By William Pfaff
The two most recent American wars, in Iraq and Afghanistan, have failed or are disastrously failing.
The United States is being pressed to launch two new wars. There is little public support for any of the four. The government of Israel, the American domestic pressure group which it sponsors, AIPAC, and numbers of prominent American friends of Israel are attempting to convince the Obama administration that it should attack Iran in order to destroy its nuclear facilities and the regime there, on the unproven supposition that nuclear weapons are or soon will be made there. Or, if not this, then Washington should authorize Israel to attack, accompanying this with a U.S. promise to complete the attack if necessary, and to defend Israel from the consequences.
They are unlikely to get this assurance. It is too much to ask.
There is Syria, which is experiencing an uprising by regional and sectarian elements in its population meant to overthrow the Baath government, controlled since 1970 by the Assad family, father and son. American and other Western enemies of the authorities in Damascus want to see an American or American-led military intervention in Syria. This is also the sentiment of others in the international society who are convinced that it should become a principle among the democracies to intervene in such civil uprisings, or such official programs of military repression, when feasible, in order to protect justice-seeking civilian populations.
The United States government is under pressure to intervene in Syria from prominent Republicans, including former presidential candidate John McCain, as well as liberal supporters of the R2P (Responsibility to Protect) international lobby, headed by a former Australian foreign minister, Gareth Evans.
The ultimate intentions of the R2P interventionists are impeccable, but the road from here to there is piled high with obstacles and the political counterparts of improvised explosive devices.
My own opinion, as I have said before in this space, is that, in general, national societies should be left to solve their own problems and take the consequences, even when these involve civil war.
Civil wars solve problems. Ask Americans. If Britain or France had intervened in the American Civil War (both did have material stakes in the outcome), it would probably have been a crueler and ultimately much more divisive war. American-European future relations would have been changed with unknowable consequences for the two world wars.
I was in favor of a European intervention in the Bosnian conflict in 1992-1995 because it had acquired the character of a war of ethnic extermination, and because European U.N. forces were already present with a limited mandate to intervene. Had they done so, Sarajevo could have been spared much suffering, and the Srebrenica massacre prevented, as well as the destruction in Serbia and Kosovo that resulted from NATO intervention, when that came.
The Rwanda genocide could have been prevented (or halted) had the Mitterrand government in France, whose troops were soon on the scene, possessed an unbiased understanding of the situation and had the will to act. Last year’s Libyan intervention by France and Britain (reluctantly joined by the U.S. and others) was a success (as yet incomplete), and also something of a fluke that could easily have ended otherwise than it did.
The U.S. Korean War intervention (which took place when I was in the U.S. Army) was understood as a counter to a Soviet-instigated North Korean invasion. It was not, but for South Koreans it has proved justified. America’s Indochina interventions also rested on an ideological miscomprehension of the situations, and were a disaster for everyone. The Central and East European “mutinies” or revolts—Poland and Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968—were prudently spared NATO counter-intervention, which could have provoked, by mutual miscomprehension, a new world war.
As for the deliberately induced Iranian-Israeli hysteria of recent days, one cannot say it is not serious. The disastrous war with Iraq emerged from the identical political actors, and the identical distortions and propaganda now proclaimed about Iran. Israel’s political right, chiefly the Likud party and the settlement parties with their supporters in America, is now politically dominant in Israel. It apparently has two goals: the destruction of Iran as a major military power, so as to preserve Israel’s regional military supremacy; and the effective annexation of what remains of Palestine (as defined in international law) and its resources (mainly water), and continuing control of its people. This cannot be achieved peacefully. The danger of war is real in whatever happens. Iran is a sideshow of this, which is the fundamental Middle Eastern conflict issue.
However, the majority of Israelis say they don’t want war with Iran, and perhaps more important, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu disastrously overplayed his hand in Washington, treating the United States government, as well as the American Jewish community, as being at his beck and call. A blackmailed Congress might be, but the overwhelming majority of the American people certainly are not. Most of the intimidated members of Congress hate themselves for the contempt implicitly shown them. The Pentagon does not consider itself to be in the service of Israel. I was not in Washington at the time of the AIPAC meeting, but my view from abroad was that the Netanyahu government fails to understand that in this year of 2012, the weather has undergone a change in the United States.
Visit William Pfaff’s website for more on his latest book, “The Irony of Manifest Destiny: The Tragedy of America’s Foreign Policy,” at www.williampfaff.com.
© 2012 Tribune Media Services Inc.
U.S. Navy / MC1 Chad J. McNeeley
Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, left, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meet at Blair House in Washington, D.C.