Sherman, Set The Wayback Machine To…
…the Hundred Years War. WHAT?!?
So how can a post about the Hundred Years War have any relevance? I leave that to you, dear reader, to decide if it’s so.
Moammar Qaddafi is dead. YAAAAAYYYYY!!!! I do love it when terrorists like that get their comeuppance…and the Mussolini treatment. In many respects, I can support a “the ends justify the means” mentality. But not regarding the U.S. involvement, especially not with the administration currently occupying the White House. How many can remember when the hyperpartisan Prez and the hyperbolic VP were Senators threatening President George W. Bush with impeachment if the latter bombed Iran without congressional approval, claiming Bush would be breaking the law? And yet, Libya was less of a threat to the U.S. than either Iran in the last few years or Iraq under Saddam Hussein. The temperature on the hypocrisy thermometer is at white hot with this administration. The worst have been the supposed “antiwar” Obama supporters. I can still recall them screaming “No Blood For Oil” before Operation Desert Storm; yet, they are completely silent here despite Great Britain and France had seemingly gone after Qaddafi simply to safeguard their own oil deals with the late dictator.
So now it appears President Obama has gotten the “wind in his sails” when it comes to taking out the thugs in the Middle East, although this doesn’t seem to include getting rid of those who are truly threatening the U.S., the terrorists running Iran and Syria. But success in one area can lead to all kinds of unintended consequences. We’ll see if Obama and the U.S. suffer from any in the days ahead. But we can get an idea of what could happen by reflecting on events from over 650 years ago in England and France.
In 1327, England’s King Edward III came to the throne as a minor (he was 14) and under less than ideal conditions. His father King Edward II had been forced to abdicate after a successful invasion of England by an army made up of disaffected English nobles and French and other mercenaries led by Queen Isabella (Edward II’s wife and Edward III’s mother) and her lover Roger Mortimer, one of those disaffected nobles (Kind Edward II would be dead later that year; no cause has ever been determined). Since King Edward III had not yet attained the age of majority that would allow him to rule on his own, Isabella and Mortimer became regents and ruled in the new king’s name.
Isabella was not only the dowager Queen of England, she was also a French royal princess. By 1328, her father and three of her brothers had all been kings of France. But in that year, her brother King Charles IV died without an heir. Since it was disputed that the French laws of royal succession could bar women from being ruling queens (what would be known later as Salic Law), Isabella did have a legitimate claim to the French throne. But the nobility of that country decided to have a male cousin of Isabella and Charles, from the Valois branch of the Capetian dynasty, succeed as King Philip VI of France. As far as I know, Isabella never pushed a claim for her to succeed her late brother.
Also in 1328, Isabella and Mortimer did something that even her husband would never do, recognize the leading member of the Bruce clan to become Robert I (Robert the Bruce), King of Scots. From 1296 until that point, Scotland was ruled by the English monarch after the English King Edward I (“Longshanks”) had removed John de Balliol as King of Scots in that year and defeated a bloody uprising by William Wallace two years later (after Isabella’s husband became King Edward II in 1307, the Scots began another revolt, this time under Robert the Bruce, leading to his victory over Edward at Bannockburn in 1314; Bruce was named King of Scots, although the claim wasn’t recognized by the Papacy until 1320 and was never recognized by Edward). As part of the deal, the English king would be recognized by the Scottish monarch as the feudal overlord. Robert died the following year and his very young son succeeded as King David II.
One of the titles held by King Edward III by 1328 was that of Duke of Aquitaine, in southwestern France, one held since 1154 (all of the other lands held by English kings, Normandy, Anjou, Maine, and others, had long been lost). As such, the French monarch was feudal overlord of the English king. In fact, it was this feudal arrangement that had gotten King Edward III to the English throne. While his father was still king, Edward and his mother had been sent to France to appear before his overlord King Charles IV to pay homage to the French monarch to keep the English royal claim as Duke of Aquitaine. It was from here that Isabella and Mortimer had worked on overthrowing her husband and having her son succeed.
The purpose of the above was to show the inter-relational dynamics of what was going on in England, France, and Scotland. This will be made clear below.
Isabella and Mortimer ruled England terribly for three years. In 1330, King Edward III had had enough and ousted the two and began ruling in his own name (Mortimer was eventually tried for treason by Parliament and brutally executed; Isabella was initially under arrest, but then allowed to retire until her death in 1358). Northern England had been tormented by the Scots for decades, and the treaty recognizing the King of Scots had little effect on stopping Scottish raids into England. Edward launched an invasion of Scotland that saw David overthrown and sent to France, and Edward de Balliol (son of the John de Balliol mentioned earlier) named King of Scots, although this was never recognized by the Scots, King Philip VI of France, or any other monarch (or the Pope). Tensions between Edward and and his overlord Philip grew. In 1337, Edward made his claim as King of France (he had a legitimate claim since his mother was a daughter of a King of France, while Philip was not a direct descendent) and launched what is now known as the Hundred Years War (which lasted 116 years…yeah, never mind).
