July 16, 2006

On the Brink

Leave aside the more controversial aspects of this column, if you wish. Geov Parrish is indisputably correct about the following:
Given the provenance of the Haifa attack, it's also quite possible -- perhaps even by the time you read this -- that Israel will launch retaliatory attacks on either Syria or Iran itself, or both. Such attacks have been threatened for months. And since Syria and Iran, earlier this year, signed a mutual defense pact, it scarcely matters which one Israel chooses; the resulting escalation will be the same.


An Israeli attack on Iran -- or on Iran's ally, Syria -- will be instantly perceived, in Tehran and throughout the Muslim world, as an attack in which the United States is complicit, even if the U.S. military does not directly participate. Such an attack will place American troops and ships at risk of instant retaliation in Iraq, Afghanistan, the Persian Gulf, and for that matter throughout the Middle East ... No Israeli leader would even contemplate such a strike without a green light from Washington, and no Israeli leader would launch it without notifying Washington first.

Tehran knows this, as does the entire Muslim world. If Israel widens this war, Iran will retaliate, the United States will be at war with Iran, all sides will have one or another "unprovoked" attack they can point to an enemy as having perpetrated, and we will suddenly be in the thick of a war that at minimum involves Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, and Palestine, and abuts the Persian Gulf, the Gulf emirates, and oil-rich Saudi Arabia. The military options for American success are virtually negligible, the scenarios for military disaster are numerous, the economic impact on oil markets alone will be inevitably global and dire, and I haven't even gotten to the fact that Bush might himself launch an attack, or that not only the U.S. but Israel, too, has a full nuclear arsenal. And that beyond Iran's terrorist connections around the world, other terror groups (Al Qaeda, for one) are unlikely to stand idly by while this nightmare unfolds.
As we sleepwalk into catastrophe, I am more and more reminded of the beginnings of World War I -- where, if you take the long view of history, all of what is now unfolding ultimately began. In the first days of The Great War, everyone thought the struggle was a comparatively narrow one, and one their side would win in a fairly brief period of time. Short of pushing the nuclear button once that barbaric invention was available, no one is aware that a worldwide conflagration has begun while it is still in the initial stages. Everyone suffers from the delusion that he can control events, and that only those events he intends will ensue.

History conclusively proves otherwise, and does so in a manner that is indescribably terrifying and drenched with blood. And yet we ferociously refuse to learn the lesson, and catastrophe threatens us once again. As H.D.S. Greenway wrote about The Great War and events of the last few years:
Curiously, before the slaughter in the trenches taught them otherwise, many Europeans in 1914 welcomed the coming apocalypse as a cleansing force for the moral good of nations, a sweeping away of what they thought had become corrupt and decadent.

There was also a strong belief in empire, of the civilizing effects of what Europeans could teach "those lesser breeds without the law," as Rudyard Kipling put it.


Like the German dreamers of 1914, the Bush administration's warriors had little doubt that their Kultur was superior and that all upon whom it was imposed would eventually be grateful. Neither the kaiser's general staff nor Donald Rumsfeld seemed to have any idea that the wars they planned would not be over by Christmas. Imperial Germany had its von Schlieffen plan for the conquest of France drawn up long before hostilities began, and the United States had its Wolfowitz plan for Iraq long before 9/11 presented an opportunity.
Also see: Why It Is Not "Our War"