Ultima Thule

In ancient times the northernmost region of the habitable world - hence, any distant, unknown or mysterious land.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Why war comes when no one wants it

By Aussiegirl

Spengler has a very interesting historical perspective on the current stalemate between the US and Iran, and shows how war can seem to act almost like an individual player, deciding at some point to "happen".

Asia Times Online :: Middle East News, Iraq, Iran current affairs

Why war comes when no one wants it
By Spengler

Robert Musil's great novel The Man Without Qualities portrays Austrian aristocrats preparing the emperor's semicentenary in the months before August 1914, when their world would come to a ghastly end. [1] The reader, of course, knows this, but the protagonists don't. It is hard to read news from Washington these days without recalling Musil's work. War will come, even though President George W Bush wants it as little as did Emperor Franz Josef.

Neither Washington nor Tehran wants military confrontation. Nevertheless it will come, just as many great wars came despite the desire of the belligerents to avoid them. Washington knows that an attack on Iran's nuclear installations would crush its plans for regional stability. It still hopes for a deal behind the back of President Mahmud Ahmadinejad, or destabilization of the theocratic regime. Iran hopes to bluff its way into an empire stretching from the southern shore of the Caspian Sea in the north to the oil-rich Shi'ite provinces of Saudi Arabia in the south, and to a Hezbollah-controlled Lebanon in the west. [....]

War with Iran is not the stuff of pulp scenario thrillers, but rather of tragedy. In tragedy, the protagonists neither desire nor anticipate the tragic outcome, although a minor character - a Tiresias or Cassandra - might warn them to no avail.

None of the heads of state among the European powers believed that war was imminent in early July 1914 after the assassination of Austria's crown prince at Sarajevo. This greatest of all tragedies to befall the West since the fall of Rome itself arrived to the horror of the leaders who would sign declarations of war just a few weeks later, and to the surprise of most of the leading diplomats. The old men of Europe had spent their careers since the 1878 Congress of Berlin preventing the collapse of the Ottoman Empire from provoking a general war. Failure in this mission lay beyond their collective imagination.

Virtually all the secret correspondence among European heads of state and diplomatic cables have been on the public record for decades, most of it available on the Internet. [3] The most private thoughts of the participants reveal incredulity at the idea that Europe's powers would destroy one another over the murder of the Austrian emperor's unpopular nephew Franz Ferdinand. [....]

None of these were stupid men. On the contrary, they were men of deep education and experience, multilingual and possessed of a cultural depth impossible to find anywhere in today's diplomatic corps. But they could not untangle the twist skein of interests that impelled the European powers to war:
1. With a stagnant population, France could not hope to win back the provinces of Alsace and Lorraine it had lost to Germany in 1870 unless it fought immediately.
2. Germany could not concentrate its army on a crushing blow against France if it waited for Russia to build out its internal railway network.
3. Austria could not keep its fractious ethnicities within the empire if it did not castigate Serbia.
4. Russia could not maintain control over the industrialized western part of its empire - Poland, the Baltic states and Finland - if Austria humiliated its Serbian ally, and Russia depended on these provinces for the bulk of its tax revenues.
5. England could not maintain the balance of power in Europe if Germany crushed France.

None of them wanted war, none of them expected war, yet all of them found war preferable to the consequences of avoiding war. If an Aeschylus were alive today to dramatize the outbreak of World War I, he could lift the chorus' every line from the private dispatches of European leaders in July 1914. Like the old men of Mycenae observing Agamemnon's return to the home where his unfaithful wife Clytemnestra would murder him, the old men of Europe watched in horror as peace slipped out of their hands.

If Kaiser Wilhelm II had had the presence of mind to attack France during the First Morocco Crisis of 1906 - while Russia was busy with Japan and England was uncommitted - the horrors of World War I never would have occurred (In praise of premature war, October 19, 2004). By the same token, if Washington waits to long to disarm Iran, the consequence will be a Thirty Years' War in the Middle East quite as terrible as World War I. Harsh as it might seem, preemption - an aerial attack on Iran's nuclear facilities - is the most humane solution.


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