After the Berlin Wall fell in November 1989 and the death of the Soviet Union was confirmed two years later as Boris Yeltsin courageously stood down the Red Army tanks in front of Moscow’s White House, a dark era in human history came to an abrupt end.
The world had descended into a "77-Years War." It had incepted with the mobilization of the armies of old Europe in August 1914. If you want to count bodies, 150 million were killed by all the depredations that germinated in the Great War, its foolish aftermath at Versailles, and the march of history into World War II and the Cold War that followed inexorably thereupon.
Upwards of 8% of the human race was wiped out during that span. The toll encompassed the madness of trench warfare during 1914-1918; the murderous regimes of Soviet and Nazi totalitarianism that rose from the ashes of the Great War and the follies of Versailles; and then the carnage of WWII and all the lesser (unnecessary) wars and invasions of the Cold War including Korea and Vietnam.
At the end of the Cold War, therefore, the last embers of the fiery madness that had incepted with the guns of August 1914 had finally burned out. Peace was at hand. Yet 31 years later there is still no peace because Imperial Washington confounds it.
The proof is plain as day. The unnecessary invasions and occupations of Iraq, the Washington-instigated shambles of Syria, the wanton destruction of Yemen, the regime change-cum barbarism that NATO inflicted upon Libya, the brutal sanctions and covert military war on Iran, the current unspeakable catastrophe financed by Washington’s proxy war against Russia in Ukraine, and countless more lessor depredations, tell you all you need to know.
All of these misadventures bespeak the fact that the War Party is entrenched in the nation’s capital, where it is dedicated to economic interests and ideological perversions that guarantee perpetual war. These forces ensure endless waste on armaments; they cause the inestimable death and human suffering that stems from 21st-century high-tech warfare; and they inherently generate terrorist blow-back from those upon whom the War Party inflicts its violent hegemony.
Worse still, Washington’s great war machine and teeming national security industry is its own agent of self-perpetuation. When it is not invading, occupying and regime changing, its vast apparatus of internal policy bureaus and outside contractors, lobbies, think tanks and NGOs is busy generating reasons for new imperial ventures.
So there was a virulent threat to peace still lurking on the Potomac after the 77-Years War ended. The great general and President, Dwight Eisenhower, had called it the "military-industrial-congressional complex" in the draft of his farewell address. But that memorable phrase had been abbreviated by his speechwriters, who deleted the word "congressional" in a gesture of comity to the legislative branch.
So restore Ike’s deleted reference to the pork barrels and Sunday-afternoon warriors of Capitol Hill and toss in the legions of Beltway busybodies who constituted the civilian branches of the Cold War armada (CIA, State, AID, NED, and the rest) and the circle would have been complete. It constituted the most awesome machine of warfare and imperial hegemony since the Roman legions bestrode most of the civilized world.
In a word, the real threat to peace circa 1991 was that the American Imperium would not go away quietly into the good night.
In fact, during the past 31 years Imperial Washington has lost all memory that peace was ever possible at the end of the Cold War. Today it is as feckless, misguided and bloodthirsty as were Berlin, Paris, St. Petersburg, Vienna and London in August 1914.
A few months after that horrendous slaughter had been unleashed 108 years ago, however, soldiers along the western front broke into spontaneous truces of Christmas celebration, song and even exchange of gifts. For a brief moment they wondered why they were juxtaposed in lethal combat along the jaws of hell.
As Will Grigg once described it,
A sudden cold snap had left the battlefield frozen, which was actually a relief for troops wallowing in sodden mire. Along the Front, troops extracted themselves from their trenches and dugouts, approaching each other warily, and then eagerly, across No Man’s Land. Greetings and handshakes were exchanged, as were gifts scavenged from care packages sent from home. German souvenirs that ordinarily would have been obtained only through bloodshed – such as spiked pickelhaube helmets, or Gott mit un s belt buckles – were bartered for similar British trinkets. Carols were sung in German, English, and French. A few photographs were taken of British and German officers standing alongside each other, unarmed, in No Man’s Land.
