Where do we go from here?

Something important has happened in the Middle East: a terrorist organization, wholly unrepentant in its aims and bloody methods, has been elected as a government in a free election. Hamas has vowed to continue, turning its armed wing into a national army and, in effect, turning its campaign of mayhem into a formal war.

  1. The Palestinians are going to suffer badly because of this. I know why they elected Hamas; their previous government was corrupt and ineffective, and the persistent power of terrorist organizations and unwillingness to make concessions1 guaranteed that the daily life of Palestinians would get worse, not better. But by electing a terrorist group to power, they have further guaranteed that even the Europeans will be reluctant to support them; that their financial support from all regimes that don’t specialize in funding terror groups already (Syria, Iran, etc.) will dry up; and that nobody will take them as a serious partner in any negotiations for anything, not just peace. And worse, by turning a terror campaign into a formal war, they raise the possibility of incurring real military action against them. If they thought that simple occupation was bad, they’ve forgotten that there are worse possibilitiees.
  2. One surprising thing I’ve heard from several Israelis in the past few days is that this victory is a good thing, because it will dispense with a sham peace process. These aren’t hard-core right-wingers; they’re centrists, some with significant leftward leanings. But there’s a sense that the peace process under Arafat was simply a fraud, that Abbas has never had enough power to even make it clear if he was going to work for it in good faith, and so the Israelis were reduced to acting unilaterally but hesitantly. Now, with Hamas in power and openly opposed to any peace short of the slaughter or enslavement of all Israelis, there really isn’t any need to pretend; unilateral actions can go forward without anyone feeling so bad about it. Add that to the “Palestinians are going to suffer for this” category.
  3. Possibly most interestingly for the future: A hard-core Islamist regime has just been elected. This is a big signal that’s going to go out to movements like this throughout the Arab world, and to governments as well. It almost guarantees that if there are open elections at some point in, say, Egypt or Saudi, the terrorist organizations are going to mobilize at full force to get as much political control as they can, and they’re then going to use it to turn their bloodthirst into official policy. When that happens, there is going to be a war in the Middle East; and I, for one, am going to have no objection to the use of more or less arbitrary amounts of military force to end it.

    What does that mean in practice? Well, given that the U.S. is stuck in Iraq for the time being, we may as well use that to our advantage; because when this war starts, even if it’s still a few years down the road, we and Israel are going to be on one side of it, Europe will probably be on the same side as us (with some coming along quickly and some less so — hopefully by then the French will have realized that an Islamist empire is not going to be their friend, no matter how much they appease it) and a large number of countries with weak militaries but large surplus populations, grim desperation, and little to no regard for any traditional rules of war is going to be on the other side. China may not enter into it directly, but you can bank on them gently encouraging any side that causes trouble for the U.S. We need to be thinking carefully of how to transform our positions in that area, and our alliances in that area, into a position for swift military victory in a large-scale war.

    And that’s going to require a real head-turning moment inside the U.S. Expect the Republicans to crow about the “foresight” of putting American forces in the Middle East long before the war started; this is nonsense, since foresight implies that something was done intentionally instead of as the one saving outcome of an idiotic policy, and so the rest of the country shouldn’t take that as a reason to surrender their politics.2 But the Left is going to have to realize that its dream that, if we just treat the rest of the world better, they will like us, is completely and utterly false; no matter what you do, a large country is going to have enemies, and when that large country is the symbol for a successful world structure that’s even larger than it is, it’s going to have mortal enemies. This coming war may well be a real one; the sort that requires sacrifice at home, not just among the working-class families whose sons and daughters are out there, but among everyone. And it’s going to require determination and courage to win, and it won’t be an easy one. I just hope that our country doesn’t lose its idealism in the process; that it doesn’t turn itself into a dictatorship, or concede the notion that there is something of fundamental value in democracy and a secular society, in the face of fundamentalism.

1 Yes, I know, the Israelis haven’t been making huge numbers of concessions either. But I’ve had enough with trying to “see both sides” for a while; the fact is that the concession that the Palestinians have refused to make is to stop trying to murder people in the streets, while the concession that the Israelis have refused to make is to stop the Draconian security measures designed to prevent them from doing so. So long as the Palestinians continued to have their goal essentially to push Israel into the sea and kill as many people as possible in the process — and even if this wasn’t the goal of the average Palestinian in the street, it was the stated goal of their various armed movements and those movements had strong enough popular support to thrive — there was never a real chance for anything, their situation especially, to improve, because nobody in Israel had confidence that if given a better life, they wouldn’t respond to it simply with an orgy of murder. It can be said that violence thrives because of unjust conditions; but both sides had a hand in creating the conditions, yet only one side made a serious overture for peace.

