Let’s talk about how everything has changed, geopolitically. In August 2012, we are no longer operating on all the old assumptions that anchored conduct among the nations in the 20 years after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Interpreting what’s going on in light of those old assumptions will now lead us into error. We are wrong about some very important things today, if our thinking remains stuck in the themes of the past. Here are just four of those important things:
1. The import of what Russia and China do with their military forces. When Russia deploys bombers or attack submarines close to the US, or Russia and China parade huge naval forces around the Japanese islands, or Russia sends a big naval force to the Mediterranean and prepares to hold the most comprehensive military exercise since the end of the Cold War in the Caucasus, or China conducts air force exercises with Turkey and sends warships into the Black Sea for port visits – when these things happen, they mean Russia and China are serious about the potential need to use force.
It means they are not satisfied with the status quo, and they are preparing for the day when they will have to breach it, or can benefit from a breach in it through the use of force (even if only for intimidation). It is the height of foolish complacency for Americans and Europeans to take these signs lightly.
It is also a backward-looking conclusion to say that the US can prevail over any of the forces deployed by Russia and China. The post-Cold War paradigm in which that might have been true is shattered. Russia and China are preparing for confrontations they can win. We are not. They won’t confront us with forces in our own region – although, as Russia has done, they will certainly warn us with them. They will instead induce things to happen in their region – things prejudicial to our interests – which we can only prevent if we use force where we are at a disadvantage: on their turf.
This isn’t a resumption of the Cold War. It’s a new-old paradigm of international confrontation, and the advantages we had in the Cold War, such as our superb network of alliances, no longer necessarily apply to the tasks America will perceive to be necessary.
2. The explanatory narrative of the Arab-Israeli conflict. In the early years of modern Israel’s existence, it was generally understood in the West that the Arabs hated the re-formed state. They were quite explicit about it, after all, and the data point in the public mind was phrased in just those terms. A number of the Arab nations threw in with the Soviet Union in order to gain support for their various projects of Arabism and anti-Western, anti-Israeli geopolitics.
From the late 1970s, when the Israel-Egypt accords were signed, the political mainstreaming of Yasser Arafat, the “intifadas,” and the rise of globalist Islamism gradually turned the narrative to a different theme. The Oslo accords and empowerment of the Palestinian Authority set the stage for that theme to produce endless drama, in which the Palestinian Arabs have been depicted as the victims of a brutal campaign of sequestration by Israel. In many ways, history and current events have been completely falsified by anti-Israel forces during this period. But the persistent thread in the narrative has been that “justice” will only come when the Palestinian Arabs have a nation of their own.
In light of this narrative, the “Peace Process” has been focused in the last decade on negotiating a settlement by which the Palestinian Arabs gain a nation-state. The best-known corollary to this narrative, in the mainstream media and among anti-Israel groups, says that Israel is the problem in these negotiations: Israel won’t make enough concessions; Israel keeps expanding settlements in the West Bank (Judea and Samaria); Israel provokes the terrorist attacks of Hamas with her cruelty to the Palestinian Arabs. These allegations have been ridden almost to a UN vote on recognizing a state of Palestine – unilaterally, against the national prerogatives conferred on Israel by the UN Charter itself.
The “almost” is important, because this paradigm too is changing. The impetus is no longer behind forcing a Palestinian state on Israel as the chief means of gaining position against Israel. Before the Arab Spring, that strategy had the support of the Arab League and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, as the primary means of changing the Arab-Islamic world’s position in relation to Israel. As the Arab Spring unfolds, however, promoting unilateral recognition of a Palestinian state has lost its strategic urgency. The other factors in the region are changing, and there may well be better ways to get at Israel.