Thursday, August 03, 2006

Ignatius' Wrong Lessons

A lot of friends and family have been asking me what I think about the situation in Israel. To be honest, I've discovered it is a little difficult to follow what is transpiring in one war when you are smack dab in the middle of another one, so I'm not as up to speed on the Israel/Hezbollah conflict as I'd like to be.

However, I did happen to catch David Ignatius's column
in yesterday's Washington Post. Although I don't always agree with Ignatius, I have respect for him as a generally non-partisan centrist on foreign affairs, which is rare in a universe of overly partisan pundits. However, yesterday's column was misguided to the point of almost being naive.

Specifically, Ignatius writes:

The strategy of Israel's (and America's) enemies today is to lure the military superpower into a protracted conflict. To accept the bait, as the Israelis did in assaulting Lebanon and as America did in Iraq, is to risk stepping into a trap. As Lawrence Wright says in his new book, "The Looming Tower," the master of this approach is Osama bin Laden: "His strategy was to continually attack until the U.S. forces invaded; then the mujahadeen would swarm upon them and bleed them until the entire American empire fell from its wounds."

This may or may not be true, but is certainly an idea worth considering. However, Ignatius draws what I think is a wholly untenable conclusion from the assertion above:

The Israeli and American resolve in this grim summer of war should be: No more falling into traps. In the age of missiles, there's limited value in a "security fence" or "security buffer." The evidence grows that you can't achieve real security without negotiating with your adversaries, and you can't succeed in such negotiations without offering reasonable concessions.

Whoa, wait a second! I agree that "falling into traps" is bad. But who is to say that Al Qaeda and Hezbollah haven't badly overstepped by pursuing strategies that invite massive reprisal? In 2001, many commentators argued that we should not invade Afghanistan because this is what Al Qaeda wanted. This hardly means that Al Qaeda is stronger as result. Even if the United States were to precipitously withdraw from Iraq (a huge mistake in my opinion), the "entire American empire" would not fall. Our strategic position would be weakened, and the Iraqi people would suffer terribly, but it would not cause us to go the way of the Soviet Union or the British Empire by any stretch of the imagination.

Similarly, it is unclear what grounds for negotiation Ignatius thinks exist between Israel and Hezbollah, or the United States and Al Qaeda, for that matter. Israel withdrew beyond the internationally recognized border in 2000, after which Hezbollah moved the goal posts and started to claim that Shebaa Farms was a part of Lebanon as well. Yet these concessions did nothing to stop Hezbollah from making cross-border incursions (these were not the first Israeli soldiers kidnapped, or the first rockets launched against Israeli civilians). Hezbollah's declared goal is the destruction of Israel; Israel's declared goal is not to be destroyed -- where does Ignatius see room for compromise between these two objectives?

Similarly, given that Bin Laden has said the only way to end the conflict with the United States is for all the infidels to convert to Islam, what concession does Ignatius see as possibly bringing an end to Islamist jihad? (This also ignores the possibility that there are some conditions under which "peace" creates more suffering than a state of war, but that is a broader question for another time).

Again, Ignatius is often an intelligent voice of balance and reason in the world of overblown Inside-the-Beltway rhetoric. However, by asserting that there is room for compromise between the Western democracies and the Islamofascists who seek to destroy them (and noticeably not providing any examples of possible compromises), he sadly comes off as naive in this column.