We are beginning to see the national debate about what to do in the Middle East shape up into fairly specific sides. I call them the “Do it now” crowd and the “Do it later” crowd.
One can cite history to support either side. The “Do it now” crowd these days are called “neoconservatives” and they are led by people like Bill Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard, a respected forum that makes ordinary Republicans look like wimps. Arguing for “Do it later” is George Wills, a respected conservative Washington Post columnist.
It should be noted that there is also a “Let’s not do anything” or a “Let’s run away” crowd who are called liberals and/or Democrats.
Maybe it’s just a trick of my imagination, but I seem to recall Americans of all descriptions just loving those images on television after 9-11 of the U.S. bombing the hell out of Afghanistan’s Tora Bora region where Osama bin Laden was said to be hiding or, better still, driving our tanks into downtown Baghdad. Later we found Saddam Hussein hiding in a hole in the ground.
Perhaps the most powerful argument for “Doing it now” is the fact that it’s been five years since 9/11 and the U.S. has not experienced another comparable attack. Keeping al Qaeda on the run, killing its leaders, and playing havoc with its funding was, in retrospect, probably a good idea.
Now the images on television are of war in Israel and Lebanon. Israel has been the subject of attacks since the day it declared its independence in 1948. It took awhile for the message to sink in, but its neighbors eventually figured out that massing armies on its borders was a very bad idea. They switched to a low-level war involving suicide bombers and rockets. Imagine how long we would patiently deal with Canada if it was rocketing our cities and towns across that border?
The “Do it now” crowd is now rooting for Israel to get rid of Hezbollah in Lebanon; mostly Palestinians who took up residence there after previously losing encounters with Israel and Jordan. First thing they did, of course, was to lay waste to Lebanon with a fifteen-year civil war pitting Muslims against Christians. Having no idea what peace is, other than the total destruction of Israel, Palestinians and other Arabs are once again learning what a bad idea it is to provoke yeshiva boys.
In Gaza, Hamas—another group of unhappy Palestinians—is also getting shot up by the Israelis. The Israeli’s “Do it now” crowd has concluded that waiting around for peace with Palestinians is a bad idea and a higher level of payback may prove palliative.
All of which brings us to our “Do it later” crowd who advise that waiting is just as good an idea, particularly as regards Iran who everyone knows is developing its own nuclear weapons capability. By way of a reminder, it was Iranians who in 1979 invaded the U.S. embassy in Tehran, seized our diplomats, and held them hostage for 444 days. It can be argued that most Iranians are being held hostage, but the funding and arming of Hezbollah comes from Iran.
The “Do it later” crowd always proudly points to how we patiently waited for the former Soviet Union to implode. The problem with that argument is that we also engaged in several proxy wars with them. Owing to Red China’s intervention, the best the U.S. could achieve was a stalemate in Korea and now we are stuck with a loony dictator in the north who has missiles and nukes.
Then there was that nastiness in Vietnam. Despite that loss the U.S. stayed busy sending troops to various places for the purpose of peacekeeping or swatting bad guys in Grenada, Panama, and Haiti. In 1983 Hezbollah blew up several hundred U.S. Marines who were in Beirut on a peacekeeping mission.
After the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, we funded and equipped Muslim holy warriors to drive out the Russians, thus helping to bring about the downfall of the Soviet Union. The Muslims, however, became al Qaeda and showed their gratitude by destroying the World Trade Center, flying a commercial jet into the Pentagon, and killing some 3,000 Americans.
The problem with waiting for Iran to become a nuclear power is that the leaders of Iran keep saying crazy things and promising to do crazy things. Even Arabs, no slouches when it comes to crazy, think the Persian, albeit Muslim, Iranians are really crazy.
So, while the warnings and recommendations of the “Do it later” crowd sound like a good idea, they rarely are. History is filled with examples of why “Do it now” is a better idea because failure to respond to Big Trouble almost always results in Even Bigger Trouble.
Every generation of Americans has had to learn this lesson. The nation has always been sharply divided over questions of war. This is what we pay Presidents to decide. After 9-11, we wanted the President to punish al Qaeda and, somewhat reluctantly, we agreed to his getting rid of a murderous despot in Iraq. Then we wanted that war to be over in two weeks.
History is rarely so accommodating. Wars tend to be very messy and this is especially true of the years after victory is declared. Militarily, we are still in Europe since the end of World War II in 1945. We are still in South Korea since 1953.
War is transformative and, even the most cursory look back at the past half-century or so reveals that the U.S. has benefited itself and much of the world by opposing evil. Wherever the forces of evil may be and whomever they might call themselves, we still need to be able to “Do it now” because power-crazed lunatics will always find an excuse to make trouble.
As we debate whether to “Do it now” or “Do it later” regarding the Iranian mullahs, perhaps we should recall British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain who, after negotiating with Adolph Hitler, returned home to proclaim “peace in our time.”
Alan Caruba writes a weekly column, “Warning Signs”, posted on the Internet site of The National Anxiety Center, www.anxietycenter.com. In September, Merril Press will publish his new collection of commentaries, “Right Answers.”