World War III
Newt Gingrich argues that the conflict between Islamist extremists and the West is World War III and we should start talking about it that way. (Of course, others have argued that the Cold War was WWIII and this is WWIV.) The debate may become moot, as the current mess in the Middle East continues to escalate, with Iran now overtly vowing to do what it has already been doing covertly.
Iran warned its arch-enemy Israel of “unimaginable losses” if it attacks Syria and vowed that it was standing by the Syrian people. “We hope the Zionist regime does not make the mistake of attacking Syria, because extending the front would definitely make the Zionist regime face unimaginable losses,” foreign ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi told reporters. “Iran is standing by the Syrian people,” he said of the Islamic republic’s sole regional ally. “We have offered and will offer Syria and Lebanon spiritual and humanitarian support,” Asefi insisted, reiterating Iran’s denial that it is providing military and financial assistance to the Hezbollah movement.
Meanwhile, the Arab League has issued a statement in support of Lebanon while asking the UN to intervene.
The Arab League said on Saturday after an emergency meeting of foreign ministers in Cairo that the Middle East peace process had failed, and called on the United Nations Security Council to intervene to stop the escalating violence. The Arab foreign ministers also adopted a resolution supporting Lebanon and the Palestinians, but also called on all parties to avoid actions that “may undermine peace and security in the region”.
“We all decided that the peace process has failed and that the mechanisms, proposals and committees were either deceptive or sedatives or contrary to the peace process, or handed the process over as a gift to Israeli diplomacy to do with as it wished,” Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa said. “This has led to and is leading to the collapse of stability in the Middle East… So there is no peace process,” he added.
Sometimes, war is the best peace process, forcing the weaker side to face reality and make concessions they otherwise would be unable to stomach. Sadly, that has never seemed to be the case in the Arab-Israeli conflict, with the inevitable Israeli victory in war merely a holding action until one Arab faction or the other decides it is ready to seek revenge. With the possible exception of Egypt, the Arabs generally have not accepted that Israel is a fact of life.
Unfortunately, while my sympathies are mostly with Israel, I largely agree with Larry Johnson on substance if not style:
Olmert has somehow persuaded the Israeli military to ignore strategy, think tactically, and in the process become really stupid. The events in the next several weeks will expose as myth the canard that you can secure a nation by killing terrorists. No you can’t.
Killing “terrorists” has a place in policy but it is not a strategic military obective. It is a tactical objective and may serve political purposes, but achieves little in terms of securing Israel. Israel is attacking targets in Lebanon like a drunken sailor in a bar fight. Flailing about, causing significant damage, hitting innocent bystanders, and generally making a mess of things.
Then again, I understand Olmert’s frustration. Neither war nor diplomacy, which have been alternately and even simultaneoulsy tried over the last sixty-odd years, have gotten the job done. Kevin Drum is right to call the conflict “intractable.”
Regardless, the frustration over the inability to stop the terrorists from killing innocents makes escalation seem the best option. Jim Henley observes,
The Bush Administration and the Israelis remain obsessed with hostile states as the drivers of terrorism. Both have always assumed that if you just knock off the right leaders, you can make terrorism disappear or at least minimize it. The Bush Administration and Israel too figure that if they can take out Assad and the Mullahs, there’s no one left to “cause” terrorism.
While I think both camps understand that terrorism exists apart from state actors, states are easier to target and tend to be not only the prime financiers of terrorism but also their de facto harborers. Still, as Johnson points out, Hamas and Hezbollah have evolved into quasi-state actors:
They carry out terrorist attacks, but they are not terrorists. They are something far more dangerous. They are fully functioning political, social, religious, and military organizations that use terrorism tactics, but they are far more formidible than terrorist groups like Al Qaeda or the Basque Terrorist Organization. They do have the resources and the personnel to project force, sustain operations, and cannot be easily defeated. Unlike the Egyptian and Syrian armies in 1973, Hamas and Hezbollah will not easily fold and cannot be defeated in a seven day war. If that is the assumption among some Israeli military planners it is a crazy fantasy.
I would quibble and say that, “In addition to being terrorists….” but otherwise agree. But this just brings me back to the unsatisfying position I’ve had all along: I think what the Israelis are doing now is foolish but don’t have any better suggestions.
Diplomacy hasn’t worked. Nor has war. The ultimate answer, in a purely theoretical universe, is the mass annihilation of their enemies–the quite literal wiping of regimes friendly to terrorists off the map. But, even aside from moral objections, this is quite impractical. As Henley rightly notes,
Plan A is to decapitate Syria with an eye toward cowing Iran. (And of course, decapitating Syria is a goal in itself.) […] After that it will take months to years to decide that there is terrorism only because of Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, or Azerbaijan and Yemen, or Venezuela and North Korea. Eventually we’re right up against the border of China, certain that if we can just take out their leadership we can end terrorism in Israel, Iraq, Syria, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and all the other places we’ve been stomping on that pesky fire. Then . .
And then indeed.