July 19, 2006
Most people are rightly appalled at the rapid escalation of war in the Middle East region, knowing that it will worsen an already bad situation. But not everyone is dismayed. Some people are actually pleased that this crisis has arisen.
It has to be recalled that it has long been the aim of the neoconservatives in the US to overthrow the governments of Iraq, Iran, and Syria, and replace them with regimes that are friendly to the US. This would give the US unparalleled control of the huge Middle East oil reserves, and strategic and military control of the entire region. For these people, the invasion of Iraq was seen as just phase one in this grand plan, to be rapidly followed by invasions of the other two countries.
Of course, that plan ganged agley in a major way in Iraq, with the Iraqis refusing to follow the script and play their designated role of being grateful for the US overthrow of Saddam Hussein, throwing flowers at the US troops, and then allowing their country to be the staging ground for the attack on Iran. Iran, sandwiched between US forces controlling Iraq and Afghanistan, would supposedly fall like a ripe fruit.
As a result of this delay in advancing their agenda, these people have been chafing, even resorting to criticizing their former hero George W. Bush for delaying and essentially wimping out in the implementation of their grand plan. Neoconservative William Kristol, writing in the The Weekly Standard which he edits, says that as a result of not already taking military action against Syria and Iran "We have been too weak, and have allowed ourselves to be perceived as weak."
Such people see the current conflagration in Gaza and Lebanon as providing a golden opportunity to get their grand scheme back on the fast track by widening the war. Already allegations are being made that Iran and Syria are behind the Hezbollah and Hamas forces and directly instigating them, and it is clear that the groundwork is being laid to justify attacking those countries, just like the fake allegations of Iraqi WMDs and Iraq-al Qaeda links were used to stampede the American public into supporting an ill-conceived, illegal, and immoral attack on Iraq. For these warmongers, creating a sense of crisis and urgency is important because when people get frightened, they don't think clearly and tend to turn towards authoritarian figures to 'save' and 'protect' them. The current state of hostilities in Gaza and Lebanon provides them with those conditions and they are quickly moving to take advantage of it. They know that advocates of negotiations and peace, both in Israel and elsewhere, have started to mobilize, and they want to quickly start these new wars soon before, god forbid, those groups start to have an effect and peace breaks out.
The right response is renewed strength--in supporting the governments of Iraq and Afghanistan, in standing with Israel, and in pursuing regime change in Syria and Iran. For that matter, we might consider countering this act of Iranian aggression with a military strike against Iranian nuclear facilities. Why wait?
The eagerness of these people to go to war is palpable. Of course, the US military is already stretched thin, bogged down in Iraq, limited largely to its bases there, while a civil war takes the lives of numerous civilians. So even a person who supports widening the war might reasonably ask where Bush is going to get the troops to engage in two new battlefronts. After all, even if the US military able to overthrow the governments of Syria and Iran by mostly using aerial bombardment, the most probable outcome are two more protracted insurgency and guerilla wars like the current one in Iraq. In fact, it is likely that the opposition in Iran will be even stronger than that faced in Iraq since the Iranian government is an elected government with considerable popular support, unlike the case of Saddam Hussein in Iraq. The Iranian people have long memories and know that in 1953 the US overthrew its popularly elected government of Dr. Mohammed Mossadegh and replaced him with the deeply hated Shah Reza Pahlavi. They are not likely to welcome a rerun.
Kristol dismisses this possibility with the breezy "Yes, there would be repercussions--and they would be healthy ones, showing a strong America that has rejected further appeasement." And what form might these things that that he coyly refers to as "repercussions" take? He does not elaborate but developments in Iraq mean that we can easily guess. Perhaps another decade of fighting in Syria and Iran? Another hundred thousand civilian deaths and injured in each those countries? Destruction of the economies and infrastructure of two more countries, setting their development back a generation and leading to widespread impoverishment and anger? Tens of thousands more US troops dead and injured? Another trillion dollars used for the purposes of destruction or to enrich the military industry and its civilian hangers-on? But, for Kristol, all that would be worth it because we would be projecting to the world that the US is "strong." Is there no limit to this disastrous macho posturing, especially when it is others who are paying the price, never the speakers? Even George Will finds Kristol to be over the top, describing his comments as "so untethered from reality as to defy caricature." And yet, Kristol and other warmongers are always invited back by the mainstream media to propagate this kind of dangerous nonsense.
The answer to this puzzle of whether the US should expand the war to three fronts when it is already bogged down on the first one is quite simple. Another protracted war against Iran and Syria is not something that can be sustained and would not be the choice of any rational policy maker or military leader. This becomes especially so when the other, forgotten, front in Afghanistan, that supposedly 'successful' war which was supposedly 'won' in 2001, has opened up again with a resurgent Taliban becoming more aggressive and regaining control of territory it had once lost.
