Monday, June 25, 2007

The Mid-East Conflict and associated conflicts: WW IV

June 25, 2007

In order to address the currents in the Middle East faced by America and other Western countries, we first need to understand what they are: Iraq, Lebanon, and the Palestinian Arab territories, to name a few, are not local skirmishes, but part of a larger phenomenon.

Some Americans and Western Europeans hope to sit out this World War IV (if you count the Cold War as III). In reality, they are all involved. Yesterday, even the United Nations realized that remaining neutral while a menace is growing under its nose may not forever be the safest choice.

The United Nations declined to instruct its interim force in Lebanon to aggressively enforce the Security Council rule against weapons in its jurisdiction, ignoring Anton Chekhov's famous advice for dramatists: "If in the first act you have hung a pistol on the wall, then in the following one, it should be fired."

After first letting Hezbollah and Palestinian Arab factions arm to the teeth, UNIFIL entered Chekhov's second act yesterday, as two Spanish and three Colombian UNIFIL troops were killed, apparently by a car bomb, near Khyam, the heart of Hezbollah-land.

Egyptian, Jordanian, Israeli, and Western leaders will meet in Sharm Al Sheik today, attempting once more to prop up the Palestinian Arab chief, Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah, and push Hamas aside. Similar international summits have and will be convened to lend a hand to Prime Minister Siniora of Lebanon , and to embolden Prime Minister al-Maliki of Iraq.

President Karzai of Afghanistan faces similar enemies in a non-Arab Islamic country. The transitional federal government in Somalia is but the last Western-backed player in a country where every Muslim cause has found a local warlord to promote it.

These crises pit weak, pro-Western leaders — who espouse democratic principles, more or less, and profess to want to end menacing their neighbors — against much more disciplined, well-armed, and well-financed forces that preach Islamic rule above all else and call for religious wars until victory is achieved over all the infidels.

There are good reasons for the West to worry. It would be bad enough if, say, Lebanon completely crumbles the way Gaza has. A defeat in Iraq, while more serious, would also mark only the early innings. Islamist forces in northern Africa's Arab regions, the Maghreb, are gaining strength and in most cases, only brutal repression stands in the way of their victory.

The biggest blow would be an end to two totalitarian-but-pro-Western regimes in the heart of the Arab world — Saudi Arabia and Egypt . President Mubarak, 79, has ruled for more than a quarter-century, and no one knows what Egypt will be without him. The octogenarian Saudi potentates will not survive forever either.

The West, meanwhile, is looking for oases where deserts are the rule. The attempt to establish Arab democracies may have been a bit hasty. Largely credited to the Greek "polis," the political organization known as democracy was borne out of localized city-states. Arab and other Islamists are successfully promoting the idea of the "ummah," the entire community of believers — the Nation of Islam, if you will.

The most successful Islamist warriors of Iraq, Lebanon, and the Palestinian Arab areas, while at times professing loyalties to localized causes, belong to larger forces centered in Shiite Tehran, remote parts of Sunni Saudi Arabia, and the wild territories of the Afghan-Pakistani border.

Just as the death of Archduke Ferdinand was not merely a Balkan event, Hamas's Gaza victory did not only create a headache for Israel . And as the unilateral evacuation did not produce a peaceful, democratic Gaza, an attempt to strengthen Mr. Abbas, even by uprooting the last Jewish settlement and removing the last soldier from the West Bank (an unlikely eventuality), would hardly ensure that peace-loving democrats would prevail there.

Betting the farm on Middle East democracy may be unwise, but attempting to co-opt the Islamists in the hope of moderating them may be worse. Outsiders have very little effect on currents in the Muslim world. While colonialism and occupation may have contributed to these currents, it is too simplistic to say they were created — and therefore could be undone — by the West.

Under sustained pressure, the Islamists will eventually crumble under their own weight as the Ottomans, the Fascists, and the Soviets did. Until then, this has to be fought as a world war, and a very long one at that.

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