Is­lamic deja vu

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary -

Mus­lim peo­ples ex­cel at ex­pelling im­pe­rial pow­ers by ter­ror and guer­rilla war. So wrote Pa­trick J. Buchanan six months be­fore Op­er­a­tion Iraqi Free­dom. “They drove the Brits out of Pales­tine and Aden, the French out of Al­ge­ria, the Rus­sians out of Afghanistan, the Amer­i­cans out of So­ma­lia and Beirut, the Is­raelis out of Le­banon,” he re­minded us.

Lack­ing in­sti­tu­tional me­mory, Congress is bliss­fully un­aware the his­tory now be­ing writ­ten on Capi­tol Hill will add yet an­other chap­ter — “they also drove the Amer­i­cans out of Iraq.” And the sce­nario is eerily rem­i­nis­cent of how Congress en­sured a U.S. de­feat in Viet­nam when law­mak­ers, in their in­fi­nite wis­dom, de­cided to sever any fur­ther mil­i­tary as­sis­tance to our Viet­namese al­lies.

Be­trayed by Congress, the South Viet­namese quickly un­der­stood there was no point in fur­ther re­sis­tance. In Hanoi, Gen. Vo Nguyen Giap had to im­pro­vise a gen­eral of­fen­sive in 1975 to take Saigon, which he reck­oned (in his mem­oirs) was an op­por­tu­nity at least two years away.

Sim­i­larly, Gen. Giap, who once said the U.S. could not be de­feated mil­i­tar­ily, con­ceded the 1968 Tet Of­fen­sive was an un­mit­i­gated dis­as­ter for Hanoi. And he was as­ton­ished to see Wal­ter Cronkite, Amer­ica’s most trusted news­man, had de­clared Tet a de­ci­sive de­feat for the U.S. Most of the Saigonbased press corps fol­lowed “Un­cle Wal­ter’s” lead.

Gen. Giap de­feated the French em­pire — in 1954 at Dien­bi­en­phu. But Amer­ica’s de­feat was on the home front and in the halls of Congress. Hanoi achieved fi­nal vic­tory with a 2,500-year-old blue­print for vic­tory — Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War.” The tem­plate was un­der­min­ing home front morale. In Hanoi in Septem­ber 1972, this re­porter met two French com­mu­nists who bragged about or­ga­niz­ing an­ti­war demon­stra­tions in the United States.

Is­rael’s Martin van Crev­eld, one of the world’s fore­most mil­i­tary his­to­ri­ans, has drawn many par­al­lels be­tween Iraq and Viet­nam. With 17 books on mil­i­tary his­tory and strat­egy, he is re­quired read­ing for U.S. of­fi­cers. He says al­most all coun­tries that have tried to fight sim­i­lar wars since World War II have ended up los­ing.

The mul­ti­party elec­toral sys­tem, says Mr. van Crev­eld, has in­sti­tu­tion­al­ized and con­sol­i­dated Iraq’s eth­nic, sec­tar­ian and tribal di­vi­sions — pre­cisely the sort of thing that should be avoided when at­tempt­ing to de­moc­ra­tize. Free elec­tions and democ­racy are not syn­ony­mous.

“Viet­namiza­tion,” the process whereby U.S. troops handed con­trol to lo­cal forces in South Viet­nam (ARVN), is now un­der way in Iraq. But Mr. van Crev­eld says the chances of that suc­ceed­ing look even bleaker than in Viet­nam. The new Iraqi army is weaker, less skilled, less co­he­sive and less loyal to its gov­ern­ment than ARVN was. Worse still, in Mr. van Crev­eld’s judg­ment, there is no equiv­a­lent of the North Viet­namese regime poised to take over.

Those who ar­gued against the in­va­sion are ap­pre­hen­sive about what might hap­pen once U.S. troops leave. Ter­ror­ists from around the world were at­tracted to Iraq but they didn’t go for the “fly­pa­per.” A few were caught. But Iraq spawned a new gen­er­a­tion of ter­ror­ists who ac­quired the kind of ex­per­tise that can be used in other parts of the world for a long time to come.

Iran is the real vic­tor in Iraq, and the world must now learn to live with a nu­clear Iran, says Mr. van Crev­eld, the way we learned to live with a nu­clear Soviet Union and a nu­clear China. But what about Is­rael — and Ira­nian Pres­i­dent Mah­moud Ah­madine­jad’s threat to wipe it out? “We Is­raelis have what it takes to de­ter an Ira­nian at­tack,” he an­swers in the June 2007 is­sue of Play­boy mag­a­zine. “We are in no dan­ger at all of hav­ing an Ira­nian nu­clear weapon dropped on us. We can­not say so too openly, how­ever, be­cause we have a his­tory of us­ing any threat in or­der to get weapons [. . .] thanks to the Ira­nian threat, we are get­ting weapons from the U.S. and Ger­many.”

“Our armed forces are not the 30th-strong­est in the world, but rather the sec­ond or third,” ac­cord­ing to the Dutch-born Mr. van Crev­eld, a pro­fes­sor at the He­brew Univer­sity in Jerusalem since 1971. “We pos­sess sev­eral hun­dred atomic war­heads and rock­ets that can launch them at tar­gets in all di­rec­tions. Most Euro­pean cap­i­tals are tar­gets of our air force. [. . .] We have the ca­pa­bil­ity to take the world down with us. And I can as­sure you that this will hap­pen be­fore Is­rael goes un­der.”

As for a fu­ture Pales­tinian state emerg­ing from the present chaos in Gaza, Mr. van Crev­eld doesn’t see it. In any event, Is­rael should not at­tempt to fa­cil­i­tate the birth of a still­born, failed or fail­ing state. Some 40,000 Is­raeli set­tlers now on the east side of the phys­i­cal bar­rier should be brought back to live in the pro­tected set­tle­ments on the west side. This would leave some 30,000 Is­raelis in Pales­tinian ter­ri­tory. Next, ev­ery­thing be­tween the bar­rier and the pre-1967 war border should be of­fi­cially an­nexed to Is­rael.

Thus, the Pales­tini­ans would be left to their own de­vices to fight among them­selves — or to make peace and build a coun­try with the eco­nomic as­sis­tance of the Arab oil pro­duc­ers of the Gulf. This could also be a recipe for an­other half-cen­tury of on-again-offa­gain Arab-Is­raeli war­fare.

Ar­naud de Borch­grave is ed­i­tor at large of The Wash­ing­ton Times and of United Press In­ter­na­tional.

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