FROM OUR PRINTED NOV. 1, 2021 EDITION:
The Hundred Years War
by Len Abram
The Biden* administration justified our humiliating withdrawal from Afghanistan as the price for cutting our losses. One measure for the failure of the war was its length – 20 years. Endless wars are wasteful and unwinnable.
Length is not the final metric for failure. For over 75 years, the American public has accepted military deployments in Europe and the Far East, and lesser ones in the Middle East and Africa. The Cold War went on for over four decades until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. A strong NATO, Germany, Japan and South Korea are examples of post-World War American successes.
In the last two of its wars, however, American military power has failed. Democracies do not like lengthy, inconclusive wars of attrition. Vietnam dragged on without defeating the enemy’s will. While protests at home weakened American resolve, General Giap in North Vietnam didn’t worry about dissent.
For the soldiers in the North Vietnamese army, the saying was, “Born in the north, to die in the south.” Regardless of the suffering, as they did with the French, as the Taliban may have done in Afghanistan, North Vietnam outlasted us. We didn’t lose the war. We left it.
The question is, did we really leave the war behind in Afghanistan, or will other jihadists, newly inspired, attack our homeland again? Do we have the stamina for the struggle, not so much for territory, as against religious fanaticism and authoritarianism, in defense of Western tolerance and democracy?
The answer is yes and the model may be the Israeli-Arab conflict. One of the longest wars in history, the Israeli-Arab or Israeli-Palestinian conflict, has lasted over a 100 years. Recent events may indicate an outcome for hope.
As an ally of the United States, an outpost of the West, a vibrant democracy unlike any in the region, Israel is closer to peace than at any other time in its history. Peace between the Jewish Israel and its Islamic neighbors would isolate Islamic extremists like Bin Laden and the mullahs in Iran. The West and Islam can live together in harmony and – as the prophet imagined – not learn war anymore.
There is a lot of history and suffering to overcome. Both Arabs and Jews have claims to the same land. Not much bigger than New Jersey, the land is the center for the three great religions. For centuries, Jews, Arabs, Greeks, Romans, Crusaders, Turks and British – all have fought over it, with Jerusalem the prize.
Religious or secular Jews can point to the Bible, the Old Testament, as the document that links the patriarch Abraham and his people to the land. After periods of national glory, enslavement, failed revolts, and finally expulsion, the Jews continued to pray in the direction of their promised land and hoped for a return.
Small numbers of Jews remained in their ancient land into the modern period when the Ottoman Turks governed. After the First World War, England took control of Israel, called Palestine since Roman times, and was at first sympathetic to an increase in the Jewish population and perhaps a Jewish state.
Starting around 1920, Arab leaders and populations resisted immigration and turned to violence. Even before the influx of European Jews after the Holocaust, Arabs feared being displaced. As it turned out, in Israel’s War of Independence, along with thousands on both sides killed, thousands of Arabs were expelled or left.
Following Israel‘s establishment in 1948, thousands of Jews, those living in Arab countries like Iraq and Egypt for centuries, fled to Israel. This exchange of populations – and the demand of Arabs for a right to return – have been a source of anger and resentment. Today, 20% of Israelis are Muslim or Christian.
Over the past 100 years, Arabs and Israelis have fought each other through several major wars, terror bombings, rocket attacks, and air strikes. Israeli cemeteries alone contain about 25,000 dead from war and terror. Peace between Israelis and Palestinians is more a truce. Treaties with Egypt and Jordan have held, but they are described as a cold peace.
However, the possibility of a warm peace, acceptance and friendship, has emerged: the Abrahamic Accords. The agreement, brokered by the Trump administration, is named after the patriarch for both faiths, Abraham. The treaty calls for peace, full diplomatic and normalization between the United Arab Emirates and the State of Israel.
That movement toward peace may have started at 9/11, the reason for American involvement in Afghanistan in the first place. The moderate Islamic states have decided: the Accords model over the jihadist model, peace over war. It’s likely more states, like Saudi Arabia, will join them. After the debacle in Afghanistan, America may have lost a battle, but not the war for peace. ♦
Len Abram has been a Belmont, Mass. resident for more than 20 years. Along with reviews and articles, he has written three novels. His website is www.lenabram.com. In the latest style of listing preferred pronouns, you can use he/him/his — but “Hey you!” works too.
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