Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Fear Mongering

"You engage, and then you wait and see." [On s'engage, et alors on voit]

So said Napoleon Bonaparte to Montholon at St. Helena. The Israelis have engaged, and now wait to see whether they have created an exploitable situation.

Newt Gingrich has been accused of fear-mongering this past weekend when he characterized the GWOT as World War III. Other pundits (and I struggle to remember which of that multitude planted this in my head -- can't provide a link) believe a president gets five years to wrap up a war, because FDR was able to dispatch the Axis in that time span, and this supposedly set the standard.

Gingrich is merely re-phrasing something that George W. Bush has been saying for some time now: that the GWOT is a generational struggle, that (as he told the 2006 graduating class at West Point) the "war began on my watch, but it will end on yours." To date I have seen no convincing evidence that the societal evolution required to stabilize the middle east is something that can be achieved in 5 years. In fact, there is much wrong with the contention that only wars which can be wrapped up in 5 years are worth fighting. You can start by observing that anyone who is willing to fight for SIX years can kick your ass.

So if it is "fear-mongering", it is only because you 1.) don't understand what FDR meant when he said fear itself is the only thing we have to fear, and 2.) are utterly incapable of comprehending the nature of the threat to civilization.

The significance of the recent Israeli operations in south Lebanon lies in the simple fact that the Israelis are now engaged. They have defied the Powell doctrine; can anyone tell from the cryptic statements of the Olmert government whether the IDF have achievable end-points and an exit strategy? They cannot be simply aiming to set-up shop again like they attempted prior to the 2000 pullback, as this cannot be expected to confer any advantage. I can only speculate that this is the opening move of a long-contemplated Israeli strategy to regionalize the war and force a confrontation of Sunni Arabs with Tehran, and where this begins to resemble World War III is best described by Wretchard:

The strategic problem facing any Israeli ground commander in Lebanon is that his key objectives are not located within the theater. The enemy center of gravity is located outside of Lebanon. The callup of another three brigades worth of troops can either be interpreted as insurance against any unforseen setbacks in an extended campaign against Hezbollah up the Bekaa or an acceptance of a strategic objective outside Lebanon. Yet as Chester points out, Israel has much to fear in the long run by collapsing the Syrian regime. Without a stable successor state Syria may become a gigantic terrorist playground and rockets can be launched from the decaying husk of Syria just as well as from Lebanon. It is an unfortunate fact that ground taken doesn't stay taken unless it is occupied by your own or a friendly force. And where will you find a friendly force in Lebanon or Syria? Taking on the Hezbollah may imply the necessity of restarting the Lebanese Civil War to create an end state where Hezbollah or groups like it are permanently driven from the scene. The same will go for Syria but on a far larger scale.

Do not fear World War III, because it has been upon us now for some years, maybe since the bombing of the USS Cole. People and institutions who do not realize this -- the NY Times comes to mind -- need a swift kick in the ass, or the lucidity that comes from staring up at the ceiling having just been decked.

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