January 11, 2004

Unilateralism to the Rescue

Here is Victor Davis Hanson on the fruits of American unilateralism in 1973.

Thirty years ago, during the Yom Kippur War of October 1973, most of the Europeans of the NATO alliance refused over-flight rights to the United States. We had only hours in which to aid Israel from a multifaceted surprise attack and were desperately ferrying tons of supplies to save it from literal extinction. In contrast, many of these same allies allowed the Soviet Union — the supposed common enemy from which thousands of Americans were based in Europe to protect Europeans — to fly over NATO airspace to ensure the Syrians sufficient material to launch and sustain their surprise attack on the Golan.

American "unilateralism" in those days meant acting alone not to let Israel perish. Had we gone "multilateral" and listened to our NATO allies — Germany, France, Greece, and Turkey all prohibited American planes from flying supplies in their space in transit to Tel-Aviv — there would be no Israel today at all.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at January 11, 2004 10:37 PM
Comments

And saving Israel from a surprise attack is like our invasion of Iraq how?

Posted by: anon at January 11, 2004 11:36 PM

And saving Israel from a surprise attack is like our invasion of Iraq how?

The point is that unilateralism isn't necessarily and by definition a bad thing. That's all.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at January 11, 2004 11:40 PM

I don't know of anyone that would disagree with that.

Posted by: anon at January 11, 2004 11:55 PM

Unilateralism is necessarily a bad thing. Killing people is necessarily a bad thing. Other things are worse.

Posted by: Kimmitt at January 12, 2004 12:20 AM

Kimmitt writes: "Unilateralism is necessarily a bad thing. Killing people is necessarily a bad thing. Other things are worse."

Is this the same Kimmitt that thought conservatives got a massive woody over the thought of invading Iraq? If so, I see a major problem here. Had the US and the US alone taken out the Taliban after their refusal to hand over Bin Laden, that would have been "necessarily a bad thing?" Had England unilaterally taken out Adolph in the 30's and perhaps avoiding WWII, would that have been "necessarily a bad thing?" My G-d, is there no logic left in the left, cannot they see the paucity of their arguments?

Posted by: gmroper at January 12, 2004 01:04 AM

After spending 36 miserable months in prison a wrongfully convicted Kimmitt is released. In a coffee shop he recognizes one of the jurors. "I knew you weren't guilty. I could not sway the other eleven. I was going to vote for acquital anyway but at about the time of the trial I'd read somewhere that "Unilateralism is necessarily a bad thing". So I went along with the others". Kimmit bellows, "Finally, somebody gets me!" He and the juror become fast friends. Fin

Posted by: Stephen Meyer at January 12, 2004 02:13 AM

An observation: one man's "profile in courage" is another's "unilateralist."

Posted by: Chris Lawrence at January 12, 2004 03:14 AM

some people look suspiciously on unilateral acts. i look just as suspiciously on multilateral acts. nations act in what they perceive to be their own best interests. that is it.

Posted by: Glenn at January 12, 2004 06:28 AM

Unilateralism is necessarily a bad thing.

Make sure and ask for permission next time you need to drop a load, Kimmitt.

Unilateralism is not necessarily a bad thing. MT gave one such example. Probably I could come up with dozens of cases in which unilateral action was not a bad thing. But I don't need to, because you haven't begun to support your assertion yet.

Posted by: Slartibartfast at January 12, 2004 08:09 AM

"Had we gone "multilateral" and listened to our NATO allies...there would be no Israel today at all."

Wrong. Israel had their nuclear bombs deployed and were ready to use them if necessary to survive. The US went to nuclear Red Alert because of that development. The US feared that if Israel used nuclear weapons the Soviet Union would use nuclear weapons against Israel. It was the last time the US went on nuclear Red Alert.

The reality of the 1973 Yom Kippur war was that it was the closest the world came to nuclear war excepting the Cuban Missle crisis.

Posted by: Reid at January 12, 2004 08:09 AM

"Had we gone "multilateral" and listened to our NATO allies...there would be no Israel today at all."

