We are asking for war

Some 600 years ago, Desiderius Erasmus formulated a fundamental principle of medicine: prevention is better than cure.

The idea is sound – so sound, in fact, that it goes beyond medicine. Relevant to my theme today is its extension into the field, or rather battlefield, of war. For anyone in his right mind will agree that ideally it’s better to prevent war than to wait until it has piled up countless corpses.

However, like all idealistic notions, this one runs headlong into the stone wall of the lapidary question: how? Yet for once this wall is easy to breech. For the Roman writer Vagetius had answered this question almost 1,000 years before Erasmus: if you want peace, prepare for war. The idea migrated into the Western psyche via Plato and there it has stayed, for people to ignore.

I’d suggest that the reverse of this adage also works: if you want war, prepare for peace. Modern Western governments have been toiling tirelessly to prove this inversion true to life.

I have now lived in the West for over half a century, in the US, England and, part-time over the past 23 years, also in France. Hence I’ve seen dozens of budget statements issued by assorted Secretaries, Chancellors and Finance Ministers.

Each has been different in details, but similar in general principles. In areas where allocations should have been cut, they were increased – and vice versa. The first category has almost invariably included the cost of increasing the state’s power over individuals: things like welfare, free this or that, now also ‘climate change’.

Such a self-empowering mission necessitated cuts elsewhere. And one state after another has looked at defence budgets the way a Hollywood starlet looks at herself in the mirror before a party to decide what else she could take off.

Each state has treated serving itself at the people’s expense as mandatory, but protecting the people as strictly optional. Defence budgets have been frozen or shrunk in the permafrost conditions of self-serving irresponsibility.

That outrage has been gift-wrapped in the tissue of lies about the constantly diminishing threat to world peace, the different nature of warfare enabling countries to defend themselves on the cheap, monsters thirsting for blood supposedly turning into angels pining for trade.

However, the threat has steadily grown, the monsters have become thirstier for the congealing liquor, and the nature of warfare, while undoubtedly changing, hasn’t obviated the need for more and better armaments and more and better soldiers. Yet Western governments have treated this fact with blithe disregard.

I remember Dave (now Lord) Cameron proudly announcing the reduction of our armed forces to the risible pre-Napoleonic level of 70,000. Today’s armies no longer need to be large to do the job, he explained. I wonder whether Dave, now Foreign Secretary, has changed that inane opinion looking at Putin’s war on the Ukraine.

As the money got tighter, the will got slacker. So did the understanding of history, geopolitics and, above all, human nature. Rousseau’s fallacy of man’s innate goodness has, against all evidence, been accepted as fact. Evil was still acknowledged to exist individually, at the level of a wayward chap knocking off a corner shop, but not collectively, at the level of nations.

At the heart of this lamentable misapprehension lay the typical smugness of the middleclass philistine certain that everyone is, or craves to become, just like him – and all classes in the modern West gravitate towards the middle. Hence the people were amenable to that message; it tallied with their self-perception.

Since all people, and hence all countries, were presumed essentially good even if temporarily bad, all we had to do was open the paths they could take to the shining ideal of our own virtue.

In that spirit, instead of arming ourselves against the manifestly evil states, we continued to rebuild their economies through subsidies and preferential trade. We ignored the growing evidence of their nastiness and treated our sworn enemies as friends in the making. Alas, when you open your arms to an enemy, you leave your body unguarded against his knife.

Thus the West has systematically rebuilt the economies of two evil states, Russia and China, while largely ignoring the steady rise of Iran as the leader of the Islamic crusade against the West. To his credit, Donald Trump tried to do something about that third threat, if not the other two. Yet the nature of modern democracies is such that bad policies effortlessly float from one government to the next, while good ones fall prey to short-term political gain.

One lesson that the West refuses to learn with pig-headed obstinacy is that, unlike our own politicians, evil dictators say what they mean and mean what they say. Thus Putin’s de facto declaration of war on the West, otherwise known as his 2007 Munich speech, was dismissed as empty rhetoric.

Yet Putin clearly stated his intention of using NATO’s eastward expansion as a pretext for future aggression. “I think it is obvious,” he said, “that NATO expansion… represents a serious provocation that reduces the level of mutual trust. And we have the right to ask: against whom is this expansion intended?”

Why, against the very same country that has throughout history pounced on its western neighbours, succeeded in enslaving some, and has given few indications that she has changed, should have been the response, followed by a massive rebuilding of NATO defences. Instead George W. Bush notoriously looked into Putin’s eyes and saw his virtuous soul lurking underneath.

