As my readers know I like to connect current events with their historical forbearers. It has always amazed me how many people can recite George Santayana warning that “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” And how few live its caution.
Today in Kurdistan we are witnessing a repeat of history which bought the world to a great war and in the end introduced us to the atomic age.
Following the devastation of World War I most of the world was exhausted and did everything to never have a major war again. The war to end all war was not, and the mechanisms set up to prevent the next war failed. They failed because the participants refused to accept the fact that there are times when force must be used to stop a greater violence.
The League of Nations and its member states set up high ideals and moved forward with great expectations, but when faced with actual crisis that revolved around its main charter it proved incompetent. The attempts at resolving the problems through diplomacy or attempts to bring the parties to the table were an absolute failure – the inability to resolve the Japanese invasion of Manchuria, or the Italian assault on Abyssinia (today Ethiopia) as well as both the League and the great powers to respond to German rearmament, and the reoccupation of the Rhineland and Europe conceding the Sudetenland, all in the hopes of evading war.
One action of the League that may have been considered a success was the resolution of the Mosul question, rejecting Turkey’s claim to the province of Mosul as historic Turkish territory and awarding Mosul to Iraq under a British mandate for 25 years to ensure the autonomous rights of the Kurds. The intent however did end as failure.
The result of all this was that the aggressor nations of Germany, Italy, Japan, and the Soviet Union saw the weakness of the world and exploited it. The League of Nations was toothless without the British or French military and the leaders of those nations were still so traumatized by the last war that a military option to any problem was just not considered.
Today we see much the same happening in the Middle East. Aggressor nations have been testing the West and finding it war weary, attempting to extract itself from current confrontations while avoiding new ones. While viable diplomatic solutions are advanced, with no threat of war they are simple rejected. When they are successful, such as a ceasefire in Syria, it is temporary and used to rest and rearm the combatants.
Iran is currently the most dangerous aggressor by far – directly with use of its military through the IRGC and indirectly through its use of proxies including Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces, Hezbollah and Hamas. These forces have given Iran control of Iraq and Lebanon as well as much of Syria. This control gives Iran a land bridge from Iran to the Mediterranean. It has effective control of Iraq and Lebanon and Syria.
How could this happen? Let us continue the lessons from history. Consider the disputed territories in Iraq as the Rhineland/Sudetenland of the 1930’s. Germany marched into the Rhineland to diplomatic outrage but no action and then used diplomacy to take the Sudetenland without Czechoslovakia’s input or presence. These last are examples of the West failing to stop aggression in the hopes of stopping aggression. When Iraq, under the direction of Iran, violently seized Kirkuk and the other disputed territories from the KRG without warning, the West allowed it in the hope of ending aggression.
Following failed diplomacy and a worthless embargo of Japan, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor with the intent of reducing the US military and removing its power from the Pacific. Japan had shown itself to be ruthless in its military conquests prior to Dec 7th, 1941 and continued its brutality up until the end of the war.
The Iraqi Popular Mobilization Force (PMF) has shown itself to be brutal with the mass slaughter of Sunni civilians following its occupation of cities such as Fallujah. This has continued even into the disputed territories. The US can stop this by extending military protection. Recently however the PMF have declared the US military as the new targets and the leader of Sadr’s militia, Abdullatif al-Amidi, has called on the Iraqi parliament to force the removal of all US forces from Iraq.
In the end this will result in an eventual all-out war in the Middle East. This war will not be confined to the current areas. As we have seen, Saudi Arabia has been pulled into the battle in Yemen and is under attack by forces trained and supplied by Iran. The leadership of Iran has also said that the next war will result in the destruction of Israel. Russia has already staked out its claim in Syria and Turkey is drifting rapidly into dictatorship set on recovering at least part of the Ottoman Empire (Mussolini was intent on reestablishing the Roman Empire).
It is always hoped that war can be avoided but history has shown us that diplomacy works best when both sides understand that there is a military option available and that the other side is willing to use it.
Paul Davis is a retired US Army military intelligence and former Soviet analyst. He is a consultant to the American intelligence community specializing in the Middle East with a concentration on Kurdish affairs. Currently he is the president of the consulting firm JANUS Think in Washington D.C.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of Rudaw.