Two centuries ago, Europeans dreaming of reform and freedom must have felt just as crestfallen as they watched their continent’s ghoulish elder statesmen gather for the Congress of Vienna. Both assemblies symbolize a victory for the ancien rÃ©gime, the bloody-minded refusal to accept that the world has changed profoundly and will continue to change. ~Ralph Peters
This would be the same Ralph Peters whose solution for Iraq is to start killing lots and lots and lots of people–but the Iraq Study Group is made up of “ghoulish elder statesmen.” I suppose he must qualify as a revenant or perhaps one of the infected from 28 Days Later.
I don’t really know why people like Ralph Peters are allowed to speak on matters of grave importance. I say this because I cannot for the life of me understand how any sane, much less conservative, person (I have strong doubts about Peters on both counts) could look at the Congress of Vienna and see anything other than one of the great and good triumphs of the modern age. Many things might be said against the Restoration era, but in its favour it must be emphasised that it marked a departure from decades of bloodshed, fanaticism and destruction. If anyone could accomplish the same today in the Near East, he would be a hero to dozens of nations.
After the anarchy and despotism of the Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars, after the virtually constant warfare, death and destruction of two decades of conflict, Metternich and the Congress crafted an arrangement to secure the peace of much of Europe that was to last without major, long and devastating wars for almost a century. There were wars, even between the Great Powers, but they tended to be sharp, short and decisive, rather than the regular and devastating campaigning of the beginning of the century.
The champions of “reform” and “freedom” had been the “bloody-minded” ones who had brought death to every corner of the Continent and whose destructive example spurred on still more revolutionaries after them to continue to convulse European politics for generations to come. When Metternich set about trying to suppress them, he was doing the only thing a sane man could have done. When the world is changing for the worse, good men typically don’t throw up their hands and say, “Oh, well, that’s how it goes!” They try to remedy the ills of their age or, if possible, crush them underfoot.
Metternich and the Congress refused to yield to the insanities of liberal revolution and nationalism. For this Ralph Peters hates them! Given the later history of Europe where both returned with a vengeance, they ought to be lionised as some of the wisest statesmen of the last five hundred years. The great calamity of European civilisation, WWI, occurred because the men responsible for the governments of Europe in the July crisis had none of the understanding and none of the European consciousness of their predecessors. In so many ways petty, chauvinistic and limited in their understanding, they could not grasp the importance of a general European peace and so ushered in the death of a vital part of our common civilisation.
The Iraq Study Group is, of course, nothing like the Congress of Vienna. To compare James Baker to Metternich is a hideous insult to Metternich. I will not allow this slight to Metternich to go unanswered. Unlike Baker, Metternich actually succeeded as a diplomat and minister. He had his failures, but in the greatest work of his career he succeeded as few others ever have.
Baker is like Talleyrand, in that he never goes away, but entirely unlike him in that he has none of the talent or wit of the Frenchman. There is no reason for him to stay around, and yet he does anyway. If we must have a certain contempt for James Baker (and it seems to me that we must), then let us not muddy the waters with attacks on far better men now dead. Were Metternich here today to aid us in making our foreign policy, we would have to count ourselves to be fairly lucky. Unfortunately, we have no such figures at our disposal–at least none in any position of authority. No, instead we have a President who is twice as daft as Emperor Ferdinand and a foreign policy establishment that is singularly unqualified to advise anyone about the rest of the world. Thus we have been compelled to turn to a gang of has-beens and insiders so that they can offer up half-baked ideas designed to do nothing more than cover for the foreign policy and Washington establishments that so manifestly failed the country. In a more sane system, such as the old Austrian one, these people would have all been replaced years ago. As it is, in our fine, “representative” system of government, we are forced to endure the same incompetents from generation to generation. That one of the alternatives is to be forced to listen to the caterwauling of a Ralph Peters and the like is perhaps the only thing that is even more depressing about all of this than the rank incompetence of the political and administrative classes.