Posts Tagged ‘peace agreement’

From Munich to Hormuz

September 12, 2015

In his 1972 journalistic opus, The Best and the Brightest,

http://www.amazon.com/Best-Brightest-Kennedy-Johnson-Administrations/dp/0330238477/

David Halberstam quotes President Lyndon Johnson, who made a speech on July 28, 1965, which included these words:

 

“We did not choose to be the guardians at the gate, but there is no one else.

“Nor would surrender in Vietnam bring peace, because we learned from Hitler at Munich that success only feeds the appetite of aggression. The battle  would be renewed in one country and then another country, (and) bring with it perhaps even larger and crueler conflict, as we have learned from the lessons of history.”

 

What history actually brought, in the years that followed, was this lesson:  the “larger and crueler conflict” of which LBJ spoke happened anyway, in spite of our confident, prolonged military efforts to arrest communist aggression in southeast Asia beginning in 1965.

The best laid plans of mice and men never work out as they were planned. This is the tragedy of human government, and even perhaps, of human history itself.

On that press conference occasion in 1965, President Johnson was announcing an escalation of the war in Vietnam, with new troop deployments increasing from 75,000 to 125,000. The total number of American soldiers eventually  sent to fight in Vietnam, before the conflagration ended in 1975, would far surpass that 125,000 that he was announcing on that fateful day.

If you go back and study what wars and negotiative agreements were forged between the leaders of nations in the 20th-century, you will see that our species has a long record of hopeful expectations for peace and safety that failed to manifest in the triumphant ways that we had expected.

After World War I, the victorious Allies, congregating in Versailles, France, went to great lengths to construct a peace deal that would last. . . that would last, as they hoped, in a way that would render their armisticed Great War to be the War to End all Wars.

A few years later, a foxy German dictator named Hitler worked himself into a position of systematically and stealthily destroying that Treaty of Versailles.

When British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain met with Hitler in 1938, and worked out a peace agreement which would allow Hitler to obscond Czechoslovakia, Chamberlain returned to London with the now infamous assessment, Peace in our time!

Look what happened after that.

That failed Munich agreement is the one to which President Johnson referred in his 1965 escalation speech. As quoted above, he mentioned what “we learned from Hitler at Munich.”

What historical lesson did we learn from history as a result of Chamberlain’s naivete at Munich?

Maybe this: You cannot always, if ever, trust your enemy. Especially if the arc of history is rising in his (the enemy’s) direction. Which it was (rising), like it or not, for Adolf Hitler and the Third Reich in 1938.

Years later, after Hitler and his Nazi terrorizers had scared the hell out of most everybody in the civilized world, the postwar scenario unearthed in WWII’s ashes  revealed this: a new ideological death-struggle between the Capitalist West and and the spectre of advancing Communism.

During that postwar period–1940s through the 1970s or ’80s–the rising fear that dominated both sides (Capitalist vs Communist) became an obsession for many national leaders. On both sides,  brave men and women were called, and took upon themselves, the perilous burden of defending themselves and their own against the horrible deprivations of the other side.

I grew up during that time. And I can tell you this: At that time, the fears about “Communism” were very real and threatening to many, if not most, Americans. And I daresay that massive fear of “the enemy” was dominant on the Soviet side as it was for us.

Then History threw us a real curve in the late 1940s when Mao and the Chinese communists ran (our man) Chiang Kai-shek out of the mainland (to Taiwan) and established their Asian version of what the Soviets were attempting to establish in eastern Europe.

This Chinese Communist threat is what our national leaders greatly feared in the 1950s and ’60s, when we began to fear the spread of Maoist communism into what remained of (largely third-world) southeast Asia.

Long story short, this fear and loathing of creeping Chinese communism is what got us into, and eventually sucked us into, the war in Vietnam.

Now we all know how that turned out.

What is happening in the world today is not unlike what was happening then. It’s all slouching toward unpredictable, though predictably tragic, human history.

For us in the West now, the great fear is what life would be like under the domination of Islamic Jihad, which is to say, ISIS, or the Islamic Republic of Iran, or Al-qaida, or whatever stronghold ultimately controls that emerging world military threat. (I’m not talking about the “good Muslims”, whoever they may be.)