For most of the first dozen years of the war, the French had the upper hand militarily over the English, keeping Edward on the defensive and out of France. Things were so bad that Edward couldn’t maintain support for Edward de Balliol to remain on the Scottish throne as David II was able to return to Scotland in 1341 and restored as King of Scots. But in 1346, Edward launched an invasion of France, which led to his famous victory at Crecy (one of the most decisive victories in the history of warfare), in northern France. To take the pressure off, Philip convinced David to invade England. David’s army was routed by the English at Neville’s Cross, and David was captured and held as a POW (he was treated very well). During the next year, Edward extended his control of northern France by capturing the English Channel coast town of Calais.
The war was put on hold as the Black Death ravaged Europe from 1348 through 1349, killing untold millions, including those in France and England. Both Edward (now back in England) and Philip (as well with the captive David) survived, but their countries were very much in disarray. Philip died in 1350, and was succeeded to the French throne by his son King John II. For the next six years, France remained in chaos and divided, while England slowly recovered economically.
By 1356, Edward took advantage of the situation and sent another army under his son, Edward, Prince of Wales (he is better known as Edward, the Black Prince) to France. In a battle as decisive as Crecy, the Prince of Wales won for England another huge victory at Poitiers; in addition, the prince had captured King John II and packed the French monarch off to England as a POW. Now, Edward had both the King of France and the King of Scots as prisoners; like David, John was treated very well. And this is where Edward’s problems really began.
Although England had recovered financially enough to allow Edward to send an army led by his son to successfully invade France, the country was still not in great shape economically. With two kings as prisoners, Edward could truly assert his lordship over Scotland and press his claim as King of France. But he also greatly needed money, and Edward had the option of getting generous ransoms by returning the two kings to their respective countries. In all likelihood, Scotland would never allow another king to be foisted upon them by the English, and they would have continued fighting England. France was in even worse shape as it was plunged into anarchy and rebellion trying to recover from both the Black Death and the capture of their king. Despite its problems, John’s sons (none of whom had been captured at Poitiers) and the French nobles were able to keep Edward from being able to complete his quest of becoming King of France.
This is the situation the United States finds itself in. Now, the Hundred Years War was in no respects similar to what is going on with the United States and the Middle East. The earlier conflict was one based on the assertion of royal rights, a type of war that had been occurring around the world since the beginning of history, and would continue for several centuries thereafter. What is going on in the Middle East has to do with the people rising up to rid their countries of their long-time dictatorial rulers. As far as the United States is concerned, even under President Obama, the federal government is not looking to conquer these countries and expand U.S. territory. What the U.S. is doing, which truly started under President George W. Bush, is attempt to guide these nations into becoming democracies that will benefit the people of those nations, and not seek to terrorize either each other, Israel, or the U.S. Whether or not any better form of government replaces the old orders depends greatly on how the U.S. handles the situation from here on out. Our current President likes to consider himself as a pragmatist, especially as compared to his predecessor. Yet, even pragmatism has its pitfalls, as you will see.
The Treaty of Berwick between Edward and David was signed in 1357, and the King of Scots was returned after a large ransom was to be paid over a period of ten years; Edward also left troops permanently stationed in some parts of Scotland. With the long minority of David and with his long captivity in England, the Scottish nobles and the Scottish Parliament asserted their own authority over the government, even after the return of David. Additionally, David stopped payment of the ransom after a couple of years. All of this would prove contentious and costly as raids by the Scots followed by English reprisals would continue for the next two centuries.
In France, Edward also decided that pragmatism was the order of the day and Edward and John signed the 1360 Treaty of Bretigny whereby Edward would return the French king, Edward would forgo his own claim to the French throne, become an independent lord of most of southwestern France (Edward would no longer be a vassal to the French monarch), and England would receive a large ransom and two of John’s sons as permanent hostages. As with Scotland, the peace that followed proved illusory. One of John’s sons who was a captive in England escaped and returned to France. Being a man of his word, albeit a very bad king, John returned to England and died as a hostage in 1364. The new king of France, King Charles V, spent the next five years maneuvering his way out of the treaty and reasserting his feudal rights over English lands in France. Complaints to Charles from nobles in English-held French territory allowed Charles to demand the English answer for these charges in 1369. Edward refused and the war was back on, with Edward back to claiming King of France as one of his titles (the monarchs of England and Great Britain would retain the title until 1801). Unfortunately for Edward, Charles was able to retake all of the French territory, except for the Duchy of Aquitaine and the city of Calais, by the time of the English king’s death in 1377. The war itself would continue in various stages and degrees over the next 76 years. The closest the English came to becoming masters of France came during the reign of the English King Henry V (Edward’s great-grandson) when Henry conquered France and was named heir to the French throne; dying a month before the French king in 1422, Henry was never crowned King of France (Henry’s 9-month old son King Henry VI was crowned King of France, but the French never recognized it) and the French eventually kicked the English out (except for Calais) after another 30 years of warfare (Calais would remain in English hands until 1558).
