“This Is Our War, Too.”
That’s Bill Kristol’s take on what’s going on in Middle East right now. Why? Because unlike past conflicts, this isn’t an Arab-Israeli war but rather an Islamist-Israeli war and, therefore, one which the United States has an obligation to fight. It’s a persuasive argument, if not a completely accurate one:
Why is this Arab-Israeli war different from all other Arab-Israeli wars? Because it’s not an Arab-Israeli war. Most of Israel’s traditional Arab enemies have checked out of the current conflict. The governments of Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia are, to say the least, indifferent to the fate of Hamas and Hezbollah. The Palestine Liberation Organization (Fatah) isn’t a player. The prime mover behind the terrorist groups who have started this war is a non-Arab state, Iran, which wasn’t involved in any of Israel’s previous wars.
What’s happening in the Middle East, then, isn’t just another chapter in the Arab-Israeli conflict. What’s happening is an Islamist-Israeli war. You might even say this is part of the Islamist war on the West–but is India part of the West? Better to say that what’s under attack is liberal democratic civilization, whose leading representative right now happens to be the United States.
An Islamist-Israeli conflict may or may not be more dangerous than the old Arab-Israeli conflict. Secular Arab nationalism was, after all, also capable of posing an existential threat to Israel. And the Islamist threat to liberal democracy may or may not turn out to be as dangerous as the threats posed in the last century by secular forms of irrationalism (fascism) and illiberalism (communism). But it is a new and different threat. One needs to keep this in mind when trying to draw useful lessons from our successes, and failures, in dealing with the threats of the 20th century.
Here, however, is one lesson that does seem to hold: States matter. Regimes matter. Ideological movements become more dangerous when they become governing regimes of major nations. Communism became really dangerous when it seized control of Russia. National socialism became really dangerous when it seized control of Germany. Islamism became really dangerous when it seized control of Iran–which then became, as it has been for the last 27 years, the Islamic Republic of Iran.
But then Kristol takes it a little too far:
…we might consider countering this act of Iranian aggression with a military strike against Iranian nuclear facilities. Why wait? Does anyone think a nuclear Iran can be contained? That the current regime will negotiate in good faith? It would be easier to act sooner rather than later. Yes, there would be repercussions–and they would be healthy ones, showing a strong America that has rejected further appeasement.
But such a military strike would take a while to organize. In the meantime, perhaps President Bush can fly from the silly G8 summit in St. Petersburg–a summit that will most likely convey a message of moral confusion and political indecision–to Jerusalem, the capital of a nation that stands with us, and is willing to fight with us, against our common enemies.
To answer Kristol’s questions about Iran, given the status quo, no reasonable person can think that Iran can be contained or will negotiate in good faith. But the notion that it would be “easier” now to deal with Iran rather than later is a questionable assertion, at best. So at the expense of making a couple liberals smile, I think it’s time for conservatives to start admitting that, regardless of how one feels about the war in Iraq, it has made anything else we would like to do in the world more difficult. And that includes any action against Iran–especially at a moment when it could further complicate if not exacerbate the turmoil in the region.
This is not an opportunity for the United States to strike Iranian nuclear capability save for an act of extreme provocation by Ahmadinejad’s regime. That’s not to say that Iran hasn’t been provocative in this conflict–its tentacles can be seen at many levels–but nothing so far has risen to the level which would justify what Kristol is advocating. September 11th brought us to Iraq with haste. Let’s not make this an opportunity to make the same mistake again.
Kristol is certainly right though that this is an opportunity for President Bush to show leadership. The very fact that the G8 is being held in Russia–which has seen a drastic erosion of democracy under President Putin–sends a message of “moral confusion and political indecision.” President Bush now has an opportunity which was not previously available politically: abandon the G8 to deal with the more pressing matters in the Middle East. And as Kristol suggests, make a trip to Jerusalem and send a more important message than any that would emerge from the G8: that no matter where it emerges–Canada, England, or India–the United States will stand with you against the threat of Islamic extremism. Because, yeah, this really is our war, too.