Images of Hamas’s artillery rockets being intercepted by Israel’s “Iron Dome” missile defense system naturally lead Americans to wonder why, if missiles were fired at our homes, we wouldn’t go to the trouble of stopping them in mid-flight as the Israelis do. The answer is that our bipartisan ruling class decided half a century ago that even trying to protect America against all but token missile attacks would be a hostile act toward Russia and China.
As Hamas empties its current stock of artillery rockets (some 10,000) from Gaza onto Tel Aviv and southern Israel while its allies in Lebanon launch similar projectiles into Galilee, and as half of Israel’s population rushes in and out of shelters, no one can forget that the Arab world (minus Egypt and Jordan) is at war with Israel in fact as well as formally. Nor does the Arab world leave doubt about its war aim: to destroy the Jewish state. But as the Israeli air force strikes gradually at the rockets’ launch sites and storage areas and picks away at some of Hamas’ mid-level leaders, as some 40,000 army reservists prepare for a possible invasion of Gaza, the aims of Israel’s military operations are by no means clear. It is clear, however that these operations do not amount to war. That is because, obviously, they do not aim at winning peace for Israel.
The U.S. government, along with mainstream commentators Left and Right, debate how to meet what they deem to be the growing threat to America posed by the Sunni fighters who last month declared themselves to be “the Islamic State” and their leader, one Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, as the caliph—secular and religious leader—of all Muslims. This reaction mirrors the group’s ignorant evaluation of its own importance. In fact, jumping the gun on the caliphate is likely to diminish its standing within the Muslim world, never mind vis a vis the West.
The Republican establishment, as it works with Democrats to overcome challenges from GOP and independent voters dissatisfied with the course of events in America, confirms that it is part of the ruling class responsible for those events, and that it intends to push America further along that course. By its campaign for Senator Thad Cochran in Mississippi’s senatorial primary, the GOP establishment removed all doubt about this.
Important as it is to keep in mind that sectarian socio-religious hate is what drives the vast bulk of the people engaged in today’s Muslim-world war, understanding that war requires taking into account those who provide the contending forces’ military organization. On all sides, this has less to do with religion than with secular considerations, including by highly placed atheists, of how to promote their own power.
Sunni fighters from around the Muslim world, having failed to conquer all of Syria from the Assad regime’s Alewites (a branch of Shia Islam) have been pushed eastward into majority-Sunni areas. These extend from east-central Syria into north-central Iraq. A wholly artificial border divides them. In recent days, they have established control over Sunni-majority areas of Iraq, from Fallujah and Mosul to the edges of Tikrit and Samarra. Our foreign policy establishment’s illusion that world events are principally about the United States, and its reflexive commitment to existing international borders, has led it to misunderstand that the region’s wars have been about re-drawing the unnatural borders imposed by the Wilsonians who subdivided the Ottoman Empire in 1919.
Our establishment, having neither ideas nor means for stopping this re-drawing, has reacted by hand-wringing (e.g. “the fall of Mosul” WSJ 6/11). Herewith, some suggestions for understanding these events’ implications for U.S. interests.
As Vladimir Putin was taking over Crimea, I noted in this column that his strategy – using Russian special forces masquerading as and mixed with local sympathizers to take over key institutions, threatening full-scale war by asserting the Ukrainian government’s illegitimacy while massing troops on the border – depended for its success on his opponents fearing to confront him. Only after both the Ukrainians and the West put up no resistance did regular troops march in.
West Point’s graduating cadets were patriotic props for President Obama’s “major speech” on foreign policy. Heavy advertisement of the speech, pre and post, tells us that others were his intended audience. The speech was a defense of his conduct of foreign policy against critics whom he did not name but characterized gratuitously, together with a promise to double down on that conduct in the future.
So it really wasn’t directed at foreign friends or foes. It was an act of domestic politics, and of “major” importance, because Obama’s decisions had been criticized unusually heavily in these election-campaign months—including by persons who normally pay little attention to foreign affairs. His audience was really the loyal media whose tolerance he may have exceeded, and even some of his political base.
President Obama announced a few days ago that he will release some parts of the secret memorandum by which the U.S. government authorizes itself to kill whichever U.S. citizens it deems terrorist enemies. He did so to give political cover to Senate Democrats disinclined to approve an appellate judgeship for David J. Barron, who authored that memo for the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel. The document is a refined version of that by which the government authorized itself to kill U.S. citizen Anwar Al-Awlaki three years ago (which the New York Times summarized here.)
The abandonment of the State Department-CIA mission in Benghazi that came under attack on September 11, 2012 marked the failure of the Obama administration’s foreign policy toward the Muslim world. That American generals and admirals raised no protest to the decision not to go to the American contingent’s defense dishonored our military and undercut its sense of duty, responsibility, and self-respect. The discredit brought upon the United States by foolish, dishonest foreign policies is dangerous and hard enough to live down. But history teaches that militaries whose moral qualities have been undermined court disaster, and that restoring those qualities is very hard.