Since my last posting, I've had a daily e-mail exchange with a friend about the situation in Israel-Lebanon. His opinion is that if Israel would give to the Palestinians 100 percent of the West Bank in addition to Gaza, and a corridor connecting the two, all of this fighting in Israel and Lebanon would be over because the Palestinian people would have what they want, and they would not tolerate the terrorists anymore. Unfortunately, I think this proposed solution misses the bigger picture, and ignores a brutal reality about geopolitics and the future.
Look at a map of the midddle East: http://www.uark.edu/depts/globmark/middeastmap.jpg
A few simple facts: Iran and Syria are supporters of Hezbollah and Hamas. Iran is a Shiite-dominated country. In Iraq, a dominant figure is the Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, an ally of Iran and in solidarity with Hezbollah and Hamas. al-Sadr controls more than 30 seats in the Iraqi parliament and 5 cabinet positions. He is linked to death squads that have acted brazenly to murder Iraqis and Americans since early 2004. The Hezbollah leader, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, is also a Shiite with close ties to Iran and Syria.
Going back to the map, we can see a large arc of territory either controlled by Shiite extremists or with large and growing elements of Shiite extremism - Iran, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. This "group of folks" has clearly stated goals that include bringing their brand of Islam to a place of power in larger and larger portions of the world.
This is very scary to think about. We are in a global power struggle between democratic societies and Islamic theocracy. The focal point this week is the no-holds-barred battle between proxies for the United States and Iran - Israel and Hezbollah. I can't help but think that the U.S. first fell into the trap of invading Iraq, under the very wrong theory of the neocons that we could sweep Saddam out and pour in instant democracy. What we have instead is a no-win situation that gets worse by the day for democratic ideals, and just keeps getting better for the Iran-supported extremists. I also think that Israel walked into a set-up. They, too, are in a no-win situation that is getting worse by the day. No matter what Hezbollah does, they will come out the winners, even if they lose (which I now think is not very likely).
Iraq and Lebanon are the battle fields where radical Islam is writting a different history than any of us in the West imagined. They are showing that the United States and it's proxies are over the hill and in decline. They are winning the public relations war, and growing in strength with every day. We can't beat them with our kind of military and our kind of strategies (see the excellent article in the July 30 NY Times about network warfare, or net war, by Thom Shanker).
It's easy to see the Israel-Hezbollah war as just another chapter in the long Middle East conflict over the plight of the Palestinian people. But reality isn't that simple. The goal of Hezbollah/Iran isn't Palestine replacing Israel; the goal is regional dominance, replacing existing governments in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and other Arab countries with Iranian-type theocracy. Viewed in this way, Israel is suddenly not just in a battle for its life, but a battle for the future of democracy.
Quite frankly, as I've put this together this week, it has scared the shit out of me. I hope the realization of the stakes in Lebanon scare you too, scare you enough to take a look at the bigger picture and not focus on the minute-by-minute pictures of the pain.