In a column called “Delusions of Progress,” George Will wonders whether our inability to put down the terrorist insurgency in Iraq has emboldened Hezbollah, Iran, and Syria, and thus may be responsible for the current war in the Middle East. It is possible that, absent the ongoing terrorism and rising American death toll in Iraq, Hezbollah, Iran and Syria would be less inclined to provoke Israel. Quick and total victory always sends a better signal to one’s enemies than slow and costly progress towards victory or slow and costly defeat.
However, Will fails to take into account that if the U.S. had backed down in the face of Saddam Hussein’s apparent defiance of the U.N., this too would likely have emboldened the radical enemies of the West in the region. It has rarely taken much to induce Israel’s enemies to convince themselves that the time is right for an invasion or an intifada. Plus if the U.S. had not overthrown Saddam, we and the Israelis would have to worry about Iraq’s ability to contribute to an assault on Israel. Would the U.S. and Israel really be better off with three aggressive, emboldened, and virulently anti-American and anti-Israeli powers in the region than we are with two?
Will is on even shakier ground when he claims that democratization in Lebanon contributes to the current problem. He writes: “elections have turned Hezbollah into a significant faction in Lebanon’s parliament, from which it operates as a state within the state.” But it would be delusional to believe that, without its representation in parliament (about one-fifth of the seats, if I’m not mistaken), Hezbollah would be unable to operate as a state within the state. Hezbollah can operate as it does because, thanks in part to its backers Iran and Syria, it has the military power to do so. That power does not stem from, and in reality has nothing to do with, democratization.
UPDATE: Hugh Hewitt attacks the broader point Will makes — that the neo-conservative approach to the Middle East is radical and dangerous. The essence of Hugh’s response is, compared to what?