When US President Donald Trump nominated General James Mattis as his defence secretary in December 2016, he proudly noted to journalists that Mattis was “the closest thing we have to General George Patton.”
Patton is an American folk hero. He was a controversial army general during the Second World War. Patton, who died in 1945, shortly after the end of the war, commanded the US Seventh Army in the Mediterranean theatre of the Second World War, and the US Third Army in France and Germany after the Allied invasion of Normandy in June 1944. Hollywood honoured him with an acclaimed movie, Patton, starring the legendary George C. Scott, which won seven Oscars. President Trump must have watched it a dozen times.
General Patton, who is considered an architect of modern tank warfare, and shoot-from-the-hip speaker with innate disdain for Communism, was so hyped after defeating the Germans, he suggested going “all the way to take Moscow.”
Luckily, the allies, especially President Franklin D. Roosevelt, rebuffed his audacious proposal. The Soviet Union army was at its best at the time. After years of fighting, repelling and eventually defeating the German invaders on the eastern front, the Red Army was a war-hardened fighting machine and confronting it would have cost the world probably another decade of global conflict.
First Cold War
Nevertheless, the West, led by the US, reluctant or most likely unable to engage in a physical war against the former battle ally, waged a Cold War that has also cost millions of lives and probably trillions of dollars in 70 years. The seven decades of that war was played on numerous arenas such as Asia (Vietnam and Afghanistan), South and Central America, and Europe. Several military coups took place in Soviet-friendly states in Latin American that led to the torture, killing and disappearance of millions of people in such countries as El Salvador, Chile, Argentina and Nicaragua among others, under the auspices of the US intelligence agencies and the Pentagon.
To get a foothold in American-friendly territory, the Soviets invaded Afghanistan in 1979, which started a prolonged conflict that still is raging today. The US, meanwhile, in an attempt to stop the Communist advance in Asia, invaded Vietnam, where they committed documented despicable war crimes including the carpet-bombing that obliterated thousands of villages. The human cost is incalculable.
The Cold War was inundated with expensive spy games and arms race that cost the world massive amounts of money and decades of wasted years, that could have otherwise been invested in the progress and prosperity of humanity. It also saw several near-collisions between the two great powers — most notably the Cuban Missile Crisis — that would have had catastrophic consequences for the planet.
On October 14, 1962, an American spy plane flying over Cuba took footages of alleged nuclear missile sites under construction. The US intelligence concluded that those Soviet missiles could easily reach the US. President John Kennedy issued an ultimatum to Moscow to remove those missiles. The US otherwise would bomb the site, he threatened. In those two weeks of intense diplomacy and counter threats, a terrified world stood still, praying for a solution. Kennedy ordered a naval blockade of Cuba and all US military forces and the Warsaw Pact armies put on high alert. However, behind the scenes direct talks between Kennedy and Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev succeeded in de-escalating the crisis when Moscow agreed to withdraw the missiles from Cuba.
Appetite for tragedy
Today, we sense an appetite in some people to repeat this tragic chapter of history with China — another communist-led power.
I’m certain that Trump'’s fascination with good old patriot General Patton will not lead him to ‘go all the way and take Beijing’ but the escalating tension with China will surely descend into a war of intelligence, sabotage and global tension that will waste more years and trillions of dollars. Global markets have already shed hundreds of billions in losses over the rising tension.
On Wednesday, the US ordered the immediate closure of the Chinese consulate in Houston; China reacted by shutting down the US consulates in Wuhan and Chengdu. The tit-for-tat moves came after the US accused China of hacking and stealing secrets of American labs that are working on developing a coronavirus vaccine.
The tension has been brewing for months — Trump repeatedly accused China of taking advantage of the trade agreements and wanted to renegotiate a new deal. So far, the two sides fail to agree on a compromise. He also accused China of covering up the COVID-19 spread, calling it the China Virus. Then came Hong Kong. China, seeking for long to tighten its grip over the semi-autonomous island, imposed a new national security law that effectively weakens the independence of the courts there.
Violation of Anglo-Sino agreement
Western capitals saw it as a violation of the 1996 Anglo-Sino agreement which led to the handover of the former British colony to China.
I sometimes tend to think that Americans are not interested in learning from history, so much so that they would repeat their mistakes again and again. This annoyed one of America’s most celebrated strategist: Henry Kissinger — the man credited with ‘bringing back China from the cold’ during the presidency of Richard Nixon in the early 1970s in what was then called the Ping Pong Diplomacy. Kissinger made it clear during his delicate talks with the Chinese that he respected their pride in their 5,000 years history and civilisation. And it worked.
Unfortunately, there are no Kissingers in the current administration. But apparently there are plenty of shades of Patton in the White House, starting with the man in the Oval Office. Sadly for the world, China-US relationship is fast heading into the cold, again.