The Christmas truce of 1914 was something truly miraculous. There, in the midst of a vicious war – really the first modern war, in which air power and advanced gunnery both played a part for the first time – the two sides not only laid down their arms, but they also consorted and celebrated the pause in the senseless interminable slaughter. When it was over, they went back to destroying European civilization, but for a moment there a vision of what peace would be like if people took their fate into their own hands was readily apparent. Yes, we always drag out this example, every Christmas, as a lesson in what might be and should be – but could anything like that legendary truce happen today?
Well, it has happened, and in the most unlikely place imaginable – the wilds of Afghanistan, whose stony landscape has absorbed so much blood that I’m surprised the earth itself hasn’t liquefied. As the Washington Post reports:
“A first possible breakthrough in the 17-year Afghan conflict came in June, when a brief cease-fire during a Muslim holiday produced a spontaneous celebration by Afghan troops, civilians and Taliban fighters. The nationwide yearning for peace became palpable.”
Unlike the World War I version, however, it looks like something may come of this spontaneous rebellion against a long and futile war:
“Now, in a development that could build on that extraordinary moment, a senior American diplomat and Taliban insurgent officials have reportedly held talks for the first time, meeting in the Persian Gulf state of Qatar and agreeing to hold further sessions. According to Taliban officials, they discussed reprising the truce in August.”
The US, bypassing the barely functional Afghan “government” — which controls only the territory around Kabul – is negotiating directly with the Taliban, whose leaders are enthusiastic about the talks. While the White House is laconic about the negotiations, the insurgents are more forthcoming: one described the talks as “very positive,” and averred that “We agreed to meet again soon and resolve the Afghan conflict through dialogue.”
The President, you’ll recall, decided to send a few thousand more US troops to Afghanistan with great reluctance, declaring that he’d much rather see them come home: somehow, however, it was supposedly necessary for him to restrain his instincts and surrender to the advice of the military and their attendant pundits. However, it looks like he didn’t give up on the possibility of getting out of America’s longest war – and, in the end, the people on the ground concurred, providing the impetus for serious negotiations.
In this the Afghan peace initiative is much like what’s happening on the Korean peninsula: there, too, the people on the ground who’ve had to live in the long shadow of an outlived conflict spontaneously decided that they’d had enough. Driven in large part by South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un, the Singapore summit was the end result of the two native leaders in effect forcing the US to the negotiating table.
Not that the President didn’t play a key role: after all, the US had previously succeeded in quashing the prospects for peace during the Bush II administration, when George W. infamously declared North Korea to be a spoke in the “axis of evil.” That put a quick end to the “Sunshine policy” that the South Koreans had so hopefully initiated.
This time, however, the White House responded positively: Trump, confronted by an invitation to meet Kim Jong-un and kickstart the peace talks, immediately agreed, much to the consternation of his slow-thinking advisors – and the horror of the alleged “experts.” “Oh,” they cried, “you can’t do it like that! You must have endless preliminary meetings and thousands of documents must be passed back and forth and the whole process must be mapped out in advance, down to the last detail.” In other words, the same process that had repeatedly failed over many years must be replicated – and isn’t insanity the expectation that success will be gained by repeating a process that has failed every time?
The Trumpian method inverts this procedure, much to the horror of the “experts”: instead of beginning with niggling little details, the negotiations start when the two leaders meet and establish general guidelines, which underlings are then tasked with implementing. It’s called thinking – and acting – in terms of principles, rather than focusing immediately on supposedly “pragmatic” range-of-the-moment minutiae.
No, Trump doesn’t do things the way everyone else in Washington does, and that’s to his credit in this case. His methods suit the situation, in which he finds himself negotiating with strongmen, rather than, say, the leadership of the European Union. Underlings can talk and draw up all the plans they want, but who can say that the North Korean side speaks for Kim Jong-un? Everything is tentative without the Supreme Leader’s personal imprimatur. Trump’s inverted method gets around this problem rather neatly, and this is also true in the case of the Russians, and, to a certain extent, the Iranians.
Speaking of the Iranians, they are refusing President Trump’s invitation to meet him “without preconditions,” and the media, it seems, is siding with Tehran. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s subsequent comments are being widely reported as supposedly contradicting the President. The Beltway newsletter The Hill reported Pompeo’s remarks:
“If the Iranians demonstrate a commitment to make fundamental changes in how they treat their own people, reduce their malign behavior, can agree that it’s worthwhile to enter into a nuclear agreement that actually prevents proliferation, then the president said he’s prepared to sit down and have the conversation with them.”
What kind of “preconditions” are these? “Reducing their malign behavior”: what does that even mean? There are no specifics, and that’s what real preconditions consist of. On the other hand, the public statements of the Iranian leadership are very precise. The Hill doesn’t report them, but the Israeli media, eager to document Tehran’s intransigence, is more forthcoming. Ha’aretz reports:
“Iran responded to Trump Tuesday, setting two preconditions to a possible meeting. Trump would have to agree to return to the internationally-backed nuclear deal with Iran and also would have to suspend new sanctions against Tehran before any talks, Hamid Abutalebi, an aide to Iranian President Hassan Rohani, said on Twitter.”
