UMNO's Schlieffen Plan for Electoral Victory-Avoiding a Two Front War

UMNO's behaviour (and by UMNO I am taking a broad perspective by including their radical proxies like Utusan Malaysia and PERKASA) post election has been very focussed. It is about the Malay heartland, and to hell with other issues. The economy, foreign affairs, infrastructure, federal-state relations, have all taken a backseat to this one issue. It is easy to say that this is because of the upcoming UMNO elections, which usually brings forth the nationalistic chest-beating, keris waving antics of defenders of the race, religion and country (all so Netanyahu like....), and that later this issue will suddenly become less pertinent. But I think in this case it is a conscious decision post-election to focus all offensive efforts on one front at the expense of a defensive play on other fronts. I'd like to study this through the prism of the Schlieffen Plan.

The infamous Schlieffen Plan (handsome bastard above) was the German army's plan to avoid fighting on two fronts simultaneously, so as to ensure victory on both the Western (i.e. French) and Eastern (i.e. Imperial Russian) fronts. Finalised in 1905, the plan was made on the realisation that Germany would probably lose a war fought simultaneously on its two borders. It called for a sudden sweep into France to defeat the French while holding minimal troops in the East to await Russian attack (the Russians being French allies). The Germans figured it would take the Russians 40 days to get everything right to attack so the French had to be defeated very quickly. Thus stage one called for offensive action in the West with as many troops as possible and pray the Russians would take their time. Once the French were defeated, troops will be switched to East Prussia and Silesia to take on the Russians. The key was to always avoid wars on both fronts at the same time.

Indeed, this was the main German preoccupation (obsession really) as WW1 kicked off in 1914. The Schlieffen plan kicked off and failed. The French had British help and the Germans expected the Belgians to collapse but they did not. They held their ground and the Russian attacked about 20 days after war was declared, forcing a transfer of troops eastwards. The Germans spent the next 4 odd years fighting on multiple fronts and finally sued for peace. Indeed, the plan was hatched on the premise that Germany could never win a two front war. Some have argued that WW1's fate was decided in September 1914 rather than September-October 1918. The key was to always focus on one front, and be defensive on the other. Being forced to fight on different fronts simultaneously means being unable to be pro-active, and by always reacting, defeat will eventually occur.

Does UMNO have a similar plan? Has it decided that in the last election (indeed in the last 5 years) it has tried to put out too many fires, and succeeded in attaining their worst electoral outcome in their history? Has it now decided to go with their own version of the Schlieffen Plan? I think so, but I feel that here it will succeed because it already faced the very worst and held their nerve unlike the Germans. Now their plan may succeed.

In recent months we have seen the government prepared to make concerted efforts only on the 'Malay' front-a powerful, blitzkrieg to 'shock and awe' the enemy, to sidestep them and leave them pulverised. On other matters, it has, if not conceded ground, at least maintained a defensive posture. Petrol prices have been allowed to rise, making them somewhat unpopular. The TPPA negotiations continue despite popular misgivings, and nothing much, if at all has been done to win back the heart and minds of both urban and minority voters. This seems to me to be somewhat distinct from their pre-election policy of fighting the opposition on so many varied issues. Is this a deliberate ploy, or just an unplanned chain of events? Is this the outcome of electoral events? Have they decided that they have no chance of winning certain groups and must now concentrate on their last bastion of votes? Is this the outcome of fighting on simultaneous fronts?

If it is, I think it is a brilliant tactic. How does the opposition react? Can it out Malay UMNO? How will the 'nons' react? Will the coalition fracture? Or will they choose to launch an attack elsewhere? And if they do, will we see UMNO merely play defensively there and continue their offensive on the front they wish to fight pro-actively?

Certainly their Schlieffen Plan seem more watertight than Germany's for several reasons, which I outline below:

First, Germany had very unreliable allies, who's collapse meant the Germans would face a third front from the Balkans (Bulgaria and the Ottoman's surrendering) and a fourth from the Tyrolean Alps as the Austro-Hungarian Empire disappeared. UMNO's allies have already collapsed. UMNO's moment of great weakness was in 2008, when they had to react to MCA, MIC and GERAKAN's demise. When the Ottoman Empire, Austro-Hungarian Empire and Bulgaria sued for peace Germany gave up the fight. UMNO did not. They stood their ground, and held firm. Germany in 1918 found that for all its military strength it was in reality only as strong as its weakest point-its weakest point was its allies, and so was UMNO's. But in 2013 it has only one strong, reliable ally (PBB). The rest are there for window dressing and not expected to contribute. UMNO stands strong, not having to come to the rescue of its lapdogs like in 2008 and 2013 election. Germany found its troops everywhere, facing the British Empire in the Middle East, fighting the Italians at Caporetto and in the Balkans due to the incompetency of its allies (well I'll excuse the Bulgarians but that is another story for another day...). It had to fight its own battles and then some. UMNO had to do the same 2 elections in a row, but now it will concentrate just on its own heartland.

Second, Germany also had to face a new reality-the Allies were strengthened by the late entry of the USA with all its manpower and industrial strength just as German allies started collapsing. UMNO in 2008, on its knees was ready for decapitation but PR could not find their USA. No one from Sabah jumped, and that surely would have finished them off. Again post-2013 election Sabah and this time Sarawak could have jumped again, but that boat has now long sailed past.

Third, while not playing into the hands of the 'stab in the back' brigade, Germany was also defeated by its internal dissension. The socialists, communists, hungry citizens and mutinous troops made the situation untenable for the Kaiser's government. It was simply the final straw given the collapse of its allies, the strength of the opposition post-US entry and budding civil war at home. UMNO also was sabotaged internally in 2008, and to a lesser extent in 2013, but held firm. The Kaiser abdicated and left the country in turmoil, as the Social Democrats tried to take a grip on things. It was an external power transfer as a monarchy gave way to a new (Weimar) republic. Badawi gave way to Najib-it was an internal transfer of power.

Come post-2013 election, the worst has probably passed for UMNO. It no longer relies on its allies, keeping them just for window dressing. The opposition can't find its USA. UMNO no longer tries to please everyone, and simply tries to ensure it does not lose anymore support where they now struggle (e.g. urban areas, minorities), and concentrates on not just keeping its support base but by trying to destroy the opposition's chance of winning the so-called Malay-rural vote.

Thus, I argue that what happened to Germany in November 1918 could have happened to UMNO in 2008 and again recently, but not now. The failure of the Schlieffen Plan rendered events that occurred a logical outcome of its said failure. UMNO's failure in two successive elections was due to it not having a Schlieffen Plan though, when it should have had one. However, it now does (or so I think).

Has Mahathir and co. cracked what Germany never could?

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