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Anticipation in Foreign Policy

“Remember this: anticipation is the ultimate power. Losers react; leaders anticipate.”
-Tony Robbins

Properly, the word anticipation is defined as the act of “looking forward to” or “an action that takes into account or forestalls a later action.” Can someone/something be held responsible for doing nothing when action might have forestalled/stopped some action in the future? Or, to put it in simplistic terms, is the question “you did” equally valid as the one “you didn’t”?

While rarely specified in discussions of either past or current policy choices, the answer to the question can define the behavior of any country into failed or successful categories. Thus, the question itself, almost by definition, is vital in evaluating whether or not war or peace results or whether or not policies chosen are timely or belated.

Professional evaluations of policy choices, again almost by definition, rarely detail those actions not taken, but instead spend most time and effort on the pros and cons of what, in fact, actually occurred. It takes but little reflection to observe this phenomenon.

December 7, 1941, the day FDR noted “will live in infamy” occurred with the “sudden and dastardly” Japanese attack on the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor. The next day saw millions of American boys lined up behind recruitment centers to answer the attack, an explosion of youthful enthusiasm unprecedented in American history. To this moment, December 8, 1941 still represents the pinnacle of national unity in the full history of the USA.

Yet if any American on that day dared to question either the circumstances leading to the attack or the years prior during which the tensions between the two multiplied, he might have been hung from the nearest lamppost. Such were the emotions that drowned out any sober reflection of what was not done by U.S. policies that would stretch back to the mid-nineteenth century.

On June 25, 1950, North Korean forces suddenly appear across the dividing line, overwhelm the South Korean Capitol, and force the U.S. into a dangerous perimeter next to the sea (Pusan), on the verge of elimination. President Truman, as well as the whole country, are once again “surprised,” and forced to take belated action to save the situation from disaster.

Three years later, a truce is signed at the same dividing line (38th parallel); 38,000 U.S. soldiers die as do millions of Koreans, while the “Korean War” remains to this day still technically active.

Where is “retrospect”? The U.S. controlled South Korea since 1945 but in 1950 were taken completely by surprise and had to scramble to salvage what they “didn’t do” to prepare for what became a tragic strategic oversight. The world suffers from this oversight still today.

The issue of “anticipation” can define the history of World War II, the worst man-made disaster in human history. In 1919, the world war is over, while the Versailles Treaty blames Germany for the entire conflict, slaps it with billions of dollars in reparations, strips all of its overseas colonies, deprives Germans of almost all military forces (100,000 limit on the army), and occupies key parts of the country.

Would “anticipation” indicate that this may not last?

By 1933, Germany, like others, is suffering from the Depression while a dictator named Hitler takes power, condemns Versailles, and begins rearming the country to the hilt, especially the Air Force and artillery, takes over parts once occupied, and begins absorbing neighbors into his “Reich.”

At the same time, the winners of the last war anticipate nothing. One (France) builds a defensive wall (Maginot), another (Britain) follows “appeasement,” another (U.S.) adopts “isolation,” while still another (Russia) adopts “communism” but signs a treaty with Germany (August 23, 1939), thus finally turning anticipation upside-down (into alliance). Russia’s leader (Stalin) almost immediately joins Hitler by invading Poland but eventually winds up with his own version of “strategic blindness” when Hitler finally attacks him (June 22, 1941).

The story closes with Hitler himself unable to anticipate his own future. On December 11, 1941, he declares war on the United States, thus assuring eventual defeat. Unable even to invade England, 26 miles from the continent, he takes on America, 3,000 miles away by ocean and soon called the “Arsenal of Democracy.” Like the Tokyo masterminds of Pearl Harbor, even the “Fuhrer” eventually falls prey to his own lack of the simple verb “to anticipate.”

When will it ever end?

One answer: never, not if current American foreign policies are included. Islamic terror can trace its origins back centuries, but especially since the mid-twentieth century. Yet, similar to Pearl Harbor itself, this history did not preclude national shock when nineteen citizens of Saudi Arabia destroyed the World Trade Center (9/11/2001), forcing Americans to defend themselves on a global scale indefinitely, invite dozens of U.S. occupations from Afghanistan to Africa, line up for inspection at airports, and create a new Department against terror on the home front (Homeland Security).

Nor did these dissuade an American president (Obama) to refuse the word “Islamic” in connection to terror throughout his eight years in office (at least the interwar leaders could recognize “Nazi” when they saw it).

Now we are found arming Ukraine against the invasion of Russia led by Vladimir Putin. This aid now contains $44 billion, an amount that might build a number of “walls” on the southern border.

Could all this have been “anticipated?” In a rational world, composed of far-sighted leaders with historic “perspective“ and ‘foresight”?

The answer is twofold: yes and hell yes.

They might have taken the politicians aside and whispered into their ears something like this: Putin is Russian. They invade!

One caveat: the year should have been around 2000.