History, the map of the triumphs and mistakes of humanity, should always be the guidebook to the future of mankind. Sadly, even though intellectual leaders are acutely aware of this concept, it is in the nature of civilization to repeat its errors. There are clear paths through history that lead us to where we are today, and today’s most highly debated topics are simply the same issues, the same buck that has been passed down generation to generation. The current issues we are dealing with on the world stage began 90 years with a terrorist attack that started WWI, with the repeated lack of consequences for terrorist activities, and with opportunistic dictators.
In 1911 a small group of just ten men began a secret society called The Black Hand in Serbia. Several of those men were in the government, but The Black Hand was not in power. They wanted to remake the Serbian government (which was not truly independent of Austria and Hungary) and launched an ill fated coup against the emperor. In 1914 they succeeded in assassinating the Austro-Hungarian archduke and in effect started a war between Serbia and Austro-Hungary. It was in Austro-Hungary’s declaring war on Serbia and they were seen as aggressors since the Black Hand was not the Serbian Government but rather a terrorist organization by today’s standards. They declared war on Serbia because they refused to turn over The Black Hand (which now had 2,500 members, but only three were asked to be extradited). Historians see current events as similar since the US has gone to war with Iraq, but this is not the whole picture.
Serbia was allied with Russia so Russia (under the rule of the Czar) fought along with Serbia. The newly formed Germany was allied to Austro-Hungary (who they had fought in war previously) and fought along with them. France was allied with Russia who was allied with Serbia… Thus World War I began. Oddly enough Japan was allied With Britain (who was allied with France, then Russia, then Serbia) and fought against Germany- historical irony.
Eventually the war boiled down to Germany against Britain, France, and the US. Germany requested armistice negotiations. The Treaty of Versailles left Germany a broken nation, banned from their alliance with Austria, given the blame of the war, given the debt of the war, forced to give back lands, and many other infractions. It was the shame, economic depression, and lack of faith in their own government that lead Adolf Hitler to power and created a new World War when he invaded Poland.
It was at the end of World War I that Russia suffered a civil war and a revolution. Marxists had taken control and Lenin was in power, the USSR was born. When Germany rose again and began WWII the USSR eventually again became allied with Britain, and later the US, but this was not the same country that had fought in WWI. FDR and Churchill knew this, but were forced to ally themselves with the USSR since they did not have forces on the European continent.
Stalin was in control of the USSR now, and he had achieved control after Lenin’s death in a brutal fashion killing all of his opponents and even had them removed from all record and went so far as having photographs altered by hand to remove them. He was a brutal dictator who killed and subjugated millions. He was allied politically with Hitler until Hitler betrayed him and attacked the USSR early in the war. When the USSR allied itself with the US and Britain not much was known as to Stalin’s tactics, but when he literally allowed Nazi Germany to crush the Polish revolt (while his army sat less than one mile away across a river) so that there would be no Polish government left (so he could control it after the war) Stalin’s view of communism controlling the world through Soviet expansion became apparent and his bloody and opportunistic tactics were made overt. Stalin threw down a gauntlet and the rest of the allies had no choice but to give in. It was in Roosevelt’s and Churchill’s alliance with this dictator that they chose the lesser of two evils, a necessity of the time that would not only lead to the cold war but to another great historical irony. This time the alliance with a dictator was against the USSR.
Stalin acquired eastern Europe for his part in the war. 20 million Soviets had been killed in the war so Stalin had the highest hand in the negotiations as well as many of these countries had no government of their own left. The expansionist ideology of the USSR went uncontested until the Cuban missile crisis of the 1960’s, and would go on uncontested again until the 1980’s. Stalin had also acquired German technology as well as land in WWII, and he and his successors used this technology to challenge the western world in the cold war. During the next 40 years the world lived in fear of yet another World War (which almost began because of US President Kennedy’s apparent weakness when dealing face to face with Stalin's successor Khrushchev, who told Kennedy to his face the USSR would crush America), only this time the weapons that would be used would bring about the actual end of the human race. It was during the 1980’s, almost 40 years after the US allied with Stalin, that the historical irony of the US allying itself with a dictator (as the lesser of two evils) would repeat itself.
In 1979 Iran had a revolution and a new Muslim government was put in place. This government had become an enemy of the US by taking American hostages weeks after coming into power as well as setting up alliance with USSR during the cold war expansionist period. When Iraq invaded Iran in the 1980’s, they became the US enemy’s enemy, and thus became their ally. The US supported the Iraqi dictator just as it had supported Stalin against the Nazis 40 years earlier and again not much was known as to the new dictators tactics (he had also come into power in 1979). At the same time the USSR had invaded Afghanistan, and the US supported the Muslims in that country that fought against the USSR, among them Osama Bin Laden. Although not much was known as to the tactics used by either of these groups they were against the Soviets and because of that they became allies of the US.
Afghanistan became the USSR’s Vietnam, the war they could not win. Iran was taking American hostages and repeatedly attempted to disrupt supply lines from the Persian Gulf. Had the US directly intervened in these activates it could have lead to another world war, so the policy of the US (under President Reagan) was to support these allies both financially and with military aid just as we had supported Stalin’s fight against Nazi Germany 40 years prior. As the US backed Saddam’s regime he was able to also get support from the USSR as well (through a number of convoluted and opportunistic methods) as well as other western nation like France and Britain. Once Iraq started dealing with both the US and the USSR, America backed off its support (VP George H W Bush made this realization himself in his own diplomatic envoy to Iraq). Later Saddam would invade Kuwait (while George H W Bush was President) to obtain more land and resources, the same tactics used by Stalin. The US went to war with Iraq in operation Desert Storm, but did not invade Iraq itself but rather liberated Kuwait. During that time the USSR had “gone onto the ash heap of history” and had pulled out of Afghanistan. A new Muslim government had been created in that country. Eventually the most powerful man in Afghanistan would become Osama Bin Laden even though (like The Black Hand) he was not the Taliban government.
