Foreign Affairs

Is U.S. Just a Piece in Middle East Chess Game?

Lest it is assumed that all conservatives accept with knee-jerk unquestioning Israel’s current offensive in response to Hezbollah’s July 12 aggression—not counting Pat No, This is Not "Our War" Buchanan—let me say: I also have burning questions and grave concerns.

The late Pope John Paul II’s emphasis on upholding human dignity—whether it means protecting human embryos, babies in the womb, innocent civilians in Lebanon and Israel, or, indeed, Israel’s right to exist—informs my mind and moves my heart.

What is referred to as “the principle of double effect” lessens the gravity of actions that would otherwise be deemed evil. For instance, if a pregnant woman has cancer and if, in the process of treating the cancer, her baby is lost, that loss can be justified. But, if the best judgment is, the cancer will not be cured with treatment, oftentimes the mother-to-be will simply opt for giving birth, lest both lives be lost.

In the Middle East, it looks an awful lot like we are in the process of witnessing the lives of two countries on the verge of being lost—when it is all so unnecessary. For, it is the just peace Pope Benedict asked the world to pray for—not mutually destructive warfare—which will provide the lasting solution to this crisis.

But, Israel ploughs ahead asserting that the greater good—the elimination of the militant Hezbollah—justifies trampling thousands of innocent civilians. Currently, more than 17% of Lebanon’s population has been displaced and hundreds of Lebanese, including women and children, have been killed, all the while the world looks on in horror at the unfolding humanitarian crisis.

Terry Waite, whom Hezbollah held in captivity for five years, doubts Israel’s gambit will succeed. (Ironically, the French word gambit derives from "gambetta"—Italian for “setting a trap.” Giovanni Gambetto was the first chess player to use such subterfuge by sacrificing a piece—usually a pawn, sometimes a Bishop or Knight—to achieve a better position, perhaps merely time.)

Knowing the historical pattern, it is Waite’s best judgment that Israel is only digging a deeper hole for itself and its whole Mideast neighborhood—that this current offensive will only serve as a rallying cry for the next generation of militants. The current Hezbollah leader, Hassan Nasrallah, he said, was inspired by Israel’s 1982 bombing of Beirut.

Which begs the question: Is Hezbollah’s primary motivation senseless hatred of Israelis, or can we at least allow ourselves to contemplate injustices triggering Hezbollah’s unlawful, militant behavior—without being considered symphathizers?

Waite asserts injustices exist all around. Israelis have suffered years of brutal terrorist attacks by those who want them gone. On the Arab side, the Gaza strip, recently described to me as a “concentration camp” by someone who has visited there often, seems an egregious injustice. If, indeed, conditions in Gaza are that bad why do we not pressure Israel, as Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora has pleaded for, to remove these very conditions that fuel Hezbollah, thus easing the pressure on his own government, which the United States has said it wants to strengthen?

Newsweek’s Fareed Zakaria asserting Israel’s right to defend itself—currently being played out, in Siniora’s words, by tearing Lebanon into “shreds”—asks, but is Israel’s response “smart?” Must they really use a sledgehammer?

And, why should America continually subordinate its interests to the Israeli state’s short-term goals and methods? When the two coincide—beautiful; when not, shouldn’t we act in our own best interest, as opposed to facilitating the strategy Israel believes is in its own best interest, which, ironically, may not in fact be the case?

Which leads me to ask—why don’t we provide better guidance to Israel? If I were Israeli, I would want to fight too. It’s only natural. That is why diplomacy, where cooler heads seek wiser paths is so critical—because a passionate desire for something is not always in one’s own best interest. As the saying goes, be careful what you pray for—you may get it! Israelis may have prayed for this chance to destroy Hezbollah, but the results may not be what they, nor the United States, bargained for. For, if we’re not careful, we may find we are just a piece sacrificed in the larger global chess game.


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