Next week, Israel will celebrate the 67th anniversary of its establishment as a modern nation. On Remembrance Day, the day before Independence Day, Israelis will cherish the memory and legacy of the 23,000 soldiers who gave their lives so that we would be able to live as free people in our Jewish state.
Anniversaries make us reflect on history and think about the future.
Last summer, the world commemorated the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the First World War. In two weeks, on April 29, we will remember the fall of Saigon four decades ago, which marked the end of the ill-fated Vietnam War. And on May 8 we will celebrate the 70th anniversary of the Allies’ victory over Nazi Germany.
How deadly these conflicts were. World War I cost the lives of more than 16 million people and left 20 million wounded. The lowest estimate of Vietnam War casualties is 1.5 million, including 53,000 Americans. World War II, the deadliest human conflict ever, resulted in the killing of 60 million people.
These colossal human sacrifices, as well as the other gruesome results of these wars, must be weighed against the intentions and plans of the architects of these wars. The Austro-Hungarian Empire, seeking to suppress the rebellious Balkans, put in motion a chain of events that — in no time — resulted precisely in the opposite: The collapse of this glorious empire and the emergence of independent Balkan states.
The American grand strategy in Vietnam was based on two false assumptions: That the corrupt South Vietnamese regime, if only assisted by the American military power, would be able to sustain the country against the aggression of the North; and that if South Vietnam fell, the whole region will fall to the hands of the communists — that old Cold War “domino effect.”
The man associated most with the Vietnam War, former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, in the film “Fog of War” (2003), admitted belatedly the fatal mistakes that made America act contrary to its own best interests.
The truth, however, is that the roots of the Vietnam War lie way back in 1954, when President Eisenhower first mentioned the “domino effect,” or principle, warning that the loss of Vietnam will trigger the “loss of Indochina, of Burma, of Thailand, of the Peninsula, and Indonesia following.” Eisenhower suggested that even Japan, which needed Southeast Asia for trade, would be in danger. Needless to say, nothing of the sort ever happened.
No need to mince words about the gap between intentions and results in the case of World War II. Adolf Hitler started the war in 1939 as the first step in the creation of the Thousand Year Reich. Six years later he committed suicide in his bunker in Berlin, leaving his country devastated and his people forever shameful.
These history lessons might help us evaluate President Obama’s insistence on preferring diplomacy over military action in the case of Iran’s nuclear program. The deal he and Secretary Kerry cooked up may be bad, but war is worse, and as we have seen already, results of war are often unpredictable and counterproductive. President George W. Bush, for example, outraged by 9/11, launched the war on Iraq. The consequences: Most experts assess that the war didn’t help the combat against world terrorism; Iraq, the only Sunni power in the region that could have faced Shiite Iran, was dismembered; and the seeds of today’s Islamic State were sown.
Here is what Robert McNamara had to say on this issue: “Any military commander who is honest with himself, or with those he’s speaking to, will admit that he has made mistakes in the application of military power. He’s killed people unnecessarily — his own troops or other troops — through mistakes, through errors of judgment”.
President Obama used diplomacy to coerce Iran into accepting a deal, something that Iran has consistently refused. This deal will not kill Iran’s race to the nukes in one swift blow. It will, however, put the Iranian people on the horns of the dilemma: Should they allow the ayatollahs to forever keep them as a pariah state, or should they become masters of their own destiny? And don’t hasten to brush this off: Remember the surprising collapse of the allegedly invincible Soviet Union.
Finally, what happens if the deal fails? President Obama said that nuclear Iran is “unacceptable” and that “all options are on the table”, alluding, of course, to the military option. This option should never be ruled out, but used only when all other options fail.
(This article was originally published in the Miami Herald. Uri Dromi is the executive director of the Jerusalem Press Club.)