Spinning out of control

14 Jul

Armed conflict rages once again in the Middle East as Israel and Hezbollah exchange fire. This is a brushfire with the potential to spread as Israel has bombed targets in Lebanon. This fledgling democracy, of course, is too weak to disarm Hezbollah, but Israel sees fit to bomb Lebanese targets (like bridges, power stations, oil tanks, and runways at the Beirut international airport).

Hezbollah started this mess–of that there can be no doubt. Kidnapping Israeli soldiers sparked this action. But Israel must share responsibilty. After the kidnappings, the Israelis responded just as Hezbollah hoped they would.  Now Hezbollah has an excuse to lob its rockets at Israel, justifying Israel’s continued air strikes, which justify Hezbollah’s rocket fire, which justifies Israel’s bombings, which justify Hezbollah’s rocket attacks, and so on and so on.

The Middle East has always been a  powder keg. But for international pressure, there probably would have been more conflict in the past decades. But now, Israel’s biggest ally–the U.S.–has little clout in the region due to the bungling of the Iraq occupation. (This is an occupation, not a war. If we aren’t going to occupy Iraq, then why are we building a huge air base, one of four? And why is the U.S. building a $10 billion embassy in Baghdad–the largest in the entire world?)

The Bush Administration, even though it lacks the clout, had better start working on this quickly. Israel needs to be pressured to stand down and realize it is playing into Hezbollah’s hands. But, the problem is that this administration has the same mindset when it comes to dealing with terrorists.

The world needs to understand that terrorism is a diversion, a ploy, a pump fake. Yes, al Qaeda struck the World Trade Center, but that was not the goal. The goal was to draw the U.S. into a conflict in order to give a continued raison d’etre to bin Laden’s network.  We’ve given bin Laden exactly what he wanted: more recruiting ability, more fundraising ability, everything.

Terrorists use violence to goad their target into responding in a certain way that the terrorists want. Terrorists play off of the mindset of the target, calculating how the target will react. One secret to defeating terrorism is to confound them–zag when they expect us to zig, react in a completely different and unexpected way. This, naturally, is hard for politicians to do. Our baser instincts tell us when we are attacked that we must hit back.

Jimmy Carter understood that the kidnappers in Tehran wanted to prompt a military strike. Carter bravely withstood calls from both sides of the aisle for military action in response to the takeover of the American embassy and holding Americans hostage. And we all know how Carter was treated at the polls. He did the right thing–very few lives were lost, and those that were lost happened in the ill-fated rescue attempt. But the U.S. mindset is not geared toward playing a chess game with terrorists. We’re more likely to shoot first, think about the next move later.  This is a big reason why the U.S. is such an attractive target to terrorists.

Until we demonstrate that we can’t be manipulated by these terrorist groups, as long as we keep giving them what they want, they will continue to attack us.

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