Returning to what is going on presently, President Obama has never clarified his purpose for throwing in with Britain and France in helping Libyan rebels overthrow and kill Qaddafi. Qaddafi was not even close to being a threat to U.S. national security. Worse, Obama never truly explained to either the satisfaction of Congress or the American people the purpose of this military adventurism; while the U.S. has not had any oil-related dealings with Qaddafi for at least a quarter-century, Britain and France did, which pretty much nullifies the official explanation that overthrowing a brutal dictator was the only reason the U.S. got involved. This is especially true regarding Syria and Iran since Obama has barely backed the idea that Syrian strongman Bashar al-Assad needs to step down and has pretty much overlooked the brutality of the Iranian regime towards its own people.
On top of that, Obama’s hypocrisy regarding a President’s legal and Constitutional powers to wage war throws everything he said regarding Bush and Iran completely out the door. The nearly 40-year old War Powers Resolution, as written, is by-and-large a dead letter (a lawsuit against Obama was just dismissed in the D.C. District Court; a previous lawsuit against President Clinton was also dismissed in the D.C. District Court, which was upheld by the D.C. Circuit), which was pretty much a given as Presidents since Washington have used the military for combat operations without either an authorization or an official declaration of war from Congress. About the only reason to have some kind of War Powers law in place is to make sure a President doesn’t usurp the appropriations powers of Congress or enforce policies that would violate Youngstown Sheet & Tube. Claiming to be a “Constitutional scholar”, Obama knew all this even as he was using demagoguery against Bush; it was nothing more than the usual divisive Obama rancor, using the kind of hyperpartisan rhetoric he still engages in today.
In addition, the action against Qaddafi has me question whether or not Obama has thrown out President Ford’s Executive Order outlawing the assassination of another country’s leaders. While there clearly wasn’t any U.S. soldier or weapon used to directly kill Qaddafi, there is an argument that Obama getting the U.S. military involved in Libya’s civil war led directly to Qaddafi’s death at the hands of Libyan rebels. After all, Qaddafi was still the official head of the Libyan government until he was killed. And, it was official U.S. policy to avoid being involved in Qaddafi’s death in such a manner as it happened.
Again, comparing exactly the Hundred Year War with U.S. involving in Libya is apples and oranges. However, both leaders, King Edward III and President Obama, claimed pragmatism as a major reason for their actions, and therefore sanctioned. In the case of Edward, the only benefit from his pragmatism was a lot more money; his nation remained at war long after he died. With Obama, only the future will show where this is leading to. What is truly shameful on Obama’s part is how his partisanship was used to weaken his predecessor and get himself elected President, and then to hypocritically use the powers he had previously derided. At least one knew where they stood with Edward.
By the way, do read this post from Ed Morrissey. He links to a piece in today’s New York Times. Obama’s meddling in the internal workings of Egypt and Libya have come to a…let me say, fruition of sorts [emphasis mine]:
This month, American officials pressed the Iraqi leadership to meet again at President Talabani’s compound to discuss the issue. This time the Americans asked them to take a stand on the question of immunity for troops, hoping to remove what had always been the most difficult hurdle. But they misread Iraqi politics and the Iraqi public. Still burdened by the traumas of this and previous wars, and having watched the revolutions sweeping their region, the Iraqis were unwilling to accept anything that infringed on their sovereignty.
Obama, along with Democrats and their supporters, accused Bush of meddling in the politics of the Middle East. While Bush’s policies are of a mixed bag, it’s obvious Obama’s policies are quite worrisome to Iraq, especially if violence breaks out all over the place (Sunni v. Shia, Arab v. Kurds, Iraq v. Iran, Iraq v. Turkey, etc.). Yet even as Obama has his “Mission Accomplishment” moment as a result of incompetence and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta says there are no negotiations to have a small force remain in Iraq for training purposes, things aren’t completely what they seem; apparently, there are secret deliberations to have troops sent back to Iraq for such a mission. Excuse me? Ed [emphasis from original]:
We needed to keep a presence in Iraq, not just to provide a balance on Iranian ambitions in the region but also to assist Iraq in strengthening its own internal and external security. That’s why we needed to negotiate a continuous presence, not pull a yo-yo act that reduces our credibility and costs us time and money for no good purpose at all. And after we pack up and leave, I find it difficult to believe that Obama will send troops back into Iraq in the middle of an election cycle.
To repeat Ed’s closing comment, smart power, indeed.