Hence, many folks today, me included, do not trust any arrangement that our President and/or Secretary of State could set up with Iran. We do remember, as LBJ alluded to, “Munich.”

But we also remember Vietnam, which began–as President’s Johnson escalation speech reference attests– as a military effort to prevent another “Munich” outcome.

In our present time, ever present in our mind is Iraq; we see what is happening there now, after we went to all that blood, sweat and tears to secure that nation against Sadamic Sunni abuse and/or Khomeini Shiite totalitarianism.

As Churchill did not trust Hitler, while Chamberlain did trust him: our principle ally Netanyahu does not trust Khameini and the Iranians, while Obama does trust them.

Back in the 1930s-’40s, which assessment was correct? Churchill’s.

In our present situation, which assessment of Iranian motives is correct, Netanyahu’s or Obama’s?

To try and  figure out–as historical precedent and historical possibility bears down upon us– how our contemporary peace efforts will play out in the chambers and killing fields of power, is like. . .well. . . The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind.

And we are now, as we were then, on the eve of certain destruction.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ntLsElbW9Xo

Did we survive the last time? Did the free world survive?

You tell me.

 

Smoke

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After reading Thirteen Days

November 29, 2014

In September of 1978, President Jimmy Carter invited Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Egyptian President Anwar Sadat to the presidential retreat at Camp David. Mr. Carter’s objective was to forge a peace agreement between Egypt and Israel. Following a 13-day ordeal of tense negotiations that involved the three primary leaders and their accompanying staffs, the summit did ultimately produce a signed agreement.

In 2014, peace still exists between Egypt and Israel.

Lawrence Wright has written a book reporting what took place during that thirteen day period at Camp David in 1978. The book was published in September this year, 2014 by Alfred A. Knopf/Random House.

Here a few things I learned while reading Thirteen Days in September: Carter, Begin and Sadat at Camp David.

http://www.amazon.com/Thirteen-Days-September-Carter-Begin/dp/0385352034

Israeli Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan accompanied Prime Minister Begin at the summit. Dayan, born in 1915 in the first Israeli kibbutz, had been Defense Minister during the 6-day War of 1967 and the Yom Kippur War of 1973.

~ Very soon after the war of 1967, in which Israel had gained control of much territory, including the Sinai and Jerusalem, Moshe Dayan met with Muslim leaders in Jerusalem. Although the Muslims had feared that Dayan might allow the Israelis to destroy the mosques on top of the Temple Mount (Haram al-Sharif), Dayan did otherwise. He told the Muslim leaders, including the Mufti, to “resume their Friday sermons” at the Al Aqsa mosque. He also eliminated barricades and checkpoints that had formerly separated Arab neighborhoods from Jewish areas.

~ In 1972, President Sadat sent Soviet military experts out of Egypt, back to USSR. By “pulling Egypt out of the Soviet embrace” Sadat was able to steer the Egyptian economy away from the socialist model.

~ The 1978 American-sponsored peace summit at Camp David got off to a very slow start. After nine days of awkward, getting-to-know-you sessions between two delegations whose nations had formerly met only on battlefields of war, the “first concrete agreement of the Camp David summit became a reality.” This little breakthrough occurred when an Egyptian lawyer, Osama el-Baz, met with an Israeli lawyer, Aharon Barak, to hash out some legal hurtles. The proverbial sunbeam broke through dark clouds of gloom when the attorneys agreed to delete a phrase. Ironically, the phrase was this sentence: “They have both also stated that there shall be be no more war between them.”  In other words, the negotiators were starting to get realistic about the limitations of their proposed peace agreement.

~ Also on Day 9 of the summit, the issue of Israeli settlements in the Sinai emerged as the main point of contention obstructing an agreement. This became evident after President Carter became furious with the Egyptian attorney Baz and berated him for misrepresenting his boss’ (Sadat’s) position on another issue.

