Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Eyeless in Gaza: Israel 4, Hamas 1

I am told that Gandhi's opinion of revenge boiled down to an illustration from Old Testament ideas about "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth," the pre-Mosaic desert warlord code, a law that should have ended with the Crusades at the latest but seems to hang about like a bad cold. Gandhi is said to have said something along the lines of: "If every person plucks out the eye of his neighbor, soon everyone will be blind." Demonstrably true given facts on the ground throughout the Mideast, including the new, insane pitting of Hamas and Israel against each other (so what else is new -- shades of Hezbollah's launching of missile attacks against northern Israelis just eight years back).

Frontline has reported on the war between the U.S. and Kabul governments against the Taliban in the outer regions of Afghanistan, in an amazingly insightful program called The War Briefing [of Obama]. The picture looks bleak, especially given the dire economic straits at home and simultaneous rise of a plethora of international problems, each of which poses its own little potential quagmire. One of the interviewees, commenting on a previous experience in that country, said that the tribal leaders of each clan in Afghanistan live in constant dedication to slaughtering the neighboring tribal leader -- a dead giveaway that Afghanistan is roughly analogous to the Balkans during the Christian-versus-Muslim genocides of the Bosnian War of the early 90s.

A very good film was made of the hopelessness of such conflicts with a script from the playwright William Mastrosimone called The Beast. I first thought the title referred to the bestial Afghani and Soviet combatants and to their certain sly slithering and sidewinding in the nature of beasts. But with successive viewings I have decided that the "Beast" of the title is Afghanistan itself. After all, the movie's opening credit is a quotation from Rudyard Kipling:

When you're wounded and left on Afghanistan's plains,
And the women come out to cut up what remains,
Jest roll to your rifle and blow our your brains
An' go to your Gawd like a soldier.

(The Young British Soldier). Combat in Afghanistan is for a chosen few, and the problem is, given the age-old hatreds and mistrusts, and given that the Taliban and the tribes have not changed in virtually 1,400 years, and given the terrain and distance of the tribes from the capital, no matter how many troops we throw into the conflict, it will always be a lose-lose situation.

Worse, we are now caught in a vise. When the Taliban (and al Qaeda) are defeated, they retreat to Pakistan's mountains, there to await the next opportunity to return and exact their toll on those suspected of betrayal or violations of the laws of strict shariah -- and Wahabbist shariah at that. Pakistan will not help us, because not only are there a good many jihadist sympathizers in their Army, the head of state only maintains his power by delicately balancing pro-Western and pro-Jihadist sentiments. The Pakistani Army is a joke. They make their leaders look like the ersatz Nazi prison guards in TV comedy.

On the other side of Afghanistan is Iran. It is possible that we could work a deal with them to keep out of Afghanistan and cease supporting Hezbollah and other Jihadist movements, but given the sanity of their leader, I think this unlikely. If anything, Ahmadinejad is far more insane than Kim Jung Il. At least Kim is not a religious fanatic or theocratic ideologue, and he's having so much fun going through his pornographic movie collection, he seems all but irrelevant. As long as we're negotiating with him, he poses no problem.

The problem is Ahmadinejad. To call him an ideologue would be a gross understatement, tantamount to referring to a rotweiler as a "lap dog."

Ahmadinejad derives his power from the Shia clergy. He can't go wrong so long as he keeps putting pressure on the West, which is both a shaitan and an enemy of Islam. Remember, the Frontline guest talked about age-old hatreds. With Iran, we have our own, which dates to the ouster of the Family Pahlavi a little less than thirty years ago. He was viewed as a puppet and was replaced with an aging Shia ayatollah at the top of the pecking order. A bur remained in the saddle of the Shah's Arabian horse. The Iranian people have mostly forgiven us (and begged our forgiveness for a previous generation's taking hostages at the American embassy). But the government remains an unabashed theocracy.

Both Hamas and Hezbollah take marching orders from Tehran. Althought the economy of Iran are is on the verge of starvation, tossing even massive amounts of aid wouldn't seem to matter much: as long as one is going to Paradise to cohabit with 72 virgins, one can stay hungry a long time. It's a dead-end hopeless situation and it isn't getting any better. Obama's greatest challenge next to the sorry state of our own economy might seem to be the future of the Afghan Expedition. He'd better hop to it.

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