The war parties at work

Posted: Aug 30, 2001 12:00 AM
The bugles are sounding, not to rouse the American military, but the Israeli military. George Will, writing in his syndicated column, wants war. At greater length in an essay in The Weekly Standard, Charles Krauthammer pleads the same case. What they have said is that Israel can't sustain the fusillade of terrorist attacks that have bloodied the state in the devastating 11 months since the breakdown of the peace negotiations. In their view, and the view of others, nothing is evolving on the long, hapless road from Oslo, save the hardening of Palestinian resolution to end the state of Israel.

The analysis is not new. Norman Podhoretz, the critic and former editor of Commentary, has said much the same thing for years. The Palestinians, as he put it, are to be likened to the Viet Cong in the '60s. Their mission was to infiltrate and to engage in terrorism, and to prepare themselves to do the same thing for year after year after year until South Vietnam, toppled by a final thrust of military force, succumbed.

Israel does not suffer notably from infiltration. The enemy is over there, at the other end of the line. Within Israel, there are no Viet Cong, though that too could change if Israeli Palestinians came to believe that the land of their forefathers might one day be returned to them. Many South Vietnamese were friendlier to the north when it became plain that the north was taking over the country.

The philosopher-strategist James Burnham once remarked to his colleagues at National Review, "You know, it's simply not true that wars never settle anything." That would appear a cliche, but the words were spoken at a time when advocates of peace-at-any-price were proposing capitulation at every point on the globe where the communists had struck a salient. Of course wars can accomplish things, as the Carthaginians and the Nazis learned. But to generate a war requires a reasonable sense of capabilities, ours and theirs.

Mr. Will thinks in terms of a war of three or four days, no less devastating for its brevity. Mr. Krauthammer pretty well goes along. Both agree that terrorists need to be hunted down and killed, that the infrastructure of the Palestinian Authority should be destroyed, and that to do this includes the destruction of cultural facilities through which Arafat coaxes, poisons and deploys. Mr. Will mentions the broadcasting house that a while back enjoined that "all weapons must be aimed at the Jews ... whom the Koran describes as monkeys and pigs. ... We will enter Jerusalem as conquerors. ... Blessings to he who shot a bullet into the head of a Jew."

Will's own vitriol is directed at home. "The State Department, that brackish and bottomless lagoon of obtuseness, where Secretary of State Colin Powell has gone native with disgusting speed ..." Both Will and Krauthammer insist that Sharon needs to act very quickly, before the demoralization of Israel turns fatal.

The student swoons at the force of the argumentation, athwart the dandied protocols of modern history. We're being told we can blot it out -- destroy the hard Arafat-Palestinian virus. And if it regenerates? We will need a wall. A wall? Yes, a wall that would gird Israel from any future mobilization of energetic Palestinian irredentism. Build a wall to seal against its creepy aggressions. ...

Wasn't that tried, sort of, in Vietnam? Yes, it was tried, but it proved porous, both north and west. Wasn't that tried in Berlin? Yes -- and it worked, actually, but the radiations of Western thought penetrated cement and steel. The Palestinians, unless they reordered their cosmology, could hardly hope to threaten an Israeli wall with effective philosophical penetration.

There are complications? Yes. The surrounding world in the Middle East. The indefensible Israeli settlements. The reliance of the Sharon administration on weak-minded Coalition members. The need for economic traffic, in men and goods, impeded by walls, as by tariffs.

Yet the single question emerges from it all. Can Israel do something about the rain of blood which is causing life in Israel to be that of a society at war, but without such psychological reassurance as is got from the prospect of victory at war?

And the move has to be Sharon's, without any direction from the White House. This isn't and oughtn't to be made Bush's war, no more than the terrorist war inside Ireland should get any closer to us than George Mitchell. But Mr. Bush can provide the essential superpower cover, which Israel will need.