~ On Day 10, Anwar el-Sadat and Moshe Dayan, two men under whose command their two armies had clashed on the Sinai battlegrounds five years prior, met in Sadat’s apartment at Camp David.  Lawrence Wright wrote: “Sadat received Dayan with a polite smile.” Despite Carter’s request to Dayan that the battle-horses “not discuss the issues” lest they descend into entrenched positions, the two peace-seeking soldiers fell into an exchange about the Israelis’ refusal to give up their settlements in the Sinai. But the silver lining behind the cloud was that now the issue of settlements could come full-force to the front lines of their waging peace. Progress, believe it or not,  was at last on their dark horizon as the two sides faced each other face-to-face, but not on a desert battlefield.  (. . .”settlements” dispute sound familiar to our 2014 ears?)

~ The Yom Kippur War of 1973 exposed Israel’s vulnerability in a way that compelled their electorate to turn toward Begin’s hardline defense strategies and the Likud party, in 1977.

~ Menachem Begin, born in Russian Belarus in 1913, survived both the Nazi Holocaust and the Soviet gulag before being sent to Palestine as a soldier in the Polish army in December 1942. When Begin got to Palestine, one might say he never looked back. He had found that home that all Jews await. His persecuted, embattled life-story explains, in my opinion, the extremity of his Irgun military strategies and terrorist insurrections in British Palestine after World War II. His 1978 presence at Jimmy Carter’s peace-seeking marathon for thirteen days, and his consent to its final agreement, was unlikely, to say the least.

But I will not “say the least.” Begin’s concession of the Sinai to Egypt was nothing short of miraculous. There are conditions in this world that can turn a heart of stone into a human heart. A wise peacemaking Christian man who happened to be President of the strongest nation in the world had a hand in this amazing turnaround.

Speaking of which, I’ll skip a Sinai-sized bulk of my notes about this peace-seeking ordeal, to mention a turning point (one of many) that came on the last day, Day 13:

~ As a final signing ceremony was being prepared at the White House, Begin ordered his delegation to withdraw from the Camp David meetings. The thorny issue of Jerusalem was the prickling crown that was about to draw fatal blood from an almost-compete agreement. That old death-struggle between Jew and Muslim had raised its ugly head when Begin’s life-defining resolve was threatened by a letter from President Carter. It was a side letter,  a mere addendum, and not a legal part of the agreement, that came to the forefront of their last-minute contentions. Carter had written the letter as a point of clarification at Sadat’s request. Lawrence Wright wrote:

“If Carter retracted the letter, he would lose Sadat. If he did not, he would lose Begin. There was no way out.”

Meanwhile, back at the ranch. . .er, at the White House, Rosalynn and the staff were making preparations for a signing ceremony to take place in a few hours.

“The true loneliness of leadership is found in such moments, when great gains and great losses await a decision and there is no way of tallying in advance the final cost.”

I will not disclose how this last-minute obstacle was overcome, but I will say this: When Jimmy Carter delivered a photographic gift to Menachem Begin as he was sitting on the porch, the old soldier’s heart of stone  took a back seat, at least for a few minutes, to a heart of flesh. Those photographs were addressed, individually, to Begin’s grandchildren.

Now once again, I will pass over copious notes to offer one final thing I learned while reading Lawrence Wright’s book.

~ In 1981, after all this laborious peacemaking had passed, and after Israel had formally withdrawn from the Sinai peninsula, President Sadat was participating in a ceremonial event to honor Egypt, and to commemorate the war of 1973. Sadat stood on a decorated platform with many other dignitaries, clothed in a field marshal’s uniform, arrayed in his finest honorary regalia. A band played; fireworks were on display. Military jets passed overhead with acrobatics; a military parade passed in front of the platform for their review. But one troop truck halted. Egyptian soldiers leaped to the ground, brandishing automatic rifles and grenades. One of them raced toward the platform.

“Sadat abruptly stood up and saluted.”

~ And that was the last time Anwar el-Sadat stood on this earth. He was a leader who paid the dearest price of all for his willingness to break ranks with Arab intransigence and make peace with Jacob. He recovered lands for the Egyptians that they could not reclaim through war.  That final stand on the platform–that final salute on October 6, 1981–demonstrated his last full measure of devotion to his country, Egypt. It was also courageous expression of his late-in-life enlistment with a fragile project called peace– a process that sometimes breaks through, like a sunbeam from a dark cloud, into our war-torn world.

Smoke