Thursday, April 13, 2006

Today in History

Today marks the 45th anniversary of the first human into space: Yuri Gagarin and the Vostok-1 mission. He orbited the Earth once, spending an hour and 48 minutes in space, before returning safely.

I was just a little kid then, but the fallout affected me tremendously. My school education featured intense science lessons for many years, in response to a fear that The American Way was losing to the godless Soviet machine. Goosed by that anti-Communist fear and the Federal government, school systems across the nation responded by making sure we nurtured and developed a whole new generation of scientists. I've always had an appreciation of science, a respect for the scientific method, and a rational-critical frame of mind because of that.

Today also marks the 18th anniversary of the incident which sparked the largest naval engagement since World War II: Operation Praying Mantis. Elements of the US Navy, protecting Kuwaiti oil vessels from attacks by Iranian warships, were fired upon by Iran. The frigate Samuel B. Roberts was hit and nearly sunk.

That's important to remember as the Iranians are lately posturing on the world stage. It's true we do not have the manpower to fight a land battle with them; our main fighting force is tied up in neighboring Iraq. But I suspect that Iran's patrons -- Russia and China -- aren't wanting that anyway. They simply want us pinned down over in that part of the Middle East so they can pursue plans of their own on other parts of the world.

Most worrisome is China. They have made clear for many years now that they want to reclaim all the territories they lost to the West. Places like Hong Kong, Macau, etc. They have obtained all but one: Taiwan. They want it too, and there's no reason to doubt they are still pursuing it.

Officially, we support the "One China" line, that there is only Communist China. Unofficially, and in every other respect, we support Taiwan as an independent country showing the Chinese people that a Western-style capitalist democracy is very compatible with their culture and history.

Most folks haven't been following the buildup of forces on the Chinese mainland across the Straits from Taiwan over the past fifteen years or so. Nor did most folks care about the revelations of the sale of American technology by the Loral-Hughes Corporation to China during the Clinton administration. But all these things have been done -- slowly and purposefully -- to set the stage one day for a Chinese invasion of Taiwan. If needed.

What the Chinese are counting on is something like the situation we find ourselves in today, with the bulk of our military tied up somewhere and our focus not on China. Our military strategy these days is to be able to wage a single war anywhere in the world while still being able to fight smaller actions elsewhere. We have not yet adapted our land armies to fighting many small police-actions instead.

What China hopes to do is simple: They plan to be able to cross the Straits into Taiwan in massive numbers, using amphibious transports to put overwhelming numbers of troops on Taiwanese soil in very short order. It will take the US far too long to position a carrier group in the area to respond, something the Chinese are counting on. And it would take us months to assemble any kind of ground response. If they act with surprise and can move enough troops then they can claim a fait accompli and force the rest of the world to deal with it.

With Iran and some oil-producing African nations, they are supplied with oil. Their economic transformation in the last decade means a lot of Western production capacity is held hostage by the Chinese. If we act against them economically, it would only hurt us. That transformation is also meant to deflect accusations of Communist throttling of the free-market Taiwanese economy. The Chinese can simply point to the "special economic zones" and argue that they aren't that much different than Taiwna. They can also claim Hong Kong hasn't suffered or been radically changed since their take-over there. They are counting on us looking at the situation and saying, "Well what can we do? Just let it go."

That's America has been courting India during the Bush administration, to act as a regional counter-balance to China. Don't forget that India has been a relatively stable deomocracy for over fifty years now, a huge rarity in that part of the world. It's why we haven't made such a big deal of a nuclear India, versus a nuclear Pakistan. It's why we've been treading very lightly in Pakistan, seemingly ignoring a lot of things you'd think the War on Terror demands we deal with directly.

It's called a proxy war. By helping Iran keep us tangled up, Russia and China help themselves. Something to remember when you hear about events in Iran.

It's why we've been investing so heavily in post-invasion Iraq, to prevent a repeat of the devastation and resentment that followed WWI in Germany. The Armistice and the subsequent Versaille Treaty imposed conditions on Germany that bred deep resentment against the other nations of Europe, and America. That resentment was fertile soil for the nationalist Hitler to till. By doing our best to blunt accusations of exploitation and pillage in Iraq, by helping them to get back on their feet quickly, we are hoping to keep Iran from exploiting Iraq in the same way Hitler exploited the Germans.

I've said before that there are many similarities between the present situation in the Middle East as regards Iran and post-WWI Germany. The Iranian leadership makes no bones about, makes no attempt to excuse or hide, their anti-Semitism. Given the opportunity, they will destroy Israel without mercy. They've told us this time and again.

Internationalists may pooh-pooh such talk, as they did similar talk in the 1930s. They think Iran is a reasonable nation just using extremist language and posturing for effect, as they would. There are "reasons" and "explanations" that always look away from what's really happening.

If we hurriedly remove ourselves from Iraq, then we invite action by Iran and other Arab nations. Syria, for one, which recognises its days are numbered; they need to react soon if they want to save the Assad tyranny. If open war breaks out between nations of the Middle East following a slapdash retreat on our part, then we will be returning in larger numbers, with a much worse situation on our hands demanding greater focus than ever.

And China will act. After all, what can we do about it then?

Things to think about. I'm a firm believer in the saying "The past is prologue." What's happened before can happen again; how people once reacted is a clue to how they will react. Parallel geo-political situations can often foretell parallel results.

Things to think about on these anniversaries.

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