As it was two to three thousand years ago, the region we
now call the Middle East has once again become, in recent
years, the principal “war” battleground in the Western world.
The nature of war and conflict in this region is indeed
“biblical” as the word is now used to describe something
which is so generic to the major religious faiths of the
West, Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
To the other half of the planet, principally Asia and the
nations of the Pacific Ocean, there must be a certain
wondering how such a relatively small geographical part
of the earth can be the source of such enduring violence,
acrimony and war. Perhaps their puzzlement is similar to
ours as we perceive the enduring conflicts of the Far East,
rooted in Buddhism, Hinduism, Shintoism, Confucianism
and now also Islam and secular Marxism.
It is part of the ongoing story of the human race that the
ambitions and conflicts of its constituent groups (which
formed after the Ice Age when “modern” civilization
began) persist long after their geneses, long after the
“reasons” and “causes” for them seemed pertinent.
Warfare is as old as the small groups of early humans who
emerged from the caves and the steppes. Violence and
aggression, it should not be forgotten, has not ever been
absent from human history.
In our contemporary version, however, the crude clubs,
spears and axes of early warfare have been replaced with
devices of such “sophistication” and power that most persons
in the world today recoil at the very notion of war. The problem
is that “most persons in the world” do not have much to say
about whether wars are fought or not. That is because another
historic element of civilization, that is, the control of a group,
nation, religion or people, remains in the hands of the very few
(be they kings or emperors or dictators).
The introduction of democratic capitalism into human history
is very recent, and represents a possible alteration, in the long
term, of the phenomenon of war. Democratic nations, to be
sure, have been involved in wars during their existence, but as
former U.S. Senator Rudy Boschwitz (later U.S. ambassador to
the United Nations for human rights) and others point out:
there are almost no instances of true democratic nations in the
world going to war with each other.
There is only one true democratic nation now in the Middle East
(I exclude Turkey whose leader has become increasingly
dictatorial), and that is Israel. It should be no surprise that
Israel has been the principal target and scapegoat for the
other nations of the Middle East, nor should it be a surprise
that, since democratic capitalism is a product of European
Christianity, that the newer primary target is Christianity.
Syria is only one of the latest incidents of the seemingly
endless geographical conflicts in the Middle East. Europe and
the West tried to intervene in this region after World War I
when it attempted to construct artificial nations from warring
tribes. Time and again, Europe and the Unites States have
interfered and intervened in this region, including toppling a
Persian government, installing the shah, in Iran. More recently,
we intervened in Iraq, and most recently, we tried to play a role
in the so-called “Arab Spring.”
As a self-described “civilized nation,” we have declared that
certain lines of violence and cruelty cannot be tolerated. This
particularly includes the use of chemical warfare against
civilian populations. There can be no doubt that chemical
warfare has once again been employed in the Middle East (it
was widely and devastatingly used in the first Iran-Iraq war
a few decades ago) in Syria.
Seventy years ago, the U.S. introduced nuclear weaponry to
warfare in order to bring World War II to a close. There can
be no doubt that, as terrible was this cost to the civilian
populations of Hiroshima and Nagasaki (probably 200,000
deaths), that the use of the atomic bomb in August, 1945
saved literally millions of lives of American and Japanese
soldiers, and Japanese civilians, had there been a subsequent
invasion of the Japanese mainland.
The horror of nuclear warfare, furthermore, has kept it from
being used for seven decades, even though (disturbingly) more
and more nations have acquired its capability.
During most of history, wars were won or lost. After World
War II, we have seen the emergence of wars with no winners.
This has been particularly true in the Middle East, where in
spite of using tiny Israel as a scapegoat, the most violence
has been directed by one Arab group against another Arab
If the definition of the purpose of war is to “win,” what can
the purpose be of a war that cannot be won?
Senator John McCain and other self-proclaimed “moralists”
in both parties have urged President Obama to take action in
Syria. I have been a persistent critic of Mr. Obama’s foreign
policy, but for once, I am sympathetic to his “caution” and
hesitation. There is almost no support for such action in
American public opinion (polls indicate up to 90% opposed
to U.S. intervention).
What are our interests in a civil war in which both sides
detest the United States? What are our interests in a regional
conflict where chemical warfare is even contemplated, much
less used? What are our interests in the Middle East where our
every action, other than our historical support of the state of
Israel, has been a failure?
Punish those individuals responsible for the use of chemical
warfare if that is possible, but beyond that, anything we might
do promises terrible new wounds and unthinkable new
Copyright (c) 2013 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.