Now those are some real preconditions, and they are accompanied by plenty of macho posturing: the Speaker of the Iranian parliament declared that “negotiating with the Americans would be a humiliation now.” The Iranian Foreign Minister likewise deplored the end of the Iran deal negotiated by the Obama administration – which the regime is still adhering to – and signaled that it’s too late (or, perhaps, too early) for talks. Trump, for his part, struck a conciliatory note that contrasted sharply with Iranian bombast: “It’s good for the country, good for them, good for us and good for the world. No preconditions. If they want to meet, I’ll meet.”
Trump also said he thinks the Iranians will come around, and that view is buttressed by the news of an Iranian government shakeup caused not only by the prospect of fresh American sanctions but also by the regime’s crazy economic policies. Inflation is rampant, and the value of country’s currency, the rial, is rapidly falling. The appointment of a new chief of the central bank is in the wings, but that’s not likely to fix anything. As Reuters informs us:
“The rial plumbed new depths on Monday, dropping past 120,000 per U.S. dollar, but Trump’s expressed willingness to negotiate with Tehran sparked a minor recovery on Tuesday, to 110,000 rials on the unofficial market.
“Iranian Vice-President Eshagh Jahangiri said the government and the central bank would unveil a new economic plan by the end of this week to tackle the US sanctions and the rial’s fall.
“Videos on social media showed hundreds of people rallying in Isfahan in central Iran, and Karaj near Tehran, in protest at high prices caused in part by the weak rial.”
In order to placate a restive populace with plenty of free stuff, the authorities have been printing money like there’s no tomorrow. However, tomorrow has apparently arrived. Forbes calculates Iran’s real inflation rate at 203% . As the economy approaches Venezuela-like conditions, the mullahs will no doubt lose the macho and come to the table for the simple reason that it’s in their interests to do so, despite advice from the Western NeverTrumpers. (Does “The Resistance” really think the addition of Iran’s mullahs to their ranks helps their cause?)
Against the Washington wonk-ocracy and the leadership of both parties, this President has launched the most ambitious series of peace initiatives ever undertaken by an American chief executive. That he’s getting little or no credit from our official peaceniks, and furious opposition from the “experts,” is evidence of the very “tribalism” Trump is said to represent. They simply can’t acknowledge actions they would hail as bold and innovative coming from any other occupant of the Oval Office: that’s how narrow-minded and frankly amoral the NeverTrumpers are. And nothing highlights this more than the hysteria that greeted the Helsinki summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
They screeched that it was the “Treason Summit,” and stupidly claimed that the soccer ball Putin gave to Trump had a “secret chip” (all Adidas soccer balls have this chip, but never mind). Over at CNN and MSNBC, they speculated as to what Trump and Putin discussed: did the President give away “secrets”? Did he give away the ranch? A recent exchange between neocon chickenhawk Max Boot and NYU professor of Russian studies Stephen F. Cohen – in which the former has his head handed to him – illustrates the craziness:
Confronted with someone who actually knows something about Russia, diplomacy, and the history of Russo-American relations, Boot is shown up to be a fool: all he can do is hurl smears at a distinguished academic. Cohen, on the other hand, clearly understands the historic importance of Helsinki and Putin’s upcoming visit to the White House. The leaders of two countries which have thousands of nuclear missiles aimed at each other have the power to end the arms race and eliminate the threat of nuclear annihilation. Nothing is more important than that – and yet the NeverTrumpers are implacably opposed to any such development.
The naysayers will not prevail: that I firmly believe. Trump will triumph in the end for two reasons: 1) Because the American people are sick of perpetual war. Trump, for his part, is no Gandhi: he just wants to get to work on solving our problems right here at home without the expensive distraction of policing the world, and 2) All four of these peace initiatives – involving Afghanistan, Korea, Iran, and Russia – are the result of outlived conflicts, the detritus of a global struggle against an enemy that has vanished. All four are the legacy of the cold war, including the conflict with Iran: remember that our 1953 covert intervention that succeeded in overthrowing suspected “communist” Prime Minister Muhammed Mossadegh occurred in a cold war context.
This is why Trump will win, and the carping of the NeverTrumpers will amount to little more than the embittered cries of the defeated. All the structures of the old era are being swept away by the Trumpian tsunami – as they would be in any event, no matter who occupies the White House.
In short: A new era of peace is dawning. Shall I now sing the first verses of “The Age of Aquarius”? Well, why not?
NOTES IN THE MARGIN
You can check out my Twitter feed by going here. But please note that my tweets are sometimes deliberately provocative, often made in jest, and largely consist of me thinking out loud.
I’ve written a couple of books, which you might want to peruse. Here is the link for buying the second edition of my 1993 book, Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement, with an Introduction by Prof. George W. Carey, a Foreword by Patrick J. Buchanan, and critical essays by Scott Richert and David Gordon (ISI Books, 2008).
You can buy An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard (Prometheus Books, 2000), my biography of the great libertarian thinker, here.