2 Not that I expect the Democrats to show that much sense; they’ve shown that they’re quite good at looking like fools whenever the Republicans accuse them of anything.

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Published in: on January 28, 2006 at 17:05  Comments (8)  
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8 Comments

  1. You’re making some strong statements here. I hope you’re mistaken, and this isn’t a threshold event of the kind you say.
    Unfortunately, I have nothing but naive hope, since the only way I see that this isn’t a Bad Thing is the possiblity that the Palistinian government is so ineffectual that the formation of an army equates to handing out new shirts and shoulder patches to existing Hamas members.

  2. You’re making some strong statements here. I hope you’re mistaken, and this isn’t a threshold event of the kind you say.
    Unfortunately, I have nothing but naive hope, since the only way I see that this isn’t a Bad Thing is the possiblity that the Palistinian government is so ineffectual that the formation of an army equates to handing out new shirts and shoulder patches to existing Hamas members.

  3. What about the notion that, at least in the short run, the Palestinians will expand their energy fighting each other instead of attacking Israel? Even if they don’t escalate to civil war, Hamas may have a hard time consolidating its power.
    And speaking from a great distance, I tend to agree with point 2- that the peace process was a sham. It was often driven more by US politics than the situation on the ground, and was predicated on a flawed assumption that people would prefer peace to achieving their deeply-held goals. The only really effective movement so far has been unilateral.

  4. What about the notion that, at least in the short run, the Palestinians will expand their energy fighting each other instead of attacking Israel? Even if they don’t escalate to civil war, Hamas may have a hard time consolidating its power.
    And speaking from a great distance, I tend to agree with point 2- that the peace process was a sham. It was often driven more by US politics than the situation on the ground, and was predicated on a flawed assumption that people would prefer peace to achieving their deeply-held goals. The only really effective movement so far has been unilateral.

  5. So Hamas had a large investment in infrastructure in the region, like building hospitals and schools and things. And this played a large part in giving them the popular support they needed. But to what extent do other islamist terrorist groups in other countries such as Egypt or Saudi Arabia have this sort of infrastructure built? How important do you think this is? What other ways besides this do you see that they could (with reasonable probability) sway the vote?
    I talked to some other people and they did not believe this proliferation-of-terrorist-regimes situation was too likely, and cited this infrastructure as a big reason Hamas won. So I am wondering how you see this happening in other countries. It seems like you spoke with a lot of conviction, so maybe you could convince me more.

  6. So Hamas had a large investment in infrastructure in the region, like building hospitals and schools and things. And this played a large part in giving them the popular support they needed. But to what extent do other islamist terrorist groups in other countries such as Egypt or Saudi Arabia have this sort of infrastructure built? How important do you think this is? What other ways besides this do you see that they could (with reasonable probability) sway the vote?
    I talked to some other people and they did not believe this proliferation-of-terrorist-regimes situation was too likely, and cited this infrastructure as a big reason Hamas won. So I am wondering how you see this happening in other countries. It seems like you spoke with a lot of conviction, so maybe you could convince me more.

  7. I agree that Hamas had an easier road to tread than the others. In the case of the Muslim Brotherhood, my concern is that they can win an election by default; the existing governments have fairly thoroughly eliminated anyone else that has the capability of being a leader, but they never effectively penetrated into the religious groups. If there were an election where the status quo didn’t have a firm lock on the situation, this could make an Islamist candidate seem much more attractive. Additionally, they have a well-organized infrastructure for their day-to-day operations; again, this is something that most potential opposition parties would lack.

  8. I agree that Hamas had an easier road to tread than the others. In the case of the Muslim Brotherhood, my concern is that they can win an election by default; the existing governments have fairly thoroughly eliminated anyone else that has the capability of being a leader, but they never effectively penetrated into the religious groups. If there were an election where the status quo didn’t have a firm lock on the situation, this could make an Islamist candidate seem much more attractive. Additionally, they have a well-organized infrastructure for their day-to-day operations; again, this is something that most potential opposition parties would lack.


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