Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Cowboy Diplomacy

Last weekend I found myself in a book sale, and left with Bernard Lewis 'The Crisis of Islam' and Albert Speer's 'Inside The Third Reich'.

I like to think that Lewis spent years in obscurity (i.e. I hadn't heard of him), beavering away on works like 'The Arabs In History' and 'The Emergence of Modern Turkey' before 9/11 happened and the world wanted to know more - a lot more - about Islam. He certainly knows his stuff. I'd like to read 'Race and Slavery In The Middle East' next.

Speer's book is gripping - even though you know the ending, you have to read on. Stayed up till two-thirty to finish all 700-odd pages and did the copious footnotes (themselves as long as Lewis' entire book) this evening.

An incident from each book illustrates that aggressiveness - even a 'cowboy' approach - can sometimes be the safest, most peaceful option. There can be little doubt that firmer action by Britain and France would have stopped Hitler before WWII - instead he and Mussolini became convinced of our decadence and lack of will. By the time he found out his mistake it was too late - for him and for Europe. If Chamberlain had brought Churchill into government before Munich might not Europe have been saved ?

Albert Speer :

He (Hitler) stuck unswervingly to his opinion that the West was too feeble, too worn out, and too decadent to begin the war seriously. Possibly it was also embarrassing for him to admit to his entourage and above all to himself that he had made a mistake. I still remember his consternation when the news came that Churchill was going to join the British War Cabinet as First Lord of the Admiralty. With this ill-omened report in his hand, Goering stepped out of the door of Hitler's salon. He dropped into the nearest chair and said wearily "Churchill in the Cabinet. That means that the war is really on."

Bernard Lewis :

One of the most surprising revelations in the memoirs of those who held the American Embassy in Teheran from 1979 to 1981 was that their original intention had been to hold the building and the hostages for only a few days. They changed their minds when statements from Washington made it clear that there was no danger of serious action against them. They finally released the hostages, they explained, only because they feared that the president-elect, Ronald Reagan, might approach the problem "like a cowboy".

I don't suggest the aggressive approach is a panacea. What happened in the Rhineland, at Munich and in Teheran was that a bluff was not called.

I don't recommend sabre-rattling witb an entire population either - unless you're looking for war, that is. People en masse react very poorly to threats - even if they objectively are doomed to lose and should back down.

No comments: