Is Intervention a Policy or a Pavlovian Habit?


We approach the predictable moment when the same forces that preached invade in Iraq preach intervene in Iran. Which means we can expect a neo-conservative (Kristol, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Perle) explanation of the “lessons” of the Munich Crisis of 1938.    We seem to have arrived at the point in history where any violence in a country in the name of democracy is a US interest.  And a cry of “Munich” or “Sarajevo” appear to combust this moment into intervention.  Usually against a video vignette backdrop of President Clinton staring out a window while a narrator reminisces aloud about Rwanda to motivate Reagan Democrats.

I mean, really, when was the last time violence broke out anywhere in the world and Senators McCain and  Graham did not arrive on television advocating intervention – Iraq, Georgia, Libya, Syria, and now Iran.  Is intervention a policy or a pavlovian habit?

The context of Munich is often presented as an “early” opportunity for the West through stout military action to have overthrown Hitler with support from the German generals.  But in fact Munich was a long way down the sordid appeasement road.  Not all points on that road offered the same opportunity for squelching Hitler.

Since Hitler’s rise to power in 1933 he had humiliated the British and French first with German rearmament, then German intervention in Spain in the mid-thirties, the Nuremberg laws against Jews in 1935, the occupation of the Rhineland in 1936, the forced annexation of Austria in 1938, right up to Hitler’s late 1938 Munich demands for Czechoslovakia to cede the Czech Sudetenland to Germany.  The Allies had allowed Hitler to methodically implement his Mein Kampf plan, while they disarmed.

Today, we know that the last “early” opportunity was in 1936 when Hitler sent the under-equipped German army of 1936 into the Rhineland.  Britain and France had the international right under the treaties ending World War I to enter the Rhineland, throw out the Germans, and threaten Hitler’s control.

The Rhineland offered the British and French an opportunity they were not to have again until the 1944 American led invasion.  The British and French could have advanced from French territory with the bulk of their armies directly into the Rhineland with overwhelming force .   The Rhineland was a time where intervention could be effective at little cost.  Afterwards and certainly late in 1938 the two disarmed democracies were facing the challenge of sending air and sea borne expeditionary forces into central Europe.  And when they finally took that leap over Poland in 1939, the intervention had no effect on the outcome.

The lesson of Munich is not to always intervene, but to intervene at the crucial time and place with effective means.  Not all moments in tyranny present equal moments of vulnerability.  The mark of leadership is not invading every time, but using force in a way that can achieve a crucial result.

Can Israel really mount an attack on Iran without US involvement?  The answer appears no.  Therefore, the US is the essential actor.  On what basis can the US believe a third war in the Middle East is controllable and effective policy?

War in Iraq confirmed we had overestimated the existence of nuclear weapons and our ability to control the outcome – are we today overestimating Iranian nuclear progress and the size and breadth of the conflict? Proponents must show that the means (war) has some chance to accomplish the goal (prevent Iranian nuclear weapons at modest cost).

To launch a third Middle-East war it is not enough to shout, “Munich”, “Sarajevo”, __________ (fill in w/ your favorite tyranny), mix in 9/11 and terrorism, then talk about evil.



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