The Necessity of Deterrence
If there is ever a chance for a free lecture on Ancient history's Peloponnesian War from Victor Davis Hanson, one must take advantage of it. Here is one.
In this long excerpt Hanson provides the enduring lesson of the Peloponnesian War:
Why do wars start? Osama bin Laden told us in his infamous 1998 fatwa that he was declaring open season for two reasons: the UN embargo we supported against Iraqi children and the stationing of U.S. troops in the holy sites of Mecca and Medina. Well, the troops are not there anymore, and there’s no UN embargo; it’s been replaced by $87 billion dollars pledged to build Iraq – yet there’s still a war with bin Laden. What happened?
The answer is a word that Thucydides created that had not been in the Greek language before him: profasis. It means “perceived grievance,” or maybe loosely translated, “pretext.” Sparta said that they had to attack Athens because Athens had had a siege at Potidea. Athens had hurt the Megarians. Athens had been on the wrong side – these were all perceptions, pretext, perceived grievance....
Is the war in the West Bank really about 93 percent of demands? No. What is it about? It’s about a prosperous, competent Western society plopped right down alongside the PA. We can’t help it, but we’re reminding you every day. And that creates this Thucydidean anger, desires, contradictions, paradoxes.
That’s how most wars start. Thucydides teaches us that. These appetites drive them. The Spartans didn’t need the Athenian empire, but they realized everybody went there to see Sophocles, Euripides, Socrates, Pheidias, and the Parthenon. You didn’t go to Sparta to do anything. It was a loser society.
Thucydides also tells us there’s such a thing called “deterrence.” If I were Thucydides in 1998, I would say bin Laden is going to do something terrible to the United States.
We had quite a run-up in the Islamic war against the West: the 1979 Iranian hostage, the Beirut embassies, the Beirut annex, the murder of the 241 Marines, the first World Trade Center, the Khobar Towers, the East African embassies, the USS Cole. We lost the sense of deterrence, like a sleeping dog who shoos away a fly, and made it open season on American soldiers and diplomats. Bin Laden said after Mogadishu that Americans will not or cannot do anything about it.
The Athenians didn’t realize it, because, when you lose deterrence, you always have the logic of appeasement to suggest you haven’t lost. But the fact of the matter was, once they adopted a policy, they would go into their walls and write it out. Nobody told Pericles, “You have no mechanism to punish the Spartans if they set foot one inch into your land. And when they do it, even though they can’t cut down all of your olive trees, they can send a message to your allies that you cannot or will not stop enemies being right outside your walls.” They lost the deterrence, and the war started.
If as the Leftists say "War Is Never the Answer", then why do they skimp on deterrence? President Reagan realized that deterrence could win a war before it ever started. And that is why there is no more Soviet Union.
Hanson again: It’s very dangerous during peace not to give a message that, if anybody starts a war, they’ll pay a terrible price.