Monday, April 13, 2009

This Far, No Farther

Shalom All,

David Samuels article is all too cogent for my taste. He makes a very good argument for why Israel not only might attack Iran, but probably should. That scares me. Samuels also does a superb job of demonstrating why Israel cannot possibly rely on the United States all of the time, or even any of the time.

Where I tend to differ slightly from Samuels is that while he seems to argue that the conflict is for favor of the United States in the Middle East between Iran and Israel, I believe that it is more complicated.

If you go far back, let's say to just prior to WWI. You had the Ottomans in power over much of the region. Then the Brits and the French, who basically left a power vacuum in the wake of WWII. The USSR stepped in then as did the United States. The US and USSR both hoped that Israel would be their ally in the region. Israel seemingly chose the US, which is why the 1956 war in which it was backed by Britain and France against the will of the US startled the US. The US wanted control of the distribution of oil to Europe and Israel had the opportunity to screw that up by handing that control to Britain and France or even to assert its own power over it by controlling the Suez. The US then courted Turkey and placed missiles there in 1961-1962 in order to gain a foothold in the region. But distant battles took its attention away from the Middle East during the Mid-1960s and when Israel was threatened by the Arab armies, the United States sat back and watched. Soviet client states were armed to the teeth and ready to strike, but the US was far more worried about the Persian Gulf and Southeast Asia.

When Israel struck and won decisively, the game changed. Now, Israel was the dominant military power in the region. Direct US power in the region paled by comparison. The US now looked to use Israel's influence to combat Soviet influence, at least until President Carter decided to use Israel's concessions to combat it. US foreign policy for most of the last three decades has consisted of forcing concessions upon Israel while not doing anything in its favor other than vetoing votes at the United Nations and providing it the ability to purchase weaponry. Meanwhile, Israel has become so vastly superior to its enemies militarily that US influence West of the Persian Gulf is largely related to its ability to influence Israel to direct its power.

In the 1980s, the US decided to prevent either Iraq or Iran from achieving dominance by supporting both sides. It backed the Mujahadeen in Afghanistan against the USSR. It exerted influence by maintaining conflicts. Meanwhile, ultimately all of these players were functionally opponents of what the United States wanted, namely future security for the dispersal of oil. The Taliban wanted to end US influence in the region. Both Iraq and Iran wanted to control the flow of oil. Ultimately Saddam Hussein's decision to invade Kuwait tipped the balance to the point wherein the United States had to insert itself into the battle between Iran and Iraq by attacking Iraq. It had to defend Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. In other words, Iraq forced the hands of the US into making a decision in a DIFFERENT conflict that had equally bad, if not worse, consequences. The US decided that it had to stop the winner of the Iraq-Iran conflict from becoming a serious competitor for control of the region.

The US ended up turning a conflict between Iraq and Iran into a conflict between Iran and Saudi Arabia by removing Iraq from the picture with the US backing Saudi Arabia. Suddenly, many Muslims saw Saudi Arabia, the center of Islam, in the role of US puppet and that more than any US involvement in the Middle East caused radicals all over the region to react and to further radicalize. That the US continues to strongly support Saudi Arabia is not seen by radical Muslims as a positive thing, but as an insult to Islam. The US became their biggest enemy, not their best friend. Striking out or at least acting in some serious fashion against Iran, which is not well liked in most of the Arab and Muslim world, could help.

While there are many reasons that have been suggested for why the United States went back into Iraq and took out Saddam, the only ones that really make any sense have to do with stabilizing the region by maintaining a dominant US presence that directly threatens Iran. Unfortunately, right now, while the US is holding its own in Iraq, it is losing ground in Afghanistan (where it is seeking "moderate" Taliban with whom to bargain, something akin to looking for progressive liberal radical fundamentalists), watching Pakistan (already a major nuclear power) deteriorate into lawlessness while cultivating there the very kind of fundamentalist radical extremism that resulted in 9/11,and is talking nice with the Mullahs of Iran, who cannot but laugh that the United States is crawling to their doorstep so weary from fighting that it refuses to even consider utilizing the massive firepower sitting on its border to force Iran to back down from its nuclear ambitions. It even allowed North Korea to build a nuclear reactor and form a nuclear weapons program in Syria, a nation under the Iranian sphere of influence, after allowing Iraq to build one decades earlier, both destroyed by Israel.

For Israel, whose people have historically endured persecution after persecution and many of whose people specifically endured the torment of the Holocaust when nations that could have fought chose instead to appease, is difficult not to see modern day Neville Chamberlains trying to bargain by giving up modern Sudetenlands, one of which is the 1967 border of the West Bank and the other being Israel's security. I am not calling President Obama, who I believe does support Israel's security, Neville Chamberlain. Rather, I am calling almost all of the leaders of the Western World, Neville Chamberlains. In virtually every discussion of every conflict, leaders around the world from America to Britain, from France to Canada, from Australia to Germany, speak of concessions and appeasement.

Radical extremism, particularly in the Muslim world, but far from solely therein, is being confronted by nations who believe that intolerance should be tolerated as an alternative world-view, that advocacy for freedom, capitalism, and democratic principles are sins of arrogance for which the West should apologize, that the dramatic oppression of women and the persecution of religious minorities are allowable and even valued cultural differences and that the foreign policies of all of those nations in the West should primarily involve making those who wish to destroy them and undermine everything for which they stand happy. This seems most often to be accomplished by abandoning of principles in exchange for easily broken promises. We dangle carrots, rewarding our enemies, giving them confidence to seek more and bigger carrots. "If they are willing to give us that, why not also...?" The opponents of freedom simply up the ante and we repeatedly give in. Freedom is losing around the world to totalitarian and rogue regimes, even to pirates, because we refuse to say "No, or else" and mean "OR ELSE!!!" What ever happened to "This far, no farther?"

This attitude is stifling moderate populations all over the world as they watch radicals make demands and see them granted by those who should be demanding the liberty of the moderates. Those who wish to simply live happy and prosperous lives are abandoned to tyrants and tyrannical regimes. We are not propping up dictators through covert arms shipments as in days of old. Instead we are publicly conceding and appeasing them, allowing them to acquire weaponry and to turn it upon their populations. We appease governments spouting anti-Jewish, not only "anti-Zionist" statements, pretending that if only Israel were willing to join the appeasement game, its enemies who wish for it to have nothing left to concede, not even its very existence, will be sated.

I believe much more strongly than David Samuels that there is a legitimately beneficial relationship between Israel and the United States. I have however long believed that the US could become less of a friend and less of an influence. While I do not believe that is necessarily occurring now, it has clearly been the case that Israel has courted other allies including India, China, and recently Russia. The sale just this past week of Israeli drone aircraft to Russia, the first ever military deal between the two nations, is a strong sign of changing relationships.

Right now, Israel, not the US, is preventing Iran from acquiring the Russian missile defense system. Israel, not the US, has taken out the only nuclear reactors operating outside its borders in the entire Arab world. Only Israel, not the US, is threatening military action against Iran. Only Israel gives Iran even a moment's pause. The US is seen as war weary and unwilling to fight and Europe even more so.

Diplomacy without the real threat that it could end, and that grave consequences would follow, will never work. The phrase is "Speak softly and carry a big stick." Speaking softly without any stick gets you beaten up by the guy with a stick. That is what is happening all over the world today.

The liberty and prosperity of hundreds of millions of people around the world depend upon our willingness to stand up for those things in which we believe. If only when threats come to our borders will we react, we can be assured that threats will come to our borders.

This is not about Israel's role as the dominant ally of the US or the primary focus of our attention in the region. It is fundamentally about the future of freedom and security in our world.


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