July 2006 may prove to be a signal, era-shaping month in 21st-century history.
Sensationalists, fear mongers, defeatists and terrorists prefer predictions of catastrophe and disaster. On the surface, last month looks like a violent disaster, an August 1914, with this July's missiles, rockets and improvised explosive devices replacing the guns of that terrible August.
August 1914 began World War I. World War I seeded World War II, which lingered as the Cold War.
However, instead of starting a global conflagration, July 2006 exposed or made explicit key elements of and trends in an ongoing war with global, regional and very local dimensions.
Exposure and definition of problems and problematic actors create diplomatic, political and military opportunities -- the chance to forge a genuine, more resilient peace.
But let's give the sensationalists and defeatists their due.
Recall the first week of July: North Korea's surprise missile volley jolted Asia and North America. One of the first responses to Pyongyang's missile tantrum certainly sent a chill through China and other Asian capitals: Japanese leaders suggested reconfiguring Japan's military for offensive operations, to include acquiring offensive missiles capable of destroying North Korea's ballistic missile sites and nuclear weapons program.
The mass terror attack in Mumbai, India, was the big story of week two. 7/11's bombs left 200 dead and 800 wounded in the economic capital of the world's biggest democracy.
The Israel-Hezbollah war erased North Korea and Mumbai as the top headlines. Hezbollah's rockets continue to hammer Israel; Israeli bombs strike targets throughout Lebanon. Israel now fights a two-front war, against Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza.
Iran, Hezbollah's financier, continued to dodge diplomatic attempts to end its quest for nuclear weapons.
In Iraq, terrorists and sectarian militias continued the mass slaughter of civilians with an IED and car bomb campaign centered on Baghdad. Iraqi security forces required U.S. and coalition reinforcements in neighborhoods the Iraqi government thought it had secured.
Venezuela's Castro-wannabe, Hugo Chavez, claimed common political cause with Iran's President Ahmadinejad.
So why any optimism?
Take the last first. Chavez is an armed nuisance inflated by petrodollars -- which makes him a poster boy for everyone advocating diversified, alternative energy sources and fuel efficiency. "Chavismo" and Khomeinism link in only one place: the oil market.
Now consider China's and Russia's response to North Korea's missiles. China and Russia approved UN sanctions on North Korea. Those sanctions, tentative as they are, establish a "no go line" for rogue behavior -- ultimately applicable to Iran as well.
No doubt North Korea embarrassed China, but Japan's increasing willingness to share Asian defense burdens with the U.S. tells China it must make some choices. Will Beijing play a mature, responsible role in protecting the global trading system? China's pro-sanctions vote says at crunch time it will.
What do the terrorists have to offer the Third World? Mumbai answered the question for 1 billion Indians: only mass murder. As a political message that's a historical loser. Anarchism and nihilism do not build wealth. In fact, wealth defeats them. Within a week Mumbai was back to work. It will take decades to stop them, but Mumbai demonstrates why terrorists fail.
At least terrorists without nuclear weapons, which brings us to Hezbollah and Iran. The Israel-Hezbollah war reveals Iran and Syria as actively engaged in hijacking an Arab country (Lebanon) as well as firing short-range ballistic missiles at Israel. In the long term, arming and funding Hezbollah will increase at least tacit international support for regime change in Damascus and Tehran. Tyrants use terrorists, and tyrants pursue nuclear weapons. The Lebanon-destroying shenanigans of Iran and Syria's Hezbollah puppet ultimately put the puppeteers at risk.
July also offered a lesson in timelines for democratic change. Sixteen years ago (Aug. 2, 1990), Saddam invaded Kuwait. Between 1990 and his overthrow in 2003, Saddam killed an estimated 250,000 people (mostly Kurds and Shia Arabs). Would anyone in 1990 or in March 2003 have predicted a freely elected Iraqi prime minister would appear before the U.S. Congress and thank America for giving his country the opportunity to create a democracy?
"Iraqis are your allies in the war on terror," Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki told a joint session of Congress.
That happened on July 26, 2006.
Austin Bay is the author of three novels. His third novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness, was published by Putnam/Jove in June 2003. He has also co-authored four non-fiction books, to include A Quick and Dirty Guide to War: Third Edition (with James Dunnigan, Morrow, 1996).
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