By the time US supplies reached Israel the war had already turned massively in Israel's favor. The first two days were devastating for Israel. But by the time a ceasefire was reached both the Cairo and Damascus outskirts had been reached by Israeli tank divisions.

The role of the US resupply effort is overstated for political reasons.

Posted by: Reid at January 12, 2004 08:14 AM

"Had we gone "multilateral" and listened to our NATO allies — Germany, France, Greece, and Turkey all prohibited American planes from flying supplies in their space in transit to Tel-Aviv — there would be no Israel today at all."

Which is what some of them wanted then, and still want 30 years later.

Posted by: Yehudit at January 12, 2004 09:12 AM

I'd like to break the harmonious flow of dialogue here and make an ad hominem about Victor Davis Hanson. What a fine writer. His style matches his thinking, which is clear, vigorous, economical, focussed and calmly unafraid. His realist grasp of history, especially classical history, is rare and valuable. He is an all-too-rare example of the possibility that a male might be both a professor and a man, at the same time. If he were gay and local, we'd be dating! Now back to our regular programming.

Posted by: Chris at January 12, 2004 09:56 AM

This was a great article. It certainly illustrates the antipathy towards Israel that many European leaders feel.

I've noticed that some people by temperament are inclined to view the goal of international relations as being friendliness and love between two countries. Others have a shopping list, and view friendliness as a convenient lever at best and a foggy distraction at worse.

Really, both are important. "Good feelings" helps to lubricate the process of diplomacy. In a military alliance, it helps fuel resolve. It provides a natural limit to the hostile diplomatic options available. Friendliness helps because sometimes you can get a country to perceive its national interests differently. But good relations alone don't get the cows milked. Ultimately, your country will have a set of national interests; these are the reason for diplomacy in the first place. If friendliness proves to be an obstacle, then as a diplomat your duty is to your country's interests first.

Ever watch Airplane? There's a scene at the end, when the plane is landing. Someone asks the commander in the airport tower, "Shouldn't we turn on the runway lights?"

He replies, "No. That's just what they'd expect us to do!"

This kind of sums up the mentality of the archetypal European strategist, for whom complexity is a virtue far more important than success.

During the cold war, they opposed placing missiles in Western Europe as a 'provocation' (despite similar missles in Eastern Europe). During the Achille Lauro affair, a team of Navy SEALs stood surrounding the plane with the hijackers and Abu Abbas aboard-- until the Italian carabinieri showed up and surrounded us. They released Abbas. There's nothing new to tensions with Europe.

Posted by: Rob at January 12, 2004 10:09 AM

Cold day in hell watch:

I actually can't find argument with what I interpret to be the totality of Kimmit's statment - whether or not unilateralism is bad per se, certainly other things are worse.

Perhaps it's a bit pedantic, to say that other things are worse than unilateralism, but much like comparisons of the evils of war, it is a basic statement that needs to be made from time to time.

Posted by: Anticipatory Retaliation at January 12, 2004 02:15 PM

"In contrast, many of these same allies allowed the Soviet Union — the supposed common enemy from which thousands of Americans were based in Europe to protect Europeans — to fly over NATO airspace to ensure the Syrians sufficient material to launch and sustain their surprise attack on the Golan."

As Jim Henley has pointed out, this actually turns out to make no sense. The Syrian/Arab attack was, famously, a surprise attack; on the day it happened Moshe Dayan was still denying it would take place, despite numerous intelligence warnings and observations. The US was equally surprised.

Obviously, therefore, one couldn't expect European countries in the weeks and months (or even days) prior to the attack to deny air space to Soviet planes. What would the grounds have possibly been? I don't mean just what justification could they have used -- that could always be found. I mean that they obviously had no reason to deny use of their air-space, unless the expectation is that no one in the West should have been allowing Aeroflot to fly in 1973, which was certainly not the US position.

Hanson actually, inevitably, observes that it was a "surprise" attack. And condemns countries allowing use of their air space by the Soviets prior to the surprise attack.

