Sleepwalking into a war
FROM FAR AND NEAR - Ruben Almendras (The Freeman) - January 14, 2020 - 12:00am

A historian philosopher once said that many leaders in many countries have a natural tendency to sleepwalk into a war. They bring their countries into wars that could have been avoided had they been more circumspect, better advised, less impulsive, and wiser. The case of World War I was particularly well dissected by historians as a war that could have been avoided. The world leaders at that time really “sleepwalked into a war” that killed 16 million people and wounded 20 million others. With the recent events in the Middle East, the attack on the US Embassy in Iraq, the killing of Soleimani, the Iran missile attack on the US bases in Iraq, and the accidental downing of a Ukrainian commercial plane by Iranian missiles, the potential for sleepwalking into World War III just got better or worse.

There were deeper and longer-term reasons for Word War I, like the shifting balance of power in Europe and territorial ambitions of some countries, but these were being addressed by dialogues among the leaders. The speed of the crisis, delays, misunderstanding of diplomatic communications, and ineffective leadership, started the war just 37 days after the assassination of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand. The Russian tsar was indecisive, German Kaiser Wilhelm was erratic, and the French and Dutch foreign ministries misunderstood the signals and intentions of the other countries.

World War II was a more deliberate war, brought about by the world economic recession of the preceding years that impoverished many countries, including Germany and Japan. This fueled the authoritarian governments of Germany, Japan, and Italy to urge their people to support a territorial expansion policy which included war, with the promise of jobs and better quality of life. The dictatorial leaders directed the people’s anger and hatred towards other countries. The lopsided Treaty of Versailles which mandated Germany to compensate France for the damages after Word War I compounded the Germans’ anger which Hitler took advantage of.

The current situation in the Middle East was already alarmed as a possible “sleepwalking into a war” by some analyst in mid-2019. The blocking of the Strait of Hormuz, a vital shipping passage particularly by oil tankers, was the bone of contention. Diplomatic initiatives and the Iranians acceding to a limited de-nuclearization which lifted some of the economic sanctions by the US and Western Europe cooled down the situation as economic life in Iran got better. Some oil exports were allowed and imports of medicines and other critical commodities were also allowed. Then Trump gets elected and he decides the US will no longer abide by the de-nuclearization treaty, even if the European allies still supported it. US sanctions were re-imposed and life in Iran become harder, and the US and Iran are back to confrontation. The Iranian meddling in Iraq politics and government, the shelling of a US construction company at the Iranian border, and the attack of the US Embassy in Iraq was just the right amount of provocation Trump needed to strike back at Iran by blasting the Soleimani convoy near the Iraq International airport.

Avoidable wars are more tragic than deliberate wars because it is devoid of strategy and lacks an end game, plus the fact that it could have been avoided. Still, it has to be concluded that wars are caused by ineffectual leaders who tend to believe in their own brilliance and infallibility once in power. They no longer listen to advisers, so they will deliberately get or sleepwalk into a war, even a world war. The world is hoping that the US Congress and Senate will uphold the separation of powers of their government and prevent the Executive department from sleepwalking into a Middle East war.

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