The truth is, there was no good reason for the Great War. The world had stumbled into war based on false narratives and the institutional imperatives of military mobilization plans, alliances and treaties arrayed into a doomsday machine and petty short-term diplomatic maneuvers and political calculus. Yet it took more than three-quarters of a century for all the consequential impacts and evils to be purged from the life of the planet.
The peace that was lost last time has not been regained this time, however. And for the same reasons.
Historians can readily name the culprits from 108 years ago.
These include the German general staff’s plan for a lightning mobilization and strike on the western front called the Schlieffen Plan; the incompetence and intrigue in the court at St. Petersburg; the lifelong obsession of Austrian chief of staff Conrad with the conquest of Serbia; French President Poincare’s anti-German irredentism owing to the 1871 loss of his home province, Alsace-Lorraine; and the bloodthirsty cabal around Winston Churchill, who forced England into an unnecessary war, among countless others.
Since these casus belli of 1914 were criminally trivial in light of all that metastasized thereafter, it might do well to name the institutions and false narratives that block the return of peace today. The fact is, these impediments are even more contemptible than the forces that crushed the Christmas truces one century ago.
IMPERIAL WASHINGTON – THE NEW GLOBAL MENACE
There is no peace on earth today for reasons mainly rooted in Imperial Washington – not Moscow, Beijing, Tehran, Damascus, Mosul or the rubble of what remains of Raqqa. Imperial Washington has become a global menace owing to what didn’t happen in 1991.
At that crucial inflection point, Bush the Elder should have declared "mission accomplished" and parachuted into the great Ramstein air base in Germany to begin the demobilization of the America’s war machine.
So doing, he could have slashed the Pentagon budget from $600 billion to $250 billion (2015 $); demobilized the military-industrial complex by putting a moratorium on all new weapons development, procurement and export sales; dissolved NATO and dismantled the far-flung network of U.S. military bases; reduced the United States’ standing armed forces from 1.5 million to a few hundred thousand; and organized and led a world-disarmament and peace campaign, as did his Republican predecessors during the 1920s.
Unfortunately, George H. W. Bush was not a man of peace, vision or even middling intelligence.
He was the malleable tool of the War Party, and it was he who single-handedly blew the peace when, in the very year the 77-Years War ended with the demise of the Soviet Union, he plunged America into a petty argument between the impetuous dictator of Iraq and the gluttonous emir of Kuwait. But that argument was none of George Bush’s or America’s business.
By contrast, even though liberal historians have reviled Warren G. Harding as some kind of dummkopf politician, he well understood that the Great War had been for naught, and that to ensure it never happened again the nations of the world needed to rid themselves of their huge navies and standing armies.
To that end, he achieved the largest global-disarmament agreement ever during the Washington Naval Conference of 1921, which halted the construction of new battleships for more than a decade. And even then, the moratorium ended only because the vengeful victors at Versailles never ceased exacting their revenge on Germany.
And while he was at it, President Harding also pardoned Eugene Debs. In so doing, he gave witness to the truth that the intrepid socialist candidate for president and vehement antiwar protester, who Woodrow Wilson had thrown in prison for exercising his First Amendment right to speak against US entry into a pointless European war, had been right all along.
In short, Warren G. Harding knew the war was over and the folly of Wilson’s 1917 plunge into Europe’s bloodbath should not be repeated, at all hazards.
But not George H. W. Bush. The man should never be forgiven for enabling the likes of Dick Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz, Robert Gates and their neocon pack of jackals to come to power – even if he eventually denounced them in his doddering old age.
Alas, upon his death, Bush the Elder was deified, not vilified, by the mainstream press and the bipartisan duopoly. And that tells you all you need to know about why Washington is ensnared in its Forever Wars and is the very reason why there is still no peace on earth.
Even more to the point, by opting not for peace but for war and oil in the Persian Gulf in 1991 Washington opened the gates to an unnecessary confrontation with Islam and nurtured the rise of jihadist terrorism that would not haunt the world today save for forces unleashed by George H. W. Bush’s petulant quarrel with Saddam Hussein.
