Back in January I tentatively planned to visit Iraq during this coming winter. I changed my mind for reasons that ought to be obvious, as I mentioned in this space before. Some parts of that country are the most dangerous places in the world right now, at least for foreigners. For a while there, though, I thought I would be safer in Iraq than I would be in Israel. Iraq wasn’t a quagmire. But Israel/Palestine was.
It’s amazing what a difference a year can make.
Take a look at the cover for this week’s New Republic.
In one of the cover stories Yossi Klein Halevi and Michael B. Oren (author of the indispensable Six Days of War) explain how Israel beat back the intifada. Here’s the short version.
Israel’s triumph over the Palestinian attempt to unravel its society is the result of a systematic assault on terrorism that emerged only fitfully over the past four years. The fence, initially opposed by the army and the government, has thwarted terrorist infiltration in those areas where it has been completed. Border towns like Hadera and Afula, which had experienced some of the worst attacks, have been terror-free since the fence was completed in their areas. Targeted assassinations and constant military forays into Palestinian neighborhoods have decimated the terrorists’ leadership, and roadblocks have intercepted hundreds of bombs, some concealed in ambulances, children’s backpacks, and, most recently, a baby carriage.
At every phase of Israel’s counteroffensive, skeptics have worried that attempts to suppress terrorism would only encourage more of it. [Emphasis added.]
The doom-mongers were wrong. Period. Just as they were wrong when they predicted disaster in Afghanistan. Just as they were wrong when they predicted disaster in Iraq the first time around. Just as they were wrong when they (although it was mostly Republicans this time) predicted disaster in Kosovo.
Those who keep insisting we or one of our democratic allies will actually lose a war have been wrong for a third of a century now. I am thirty four years old. The last time the doom-mongers were right I was three. They have been consistently wrong throughout my entire living memory. (Am I forgetting something? Have we lost a war since Vietnam?)
It’s always the same refrain. Only the details are different.
That doesn’t mean they are necessarily wrong about Iraq. Iraq could turn into an actual quagmire. It does happen sometimes. And they aren’t crazy to look at Iraq now and thinks is a mess. It is a mess, and it’s a bad one. I’m not in denial about it. I planned to visit, then I changed my mind, so I am well aware that the country has deteriorated.
My point here is that the pessimists among us were guaranteed to declare regime-change in Iraq counterproductive and/or a quagmire no matter what actually happened short of an instantaneous transformation of Mesopotamia into Belize.
It wasn’t at all long ago that I barred myself from visiting Israel. I didn’t expect to get killed if I went there. I would almost certainly have been fine. But I didn’t want to sit in a coffeeshop clicking away on my laptop and be consumed with worry about whether or not I was sitting at the “safe” table. I would visit today and hardly worry at all. If all goes well I’ll be in Libya over Thanksgiving, and that doesn’t scare me in the slightest. (Though it does worry my mother a bit.)
I hope the pessimists are wrong about Iraq, and I also hope they hope they’re wrong. The reason I’m pointing out their track record isn’t to say the optimists are right. No one yet knows. (If you’re certain you do know, can I borrow your crystal ball? Pretty please?) Nor am I saying we should do exactly what Israel did. We couldn’t even if we wanted to. We can’t wall off Baghdad.
I understand why people look at Iraq today and are overcome with a sinking feeling. It happens to me sometimes too. It’s so easy, especially if you opposed the invasion of Iraq in the first place, to look at the horrible things that happen and think they represent the whole story or are part of a trend that goes only one way. But remember Israel. They had a horrific spike in terrorism awfully recently. You could have predicted that trend would keep rising indefinitely. And yet it did not. The reason it didn’t is because Israelis fumbled around until they found a strategy that actually worked. Then they implemented it. Now the intifada is over.
A few days ago I linked to Victor Davis Hanson who started off his essay by quoting Georges Clemenceau:
War is a series of catastrophes that results in victory.
Indeed. It isn’t always this way. Sometimes, albeit rarely, we do lose wars. We lost in Vietnam, after all. But we almost always win. And when we do it is first by enduring a gut-wrenching series of catastrophes.
It isn’t all going to be rainbows and sunshine, though, no matter what happens. Israel’s victory came at tremendous cost. And I don’t just mean the lives lost on both sides in the fighting. Orem and Halevi continue:
The price Israel has paid for its victory has been sobering. Arafat may be a pariah, but Israel is becoming one, too. Increasingly, the legitimacy of Jewish sovereignty is under attack. Former French Prime Minister Michel Rocard, for example, has called Israel’s creation a “mistake.” In Europe, an implicit “red-green-black” coalition of radical leftists, Islamists, and old-fashioned fascists has revived violent anti-Semitism. Along with the desecration of Jewish cemeteries by neo-Nazis and the assaults on Jews by Arab youth, some European left-wingers now sense a sympathetic climate in which to publicly indulge their anti-Semitism. In a recent interview with the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, Greek composer and left-wing activist Mikis Theodorakis denounced “the Jews” for their dominance of banks, U.S. foreign policy, and even the world’s leading orchestras, adding that the Jews were “at the root of evil.” In the Arab world, a culture of denial that repudiates the most basic facts of Jewish history–from the existence of the Jerusalem Temple to the existence of the gas chambers–has become mainstream in intellectual discourse and the media. Government TV stations in Egypt and Syria have produced dramatizations based on The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Boycotts of Israel are multiplying: The nonaligned states recently voted to bar “settlers”–including Israelis who live in Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem–from their borders. Among young Israelis across the political spectrum, there’s growing doubt about the country’s future and widespread talk of emigration.
Just in case you don’t know what the authors are driving at, here’s the next sentence.
In its victories and its defeats, Israel is a test case of what happens to a democracy forced to confront nonstop terrorism.
Israel’s present may be our future. Best get used to it now.