of Foggy Bottom, who would doubtless have told him not to take the call. It should be seen instead as the action of a new type of president, who advances Americans interests first, and who is only marginally interested in the hurt feelings of the Bully-boys in Beijing. Perhaps they will think about that before deciding to further pursue their strategy of conquering the sea lanes of Asia by building artificial islands.
Remember: if one wants an advantageous deal, open strong.
Morgan Liddick writes a weekly column for the Summit Daily.
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