"But war, in a good cause, is not the greatest evil which a nation can suffer. War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things: the decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks nothing worth a war, is worse. When a people are used as mere human instruments for firing cannon or thrusting bayonets, in the service and for the selfish purposes of a master, such war degrades a people. A war to protect other human beings against tyrannical injustice – a war to give victory to their own ideas of right and good, and which is their own war, carried on for an honest purpose by their free choice – is often the means of their regeneration. A man who has nothing which he is willing to fight for, nothing which he cares more about than he does about his personal safety, is a miserable creature who has no chance of being free, unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself. As long as justice and injustice have not terminated their ever-renewing fight for ascendancy in the affairs of mankind, human beings must be willing, when need is, to do battle for the one against the other."

Thursday, July 13, 2006

World on fire?

Rarely in life do we witness something that causes us to take a deep breath and think, "The world will never be the same." In my modest time on this planet, there have been a few such events, some of which I was conscious of, some not. I was a child when the Berlin Wall fell. I vaguely remember Germans dancing on top of it, and other Germans taking sledgehammers to it. It didn't seem like a big deal; to my parents, it was probably an event they thought they may never live to see. On 9/11, over a decade later, there was no doubt in my mind that things were going to be different. It was my third year of college, and while I was enrolled in the Marines' officer training program, I'd have been hard-pressed to guess where I might deploy. Post-9/11, I knew exactly where I'd go.

I have the sinking feeling that the latest battle between Israel and her bloodthirsty neighbors will be another one of those moments.

The escalation of violence between Israel, Lebanon, and the Gaza Strip has caught me off guard, though I suppose, in this post-Iraq-invasion era, I should no longer be surprised at how quickly events on the ground can develop. But hourly, matters are
deteriorating.(I'm sure in five minutes this link will be outpaced by Israeli and Hezbollah actions). It started when a single Israeli soldier was kidnapped near Gaza, an act that proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that Hamas has no real interest in living peacefully next door. Israel responded with airstrikes and a ground assault; but even as bombs rained down on Gaza, a second front opened in the north, when Hezbollah terrorists kidnapped two more Israeli soldiers in a raid that killed several others. Israel responded by bombing Lebanon's only airport, slapping a naval blockade on its ports, cutting the Beruit-Damascus highway and other roads used by Hezbollah to resupply itself, and invading the southern area used by the Iranian-Syrian proxy to launch rockets at Israel. In return, Hezbollah has rained hundreds of rockets down on Israeli cities, crippled an Israeli naval vessel, and declared that it's ready for an "open war". Well, it seems Hezbollah is getting what it asked for. My big question is: who else will get sucked into this?

In that big question are many little ones: are we on the brink of
World War III? Is this all part of the same war on terror we've been fighting for the last five years, or something completely unrelated? Has Israel overreacted or is she taking the steps necessary to protect herself? And what is the United States going to do about it, if anything? Do we even have the willpower to act, even if we could?

Some questions have easier or more obvious answers than others. I think it's hard to dispute that the kidnapping or murder of one's soldiers and citizens is an act of war. Sometimes, a nation chooses not to react to such provocation (America, after the Beruit barracks bombing, Mogadishu, the embassy bombings, and the USS Cole, or Israel after the campaign of random rocket attacks ever since she evacuated southern Lebanon and the Gaza Strip). Sadly, such inaction frequently leads to more radical attacks to which the country has no choice but to respond in order to protect her citizens (9/11 and the recent kidnappings of Israeli troops). Hamas and Hezbollah committed acts of war; it should come as no surprise to them or the international community that Israel responded in kind.

But Israeli retaliation against local terror groups wouldn't worry me as much if we didn't live in the world we do. Because this may not just be a local response to a local threat. Instead, it may be the opening salvo of what could become a truly global conflict. Hamas and Hezbollah both receive material support from Syria and Iran, with Syria acting as the local distributor and Iran as the oil-rich financial backer. Suppose Syria decides the time is ripe to exact revenge for past humiliations caused by Israel, and enter the conflict herself rather than by proxy? And Iran has already stated that an attack by Israel on any Muslim country would be treated as an attack on all Muslims (not to mention her previous threat to wipe Israel off the face of the earth). What happens when Iran makes good on that threat and launches her own missiles across the Middle East into Israeli cities? What if some of those missiles are nuclear-tipped? What if Iran ups the ante and attempts to transport her own soldiers to the front? Will American troops in Iraq stand idly by or interdict them, shooting down their transports and destroying their convoys if necessary? Suppose Iranian missiles "accidentally" land on American bases in Iraq: do we strike back? Will the critics who want out of Iraq ASAP find the will for such a strike?

So many questions, so many scenarios, and none of them pretty. My greatest fear is that the young corporal abducted by Hamas will become the next Archduke Ferdinand, and his kidnapping will ignite a holocaust of powder kegs. I see Syria opening a third front, with Iran throwing its own missiles and/or forces into the mix. Either by direct attack from Iran, or by Iranian attempts to use Iraqi soil and airspace to attack Israel, I see America joining the fray and striking Iran and possibly Syria. I see Iran launching missiles at Europe, which may or may not retaliate due to its dependence on Middle Eastern oil and its fear of the large Muslim populace within their borders. Their response may not matter, however, as I can easily envision said Muslim populace rising up as soon as America actively partakes in defending Israel. Europe will then be forced to react to what will become a bloody civil war. I'm sure Saudi Arabia will quickly cut off oil supplies to any who stand with Israel, sending the already tenuous global oil market into a nosedive. I see American troops in Iraq caught in a murderous crossfire between Syria, Iran, and local Iraqis who will find any defense of Israel or attack on Iran outrageous. And on top of it all, I see Kim Jong Il deciding that the time is perfect to attempt a nuclear reunification of the Korean peninsula. I see a world on fire, with no one to put it out.

I hope I'm wrong, that Israel's neighbors will decide the time is not ripe to turn this into a bigger war. But her neighbors have shown in the past that they don't make rational calculations. That's why I fear we're on the cusp of another history-changing moment: Israel's foes might decide that it's high time to try and drive her into the sea again, emboldened by Iran's nuclear ambitions and a global community that lacks the resolve to face the mullahs down. If Tehran is ready for open war, then the world will indeed be permanently altered. I doubt it will be altered for the better.

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