Monday, March 22, 2004

Survival Strategies in a Barroom Brawl

The death of Hamas big Sheik Yassin at the hands of the Israeli Defense Forces highlights the strategic problem of Europe. The war is spreading and is becoming increasingly difficult to sit out. The Al Qaeda attack on the Madrid train, the renewed unrest in Kosovo, the unrest in Iran and Syria and developments in Iraq -- added to the probability of escalating conflict in Israel -- make it increasingly difficult to benefit from hanging back. Historically, France's "independent" strategy  was based on being able to tilt the balance in an inconclusive struggle in a bipolar world, in the process extracting the maximum benefit for itself. This worked during the Cold War where it could play both ends against the middle, selling its support to the highest bidder, behavior that could be justified as "realpolitik" and hard-nosed maneuvering in the the national interest.

However, the struggle against terrorism now threatens to become a fight to the finish instead of a Cold War ballet of competition circumscribed by deterrence. Since Jihadistan has shown no inclination to settle for less than total victory, it invariably led to symmetrical American goals. September 11 proved that terrorism could not be contained. It had to be finished. A prescient European foreign policy would have realized on September 12 that this conflict structure would inevitably lead to a widening war, one that would engulf Europe's own borders. But it did not grasp the implications of the struggle in time. It is now terribly vulnerable to the tides of conflict that lap against its frontiers.

Fully knowing that it cannot strike with much effect at the IDF, Hamas may now be tempted to hit at Europe and through them to pressure Israel. Why not? It worked in Madrid and from now one anyone may be tempted to ring Europe's bell for whatever reason. But worse yet for Europe, the descent of the war on terror into a death match, as exemplified by the struggle between Israel and the Palestinian terrorist groups means that there will be but one victor and one loser at the end of the day. With each passing moment the odds lengthen that the EU or the UN can broker a negotiated settlement between Israel, India, Russia and USA on the one hand, and the Jihadis on the other. There will be no Congress of Vienna at which French palaver can work its wonders, only unconditional surrender by one side or the other. A zero-sum conflict guarantees that Europe will not be on the winning side. Whoever the victor, Europe will be despised and whether America or Jihadistan triumphs, Europe will have played the wrong hand.

Before this is over the world will have had a bellyful of war. Each morning's unbearable news will cast the net wider. Neither the man commuting to work in Central Madrid nor the peace marchers in costume on Market Street can escape being combatants. Leftist sympathies, whether in Israel, America or Europe will prove no armor against car bomb fragments. War was Osama Bin Laden's goal in attacking the United States on September 11. He hoped to force America into fruitless and ineffectual reprisals against the Islamic world, then offer a hudna at intervals while he prepared his next blow. George Bush's counterstroke, which history will either judge as an act of supreme folly or genius, was to go beyond Afghanistan into Iraq. In a worthy riposte to Osama's, he escalated the struggle to the point where it was mutually mortal. If the fall of the Twin Towers was a gauntlet in America's face, the fall of Baghdad was a glove shoved down the Islamist's throat. Both Bin Laden and Bush have made compromise impossible. If the jihadis believed they could control the tempo of the conflict they were misinformed; American forces in the Arab heartland have forced a zugzwang to compel the game to the bitter end.

Yassin's assasination serves the same purpose. Israel's main problem was to escape the cycle of murder and negotiation that was slowly bleeding it to death. No matter how horribly Israel was attacked it was always expected to return, in an attitude of abjection, to the negotiating table. The Jihadis learned that any Israeli counteroffensive could be aborted by throwing the prospect of further talks into its path. Israel's superiority on the battlefield would be nullified because it would always be restrained by the "Peace Process", a misnomer if ever there was one. But the operation against Yassin reverses the dynamic. By striking at so senior a terrorist target, the Jihadis will be in no mood for negotiations. They themselves will cast away the Peace Process and sheer fury will make them forswear their favorite tactic, the faux hudna -- thereby granting Israel a meeting on the battlefield. For this is Israel's mortal challenge to Hamas which has often said it would kill the last Jew. The message, now ringing in their ears, is that the Jew will kill the last terrorist, beginning at the top.