A full scale war with Iraq could have erupted in 1993 with ill fated assassination plot against George H W Bush. Much like the assassination of the Austro-Hungarian archduke, if the former President had been assassinated a full scale war on Iraq (due to a terrorist action) would most likely have occurred and lines in the sand would be drawn for yet another World War. Thankfully the plot was stopped before it was executed and the story was quickly buried by the media to not strike fear into the US population. During the 1990’s however, the Saddam regime worked on developing weapons of mass destruction (nuclear, biological, and chemical) without the benefits of Nazi POW scientists as Stalin had in the 1940’s. However there is another historical coincidence, Sarin gas (a chemical weapon developed by Nazi Germany) has been the first small but hard evidence found as to Iraqi WMD’s.
The tactics of Osama Bin Laden are truly 21st century. His terrorist organization is not a conventional organization at all. Al-Qa’ida is more that just a secret society like The Black Hand, it is an actual computer database of radical Muslim individuals and organizations, people and groups that often do not see eye to eye but are simply organized and used in whatever capacity they are needed to obtain goals. The actual translation of the words Al-Qa’ida is simply The Base. By collecting names and information, Osama Bin Laden spent the 1990’s creating a multinational organization of radical groups with the goal of controlling terrorism as a global conglomerate. Using Afghanistan as a center for training and networking Al-Qa’ida rose to be the greatest threat to the western world, a threat that became a reality on September 11th 2001.
Perhaps the most significant modern historical irony is that of the Bush Dynasty. WWI has often been viewed as “a family affair” where monarchy battled monarchy (many of whom happened to be related). Because the US is not a monarchy, the rarity of the child of a former President becoming President themselves is almost unheard of. The significance of the direct lineage applies to George W Bush’s view of the world stage since he has been directly aware of it for the past 20 years from the perspective of the son of a world leader. This perspective is a direct influence on his foreign policy, a topic that has not been scrutinized in a President since the Cold War.
After the events of September 11th, the US launched retaliation against Afghanistan as the geographic location of Al-Qa’ida’s training and networking. Since Al-Qa’ida is not a government or a traditional organization, this retaliation could not solely be effective. By design, Al-Qa’ida could eventually bring the separate Arab nations under one control creating states out of nation as the USSR did in the previous century. The most likely of the Arab nations to find itself in control of a middle eastern super power would be Iraq with it’s dictator bearing uncanny resemblance to Stalin and with it’s expansionist ideology. The threat of another super power with eyes on the west is a very real possibility, this is the stage for the 21st century of global relations.
Having personally witnessed the US’s involvement with both Osama and Saddam, having personally witnessed the end of the cold war with his father both at Reagan’s side and then as Reagan’s successor, George W Bush has had the unique perspective that has created a new 21st century America involvement on the world stage. George W bush launched the first pre-emptive war in American history. For 200 years the US has been defensive, but at the dawn of the new millennium the US is working offensively. The US has removed the modern day Stalin, Saddam Hussein, before a cold war could occur. Sighting Saddam’s WMD research and development, the US along with coalition forces from the UN liberated Iraq (much to the dismay of other UN nations who were linked to Saddam economically). It begs the question, what would the 20th century had been like if Stalin had been stopped in 1945? The threat of Al-Qa’ida is still very real because of its design; it is not something that can be fought conventionally.
The threat of ICBM warfare either from a middle eastern superpower, another nation, or a radical group is also just as real. Taking a page from the Cold War of the 20th century, the Bush administration is now trying to reinstate the SDI that the Reagan administration created 20 years ago. During much of the Cold War, the US functioned under the MAD policy, mutually assured destruction. Basically it said that the USSR would not strike the US due to the counter attack it would experience, the equivalent of two gunfighters with pistols drawn staring each other down. This theory does not apply when one of the gunmen views self sacrifice as noble and would gladly perish themselves in order to destroy their perceived enemy. Reagan enacted the SDI to alleviate the situation with MAD theory (as applied to the USSR), and the SDI will indeed work against an enemy bent on self sacrifice. The Strategic Defense Initiative (also known commonly as Star Wars) is a spaced based platform from which a incoming ICBM could be destroyed in the upper atmosphere before destroying it’s target, the concept of ICBM warfare (regardless of nuclear, chemical, or biological variants) becomes obsolete. What was researched in the 1980’s is now reality that can be built and launched. While it can not counter terrorist tactics it can counter missile launches, a threat that could once again plunge the US into another Cold War.
The world stage in the 21st century is going to be different than that of the past 100 years. Terrorism has evolved from isolated groups to a communication network. Alliance with dictators is a compromise that history now shows is a risky venture. Acts of terrorism now has tangible examples of consequence. The threats to the west have evolved and the leadership of the west has adapted, but the lessons learned in the 20th century must not be forgotten. It was not until 20th century that the technology to create or fight a World War was possible, and the technologies and experience of the 20th century is now leading mankind into a new age. By not repeating (and often correcting) the mistakes of the past, the new age may soon find the world at peace.