Put Aside Endless Diplomacy When It Becomes Counter-Productive
Published on June 17, 2018
The attack on Syrian poison gas-producing sites by U.S., British and French air and missile assets brought an immediate response from Congress that the American president should have had a special Congressional authorization beforehand. The administration countered that it had adequate prior authorization to take this step. There has been much political coin made of the Trump administration, in particular, using the implied and actual threat of military action as a means to coerce unfriendly governments into conforming to American wishes. Certainly North Korean and Iranian nuclear ambitions fall into this category. In reality, the United States has used both the threat and fact of military action without formal congressional approval in many instances in the past.
There are standing authorizations that exist currently against terrorist and terrorist-related activities and support, but the precedent for strictly presidential action dates back to Thomas Jefferson. He ordered the newly formed U.S. Navy and Marine Corps to attack the ships and ports of the Tripoli-based Barbary pirates who had been capturing and destroying American merchant vessels. While this may seem a long time ago, it clearly supports the implied military actions for today's nuclear issues and threats. Jefferson simply followed the tactics already established before the Revolution in establishing the original colonies. Eventually, this was the same strategy pursued in American western expansion by the U.S. Cavalry in "pacifying" hostile Native American tribes.
"Shoot first and ask questions later" has been the theme of both fiction and fact throughout American history. As the nation has matured, strategy and tactics have matured, but the same aggressive spirit remains. It can be argued that this is simply an outdated vestige of the past, but the fact remains that it is integral to the American spirit. It is obvious that the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor has had a great influence on American military and foreign policy even these many years later. It is the hard-earned memory of that assault that has driven today's strategy in dealing with the potential of a nuclear armed and ballistic missile capable North Korea.
The brutal fact is that the United States has developed as the world's greatest military force by projecting – or implying it would project – military power worldwide. America has been characterized as the ultimate protector of world peace. The United States has accepted that role, even when it really didn't want to. It certainly is clear that The U.S. is feared by many countries because of its real and potential military power, but perhaps more often by its unpredictability. From a strategic standpoint, Barack Obama's tenure lacked that latter important character. It was that factor rather than his politics that made his administration's foreign operations ineffectual.
Some in leadership positions today in both major American parties are committed to relying on negotiations and diplomacy to effectuate change in international political affairs. This is not inappropriate. However, equally important and even necessary, as is the case of Iran and North Korea, is the ability to put aside endless diplomacy when it is clear that such a tactic becomes counter-productive. Faced with clearly aggressive totalitarian regimes such as these, decisive military action may have to be employed simply as a logical defensive measure. That is certainly not an American or even a conservative strategy. Unfortunately, that was the hard lesson Britain's Neville Chamberlain learned in his endless negotiations with Hitler's Germany.
It is a mistake to under appreciate the willingness of certain undemocratic regimes to foolishly challenge American military power. Such governments are often defined by their willingness to ignore international norms and even simple logic. This circumstance exists by challenging reason as a modus vivendi
in their lust for power. It's hard for western - or western oriented - analysts and decision makers to understand this and their judgment suffers accordingly. The truth is that regimes that disregard the interests of their own people often are willing to enter into military conflict even when logic dictates they would be better off pursuing peaceful negotiation. Importantly, certain major powers with centralized government structures are all too willing to encourage and even support their lesser comrades for their own interests in aggrandizing influence and power. It used to be called imperialism.
Oddly, a certain great and powerful nation – China - has a serious regard for American prowess, even though it too is a major nuclear power. Beijing's ambition is extensive, but also careful. They are well aware that American unpredictability places us in a wholly different category of opponent. The fact is that their aim is eventually to be a nation as powerful economically and politically as the United States. They respect American will and commitment. More importantly, Xi Jinping, China's leader for life, knows his county's future lies in a peaceful relationship with the comparatively still youthful and unpredictable United States of America. It's a lesson Vladimir Putin and his Middle Eastern friends would do well to respect.