"It is my goal to make the London Center, the premier foreign policy institute in the country, one that is shaping
the debate on international affairs and influencing decisions emerging from the Congress."
Adolph Hitler asked this to his foreign minister, late morning, September 3rd, 1939 in response to the British government statement that a state of war would exist as of 11 AM if the Germans hadn’t begun to withdraw from Poland. His bluff had failed, World War II had begun. Hitler was not pleased.
Sometimes it’s difficult tell if a train is moving slowly or quickly when you look at it from a distance. That is sort of how things feel right now when you look around. China might not be about to attack Taiwan; Russia may just be concerned about how NATO is deploying missiles; Iran just wants to be free to pursue its own interests.
Maybe, someplace in each of those respective capitals the general consensus among the leadership of each government is that everything’s still under control, things are moving forward at a controlled pace, “We know what happens next.”
Listen to the various Secretaries and Ministers, and their Deputies, speaking: they think they are smart, they think they really are “top men” (and women) and they really believe they can handle all the various issues, they can, like a circus act, keep a dozen plates spinning on the end of sticks and not let anything fall and break.
Further, if they just keep the plates spinning long enough, if they can just have a few more days of talking, soon everyone will join, everyone will help spin the plates, everyone will be happy and we will have peace once more throughout the land.
I saw an article the other day suggesting it was possible to “talk the Russians out of invading Ukraine,” as if this is some sort of parlor game and if we talk about things enough that will solve the problem. After all, if you have the right perspective, everything can be “Win-Win,” can’t it?
But what happens when you have a very complex situation and you have folks who maybe aren’t quite clever enough to handle the complexity? Europe of 1910, on the eve of World War I, was really a creation of Bismarck. Bismarck was smart enough to understand what should and should not be attempted within that construct. But by 1910 Bismarck was long gone (he’d been forced out of office in 1890). The men who followed him, and his opposite numbers in other capitals in Europe, were in many cases smart men. But for the most part they weren’t smart enough, nor could they necessarily control the various monarchs, or all the palace intrigue in each capital.
The combination of less than brilliant ministers, ambitious and less than brilliant monarchs, complex alliances and secret promises, hubris, and less than perfect intelligence led them into World War I. Sound familiar?
Today Europe is importing more and more energy from Russia. That amount will continue to grow (Germany will be a net importer of energy within 12 months). The West is importing more and more electronics from China. Inflation in the US is at a 40 year high, and we are once again a net energy importer.
And, the talks with Iran have stalled, because the Iranians want nuclear weapons. One might add that if there’s any lesson to be learned from this ongoing mess it is that nuclear weapons really do change everything.
We might as well add North Korea. Interesting that some of the same people who are engaged in talks today to defuse this mess in Europe were negotiators with the North Koreans 25 years ago to prevent their acquiring nuclear weapons…
It’s also worth noting that one of our “partners” in dealing with North Korea is China. If you’ve never done so, get on line and read about AQ Khan, the father of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons. You’ll find he received help from that upstanding member of the UN Security Council: China. In fact, with just the tiniest degree of hunting you’ll find that China helped Pakistan and, through Pakistan, North Korea and Iran develop nuclear weapons programs and acquire key gear and information.
The Wall Street Journal is now reporting that Iran is working to improve relations with both Beijing and with Moscow. Moscow, of course, grew closer to Tehran during the Obama administration, when Russian forces supported (and they still support) Dictator for Life Assad in Syria. In the closing years of the Obama administration it seemed as if an unholy alliance was developing of Russian autocracy and Shia fundamentalism, with a healthy dose of Syrian dictatorship and Hezbollah fanaticism. That: “Damascus Pact” was contained by the US during the last administration and so far remains contained.
But, China needs more oil, and Tehran needs more cash - and technology. Beijing is now Iran’s largest single oil customer. With the money from that oil Iran is now buying more than $1 billion worth of material from China per month. Well, that at least is win-win. And, despite China’s continual chest thumping, they still need jet engines from Russia and they still would like some more Russian long range surface to air missiles and associated technology. And Russia wants to keep selling weapons.
The real problem is that, outside of the halls of academia and the salons of Washington, Paris and Vienna everything can’t be “win-win.” In fact, for the most of the world outside of Europe and North America, and especially, outside of academia and the echo chambers of big government, most things are in fact, “Win-lose.”
The US and the West have painted themselves into corners on any number of issues:
We spent years giving China preferred economic treatment, while turning a blind eye to the brazen theft of intellectual property, predatoryeconomic activities and one ugly event after another, Tibet, Tianamen, Falun Gong, Hong Kong, etc., etc., etc.
We made promises to Ukraine, with no plan in place to support that promise.
We economically and strategically handicapped ourselves with a sophomoric energy policy.
We have created a debt bubble (doubling national debt in the last 10 years) that places everyone’s economy at risk.
And the list goes on.
God alone knows what the world will look like in a year. It may include a free Taiwan, a free Ukraine (the Russians are already conducting asymmetric war there), and a non nuclear-Iran. But that will not be because our leadership had the talent and skill to pull it off. We are left hoping and praying for miracles. In the meantime, it’s time to stop digging these holes and change our course.
About Pete O'Brien
Peter O’Brien has more than 30 years of successful leadership and planning experience in a wide range of organizations afloat and ashore on three continents. Mr. O’Brien’s Navy career included ten years at sea, more than a dozen years stationed overseas and multiple ...