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Monday, January 09, 2006

The 30+ Years' War  

Spengler on thirty-year wars:
Conflicts of this sort often kill two [generations]. That, parenthetically, explains why so many great wars last for about 30 years, including the 27-year-long Peloponnesian War, the Thirty Years' War of 1618-48, and Europe's Great War of 1914-45. One first kills off the fathers, and then kills off the sons 15 or 20 years later - and then it ends.
The Cold War, lasting from Greece in 1947 (or Berlin in '48) to the Soviet dissolution in 1991 seems to be an exception, having lasted even longer – but 30 years is roughly how long the Democratic party was willing to fight it.

Democrats accepted the challenges of the cold war, and spearheaded its prosecution in the face of Republican isolationists, Wallace-ite fellow travelers, and a war-weary public. But partway through the third decade of the war, something changed, in the world and in the party. The combination of detente, the China opening, the loss in Vietnam, and the ascendancy of the McGovern wing brought many to believe that the best available outcome was not continued war but an uneasy truce, freezing the status quo. America was being bled by domestic unrest, gas prices, inflation, economic competition from Europe and Asia, and – after the abandonment of our former allies in '74 – doubt (or repressed guilt). Striving for victory seemed beyond America's grasp, so don't engage in direct combat, pull back from proxy wars, overcome the 'inordinate fear of communism,' and don't try to contain – coexeist.

At this point (not entirely coincidentally) the shift to a Republican majority began to take effect. Republicans responded to Soviet-proxy aggression in Central America and Africa, continued US support of the resistance in Afghanistan, and moved to counterbalance the Soviet theater nuclear advantage in Europe. As Democrats abandoned containment for co-existence, Republicans shifted the war strategy to rollback. We can't know when (or if) the Soviet system would have collapsed without the added stress of matching the Reagan arms buildup, but the cost in (largely non-American) lives would surely have been even higher. So had Cold War I ended in an unofficial armistice when the Democrats wanted it to after only 30 years, the final toll in blood and treasure would have been greater in the long(er) run.

As current Democrats try to establish their defense bona fides by arguing that they helped win the Cold war, it's important to remember that they only helped win the first half of it, with a different, pre-'68 party. All of which makes the fact that the Democrats' foreign policy seems to be stuck in the 70's deeply problematic.

Update: It occurs to me that perhaps the Republicans only fought the Cold War for two generations themselves; they might have skipped the beginning (as the Democrats largely skipped the end) only to join up in the middle and then finish strong. I know that the Taft Republicans were isolationist; not sure about the Dewey crowd. Also don't know if Ike's I will go to Korea during the '52 campaign was a statement on whether the war was worth fighting or a hands-on promise to change the way it was being fought.

All of this was before my time; I'll have to do some research. I do know that by the mid-50's the GOP was fully on board with containment, even though Democrats invented it. I also know that rollback was not bipartisan in the 80's, and that Scoop Jackson was already being marginalized within the party when he died in '83.

posted by Kelly | 6:25 PM link