Tuesday, August 8, 2006


In 2003, a father and son team of eminent historians (J.R. and William McNeill) published a fascinating book entitled "The Human Web", that showed how "human history is an evolution from simple sameness to diversity and then toward complex sameness". We do well to bear a variation of that in mind when we try to analyze what is currently going on the the Middle East: history is made up of criss-crossing webs.

Take the U.S. French effort to draft a U.N. resolution that can be acceptable to the five veto-wielding members of the Security Council. Merely enumerating their names makes clear how different their agendas are: U.S., France, Great Britain, Russia and China. But the complexity doesn't stop there: France has never accepted that it's time as a major world player has been over since World War II, and is eager to exploit its historical ties to Lebanon while maintaining a crucial oil line to Tehran; Great Britain is led by a man of vision who, for better or for worse, has chosen a historical alliance across the Atlantic over European unity; Russia also has serious interests in Tehran, and a Muslim population in its southern republics, while aspiring to recognition as a bona fide G8 player; and China is enjoying an economic and hence diplomatic renaissance on the world stage for the first time since the Middle Kingdom came out of obscurity.

Having said that, the crucial player remains the U.S. So here is the question of the day: Is failure to recognize the legitimate Lebanese demands for an immediate Israeli pull-out just one more instance of big power hubris and ignorance, or a deliberate strategy that gives Israel additional time to continue pounding that country before a cease=fire intervenes?

Whichever is the correct playbook, American citizens are also going to pay a price. The question is, how long will it remain merely a price at the pump? Administration officials never tire of telling us that thanks to the assault on Afghanistan and Iraq, we have remained safe at home. We must not be surprised if, in the inevitable way of opposites producing each other, that ceases to be true. You can usually remove one card from a card castle without causing it to collapse, perhaps even two or more, but as both historians and scientists know well, increasing instability in a system eventually leads to a bifurcation point where anything can happen.

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