The age of the empire of influence
The great Prussian military strategist Carl von Clausewitz once famously remarked that “War is the continuation of Politik by other means.” We now stand at a point in our history when it might be better to consider that war is, in reality, the course of action that is pursued when diplomacy fails. War, in my opinion, should not be considered as a simple extension of policy from the realm of diplomacy into the realm of armed conflict. This view is folly. War is what happens when Politik has ended and been discarded and is not something to be taken lightly or considered in theoretical contexts.
We have seen in human history the failed Pax Romana; Pax Britannica; and, most recently, Pax Americana. Somehow, we have endlessly failed to learn the lessons so blatantly informed by these failures. A brilliant Native American leader once remarked “In order to know what lies ahead, one must simply look back.” I would urge our elected officials to take this simple step in order to insure a future for our nation.
The Roman emperor Hadrian provides an example of effective strategic national and foreign policy. Rome during his reign was far flung. The empire was beyond the ability of a central government to control. Hadrian looked at the situation and said, essentially, “This far and no further.” Hence, the construction of Hadrian’s wall which essentially ended the expansion of the Roman empire and defined its ultimate geographical limit. It is interesting to note that during his reign, the Roman empire flourished to perhaps a greater extent than at any other time in its history. In fact, the wealthiest Roman during Hadrian’s rule was, in real terms, about 10 times richer than the richest person on earth today. What does this mean? It means simply that a policy of constant internecine meddling aimed at endless expansion of influence is not the smartest or best course. There is a time for marshaling resources and turning the focus inward, which, if done prudently, can easily be achieved without disengaging or abandoning international relations and diplomacy.
Since World War I, the United States has been the world’s economic powerhouse. Since World War II, the United States has been the world’s economic and military powerhouse. And yet, I’d be interested to hear someone argue that overall, we have achieved substantial policy success through armed conflict since World War II. I’d be interested to hear the Russians argue this point on their own behalf. Could the Chinese make such an argument? What about India and Pakistan? Have we learned nothing from human history at this point? Is it not at least possible that the time for the end of the Age of the Empire of Influence has finally arrived?
Which brings us to the Iranians. The majority of people in Iran are ethnic Persians. Irrespective of Hollywood’s take on the Battle of Thermopylae, for the most part, the Persian culture is one of acceptance of different cultures. Cyrus the Great (576-530 BC) is honored in the Jewish bible no less than 23 times. His reign and his policies were marked by respect for human rights, respect for the cultures of various peoples under his rule, and advanced theories of governance. This is the true cultural birthright of Iran and one that has essentially been usurped by leadership that is, in many respects, unwelcome among the ranks of its own citizens. Still, the Iranian government is the entity with which we must interact in terms of diplomacy which is obviously preferable to outright warfare. Despite the hold on power of the current Iranian theocracy via the Army of the Guardians of the Islamic Revolution, reality is that this hold on power is much more tenuous than most would believe. Why should we continue to provoke and attempt to weaken leadership whose ultimate move, if backed into a corner, could only be to lash out? Continued economic sanctions, in my opinion, will serve to achieve nothing more than to eventually back the Iranian regime into that corner.
I believe that the immediate, complete removal of all economic sanctions against Iran will hasten a move toward democracy and the eventual end of the current tyrannical Iranian regime via internal political changes leading to more moderate governmental leadership. With the end of sanctions would come a freer exchange of information, greater economic power in the hands of Iranian citizens, and, concomitantly, greater political power for Iran’s people. With economic sanctions no longer in place, a path to eventual restoration of diplomatic relations between the United States and Iran – once fast friends and allies – would be open. Historically, the most effective way to encourage a nation to engage in peaceful endeavors both internally and externally has been through trade. The most ineffective way has been through the use of threats or coercion.
Charles Levy, M.D., lives in Marietta. The second part to this article will appear in an upcoming edition.