Summary: Martin van Creveld looks at one of President Trump’s greatest accomplishments – one of the rare modern presidents who has not attacked any nations. Now he is on the edge of war with Iran (plus starting a trade war with China, and possible involvement in Venezuela’s civil war). Van Creveld explains what it all means.
By Martin van Creveld. From his website, 16 May 2019.
Posted with his generous permission.
One of the few things I like about Trump is that, two and a half years into his presidency, he has not (yet) begun any new wars. In this he is very much unlike some of his predecessors. Including Bill Clinton who, for reasons only he and his Secretary of State Madeleine Albright understood, waged war on Serbia. Including George Bush Jr. who waged two wars – one on Afghanistan and one on Iraq, of which the first was stupid and the second both stupid and gratuitous. And including Barack Obama who helped turn Libya into a bloody mess from which it has yet to recover.
As the New Yorker put it, the U.S has a long history of provoking, instigating, or launching wars based on dubious, flimsy, or even manufactured threats to which it was allegedly subjected by other countries. Just look at what happened in 1846, when President James Polk justified the Mexican-American War by claiming that Mexico had invaded U.S. territory; at that time, in fact, the border had not yet been drawn and no one knew where it was running.
Editor’s note: America has paid a high price for our unjust wars. As President Grant wrote in his Memoirs.
“I was bitterly opposed to the measure, and to this day regard the war [with Mexico] which resulted as one of the most unjust ever waged by a stronger against a weaker nation. …The Southern rebellion was largely the outgrowth of the Mexican war. Nations, like individuals, are punished for their transgressions. We got our punishment in the most sanguinary and expensive war of modern times.”
When their turn came Abraham Lincoln, Woodrow Wilson, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt all used similar methods. As, indeed, Lyndon Johnson may have done when he came up with the Bay of Tonkin incidents and used them to initiate his campaign against North Vietnam. Now Trump, for reasons known only to himself, is rattling his saber against Iran. Including both renewed economic sanctions and an arms buildup in the Middle East.
“For all I know, our navy was shooting at whales out there.”
— About the Tonkin Bay incident, attributed to President Johnson. Earliest source is David Halberstam’s The Best and the Brightest.
As the mysterious incidents in the Emirati port of al-Fujairah show, in all this there is plenty of potential for escalation, deliberate or not.
How it will end no one knows. What seems clear, though, are two basic facts. One is that first Pakistan and then North Korea were able to avoid the sanctions imposed on them from various quarters and acquired the bomb nevertheless. This, as well as the nuclear history of some other members of the nuclear club, suggests that, had Iran really made building up its arsenal a top priority as the U.S and Israel claim, it would have succeeded long ago.
The other is that the existence of nuclear weapons in the hands of those countries, both of which have quite bellicose traditions, has put an end to large-scale warfare between them and their neighbors. Such being the case, there is every reason to think that the same weapons, by reassuring the Mullahs that some American president will not make them share Colonel Gadhafi’s fate, will do the same in the Middle East.
Ed’s note: This is an essential point. See these articles.
- “A troubling lesson from Libya: Don’t give up nukes“ by Reza Santi, an op-ed in Christian Science Monitor,
- Iran will have the bomb in 5 years (again) – A long history of false predictions.
- What happens when a nation gets nukes? Sixty years of history suggests an answer. – More peace, not war.
- What happens if Iran gets nukes? Not what we’ve been told.
And where do America’s European allies come in? Here I can only agree with The Donald. No point in worrying what Europe can and cannot, may or may not, do. Too stingy and too disunited to build up any real military strength, basically all it can do is watch from the sidelines while the vital decisions are made by others.
As it has done so often in the past.
As I have said many times during the past ten years, I do not believe that the US will attack Iran using military force. Rather Trump will continue current policy (in this, as in so many other things): the 40-year-long policy of using broad spectrum pressure on the Iran to limit and contain its influence. Sabre-rattling is one component of this policy, with the repeated visits of US naval armadas off Iran’s coast.
This is the core policy of the US – Israel – Saudi alliance that now dominates the Middle East. The produces vast benefits for Israel and the Saudi Princes, does little for America (other than arms manufacturers), and has potentially horrific long-term consequences the people of the region – beyond those from the blood shed in the wars we have sponsored since 9/11.
About the Author
Martin van Creveld is Professor Emeritus of History at Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and one of the world’s most renowned experts on military history and strategy. See his Wikipedia entry.
The central role of Professor van Creveld in the development of theory about modern war is difficult to exaggerate. He has written 24 books about almost every significant aspect of war. See links to his articles at The Essential 4GW reading list: Martin van Creveld.
OF more general interest are his books about western culture: Men, Women & War: Do Women Belong in the Front Line?, The Privileged Sex, and Pussycats: Why the Rest Keeps Beating the West.
To better understand our future, see his magnum opus – the dense but mind-opening The Rise and Decline of the State – describes the political order unfolding before our eyes.
His latest book is Hitler in Hell, a mind-blowing memoir “by” one of the most remarkable men of 20th century.
For More Information
Ideas! For shopping ideas see my recommended books and films at Amazon.
- Have Iran’s leaders vowed to destroy Israel? — No, but it’s established as fact by repetition.
- Stratfor: Trump’s art of wrecking the nuclear deal with Iran.
- We pay for Trump’s gift to the hard-liners of Iran & America.
- Jessica Mathews: why scuttling the Iran deal is MAD.
Books by Martin van Creveld about Israel