Thursday, August 29, 2013

"Ruling" in Austria and Syria

With Ian Morris’s term “rules” in mind – or more accurately not quite eliminated from mind I’ve been reading The Death of Sigmund Freud, Fascism, Psychoanalysis and the Rise of Fundamentalism by Mark Edmundson.

On page 12 of his chapter “Vienna” Edmundson writes of Hitler’s confrontation with the Austrian chancellor, “’I have a historic mission,’ Hitler said, ‘and this mission I will fulfill because Providence has destined me to do so.  I thoroughly believe in the mission; it is my life . . . Look around you in Germany today, Herr Schuschnigg, and you will find that there is but one will.’  Hitler told the Austrian chancellor that his triumph was inevitable:  ‘I have made the greatest achievement in the history of Germany, greater than any other German.’  When Schuschnigg informed Hitler that France and England would not stand by and allow him to absorb Austria, the fuhrer laughed.”

I’m assuming without having read further in Morris’s book that his view of “Ruling” is something like that of Niall Ferguson’s in Empire: The Rise and Demise of the British World Order and the Lessons for Global Power, and Colossus: The Rise and Fall of the American Empire.  Regardless of whether Ferguson was correct in his evaluation of the U.S. there seems little disagreement that Britain once “ruled” a fair portion of the world up until the world wars of the 20th century.  Schuschnigg was invoking Britain’s prestige, France’s also, in his debate with Hitler.  Perhaps not Britain alone, but surely Britain and France, the “rulers” of the West, would not tolerate Hitler’s aggression against Austria.   Hitler laughed because he knew that Britain and France could not stand in his way.  Whatever ability to “rule” they may have had in earlier times, they would not be able to stop the Anschluss. 

But Hitler was ultimately wrong about Britain.  In the near term Britain had neither the will nor the power to stop Hitler’s ambitions,  but Hitler failed to realize that Britain could marshal many of its colonies and former colonies and allies in its support – not over his aggression against Austria but Hitler’s “mission creep” would eventually provoke an assemblage of heroes reminiscent of the forces that set sailed toward Troy that would effect his destruction.  

So in a sense Britain did “rule” in 1938.  Hitler, if he were wise wouldn’t have defied her.  Years later we know that Churchill in a sense handed off this baton of “rule” to Eisenhower in Indochina, but did the U.S. really see this matter of “ruling” and “empire” the way the British did?   And don’t we even at this very moment see evidence that Britain hasn’t utterly relinquished this power?  I am thinking of the Parliamentary debates over whether to bomb Syria over Assad’s use of Chemical Weapons. 

I watched for a couple of hours and failed to hear anyone question Britain’s right to bomb Syria.  The debate didn’t pertain to this right but upon whether Assad himself authorized the use of Chemical Weapons and whether enough time was being given to the inspectors to verify their use.  Unlike what happened under Tony Blair in regard to Iraq, Britain was not going to wait for the U.S. who was more interested in the Far East.  Action would be taken solely by Britain after they heard back from the U.N. inspectors.  If Assad violated the earlier injunction against WMDs he would be held accountable by Britain. 

This Parliamentary debate strikes me as especially interesting because Britain wasn’t concerning itself with any other nation or power beyond letting the inspectors do their job.  No one was arguing that they had a “dog in the Syrian fight.”  They wanted to “spank” Syria for using WMDs and had the power to do so.  Britain was once again “ruling the waves” – sort of.

Moving to the “Clash of Civilizations” perspective, Britain can get away with its action to “spank” Syria with its missiles only because the Islamic “Civilization” has no “core” nation.  Huntington assumed that the U.S. was the “core” nation of the Western Civilization, but here is Britain getting ready to perform that function once again.  Russia, the Core nation of the “Orthodox Civilization” opposes action in Syria but apparently has no intention of opposing Britain.  Neither does the Core nation of the Sinic Civilization, China. 

Also interesting is the implication that if Britain takes action it will do so for “humanitarian” reasons.  Killing people with WMDs is morally wrong.  In the 19th century, Britain was more interested in a “balance of power.”  If two potential enemies were not getting along that was fine with Britain as long as one didn’t utterly destroy the other.  It was all to the good for it they were fighting each other because while they were doing that they couldn’t fight against Britain.  The Realpolitik of “Balance of Power” if we were to introduce it into the British Parliament debate might be voiced as “they are killing each other off; so let’s stay out of their way and let them do it.” 

Hmmm.  I didn’t type fast enough.  The House of Commons had a vote and opposed military action.  Just what that means to David Cameron’s intentions I don’t know.  Can the executive branch of government ignore the House’s disagreement?  Of course there has to be another motion and another vote which will give Cameron time to present a stronger argument for action – if he has one. 

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