The New War

In evaluating the problem between Israel and Hezbollah, I find myself viewthe struggle less in normative sense and more from the realist perspective. This comes as I see increasingly impossible the probability of achieving a sustainable peace in the Middle East without radical restructuring in the region. The Islamic fanatics are firmly entrenched with the stated goal of spreading fundamentalist Islamic government throughout the world. I believe we are seeing the emergence of the latest conflict structure in the lineage that includes in the past century the Cold War, which composed the latter half of the 1900s; and the two world wars, which composed a goodly portion of the first half of the century.

Going back the more distant conflict, the World Wars, we see the roots of the struggle begin the late 1800s and truly pick up steam at the turn of the century as in Europe new power structures began to challenge the status quo. Chief among these new power structures was Germany under the Kaiser. Germany’s ambition and its military might made peace within Europe increasingly difficult to maintain, and eventually the First World War erupted. Amid great spillage of blood, the alliance of Britain, France, and the US eventually trumped the mighty Germans. But the extreme marginalisation of Germany at the end of hostilities, coupled with other prejuidices that had yet to be resolved by the war’s end, planted the seeds for revisiting the issue in the near future. Indeed, the Germans again rose to power in Europe under Hitler’s fanatically racist Nazi party, whose goal was the extermination of Jews and other races deemed inferior to the Aryan nation. Germany again was eventually unable to contain its ambitions and brought a war of conquest upon Europe. This time, though, another conflict arose simultaneously almost a hemisphere away. Japan rose to military might under an imperialistic regime that held the fanatical support of the populace for the Emperor. So in the end the Allies–The US, Britain, France, and now Russia–were able to overwhelm the radical, imperialistic regimes of Europe and Asia as they did in World War I, and again with the shedding of very much blood. The key storylines here were fanatic regimes with imperialistic aspirations being beaten by what for the most part were what we call free nations.

After the World Wars were settled, another type of fanaticism arose, this time in the form of a politcal religion called communism. Unlike the Germans and Japanese, however, the communists, at least the largest and most dangerous contingent thereof, had nuclear weapons. These were based on Russia and its satellite nations in eastern Europe. Not only were the communists a major threat to the world with their impressive nuclear arsenal, they worked diligently to expand their influence throughout the world, on every continent perhaps save Antarctica. And these communists were absolutely brutal in repressing dissent. The USSR appears to have killed about 61 million during its existence–43 million appear to have been the work Joseph Stalin alone. The US utlised a variety of strategies in the drive to remove the threat. In the meantime, the two nations scuffled through proxy nations, most notably Vietnam. Containment reigned as the supreme doctrine until President Reagan determined to confront communism. In the end, the USSR went broke and fell apart in the early 1990s. The key to victory in the Cold War was the construction of an extermely robust military deterrent, something that did not drain the US economy as it did the Russian economy. The US kept pressure on the Soviets in South America and in some cases drove them out, all while building an immense military complex. The Soviets in the end ran their economy into the ground attmepting to stay on par with the US military.

Now, we face a new international conflict between fanatical Islam and the Western world. It is similar to the previous two structures in that a fanatical regime seeks to spread its control throughout the world. But in each conflict structure are differences. In this case, while we do have the fanatical imperialists we expect to see, we in addition have to deal with the fact that the protagonists here act outside the normal confines of state warfare. They justify their goal on idealism and religion, as did those before them; but they act in large part as transnational terrorist groups rather than as a traditional military. Worse still, they play by a different set of rules that makes conventional military engagement in large part a maddening exercise in futility. Terrorism, its chief vehicle of warfare, directly targets civilians rather than actual opposition military in many cases. It also shrewdly uses public relations to impact the public opinion battle.

This is the new battle we face. Again I must emphasize I am addressing this from a realist perspective, leaving emotion out of it. I am ignoring in this treatment the questions and prejuidices that give rise to “one man’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter” discussions. I think it difficult, though, regardless of one’s background, to condone the movement’s self-avowed goal of defeating Western civilization and implementing in its place the rule of Islamic extremism. The Islam isn’t the problem here; fundamentalism is. The hope is that it will take much less than the approximately 50 it took to bring an end to the Cold War, and that many millions fewer will fall victims of the struggle. In that regard, the tragedies as a result of Islamic fundamentalist-inspired terrorism, terrible as they are, still pale in comparison the heinous crimes perpetrated by history’s butchers like Hitler and Stalin.

In the meantime, futile as it may be, we owe it to humanity to seek with all urgency a end to hostilities in Lebanon and Israel, and to implement aid efforts to Lebanese victims with all due haste. But I think given the intransigence of Islamic fundamentalism, we should view it in terms of a new conflict structure, not some thing that will quietly disappear if the US disengages in Iraq or Israel gives up all prisoners and occupied land. Because even with those concessions, the agenda of the fundamentalists is still far from being fulfilled.