No, the headline doesn’t refer to that Clapton band he prefers to overlook. It’s what NATO member Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia could become if we don’t stop the Russians in Ukraine. A Russian takeover there could trigger a modern domino effect in the Balts, an event that could get NATO, including the US, in a shooting war in Eastern Europe.
With props to LBJ, the Domino Theory first became a concept in the Cold War period. It was the contention of the Right that if South Vietnam fell to communist North Vietnam other Southeast Asian countries would fall to communism like dominos standing in a row.
What bosh, said the Left. Outmoded thinking, reactionary analysis. The Right countered with recent history. What happened in the end? South Vietnam fell in April of 1975 and so did Laos and Cambodia. The Domino Theory proved real, again.
This would be the same Cambodia that, under the communist Khmer Rouge soon after the US allied government fell, launched the Killing Fields, butchering millions in an attempt to create Marxist utopia by way of teenagers with machine guns. This is not to mention the boat people, reeducation camps, and executions that ensued when Saigon fell. The Right predicted those too.
How did they know? It had happened before. Over a generation before, in 1936, other totalitarians made their move. Just like Democrats in the US Congress in 1975 who wouldn’t let us keep our word to the South Vietnamese and populists today who want us to sell out the Ukrainians, many looked the other way when Nazi Germany marched into the Rhineland in violation of the Treaty of Versailles.
Churchill and others said this was merely Hitler’s first bite of Europe. They knew other European dominos were close and easy for the taking. But weak men chose to believe Hitler and not stop him in the Rhineland. After the war German generals admitted that if the French had mobilized even a small force in opposition to the Germans the Wehrmacht had orders to retreat. But the French let the invasion stand and soon Austria, the Sudetenland, the rest of Czechoslovakia, Poland, Belgium, Holland, and in due course the big European domino, France, fell into Nazi hands. All that could have been averted by stopping the fall of the first domino.
In current context, we’d love to blame the Ukraine crisis all on Joe Biden. Also on his tally sheet could be the potential Russian targeting for invasion of the three Baltic states we named above. And true, the Afghanistan withdrawal debacle probably gave Putin his final green light.
But the first domino fell in 2008 when George W. Bush did nothing when Putin invaded Georgia. That administration was notoriously bad about learning from history. Then Barack Obama sat on his hands during the first invasion of Ukraine in 2014, when Putin marched into the Crimea. The Crimea was the modern equivalent of the Sudetenland, the first bite of Ukraine. Today the Russians go for the rest of their Czechoslovakia. It has been so obvious.
Aa such, where were the international coalitions to aid and resupply Georgia in 2008 and Ukraine in 2014? When those first dominos fell and Putin was just probing, where was the US, the EU, the rest of NATO, and the world? Had we not learned the lesson of the Rhineland and South Vietnam?
We had not. And that’s why we are in our current position in Ukraine today. Maybe next time we’ll learn to nip buds when they are ripe for nipping. But likely not. You see, history is a chronicle, as Barbara Tuchman said, of the march of folly. The folly didn’t stop in the Sudetenland or South Vietnam. And regardless of what we do now, the Ukrainians will have paid dearly for our folly since 2014. The Baltic states are hoping the bill eventually doesn’t come due for them.