Bush was a Republican, Biden is a Democrat, but the issue is civilisational, not partisan. The West refuses to follow Vagetius’s and Erasmus’s advice and deploy the only strategy capable of deterring aggression: building up its own strength to a level guaranteed to turn any evil assault into a pointless suicide mission.

As a result, Putin acted on his threat, in Georgia first, then in the Ukraine. His full-blown war on the latter gave the West the unique opportunity of gaining victory by proxy. Instead of sending its own soldiers into battle, all NATO had to do was send enough tools for the Ukrainians to do the job. Yet Western countries, led by Biden’s America, adopted the cowardly strategy of doing just enough to prevent Russia’s immediate victory but not enough to ensure her crushing defeat.

The level of American supplies has been steadily diminishing and, step by blood-dripping step, the Russian advance has been growing in inverse proportion. This puts NATO members in the direct line of Russian assault, and the West’s craven response is almost guaranteed to embolden Putin. Sooner or later, the West will lose peace because it has failed to prepare for war.

The Chinese gun is locked and loaded in the east, pointing at Taiwan to start with. That threat has manifestly increased since the start of Putin’s war, as has the threat posed by Iran in the Middle East. This suggests that the new, real axis of evil acts in a coordinated fashion, spreading the West thin.

Iran has served up the latest demonstration by killing three American soldiers at the US base in Jordan, the sixtieth such attack on US bases since 2022 and, miraculously, the first lethal one. The reasons for this increased hostility are clear.

The Biden administration, arguably the worst and certainly the weakest in my lifetime, abandoned Trump’s hard stance on Iran, while acting in the spirit of Trump’s faith in the power of a deal. But, as Golda Meir once remarked, you can’t make a deal with those who want to kill you.

Let’s wait for the forthcoming US response – and hope it’ll go beyond a mere token. Now is the time to downgrade Iran’s ability to threaten the West by a massive strike on its infrastructure, military facilities and nuclear reactors.

Considering that the Iranians are less enthusiastic about the mullahs than the Russians are about Putin, such an action could conceivably put paid to the current regime, knock Iran out of the axis of evil and give the West one less problem to worry about. Yet I doubt that Biden has what it takes to respond in this way – in fact, I’m sure he doesn’t.

Instead we can expect new, heavier strikes against Iran’s proxies, all those infernal terrorist gangs gnawing at peace from different directions. However, Iran itself is a proxy, of Putin’s regime with which it enjoys a most cordial friendship. And any strike at any proxy, of either Iran or Russia, will be merely a palliative.

NATO could still vindicate Vagetius and Erasmus by striking at the principal promulgator of evil west of the Urals, Putin’s regime. All it would take is giving the Ukraine a couple of hundred warplanes and a few hundred long-range missiles, while stepping up our own preparations for war.

That, and not hopeful trust in innate human goodness, will prevent a catastrophe. Anything short of that will invite it.

5 thoughts on “We are asking for war”

  1. For those like me who lived through the second world war it is a very bitter pill to swallow. But I fear that you are right, and my fear, and unwillingness to be bullied, are strong enough for me to be willing to pay the necessary price. Are enough leaders and people also so willing? The alternative is ghastly. No, both options are ghastly.

  2. I had a dream about being conscripted last night. Harrowing stuff. In the event of such legislation, I’m not sure I would qualify, owing to my medical history. I suppose it would depend upon the severity of the conflict. Honestly, the footage coming out of Ukraine makes the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq look like trips to Majorca.

  3. President Bush wanted to bring both Georgia and Ukraine into Nato – the idea was vetoed by Merkel. Bush had signed agreements with both Poland and the Czech Republic to place components of BMD in their countries, but Obama nixed the plans. The announcement was made on the 70th anniversary of the Soviet attack on Poland!
    What explains all presidents trying to get along with Russia? That’s the State Department, well, and the Russian nukes!

  4. We refuse to learn from history. I suppose it is the arrogance of many that think time equals progress, that we are obviously so much smarter than those fools who fought tyranny 80 years ago. More so than the West after the first world war, we have lost our taste for aggression of any sort. What is worth dying for? Aren’t these “enemies” our partners in free trade? Doesn’t that make them just like us? So many are blind.

  5. 1. Conscription.
    2. Increased spending.

    # 1 going to be unpopular with NATO/EU youth.

    # 2 going to be unpopular with the social welfare state.

    Good luck with all that.

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