We will momentarily get to the 52-year-old error that holds the Persian Gulf is an American lake and that the answer to high oil prices and energy security is the Fifth Fleet.
Suffice it to say here that the answer to high oil prices everywhere and always is high oil prices – a truth driven home in spades by the oil busts of 2009, 2015 and 2020, and the fact the real price of oil today (2022 $) is no higher than it was in the mid-1970s.
But first it is well to remember that in 1991 there was no plausible threat anywhere on the planet to the safety and security of the citizens of Springfield, MA, Lincoln, NE or Spokane, WA when the Cold War ended.
The Warsaw Pact had dissolved into more than a dozen woebegone sovereign statelets; the Soviet Union was now unscrambled into 15 independent and far-flung republics from Belarus to Tajikistan; and the Russian motherland would soon plunge into an economic depression that would leave it with a GDP about the size of the Philadelphia SMSA.
Likewise, China’s GDP was even smaller and more primitive than Russia’s. Even as Mr. Deng was discovering the People’s Bank of China’s printing press, which would enable it to become a great mercantilist exporter, an incipient Chinese threat to national security was never in the cards.
After all, it was the 4,000 Walmarts in America upon which the prosperity of the new Red Capitalism inextricably depended and upon which the rule of the Communist oligarchs in Beijing was ultimately anchored. Even the hardliners among them could see that in swapping militarism for mercantilism and after invading America with tennis shoes, neckties, home textiles and electronics – that the door had been closed to any other kind of invasion thereafter.
NO ISLAMIC TERRORISTS OR JIHADI THREAT CIRCA 1991
Likewise, in 1991 there was no global Islamic threat or jihadi terrorist menace at all. What existed under those headings were sundry fragments and deposits of Middle Eastern religious, ethnic and tribal histories that were of moment in their immediate region, but no threat to America’s homeland security whatsoever.
The Shiite/Sunni divide had coexisted since A.D. 671, but its episodic eruptions into battles and wars over the centuries had rarely extended beyond the region, and certainly had no reason to fester into open conflict in 1991.
Inside the artificial state of Iraq, which had been drawn on a map by historically ignorant European diplomats in 1916, for instance, the Shiite and Sunni got along tolerably. That’s because the nation was ruled by Saddam Hussein’s Baathist brand of secular Arab nationalism, flavored by a muscular propensity for violent repression of internal dissent.
Hussein championed law and order, state-driven economic development and politically apportioned distributions from the spoils of the extensive government-controlled oil sector. To be sure, Baathist socialism didn’t bring much prosperity to the well-endowed lands of Mesopotamia, but Hussein did have a Christian foreign minister and no sympathy for religious extremism or violent pursuit of sectarian causes.
As it happened, the bloody Shiite/Sunni strife that plagues Iraq, Syria and the greater middle east today and which functioned as a hatchery for angry young jihadi terrorists in their thousands was initially unleashed only after Hussein had been driven from Kuwait in 1991 and the CIA had instigated an armed uprising in the Shiite heartland around Basra..
That revolt was brutally suppressed by Hussein’s republican guards, but it left an undertow of resentment and revenge boiling below the surface. That was one of many of George H. W. Bush’s fetid legacies in the region.
Needless to say, when it came their turn, Bush the Younger and his cabal of neocon warmongers could not leave well enough alone.
When they foolishly destroyed Saddam Hussein and his entire regime in the pursuit of nonexistent WMDs and alleged ties with al-Qaeda, they literally opened the gates of hell, leaving Iraq as a lawless failed state where both recent and ancient religious and tribal animosities were given unlimited violent vent.
David Stockman was a two-term Congressman from Michigan. He was also the Director of the Office of Management and Budget under President Ronald Reagan. After leaving the White House, Stockman had a 20-year career on Wall Street. He’s the author of three books, The Triumph of Politics: Why the Reagan Revolution Failed, The Great Deformation: The Corruption of Capitalism in America and TRUMPED! A Nation on the Brink of Ruin… And How to Bring It Back. He also is founder of David Stockman’s Contra Corner and David Stockman’s Bubble Finance Trader.