So what possible sense does that make?

Also, people are being badly confused in their historicity to mix up observations about current manifestations of European anti-semitism and anti-Israeli actions with the support of various European governments for Israel thirty and forty years ago. Surely it should not be forgotten that prior to 1967, the largest amount of Israeli arms were supplied by by, yes, France and Germany, as was Israel's nuclear reactor, as was the overwhelming proportion of general financial support for Israel. All this during twenty years of American arms boycott and only an infintesimal level of governmental financial support. Did this mean that America was "anti-semitic"? Did this mean that America hated Israel and wanted to see it destroyed?

It feels good to vent, I know, with simple exclamations about Those People, but, really, not only are matters a great deal more complicated than that, but such, yes, simplistic generalizations are perilously close to the same sort of ludicrous lumping and slurring that anti-semitism itself is.

(And for the record, Turkey is, and has been for quite some years, one of Israel's staunchest and closest military and political allies; lumping it in as "wanting to see Israel destroyed" is just ridiculous. I'll give you Greece, though.)

I really wish people would acquaint themselves with the absolutely crucial nature of French and German support for Israel in past decades before leaping to condemn these countries. Israel fought in Mirage jets, not American planes. They used German tanks, not American tanks. And neither country was profiteering.

Posted by: Gary Farber at January 12, 2004 05:51 PM

Germany has always been a staunch supporter if Israel. France was a supplier forty years ago but when the U.S. committed to Israel France, surprise surprise, moved in the other direction. De Gaulle told Abba Eban in 1967 under no circumstances to strike first. Johnson advised Israel to the extent possible not to strike first. Big difference. De Gaulle would see Israel destroyed. Johnson just wanted to make sure an Israel pre-emption was absolutely necessary. France wasn't much of an ally in 1967 whatever planes Israel was flying. in 1973, Israel had re-gained the initiative but was essentially out of tanks and ammo. The American airlift was vitally necessary.

Posted by: Doug at January 12, 2004 08:20 PM

One Small Correction to Reid's comments. The United States calls their military alert system,Def-con.(Defense Condition) DefCon 5 is the bottom, DefCon 1 is the top. In 1973 the United States went to DefCon 2. Reid is right, we came very close to a all out war.

Posted by: Homer Robinson at January 12, 2004 11:29 PM

Several small corrections. There are two higher levels than Defcon 1. Most people know about Defcon because they've been used in novels and movies for well over forty years. This is incomplete information. See here.

"EMERGCONs are national level reactions in response to ICBM (missiles in the air) attack. By definition, other forces go to DEFCON 1 during an EMERGCON.

"DEFENSE EMERGENCY: Major attack upon U.S. forces overseas, or allied forces in any area, and is confirmed either by the commander of a unified or specified command or higher authority or an overt attack of any type is made upon the United States and is confirmed by the commander of a unified or specified command or higher authority.
"AIR DEFENSE EMERGENCY: Air defense emergency is an emergency condition, declared by the Commander in Chief, North American Aerospace Defense Command. It indicates that attack upon the continental United States, Canada, or US installations in Greenland by hostile aircraft or missiles is considered probable, is imminent, or is taking place."

Nor did the US go to DEFCon 2 in 1973. This is a popular myth. It was Defcon III. See same reference as above.

"On 6 October 1973 Egyptian and Syrian forces launched a surprise attack on Israel. On 25 October U.S. forces went on Defense Condition (DEFCON) III alert status, as possible intervention by the Soviet Union was feared. On 26 October, CINCSAC and CINCONAD reverted to normal DEFCON status. On 31 October USEUCOM (less the Sixth Fleet) went off DEFCON III status. The Sixth Fleet resumed its normal DEFCON status on 17 November 1973."

None of this should be confused with the modern Threatcon system, now FPCon.

Posted by: Gary Farber at January 13, 2004 05:23 AM

Thank you, Gary. That was more information in comments than most put into their blogposts.

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