Syria and Hong Kong: Beware the tripwires for World War III

Syria and Hong Kong: Beware the tripwires for World War III
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In June 1914, the assassination of Austria’s Archduke Ferdinand triggered a chain of events that led to World War I and the eventual loss of more than 30 million lives.

The escalating rhetoric today regarding Syria and Hong Kong has the potential to turn dangerously high-risk conflicts into tripwires, which would set off confrontations that could spread across the globe.

Why are so many people willing to risk starting World War III? It’s a question we should ponder in all seriousness.


With regard to Syria, the Russians are being pulled deeper into that region and soon will draw bright “red lines” that must never be crossed. In Hong Kong, the authoritarian government of the People’s Republic of China soon may make those lines blood red.

This is not a game. It’s not an academic exercise, or a Hollywood movie. There will be no referees to throw a flag, no professors to give a do-over, and no rewrites with happy endings.  Russia and China are two dictatorial, ruthless regimes rapidly reaching the point where they no longer will negotiate or cave to U.S. demands. 

In the worlds they rule, to cave in to populist pressure regarding “rights and liberty for all” is tantamount to a self-inflicted death sentence.

If pushed into a corner, they will spring out in a vicious attack to protect that which they cannot lose — even if such an attack steps directly upon the tripwire. That should petrify us all.

Stand with Hong Kong” is the slogan of the moment for those looking to put a dictatorial government in its place. But it also has become a cottage industry, with potential to make millions of dollars for entrepreneurs who are happy to profit off millennials protesting from the safety of cities other than Hong Kong.

In a perfect world, we all want to stand with Hong Kong in its aim to remain free of China’s aggressive overreach. But our world not only is far from perfect, it’s getting more dangerous by the day.


Protesters, celebrities, self-absorbed media personalities and U.S. politicians are conveniently “outraged” that the National Basketball Association, Hollywood, certain corporations and a long list of others might put profit before the oppressed people of Hong Kong. 

In a perfect world, that would never happen. In the real world we inhabit, it has been going on since the first days of commerce and profit. Nazi Germany benefitted from such deals with the devil, as have rogue nations and tyrants before and since.

Is it right? No. Will it ever stop? Not as long as human frailties and greed exist.

I suspect that most people who order Stand with Hong Kong t-shirts have no idea of what they are protesting.

In a nutshell, the protests in Hong Kong started in June against proposals to allow extradition to mainland China. The city leaders of Hong Kong soon agreed to suspend the extradition bill, but the protesters then demanded “full democracy” for Hong Kong. Full democracy, for a city in a communist nation.

For those who might not remember, in 1997 Britain returned control of Hong Kong to the communist government of China. The communist leaders recognized that Hong Kong had been Westernized to a large extent and, even though it was now under their rule, they allowed it to retain more rights and autonomy than in the mainland, a hybrid government known as “one country, two systems.”

With all of the flaws — and outright atrocities — associated with the leadership of the People’s Republic of China, Hong Kong was a functioning first-world city in many ways.

We all want full democracy for every human being, everywhere on earth. But what price are we willing to pay to try to force that to happen in totalitarian nations and rogue states?

Hong Kong is, in fact, a city of communist China. Will the protesters around the world next demand full democracy for Beijing? Will they travel to North Korea and demand it for Pyongyang? What about Damascus — will they travel there to march in the streets against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his Russian protectors?

Conflicts and wars in the Middle East have been bottomless pits of quicksand that have sucked the life out of invading or protecting nations for centuries. The situation in Syria regarding the Kurds is now a pressure-cooker put on fast-boil by Turkey’s incursion and Russia’s actions. What price are we willing to pay if that top blows off, or if we nudge that top off?

Words are cheap but lives are precious. There is evil in the world, and people who foster and control such evil. Sometimes, as with Hitler and the Nazis, such evil must be confronted at any cost in a quest to stop it.

This is not about appeasing such evil. It is about knowing the differences and enacting policies commensurate with the crime or the threat. Hong Kong and Syria could be tripwires for the truly unimaginable. Our leaders must recognize that reality and act accordingly.

Douglas MacKinnon, a political and communications consultant, was a writer in the White House for Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, and former special assistant for policy and communications at the Pentagon during the last three years of the Bush administration.