I was in the first wave of the Baby Boom Generation. We grew up having all of the adults in our lives being those who had seen the U.S. and its allies through to victory in WWII. Naturally, we were taught a lot about that historic conflict and the events leading up to it. Although it was exciting to have much of that information passed along first-hand, directly from the participants, you could only imagine what it was like to actually live through the experience yourself. I have to admit to some ongoing and perhaps perverse, ambivalence about that. On one hand, I was thankful to have been spared the horrors and hardships we heard about. On the other hand, I felt that I had missed out on getting to go through a most interesting time in history.
As it’s become more and more apparent that the once menacing threat represented by ISIL is no longer a threat but is, in fact, an evil and deadly reality, that’s been disturbing enough on its own. Making it even more disturbing to me is seeing the similarity of these circumstances to events leading up to WWII. It’s been giving me the sense that I may actually end up living through an experience like (or most likely worse than) WWII. No doubt, it would be an “interesting” time but, considering the horrors and hardships that have already come with it, I’m left without any desire to go through something like this myself.
When considering the similarities between how pre-WWII western leaders dealt with the Nazis and how today’s western leaders have been dealing with the peril of Islamic Radicalism, I first thought of Neville Chamberlain. He was the UK’s Prime Minister in that day, whose approach to Hitler’s Germany was typified by inaction, while hoping for the best. Looking back, you can see how Chamberlain’s attitude developed. He was the leader of a war-weary nation. Although WWI ended more than a decade before Hitler came to power, the thought of WWI turning out not to be “the war to end all wars” was most distasteful. With that attitude, Chamberlain sought to conciliate Nazi Germany and make them a partner in a stable Europe. Understandable as that may be, this approach resulted in Hitler’s regime annexing and/or invading more and more of Europe from March of 1936 until May of 1940, when Chamberlain resigned as Prime Minister, with the UK in an official state of war with Germany.
POST-DESERT … WAR-WEARINESS
Much as was the case with a war-weary pre-WWII England, approaching the second decade of this century, in the U.S., we found ourselves with a greatly diminished appetite for continuing in the armed conflict we’ve known in the Middle East since the early 1990s. With that, Barack Obama was elected President for two terms and with a Chamberlain-like hoping for the best theme, he removed our military forces from Iraq. As it became apparent that this approach was producing results similar to those realized by Chamberlain, Obama’s response was also Chamberlain-like – i.e. Seeking stability through conciliation and attempts at partnering. Otherwise, the response to hostility was typified by inaction. Here too, while you can see how Obama’s approach developed, it has resulted in hostiles viciously taking over much of Iraq and Syria, with an aim for much more. Although that doesn’t add up to an Obama resignation being in the offing, finally and thankfully, it’s led to him seeking a coalition of allies who are willing to take action.
A SUCCESSFUL APPROACH
The key to the error made by both Chamberlain and Obama is that when you decide you’re done with warring, you have to be sure the other guy is quitting too. Additionally, before you pack up your military and go home, you have to finish the job. That means not just declaring victory but getting the other guy’s surrender and then maintaining the presence needed to achieve true stability. The best example of how to do this properly was provided by those same folks who raised me and my generation – i.e. The Greatest Generation. As a result, our WWII adversaries; Germany, Italy and Japan; aren’t just stable, they are clearly first-world nations and they are among our strongest allies.
A BETTER COURSE
But, that’s not where we are with the reality of Islamic Radicalism in the world today. Of course, I wish that, instead of the exit strategy he did follow in Iraq, President Obama had followed the post-WWII example set by the Greatest Generation. But he didn’t and there’s no point in going through the woulda, coulda, shoulda cycle. That’s like trying to unscramble an egg. What’s most important is taking decisive action now. The approach Chamberlain took with Hitler’s Germany went on for over four years before he resigned and the UK went to war with Germany. Tragically, that led to tens of millions dying at the hands of Nazis in WWII and in the Holocaust. Although the emergence of ISIL has been startlingly brutal, it’s been relatively brief. If Obama proceeds in forming a coalition of allies who are willing to take action now, hopefully, that will mean avoiding repeating the tragic carnage of the Nazis.
FINISHING THE JOB
Reportedly, a major next-step in Obama’s new-found Islamic State strategy will be his meeting with Capitol Hill leaders on Tuesday. Maybe I’m reading too much into this but I’m encouraged by Obama planning this step. To me, it appears that he’s trying to utilize what I call “the strength that made America great in the first place, the synergy of the best of our differing ideas” instead of just defaulting to the party/branch-of-government polarization that has become all too common. Regardless, it’s a must for Obama to humbly continue in developing a thorough and well thought out strategy to decisively meet this overwhelmingly daunting and extremely complex challenge. I say “humbly continue” in recognition of the fact that humility has been required for Obama to focus on war in Iraq, a war he was elected to end. With that in mind, I hope he will maintain that attitude, looking beyond his pride to consider alternatives, even including the successful strategies employed by his predecessor.