Concerns are increasing that the Israel-Hamas conflict will become an Israel-Palestine war, and if Hezbollah opens a northern front against Israel, as Hasan Nasrallah threatened last week, it could escalate into a Lebanon-Israel conflict and explode further into a full-blown Arab-Israel war.
More likely, since Iran is the sponsor, funder, and inspiration for Hamas, Hezbollah, the Houthis, and other terrorist groups, a devastating Israel-Iran war could erupt, potentially bringing the United States into the conflagration.
Not content with that grisly scenario, Nasrallah poured even more fuel on the fire by openly warning that North Korea could enter the anti-West conflict and strike the United States with nuclear weapons.
Meanwhile, Russia continues its war of aggression against Ukraine, draining Western resources and will to resist, and China is poised to attack America’s strategic partner, Taiwan, and its treaty ally, the Philippines.
The threats to the rules-based international order are manifold, and steadily approaching existential levels. Russia challenges the right of Ukraine and America’s NATO allies, Poland and the Baltic states, to exist as independent countries. Iran and its proxies openly proclaim their intention to annihilate the state of Israel.
China claims ownership of Taiwan, Japan’s Senkakus Islands, and the entire South China Sea. North Korea threatens to invade South Korea again to incorporate it under Kim family rule, this time using nuclear weapons.
The global challenge of simultaneous territorial aggressions manifest an overriding ideological dimension. Communist China’s Xi Jinping and Russia’s revanchist Vladimir Putin met in Beijing in February 2022, just weeks before Putin launched his second invasion of Ukraine, proclaiming a “no-limits strategic partnership” that condemns the values-based Western order as arrogant and presumptuous.
They pledged to replace it with one where democracy and human rights are a shifting, optional matter for each regime to define for itself rather than respect universal values enshrined in the United Nations Charter, Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Convention on Civil and Political Rights — fundamental civilizational documents they both signed.
The two have since met in each other’s capitals to cement their strategic cooperation against the U.S.-led Western order, similar to the strategic coordination between Adolph Hitler and Benito Mussolini in the 1930s and 1940s.
Broadening the anti-West coalition, several Hamas leaders met with Putin in Moscow last week, and Russia’s relations with Iran have deepened with Teheran’s supply of drones for Putin’s war against Ukraine. Putin’s birthday on Oct. 7 may well have factored into Hamas’s planning. Its vicious attack on Israel, matching Putin’s own crimes against humanity, constitutes a major diversion of Western attention and resources from Russia’s war on Ukraine that Putin surely welcomes. Congressional Republicans and Democrats, take heed.
The ideological struggle in the Middle East is rendered more fraught by its religious component. It is not a faith-based conflict between different confessions as such, but of one radical segment of one faith – Islam – against not only all other religions but also against the moderate expression of Islam itself.
The radical sects include Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Gaza; Hezbollah in Lebanon; what is left of ISIS is in Iraq and Syria; Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, Yemen’s Houthis; and the Taliban in Afghanistan. The groups have in common an absolutist practice of Islam that harkens back to its origins in the 7th century. They see their mission as the return of the Caliphate with its harsh proscriptions against deviation from Sharia law and Islamic orthodoxy.
During his most recent visit to Israel last week, his fourth in a month, Secretary of State Antony Blinken was asked how Israeli bombs and military action could defeat Hamas’s fanaticism.
Question: “Can I just press you, Mr. Secretary? You’re talking about the defeat of Hamas [which] is not just a bunch of individuals but probably an ideology as well. With the intense bombardment that we’re seeing in Gaza right now, the potential for extremism down the line is high. When you say defeat Hamas, is that being factored in? What are you doing, then, to address those issues?”
Blinken’s response: “You’re exactly right. This is about dealing with Hamas in terms of defeating it physically, that is, making sure that it can’t repeat what it did on October 7th. But it is also about defeating an idea, a perverted idea, but an idea that we have to combat with a better idea, with a better future, with a better vision for what that future can be, and demonstrating that we’re committed to achieving that future, that vision. Because in the absence of that, even after Hamas, those who sing the siren song of nihilism will find open ears.”
Blinken called for a multilateral effort. “I believe there is a broad and strong coalition throughout the region that wants to do exactly that. All of these countries are on one side of the equation. Who’s on the other side of the equation? Hamas, Hizballah, and Iran … [G]iven how deep-rooted and enduring these problems are … we have to demonstrate that we have a better idea and a way to achieve it.”
Since 1776, America has had a better idea. All men, women and children, all Jews and all Muslims, all Palestinians, all Christians, all Americans, all humanity, are created equal, endowed with the same inalienable rights: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That is, until a radical ideology – communism, Naziism, Fascism, extreme fundamentalist Jewish, Christian, or Islamism – teaches hatred, subhumanity, and violence.
Celebrating America’s Independence Day on July 4, 1821, John Quincy Adams famously said “America goes not abroad in search of monsters to destroy.” The cautionary statement inspired generations of U.S. scholars and commentators, some outright isolationists, others just thoughtful Americans concerned about foreign policy overreach and overextension, wary of the “foreign entanglements” George Washington warned of.
America discovered on December 7, 1941, and September 11, 2001, however, that, with advanced technology and modern communications, monsters abroad could suddenly become monsters at home. Yet after what Donald Trump and Joe Biden called “forever wars” in Iraq and Afghanistan, there has been a public overreaction to the foreign policy overreach.
Adams’s other views on overseas evil have gone less noticed, such as his indictment of radical, violent Islamism, which is to be distinguished from the tolerant and peaceful Islam practiced by most of the world’s more than 2 billion Muslims.
Adams wrote in 1830 that practitioners of the 7th century version of Islam are part of an “undistinguishing and exterminating war … against all the rest of mankind … A war of twelve hundred years has already raged. That war is yet flagrant; nor can it cease but by the extinction of that imposture.”
The Battle of Ideas launched by George W. Bush in 2002 needs urgently to be revived.
Joseph Bosco served as China country director for the secretary of Defense from 2005 to 2006 and as Asia-Pacific director of humanitarian assistance and disaster relief from 2009 to 2010. He served in the Pentagon when Vladimir Putin invaded Georgia and was involved in Department of Defense discussions about the U.S. response. Additionally, he was responsible for preparing the seminal Battle of Ideas brief in the office of the secretary of Defense in 2002. Follow him on Twitter @BoscoJosephA.
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