As the situation worsens in Egypt, you continue to hear references to The Domino Theory. First Tunisia, now Egypt, and protests (or attempts at protests) are taking place in Jordan, Yemen, and Syria. The success of one protest emboldens the next.
The Domino Theory is actually a reference about Communist takeovers, and dates back to the Eisenhower yearsinterestingly, although Ike made some of the earliest references to Communist takeovers in quick succession, he did not originally use the word domino to describe the process. The terms origin is murky at best.
We have talked about the theory here in its most popular context: Việt Nam. Here at the Castle, the Volgi and the Czar have discussed it at length, and have minor (quite trivial) differences about its implications. Actually, the only discernible difference we have is to what extent the Nixon administration bought into it.
However, there seems to be a notion among some conservatives that the Domino Theory was a load of crap. It was a simple way for the Kennedy and Johnson administrations to ramp up the Vietnam War, even though there was little evidence that, if Việt Nam fell, all of Asia would become Communist. Indeed, lookwhen we pulled out of Việt Nam, it hardly proved to be the end of democracy in Asia.
This is not quite accurate. In fact, it is true only in retrospect. Here are the bases for the original theory.
First, the Domino Theoryor whatever it was initially calledwas a very Republican idea that began with concerns about the Korean war. The concern then was that if Korea fell to the Communists, Japan almost mathematically had to be next. Whether or not this is true, it was academic by 1954 since we eventually held the North in check.
By 1964-1965, though, the premise was very valid and of legitimate concern to both parties.
The North Vietnamese tilted heavily Communist during the French removal. We know, of course, that their intent was (as early as the mid-Fifties) total takeover of the entire country. This, you know, happened.
Communist China was actively training guerillas in Thailand to create a liberation front. Chinas foreign minister at this time, Chen Yi, stated clearly that, after Việt Nam, Thailand was next for a Communist takeover. Even to this day, Thailand wrestles with stability: the possibility that Thailand could tilt violently away from American influenced governance remains a little remembered and seriously under-studied crisis.
Indonesia was another terrifying matter. President Sukharno of Indonesia was an unabashed supporter of Communism, thanks to the partys ability to get him large numbers of votes in rural areas. Surkharno withdrew Indonesia from the UN as a prelude to creating a communist version of the United Nations.
Malaysia and SIngapore both battled Communist rebels trained and supported by Sukharno. These rebels worked to destabilize the governments there following the pattern set by the North Vietnamese. However, unlke the French, the British and Australians recognized the seriousness of the situation, and actively engaged these rebels outside Singapore in December 1964. Things were that close.
Cambodia, despite denials by the Left, was an active participant in the Vietnam War by helping the North Vietnamese with sanctuary and supply. They did this under intense pressure from (you guessed it) China and Indonesia. And yeah: bombing Cambodia severely hampered the North.
Laos was another puppet being controlled by China, to the extent that some in North Vietnam expected Laos to become a virtual province of Việt Nam. It matters little, in this context, what Americans thought. To the Communists, Laos was another domino, and an easy one at that.
So history indeed backs up the Domino Theorywe now know, in the words of Communists themselves, that they intended to see these countries fall in quick succession. Was the United States right to entangle itself in Việt Nam? In that respect, we had no choice: our obligations through SEATO made us the majority stockholder in the defense of Southeast Asia. We had to protect their fledgling democracies, and the rest simply followed.
But if history backs the Domino Theory, what happened? Why didnt the Domino Theory follow though? In many respects, it did: Indonesia embraced totalitarian socialism. Cambodia, under Pol Pot, became a horror story of Communism. Laos became that client of Việt Nam. Thailand teetered for years.
Yet not perfectly so. Thailand maintained a rejection of Communism, as did Malaysia, Singapore, New Guinea, and the Philippines (although American-style democracy suffered in these regions quite a bit). One of the facts hardest to realize in the 1960s was why. And there is our parallel to what is happening in the Middle East.
The Communist sweep of Asia was incomplete because Communists, like many liberals, hate each other. Publicly, they agree openly: but behind the scenes, each is a small, frightened group. This took us almost to the end of the Cold War to realize. Indonesia lacked the wherewithal to support real takeovers in those other countries. China supported them, but left the details to the non-thinkers in those territories. The North Vietnamese had a hard enough time taking over the South, let alone really helping Laos and Cambodia. Nobody cared about Thailand enough. And so on.
In point of fact, it is interesting how convinced President Johnson was that the North Koreans were behind a lot of what happened in Việt Nam. The North Koreans were, as always, a perpetual pain in the ass: but they had no interest in what any other country was doing.
Thus, the parallel to the Middle East is this: our media is convinced there is a Domino Theory in play. Tunisia fell. Therefore Egypt is next. Jordan must surely follow, as will Syria, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and all the rest.
Nonsense. By now, even the most casual observers with three digit IQs recognizes that Tunisias and Egypts revolts were unrelated. Coincidental, perhaps! Yes, Tunisia may have prompted Egyptians to take to the streets, but the Tunisian revolt did not need to occur. It merely advanced a schedule already in operation. The dimming prospects in Yemen, the reshuffling in Jordan, and the eeries silence in Syria show the same thing: because one thing happens, it does not guarantee a coordinated duplication elsewhere.
Dominos fall, but they need not fall all the way over, nor in perfect succession.
Божію Поспѣшествующею Милостію Мы, Дима Грозный Императоръ и Самодержецъ Всероссiйскiй, цѣсарь Московскiй. The Czar was born in the steppes of Russia in 1267, and was cheated out of total control of all Russia upon the death of Boris Mikhailovich, who replaced Alexander Yaroslav Nevsky in 1263. However, in 1283, our Czar was passed over due to a clerical error and the rule of all Russia went to his second cousin Daniil (Даниил Александрович), whom Czar still resents. As a half-hearted apology, the Czar was awarded control over Muscovy, inconveniently located 5,000 miles away just outside Chicago. He now spends his time seething about this and writing about other stuff that bothers him.