America was an exhausted nation in 1947 and Kennan’s ideas helped President Harry Truman mobilize a war weary population for long-term struggle against Soviet expansionism. Ostensibly, Kennan wanted to firm America’s resolve against the Soviets but the greatest legacy of “containment” is that almost sixty years later the world is still spinning.
Today, civilized nations of order desperately need a credible strategy that firmly stands up to the challenge posed by radical Islam without igniting another world war. As Bob Herbert sagely wrote in the New York Times yesterday,
“There is no grand solution to the centuries-old problems of the Middle East. As with the cold war between the United States and the Soviet Union, you try to keep things as cool as possible, step by sometimes agonizing step. It may not be pretty, and it will surely be frustrating. But if the conflict, however aggravating, can be kept cold as opposed to hot, you’re ahead of the game.”The lynchpin to any containment policy against radical Islam is a rapprochement between Israel and the international community. Hezbollah’s aggression inside Lebanon and Israel’s heavy-handed response illustrates that a long-term rapprochement must be initiated forthwith. Unless the schism between Israel and the civilized world that includes the Western Alliance and hopefully emerging moderate voices in the mid-east is healed, there will be more conflicts like Lebanon that can spin out of control.
Tactically, Israel was responding to incursions inside their borders and the kidnapping of their soldiers. When viewed in that context Israel’s response is morally reprehensible and strategically stupid.
“War is politics by other means” as the brilliant Prussian General Claus Von Klauswitz once postulated. Hezbollah appears to be achieving their political aims even as Israel overwhelms them militarily. Hezbollah is a political idea that simply can't be wiped out or “degraded” militarily.
Their enemies understand that Israel is a first class military power, which can’t be defeated in conventional warfare. So instead Hezbollah has successfully provoked Israel into a conflict that undermines their moral standing in the world. Innocents are dying on both sides with nothing good being accomplished. The cause of peace has not been advanced. Only more innocent blood has been spilled.
But Israel is not an evil country in spite of vile Anti-Semitic diatribes on the blogosphere or the international community. Israel is also not stupid. I am opposed to how Israel handled this crisis and disgusted by the loss of innocent life in Lebanon. But I can also understand why Israel was compelled to respond as they did.
This was not about their two kidnapped soldiers. Israel’s response was due to radical Islam on their doorstep. Both Hezbollah and Hamas are proxies for a lunatic regime in Iran on record for supporting Israel’s destruction. Iran is a formidable adversary that has gained substantially from the Iraq War. Israel’s number one ally, the United States is overextended and their influence in the region severely diminished.
Meanwhile, under Iranian direction Hezbollah and Hamas have demonstrated the ability to penetrate Israeli territory, commit acts of terrorism and they now possess sophisticated missiles that target Israel’s cities. In that context what is a disproportionate response? The United States responded to 9/11 by knocking off two governments in Afghanistan and Iraq. And Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11!
Too many of Israel’s critics dismiss their loss of life as simply not comparable to the blood spilled in Palestine or Lebanon. Fair enough but Israel is a small population and a few deaths are keenly felt and any democratically elected government is compelled to demonstrate resolve when their citizens are murdered.
So Israel is encircled and from their perspective the international community is hostile to their existence and indifferent to their loss of life. Israel regards the international community as largely Anti-Semitic and unsympathetic to its struggle of preserving their democracy in a despotic and hostile neighborhood. The Europeans for example are distrusted by Israel for their historic Anti-Semitism and feckless pattern of portraying Israel as morally equivalent to terrorists.
Hence, when Israel is confronted with radical Islam at their doorstep they’re convinced that other than a weakened United States they have no friends. There is no coherent international effort to isolate radical Islam. They see no alternative other than to crush those dedicated to their destruction with overwhelming force. In the Israeli mindset, it’s them or us and we’re on our own. In fairness to Israel their perspective is not without merit. U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan recently condemned Israel and only grudgingly acknowledged Hezbollah’s culpability.
To the world at large Israel is an inflexible nation that pours kerosene on fire. As far as much of the world is concerned Israel sets impossible conditions for peace with Palestinians. Israel claims it wants to do business with a moderate civilized society but makes it impossible for one to emerge as the Palestinians struggle to live under a humiliating and oppressive occupation. Israel claims it prefers moderate elected governments in the Arab world but undermines Abbas in Palestine and with military power brings the democratically elected government in Lebanon to its knees. Israel drops leaflets warning the Lebanese of bombings to come but destroys the infrastructure required for them to safely escape violent death.
