History, for those who bother to study it (the progressive Left and the populist Right are both remiss here), yields a treasure of wisdom on how to avoid war.
I am surprised that Generals Kelly and Mattis, who both know better, haven't done more arm-twisting to get President Trump to move away from his present course. Behold Friday's tweet about Australia:
"Spoke to PM @TurnbillMalcolm of Australia. He is committed to having a very fair and reciprocal military and trade relationship. Working very quickly on a security agreement so we don't have to impose steel or aluminum tariffs on our ally, the great nation of Australia!"
To those who study history, this tweet reeks of Carl von Clausewitz. The 19th century political and war strategist essentially wrote the book on geopolitical power and war (literally, it's called "Vom Kriege" or "On War"). The doctrines of balance of power, the relationship of political and economic national goals and war, are all elements represented in Trump's tweet. It was nothing more than a threat to Australia's leader to get in line with America's Asia Pacific goals or face punishing trade sanctions, with a powerful U.S. fleet to back it up.
Not only is it insulting to Australia, which fought ferociously (as ANZAC) in World War II against the Axis, to make this threat; it's also a very dangerous play in geopolitics.
America has played the Pacific Rim trade war game against a militarily well-armed, but socially backward (to the West) nation before. In 1941, Japan was faced with a withering oil and trade embargo, with the U.S. refusing to negotiate. Of course, many historians believe Roosevelt did this specifically to provoke Japan in order that the U.S. would enter the fray in Europe. But that's irrelevant. The "why" isn't the issue.
Trump has plenty of "why" to explain his moves toward a trade war with our allies. He has plenty of "why" to explain his moves against China and North Korea. In fact, further isolating North Korea may end up being a good thing. But consequences are bound to happen. China wants to be (and in fact, is) a great economic and burgeoning military power in the Pacific. Moves like Trump's threat toward Australia only further provoke China into military development and expansion.
It's no different than Japan in 1941. All the historians know that we didn't see the Japanese fleet coming; that Admiral King and Admiral Kimmel could have done a better job preparing. But we never saw the Japanese coming because we really refused to look. We were playing a dangerous dice game and Pearl Harbor was the result of it--our government really believed the attack would come in the Philippines, which we were prepared to sacrifice.
We don't know where Trump's trade war will lead. But we do know that the attack will come in a place we're not looking. We know that the consequences will be much closer and dearer to America than we think. We know that the pieces in a von Clausewitz global chess game we're prepared to sacrifice won't be the ones we lose.
History shows us these things very clearly. Generals Kelly and Mattis may be working quietly behind the scenes to repair the damage Trump may be doing in his trade war gamble. But they both know where this will inevitably lead when our political goals extend into overt mentions of a "security agreement" with one of our most trusted allies. When we have to threaten trade war with our allies to win cooperation, we're headed toward a shooting war.
After 15 years of a "war on terror," with Russia contending for power in South West Asia, and our army badly in need of a refresher and TOE rebuild, with our blue water Navy dangerously depleted in trained personnel, with our Air Force assets stretched across the globe, and our economy in danger of overheating into inflation, our adversaries won't hesitate to call Trump on his threats.
Trump's trade war, if continued to its logical conclusion, will get us into a real war, and will ultimately cost far more than it's worth for one lost seat in Pennsylvania.