It didn’t start with Biden

Western governments are accountable to the people, which makes us better able to resist threats of domestic tyranny. Yet the same accountability makes us less able to resist threats posed by foreign despots.

Every few years we can punish our politicians by taking their power away. To a great extent, that turns our leaders into followers. They have to keep their ear to the grapevine of public opinion and respond to the people’s innermost cravings.

And outside some 10 per cent at either end of the political spectrum, most denizens of Western democracies are more interested in domestic comforts than foreign policy. That’s why the clichéd phrase, “All politics is local”, has become a truism in America and elsewhere.

Voters are likely to treat every penny spent on defence or foreign aid as a penny added to their already extortionate taxes. And they are wary of taking a strong stand against foreign tyrants because they fear such brinkmanship may drag them into a major war.

In other words, Western societies are predominantly philistine, which makes it well-nigh impossible for their leaders to face up to foreign enemies until it’s too late. Yet vacillation in the face of foreign threats makes war not less likely but more sanguinary – and modern times offer no exceptions to this general rule.

In a typically thoughtful article, Andrew Neil today runs through a roll call of Western leaders and correctly finds them all too weak to resist the threat of evil regimes in Russia, China, Iran and North Korea.

“The dictators are emboldened by the dearth of democratic leadership. Europe is especially bereft of it,” he writes. However, America isn’t much better off: “The fact Joe Biden and Donald Trump are the best the U.S. can come up with when autocrats are on the march is a cause for despair among all democrats – and much chortling in the redoubts of the dictators.”

All very true. But it didn’t start with Messrs Biden, Macron, Sunak and Scholz. The problem is systemic, which even a brief glance at the history of the past 100 years or so will prove.

Most of the cataclysmic horrors suffered by mankind were perpetrated by the two most evil regimes in history: the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany (with China adding her yuan’s worth later). Yet both could have been nipped in the bud had Western democracies possessed the will to act.

They certainly had both the means and the legal grounds for doing so. In the case of Russia, Lenin’s Bolsheviks violated agreements with the Allies by signing a separate peace with Germany in 1918 and effectively becoming her allies in the war against the Entente.

The Bolsheviks were so weak at the time that Anglo-American troops could have easily unseated those usurpers, saving the world from untold miseries. Not that the Allies hadn’t been warned.

Sidney Reilly, ‘the Ace of Spies’, pleaded from Moscow that his superiors in London shift the emphasis of their policy from the war to the Bolshevik revolution:

“This hideous cancer [is] striking at the very root of civilisation. Gracious heavens, will the people in England never understand? The Germans are human beings; we can afford to be even beaten by them. Here in Moscow there is growing to maturity the arch enemy of the human race… At any price this foul obscenity which has been born in Russia must be crushed out of existence… Mankind must unite in a holy alliance against this midnight terror.”

Yet that “arch enemy of the human race” was allowed not only to grow to maturity but to spawn and wean another such monster in Germany. And again Britain and France had both the means and, after the first acts of Nazi aggression, the legal justification for crushing Hitler’s regime before it got in full swing.

The remilitarisation of the Rhineland in 1936 was Hitler’s first bluff that could have been easily called, but wasn’t, and neither were all subsequent bluffs. Even after 1 September, 1939, Germany lay open to a thrust from the west. All her resources were committed in Poland, and there wasn’t a single tank on her western border. Yet Britain and France chose to fight a Phony War rather than a real one, and you know what happened next.

Around mid-1943 it was clear Germany would lose the war. Hence the post-war shape of Europe began to loom large, with Stalin not even bothering to conceal his pan-European ambitions.

Churchill was deeply concerned with the possibility of a communist-dominated continent, but Roosevelt was quite insouciant about it. He was more concerned with winning yet another presidential term in November 1944. When Churchill pleaded with him to join efforts in resisting Stalin’s designs, FDR sent him a private message on 29 September, 1944:   

“We are all in agreement as to the necessity of having the USSR as a fully accepted and equal member of an association of great powers formed for the purpose of preventing international war. It should be possible to accomplish this by adjusting our differences through compromise by all the parties concerned and this ought to tide things over for a few years until the child learns to toddle.”

As a direct result of that drivel, Eastern Europe got to experience the delights of communism for several decades, communist regimes in China and elsewhere appeared, and the world has been facing the threat of annihilation ever since.

Disregarding various small fry, in the past 100 years the greatest threats to the West have come from the Soviet Union, Nazi Germany, communist China and Putin’s Russia. All four could have been pre-empted by a timely military response but, even barring that, simple economic far-sightedness could have sufficed.

Had the West denied those regimes sustained assistance in the shape of technologies and investment, none of them would have survived as a power capable of challenging the West. Yet our leaders, responding to the philistine cravings of their electorate, couldn’t pass up the profits from trade with evil regimes.

“Forget a Winston Churchill. We barely have a Neville Chamberlain at the moment,” writes Mr Neil, and I share his frustration. What I don’t share is the implication that, should the West be blessed with stronger leaders, we’d have nothing to fear from Putin and Xi.

Clone old Winston, put his doppelgängers in charge of every Western country, and they’d still remain supine and helpless to act until the evil despots left them no choice. Such is the inner logic of modern democracies, their systemic defect.

As a result, Western countries have grown unable to prevent wars or at least to win them quickly once they’ve become unavoidable. Such is the rule, and all we can do is pray for exceptions.     

2 thoughts on “It didn’t start with Biden”

  1. Why does South Korea always get a pass? Everything I see about that place is thoroughly dystopian, and unlike the North, they have influence in the West.

    1. South Korea is a democracy with an authoritarian touch, not dissimilar to Taiwan. It’s not dystopian at all, just different. I wouldn’t mention it in the same breath as North Korea – compared to Kim, Stalin begins to look like a humanitarian trying to get in touch with his feminine side.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.