Tuesday, July 18, 2006

The Israeli-Muslim War

[I'm pretty sure I'm going to get flamed on this either way that I go, so have at it. I am attempting an integral view, but I suspect that I have failed . . . and that's okay.]

I've done a bit of reading today, and I have to say that I now am very clear on why I quit my political blog. Politicians are mostly idiots, or at least pretend to be when the camera is on them or the tape recorder is running. And then there is a whole profession whose job it is to analyze the crap that spews from the always open mouths of politicians. But perhaps I am being to gentle.

So, this is some of what I learned:

William Kristol is stark raving mad.
George Will is remarkably sane for a baseball fan.
Israel is a brutal monster of a state.
Israel will have to negotiate its way out of this mess.
Hizbullah is winning the hearts and minds of Arab citizens.

But this seems to be the best article I read today, from Richard Cohen at the Washington Post. Here is a quote from the top of the piece:

The greatest mistake Israel could make at the moment is to forget that Israel itself is a mistake. It is an honest mistake, a well-intentioned mistake, a mistake for which no one is culpable, but the idea of creating a nation of European Jews in an area of Arab Muslims (and some Christians) has produced a century of warfare and terrorism of the sort we are seeing now. Israel fights Hezbollah in the north and Hamas in the south, but its most formidable enemy is history itself.

This is why the Israeli-Arab war, now transformed into the Israeli-Muslim war (Iran is not an Arab state), persists and widens. It is why the conflict mutates and festers. It is why Israel is now fighting an organization, Hezbollah, that did not exist 30 years ago and why Hezbollah is being supported by a nation, Iran, that was once a tacit ally of Israel's. The underlying, subterranean hatred of the Jewish state in the Islamic world just keeps bubbling to the surface. The leaders of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and some other Arab countries may condemn Hezbollah, but I doubt the proverbial man in their street shares that view.
There is no easy answer to this issue. I certainly don't have the answers after one afternoon of reading. So to take these thoughts as preliminary observations subject to revision in light of new info as I encounter it.

If Israel persues war with the Muslim world -- which would be intiated by a continued offensive against Hizbullah out of proportion to the atagonism, or an attack on Syria and/or Iran -- the US will be drawn in under the Bush administration. That is not acceptable.

It's time to take a hard line with Israel. They have the right to defend their borders and to prevent terrorist attacks on their soil. But they do not have the right to indiscriminately bomb residential areas in Lebanon in retaliation against Hizbullah attacks. And they would be foolish to engage Iran in a war.

I have no doubt that Pakistan, a nuclear nation, would covertly aid its ethnic and spiritual neighbor in a war against Israel. This might draw India into the mess. The whole region could end of exploding in war, possibly nuclear.

The US must not support Israel in widening this battle. And we must not insert our already stretched-too-thin military into the mess.

More from Richard Cohen's article:

Hard-line critics of Ariel Sharon, the now-comatose Israeli leader who initiated the pullout from Gaza, always said this would happen: Gaza would become a terrorist haven. They said that the moderate Palestinian Authority would not be able to control the militants and that Gaza would be used to fire rockets into Israel and to launch terrorist raids. This is precisely what has happened.

It is also true, as some critics warned, that Israel's withdrawal from southern Lebanon was seen by its enemies -- and claimed by Hezbollah -- as a defeat for the mighty Jewish state. Hezbollah took credit for this, as well it should. Its persistent attacks bled Israel. In the end, Israel got out and the United Nations promised it a secure border. The Lebanese army would see to that. (And the check is in the mail.)

All that the critics warned has come true. But worse than what is happening now would be a retaking of those territories. That would put Israel smack back to where it was, subjugating a restless, angry population and having the world look on as it committed the inevitable sins of an occupying power. The smart choice is to pull back to defensible -- but hardly impervious -- borders. That includes getting out of most of the West Bank -- and waiting (and hoping) that history will get distracted and move on to something else. This will take some time, and in the meantime terrorism and rocket attacks will continue.
Isreal needs to take a long-term view here, as suggested, and realize that they will never be accepted into the region as long as they appear to be the bully on the block. It may take generations for their Arab/Muslim neighbors to accept their right to exist. For now, they need to protect their borders and use as much restraint as they can muster.

As long as they employ an aggressive, militant attitude, they will be seen as a threat that must be eliminated. Images like these won't help:

Pictures of Israeli children writing messages on missles to be launched at Lebanon will do nothing toward helping their neighbors accept them in the region.

And the Muslim terrorist groups must be brought to justice by the nations that protect them. Israel isn't going away and the endless assult on their lands must be stopped. This would mean that the US would have to stop coddling dictators and thugs (we usually call them allies), and that the US and Europe will have to put humanitarian interests ahead of economic interests. The bloodshed must end.

The US presence in Iraq is certainly a contributing factor to this mess. The ill-conceived and ill-planned war has always been a mistake, but it is only now that we are beginning to see what our presence as an occupying power has created in the region. Fundamentalist Islam, which is already militant, sees the US presence as a possible long-term occupation that, together with Israel's militanism, threatens their already paranoid worldview.

We need to withdraw from Iraq and let the Iraqis sort out their own mess. Instead of wasting more than $300 billion in a futile -- and seemingly unending -- military campaign, we could be building secular schools, working hospitals, and a functional infrastructure. Tribal conditions create a tribal mentality. If we want to change the way Muslims think, we must change the way they live.

It is no coincidence that the most Westernized Arab nations are also the most progressive. We need to push that model in other areas of the Middle East. We will not eliminate Islam, but as its followers enter the 21st century, the fundamentalism will fade.

Israel could contribute to that process by becoming a generous and compassionate neighbor that carries a big stick. They could support democratic movements, progressive education, and economic growth. At the same time, they can powerful defend their lands with their superior military.

But Israel must learn the art of a measured and calculated response. All out brutality in response to every offense only inflames their enemies. With that approach, they will never be accepted into the region.

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