Hence, Israel is viewed by much of the world as an obstacle to peace. I consider myself a friend of Israel. I’m Jewish and proud of my heritage. But even friends of Israel must be intellectually honest and acknowledge that a legitimate critique of their policy is in order. Their heavy- handed treatment of the Palestinians as well as their killing of innocent life in Lebanon has strengthened Islamic fascism. It may not be fair given my country’s transgressions and ill-advised military ventures in recent years but I expect more of Israel anyway.
Either way the civilized world and Israel are disappointed in each other and have let each other down. So how do we move forward? The first step is for the civilized world to accept that Israel shares their humane values and objective for stability. The world and Israel both lose if they’re working at cross purposes against radical Islam. Meanwhile, Israel must adjust their strategic posture from unilateralism to coordination with the international community against radical Islam. Otherwise, their divisions will continue to be exploited by Islamic fundamentalists and eventually an act of terrorism will engulf the world in unremitting conflict.
There may be an opportunity to salvage something positive from the horrific loss of life these past two weeks. Israel has signaled their willingness to accept an international peacekeeping force serving as a buffer on the Lebanese border. That is a major leap for Israel given their suspicion of the international community. The international community should seize this opportunity to earn Israel’s confidence and in return enlist their cooperation to coordinate their policies instead of Israel's historic unilaterism that can be disproportionate.
Sadly, the New York Times reports that while numerous nations favor an international force in theory there is reluctance to commit:
“The United States has ruled out its soldiers’ participating, NATO says it is overstretched, Britain feels its troops are over committed and Germany says it is willing to participate only if Hezbollah, the Lebanese militia that it would police, agrees to it, a highly unlikely development.”Obviously the world today does not have statesmen such as Churchill and FDR. The real obstacle is weak leadership from Washington. America is still haunted by its participation in a multinational force after Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in 1982. Furthermore, President Bush has no political capital with an international community he’s disrespected for five years and an American public he lied to about Iraq. His administration is incapable of persuading a weary and increasingly isolationist American public to participate in such a force or to heal the breach between Israel and the international community.
This is unfortunate. An Israel that is convinced there is an international community that has its back against radical Islam will be less inclined to respond to every provocation with overwhelming force. An international peacekeeping force that even includes Arab nations can preserve stability, build political bridges between Israel and the world and further isolate the Jihadists.
It might also be something to build upon and utilize in the Palestinian territories. The Palestinian Authority is not capable of policing against terrorism and the presence of the Israeli military only serves to poison the atmosphere. A multinational force in the territories that earns both the confidence of Israel and the Palestinian population may allow the Palestinians to better develop a civil society that facilitates a two state solution.
Most importantly, the flame of radical Islam won’t be continuously fed and better contained. Part of the price for this is that Israel will have to accept that when terrorist incidents take place they can’t simply respond unilaterally and inflame matters. Israel will have to compromise and accept that they’re part of an international effort.
As for the international community there must be an understanding that stability and order come with a price as well. That price is resources and people put in harms way to prevent a wider conflict from engulfing the planet. If the world doesn’t want Israel to act against terrorism then an alternative mechanism of enforcement must be in place. There will setbacks and miscalculations. The learning curve will be steep.
No country can undertake this alone but America will have to take the lead. The contradictions of interests among nations as diverse as Russia, Egypt and Israel are immense. Integrating such a coalition into a containment policy against radical Islam will require tremendous skill, persuasion, patience and resolve.
All fires burn out eventually if they’re contained and not fed. It may take decades but a global strategy of containment is far better than a “global war on terror” which might result in Armageddon. Hopefully, the next American president will have strategic thinkers such as George Kennan in 1947 who has given the matter some thought.
ADDENDUM: I cross posted this topic on the European Tribune community blog and their comments are interesting and provocative. One person even compared me to Joe McCarthy! They also went off on all sorts of tangents. Click here to review their comments. European Tribune is a terrific community blog and excellent information source regarding European politics. But only there could I be compared to Joe McCarthy!