Someone said a camel is a horse designed by a committee, and as I pointed out nearly three and a half years ago: "If anything was ever designed by a committee, it's Iraq." With no end in sight, America has been fighting there for about as long as we spent in WWII and far longer than in WWI. Like many another colonial fabrication, modern Iraq was born when the English and French drew crude lines on maps to divvy up the spoils of WWI-especially oilfields, railroads, harbors and trade routes following the defeat of the Ottoman Empire. That explains why a single country contains large populations of Sunnis, Shia and Kurds. It's why Kuwait is a separate country-though it was part of a more coherent Iraqi nation for 300 years--and why civil war is breaking out all over. Iraq's parts still don't fit together just right, and that's made it downright ungovernable for most of its ornery history.
The same could be said for much of the Middle East, actually, and one need only turn on the TV to see how far the Bush policy of waging pre-emptive war to "spread democracy" has gone awry. Well over 100,000 people have died since Bush asserted the authority to swagger into the Middle East, based on a gambler's hand that included pro-war cards Bush played with a poker face: Mushroom clouds, aerial drones, aluminum tubes, mobile labs, yellowcake uranium, al-Qaida connections, tons of chemicals, and the following rosy scenarios: Muslims throwing flowers at our feet, flowing oil to pay the bills, democracy sprouting across the Middle East. Little of it turned out to be true, and critics of the war-those once so casually accused of being traitors--have been vindicated, while proponents of the war are in trouble across a broad front. Ask Joe Lieberman, Tom Delay, Ralph Reid, Rush Limbaugh. Look at Bush's ratings in the polls.
Now lay the destruction of Lebanon at his feet. After about a month of bombing and fighting there between Israel and Hezbollah, Bush has made it clear we're in no hurry to stop the violence, and Israel has responded by occupying Lebanon as far as the Litani River, 18 miles over the border. Is it cynical to ponder just how precious that river's waters will become in this age of climate change and rapid economic development? Should water turn out to be a factor in Israel's prosecution of the war, it could provide an added incentive for both parties to keep fighting.
Already incentives for war abound. Israel wants to rid Lebanon of Hezbollah and that organization has a terrible appetite to prevail. The leadership of both Israel and Hezbollah grow in popularity among their respective constituencies as the war goes on. Media audiences swell, as do military budgets. Arms manufacturers thrive, and military conflict historically rebounds to the advantage of the party in power-both here and abroad--more often than not. The ones who suffer are the poor, the dispossessed, and anyone else who happens to be in the wrong place when the bombs and missiles fire and the storm troopers and terrorists attack.
Without a willingness on Bush's part to proactively wage peace in the Middle East-to knock heads together as well as to plead, bribe, soothe and charm--it's hard to see how the slaughter ends, for what we have in Israel and beyond is the proverbial irresistible force up against the immovable object.
I spent much of the past year studying the Old Testament for a theology course I'm taking. The sense of destiny, the religious call to Jews to inhabit tribal lands-even at the point of a sword--are evident in verse after verse throughout the scriptures. The covenant that many so-called Zionists observe, in part by occupying and defending land their ancestors killed and died for millennia ago--according to Scripture-is the ingrained response to tribal memory of a divine and mystical destiny even more compelling than the Manifest Destiny Americans felt entitled them to occupy this continent, sea to shining sea, nearly two centuries ago.
The Holocaust, and anti-Semitism through the ages have dealt Israel a bad hand, historically. Like many others, I grant Israel's right to exist. And yet, to displaced Palestinians and other angry Muslims, Israel represents a deep injustice visited upon them by tribal enemies in cahoots with colonial powers--as Jews settled in Palestine all during the previous century--especially in 1948, when America recognized the modern state of Israel. This is not an easy moral conundrum to resolve.
One of the more frustrating outcomes of Israel's war in Lebanon is how it's so effectively divided opponents of Bush's many pro-war policies and political crimes. Many Jewish people in America, long critical of the Bush administration, have feverishly united in support for Israel's continuing operations in Lebanon. In doing so, they've alienated some of their peace-loving compatriots and temporarily strengthened the hand of maybe the worst president in history. The split in Bush's opponents has been so dramatic that it almost feels like a Rove-ian event. Karl Rove himself could hardly have planned a more divisive issue for Democrats, as November elections draw near.