The war is the latest episode of a nationalist territorial conflict going back centuries. And those don’t go away until the people fighting them do. Progressive theories of history spent the last century predicting that wars were on the way out in a more enlightened age. Then two world wars shattered the civilized world and nearly led to a third even more devastating conflict.
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And yet westerners are still prone to believing that war, which has been around for as long as mankind, is one of those old-fashioned barbaric things, like mutton chops, disco, and Joe Biden, that is about to go out of style in the wonderfully enlightened world of tomorrow.
Very few of our conflicts are even new. Most are “endless wars” of tribe, race, religion or national identity that have been around for hundreds or even thousands of years.
The War on Terror is not a recent phenomenon in response to, as leftists and libertarians allege, the oil industry, Mohammed cartoons, colonialism or miniskirts.
It’s just the latest episode in the Islamic conquests that date back over a thousand years.
By the 7th century, the Arab Muslim invaders were fighting what was left of the Eastern Roman Empire. By the 8th century, they defeated Chinese forces during the Battle of Talas when the Turkic mercs joined the Muslim side. The wars have started and stopped since then, but they’ve never actually gone away. And it’s unlikely that they ever will. At least not for centuries more.
The ‘Führerprinzip’ fallacy assumes that wars are begun by leaders. In Ukraine, it’s tempting to attribute the conflict to Vladimir Putin. And while Putin’s desire for a quick legacy led to the massive overreach and a bloody war, any strong Russian leader would have done the same.
The Russians, like the Chinese and Arab Muslims, want the restoration of an old empire. And they’re not alone. While westerners decided that they wanted to move on to an exciting borderless future defined not by territory, but technology, the rest of the world does not.
Western weakness spurred the resumption of tribal conflicts all over the world. The United Nations, international law, the spread of democracy and other western solutions have not only failed to stem the violence, they have actually encouraged it. The international house of cards is built on the implausible notion that most countries and peoples don’t really want wars.
History, even the most recent history, makes it painfully clear that they do.
What does it mean to have a United Nations in a world where most nations have causes and grudges that they want to fight over? Spreading democracy couldn’t fix Iraq because the one thing most Sunnis and Shiites could agree on is that they wanted to kill each other.
We live in a world of endless wars. And it’s time that we faced that simple truth.
The Ukraine war is neither an ending nor a beginning, it’s a continuation. So is Afghanistan where history is repeating itself again. Look closely at the various global conflicts and you’ll see signs of the same cycle reasserting itself despite international law and our nation building.
That doesn’t mean that we should get involved or that we shouldn’t. What we should do is discard the old “war for democracy” or “war to end all wars” notions from the world wars.
War, like forest fires, tornadoes, human evil, and Barbara Streisand, is not going away.
We are not striving to reach the end of history. Nor should we get involved in wars to assert an imaginary international community or equally imaginary law, or right side of history. Nation building is a waste of time, resources, and energy. We can’t build countries. Only they can build themselves and every time we tried, we discovered we had no control over the outcome.
Japan and Germany, Iraq and Afghanistan, are what they are because of the choices that their people made, and all our money and efforts would not have changed the outcome one iota.
When we do get involved in the affairs of other nations, we should do so intelligently.
Our goals, in that order, should be to protect ourselves, to lend aid to those allies worth supporting, and to help manage global conflicts so that they don’t spill over to us.
We should not waste our strength or get involved in every regional quarrel, but when we do get involved, we should do so effectively and decisively. That’s the opposite of Biden’s actions in Ukraine which are heavy on the posturing and light on effectiveness. In a world forever at war, we must remember that we can never escape it and that we should encounter it carefully.
Americans often feel as if we exist outside history. And to a greater degree, more than most nations, we do. But the rest of the world is very much a part of a history that predates us.
That history is not going away just because we aren’t aware of it or aren’t paying attention to it.
9/11 was only a surprise because we were not paying attention to history. Likewise the invasion of Ukraine and China’s expansionism are not recent developments, but historical trends.
If America is to survive the pressure cooker of history, we must understand history, and we must decide on what terms to meet the rest of the world and how to manage the fallout of its conflicts.
We may have smartphones and all our information may exist in the cloud, we may drive to work in electric cars and get our news from bots, but history can’t be escaped with better gadgets.
The future it turns out is going to be a lot like the past.
We don’t exist outside the world, but neither do we have to be at its mercy. And the decisions we make will determine the conditions of our present and the possibilities of our future.