Here's this week's interactive news quiz for you: I'm going to suggest four possible root causes behind the distress we face right now in Iraq. You fill in your own best guess-by percentage-of how big a role each of those four causes has played.
- A generation of a deteriorating U.S. influence and image abroad.
- America's need for oil.
- Clumsy execution of the war by the Bush administration.
- The very existence of Israel.
Assuming first that your figures total 100 percent and second that you didn't creatively inject still another factor or two into an already complex situation, I would love to have access to a heavenly calculator that would compute the responses of all WORLD readers everywhere-and then compare those findings with those of the American public at large.
But however you may have filled in your own form, it's very hard indeed to imagine what the situation in Iraq-and indeed in the whole Middle East-might be right now if it weren't for the existence of the nation of Israel. And it's also very hard to imagine that things wouldn't be a lot more peaceful.
That may sound as if I'm blaming Israel for all the problems in the Middle East, which of course is not my point. It's more like saying a particular school might be a pretty tranquil place if it just weren't for the students, or that fewer people would get injured in a football game if we did away with the players on the field. Of course.
Keep in mind that as agonizing as the situation may seem to be for us in Iraq, we Americans still enjoy the option of staying in or getting out. Both options may be repugnant-but at least we get to choose. Israel enjoys no such benefit. We Americans may (properly) worry when the death count among our military folks in Iraq edges past a daily average of two or three; but it's not unusual for Israel to lose that number of military personnel and/or civilians in the same time frame. Israelis look into the sky on almost any given day and sense another 12 or 15 rockets coming not just at their military, but at their general population, courtesy of Hamas or Hezbollah terrorists in Gaza or Lebanon.
And why shouldn't Israelis wonder when some super rocket will come, not from their sworn enemies just to the west and north, but from their even more radical enemies to the east, courtesy of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the president of Iran-with nuclear weapons attached? He's already said that's what he wants to do. If you're an Israeli citizen, Mr. Ahmadinejad's assertion two years ago that "Israel must be wiped off the face of the map" has a way of sticking in your subconscious.
The point here is that we shouldn't kid ourselves about finding any easy resolution in Iraq. Yes, things are a terrible mess so long as six or eight or 10 different brands of Islamists continue slaughtering each other. But even if, on the other hand, they were all to come to terms with each other-even if the Sunnis, the Shiites, the Kurds, and others we barely know were all somehow to be reconciled-Israel will still be there.
So the United States regains its posture and its reputation and a little bit of good will. But Israel's still there.
We achieve some measure of energy independence and we learn how to use a little less oil. But Israel's still there.
The memory of a war badly executed recedes into the past. But Israel's still very much there.
Will a unified Islamist Middle East take a more accepting and kindly spirit toward Israel than a fractured region presently does? It's hard to imagine.
Keep in mind that very little of all this has anything to do with genuinely disputed territories. It has to do instead with whether Israel has any legitimate territory at all. For most Islamists, every square inch of Israel is "occupied territory."
All of which makes you wonder what on earth all the critics of the war-ranging from radical Democrat John Murtha to radical Republican Ron Paul, and everybody else in between-would suggest we do about what may be the most critical issue of all: Are they really suggesting that Israel is expendable?