What worries me is that the neoconservatives might try to escalate the current crisis in order to drag the US into it despite such an action going against its own interests. One has to suspect that they hope that the use of nuclear weapons would be envisaged as a possible option to provide a quick end, as Seymour Hersh reported in The New Yorker magazine.
As Greenwald says:
The mindless casualness with which such people blithely advocate starting a new war -- like it's no different that deciding what one will eat for dinner tomorrow -- is breathtaking. There is an influential and determined minority out there craving U.S. intervention in this war. They are searching for any means to expand the war in Iraq to additional countries, all as part of our Epic War of Civilizations, and given their past success in inducing the U.S. to invade Iraq, I think it's a mistake to assume that what they are advocating is too extreme and self-evidently disastrous to become a reality.
Stephen Colbert provides a quick compilation of pundits discussing how we are now in World War III. What is remarkable is how casually pleased they seem to be at this state of affairs. Their only point of disagreement seems to be whether we are at number III or IV. The reason they are so eager to hype this 'world war' label is that it frightens people, making them think that we are in apocalyptic conflict in which 'our' side must win or it would be disaster for humanity, when in actuality what we have is a regional conflict for which there can be political solutions. (James Wolcott skewers this overblown rhetoric in his inimitable style. Read his piece to get a laugh from an otherwise grim situation.)
While many people will be appalled at the idea of widening the conflict, there is one other particular group that is positively salivating at the prospect, and deliriously awaiting increased chaos and bloodshed. These are our old friends, those people who believe in the 'rapture' and think that the Armageddon that signals the second coming of Jesus should arrive any day now.
The signs of impending Armageddon are increased turmoil in the world, and so these people are ecstatic at the current turn of events. The Rapture Ready website had a forum titled "Is it time to get excited?" in which the people who posted were almost giddy with anticipation at the thought that the current round of bloodshed in the Middle East was the fulfillment of the rapture prophecy. That particular forum seems to have disappeared, perhaps because of the unwelcome attention it received from people making fun of it, but some of the discussion was captured and can be read here. Here's a sample: "I too am soooo excited!! I get goose bumps, literally, when I watch what's going on in the M.E.!!" The commenter is also pleased that the Boston tunnel collapsed killing a religious woman, and is delighted at the terrifying storms that hit nearby areas. All these events, which others would regard as tragedies, are for rapture lovers good things, because they signal that Jesus is coming. "But, yes. . .it is most indeed a time to be happy and excited."
While it is tempting to dismiss and ignore such people as misguided crackpots, we must not forget that they represent a large fraction of the American people (with some estimates ranging as high as 44%) and provide mass support for the more cynical calculations of the neoconservatives. The neoconservatives and these Christian extremists may make an unlikely couple but they do represent a potent alliance that is a powerful driver for the madness of widening the conflict, and a significant obstacle to finding a peaceful resolution.
The drive for wider war in some quarters seems to have resulted in the complete abandonment of logic, such as can be seen in The New Republic magazine, which was an enthusiastic cheerleader for the invasion of Iraq and now seems to be equally enthusiastic in urging wider war. One does not know whether to laugh or cry at the subheading of an article by Michael B. Oren in the July 17, 2006 online edition that says "To prevent a regional conflagration, Israel should attack Syria" (That subhead has since disappeared but Brad DeLong caught it.)
It seems like we have actually fulfilled Orwell's 1984 prediction of someone seriously saying "War is Peace." The real test will be in seeing how many people believe it.
Next: The seductive illusion of power
POST SCRIPT: First hand account from Beirut
Cleveland Peace Action has published an email from Michael Provence, a Cleveland native who is a historian at UC San Diego and is spending a year at the American University in Beirut. He describes what is currently happening in Beirut, and his efforts to leave with his family. It is an eye-opening first-hand account, giving the kind of details that you are unlikely to find elsewhere.
In the course of his email, he says: "There is some talk that the Embassy may be sending an aircraft carrier from the Red Sea to evacuate us to Cyprus. The email notice they have sent out states that citizens will be required to sign a financial release and apparently pay for the helicopter ride to the ship." (my italics)
Apparently getting people to pay for their rescue is the law, irrespective of the level of danger and even whether the evacuee is alive or dead. The government, so profligate when it comes to spending money waging war on remote threats, and so cavalier about obeying the law in other areas, turns surprisingly frugal and law abiding when it comes to saving the lives of its own citizens from actual and imminent danger.