“I have not become the King’s First Minister in order to preside over the liquidation of the British Empire,” said Winston Churchill to cheers at the Lord Mayor’s luncheon in London in November 1942.
True to his word, the great man did not begin the liquidation.
When his countrymen threw him out in July 1945, that role fell to Clement Attlee, who began the liquidation. Churchill, during his second premiership from 1951-1955, would continue the process, as would his successor, Harold Macmillan, until the greatest empire the world had ever seen had vanished.
While its demise was inevitable, the death of the empire was hastened and made more humiliating by the wars into which Churchill had helped to plunge Britain, wars that bled and bankrupted his nation.
War is the health of the state, but the death of empires.
The German, Austro-Hungarian, Russian and Ottoman empires all fell in World War I. World War II ended the Japanese and Italian empires — with the British and French following soon after. The Soviet Empire collapsed in 1989.
Is it now the turn of the Americans?
Persuaded by his generals — Mattis at Defense, McMasters on the National Security Council, Kelly as chief of staff — President Trump is sending about 4,000 more U.S. troops to Afghanistan to augment the 8,500 already there.
Like Presidents Obama and Bush, he does not intend to preside over a U.S. defeat in its longest war. Yet how can we defeat the Taliban with 13,000 troops when we failed to do so with the 100,000 Obama sent?
The new troops are to train the Afghan army to take over the war, to continue eradicating the terrorist elements like ISIS, and to prevent Kabul and other cities from falling to a Taliban now dominant in 40 percent of the country.
Yet what did the great general, whom Trump so admires, Douglas MacArthur, say of such a strategy?
“War’s very object is victory, not prolonged indecision.”
Understandably, Americans feel they cannot walk away from this war.
Trump, however, was elected to end America’s involvement in Middle East wars. And if he has been persuaded that he simply cannot liquidate these wars — Libya, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Afghanistan — he will likely end up sacrificing his presidency, trying to rescue the failures of those who worked hardest to keep him out of the White House.
Writes Bob Merry in the fall issue of The National interest:
“War between Russia and the West seems nearly inevitable. No self-respecting nation facing inexorable encirclement by an alliance of hostile neighbors can allow such pressures and forces to continue indefinitely..”
If Pyongyang tests another atom bomb or ICBM, some national security aides to Trump are not ruling out preventive war.
Yet the country did not vote for confrontation or war.
America voted for Trump’s promise to improve ties with Russia, to make Europe shoulder more of the cost of its defense, to annihilate ISIS and extricate us from Mideast wars, to stay out of future wars.
America voted for economic nationalism and an end to the mammoth trade deficits with the NAFTA nations, EU, Japan and China.
Yet today we hear talk of upping and extending the U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, of confronting Iran, of sending anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons to Ukraine to battle pro-Russia rebels in the east.
Can the new custodians of Trump’s populist-nationalist and America First agenda, the generals and the Goldman Sachs alumni association, be entrusted to carry it out?