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This Might Not Be A World War, But It Still Needs A Sense Of Urgency
The Telegraph (UK) ^ | 7-23-2006 | Niall Ferguson

Posted on 07/23/2006 5:29:30 PM PDT by blam

This might not be a world war, but it still needs a sense of urgency

By Niall Ferguson

(Filed: 23/07/2006)

This is not the first time that world leaders have had their summers ruined by "a quarrel in a far-away country between people of whom we know nothing". In the summer of 1938, the quarrel between Germans and Czechs over the Sudetenland - which inspired Neville Chamberlain's notorious phrase - brought Europe to the brink of war.

Chamberlain's shuttle diplomacy, which saw him fly three times to see Hitler in Germany, was inspired by memories of an earlier quarrel over another obscure country. In August 1914, the world had gone to war as a result of a quarrel between Serbs and Austrians over Bosnia. In September 1939, despite Chamberlain's efforts at appeasement, another quarrel between Germans and Poles over Danzig (now Gdansk) led to the Second World War.

Could today's quarrel between the Israelis and Hezbollah over Lebanon produce a Third World War? That's what the former Republican Speaker of the House of Representatives, Newt Gingrich, called it last week, echoing earlier fighting talk by Dan Gillerman, Israel's Ambassador to the United Nations.

Such language can - for now, at least - safely be dismissed as hyperbole. This crisis is not going to trigger another world war. Indeed, I do not expect it to produce even another Middle Eastern war worthy of comparison with those of June 1967 or October 1973. In 1967, Israel fought four of its Arab neighbours, Egypt, Syria, Jordan and Iraq. In 1973, Egypt and Syria attacked Israel. Such combinations are very hard to imagine today.

Nor does it seem to me likely that Syria and Iran will escalate their involvement in the crisis beyond continuing their support for Hezbollah. Neither is in a position to risk a full-scale military confrontation with Israel, given the risk that this might precipitate an American military reaction.

Crucially, America's consistent support for Israel is not matched by any great power support for Israel's neighbours. During the Cold War, by contrast, the risk was that a Middle Eastern war could spill over into a superpower conflict. Henry Kissinger, secretary of state in the twilight of the Nixon presidency, first heard the news of an Arab-Israeli War at 6.15am on October 6, 1973. Half an hour later he was on the phone to the Soviet ambassador in Washington, Anatoly Dobrynin. Two weeks later Kissinger flew to Moscow to meet the Soviet leader, Leonid Brezhnev.

The stakes were high indeed. At one point during the 1973 crisis, as Brezhnev vainly tried to resist Kissinger's efforts to squeeze him out of the diplomatic loop, the White House raised America's state of military readiness to Defcon 3, putting its strategic nuclear forces on high alert. It is hard to imagine anything like that today.

In any case, this crisis may soon be over. Most wars Israel has fought have been short, lasting a matter of days or weeks (six days in 1967, three weeks in 1973). Some Israeli sources say this one could be finished in a matter of days. That, at any rate, is clearly the assumption being made in Washington.

Last week's overheard exchange between President Bush and Tony Blair was much analysed for the light it shed on their not-so-special relationship. The unprecedented contempt with which this President treats our Prime Minister (can you imagine Richard Nixon greeting his British counterpart with "Yo Wilson"?) was not, however, the most interesting thing revealed.

The Prime Minister was offering to make an immediate visit to the Middle East "to try and see what the lie of the land is".

"You need that done quickly," he argued, "because otherwise [the war in Lebanon] will spiral." Bush was dismissive, replying that he "thought" his Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, was "going to go pretty soon".

"But," remonstrated Blair, "it will take some time to get that together."

Bush: "Yeah, yeah."

Well, at least Mr Blair has no illusions about his role. "Obviously if she goes out," he reasoned, "she's got to succeed, as it were, whereas I can go out and just talk."

"Just talking" is, of course, the Prime Minister's great talent. Yet Bush wasn't interested. He was in no rush (other than to escape from the tedium of the G8 talking shop). Miss Rice is expected in Israel no earlier than today and will then attend a foreign ministers, conference on the crisis in Italy on Wednesday. Compare this leisurely response to the frenetic shuttle diplomacy of the Kissinger era. While striving to secure a settlement between Israel and Syria, Miss Rice's predecessor travelled 24,230 miles in just 34 days.

All this puts in a different light Mr Bush's much mocked observation that "what they need to do is to get Syria, to get Hezbollah to stop doing this s*** and it's over". The reality, as the President knows, is that it will be "over" only when the Israelis are satisfied they have reduced Hezbollah's capacity for "doing s***".

In one sense, Mr Bush is right that there is no rush. As we have seen, there is no risk of a Third World War. And yet there are other forms that an escalation could conceivably take. A war between states in the Middle East may not be on the cards, much less a superpower conflict. What we must fear, however, is a spate of civil wars - to be precise, ethnic conflicts - across the region.

Between 1975 and 1990, Lebanon's multi-ethnic society was torn apart in one of the most bloody internecine conflicts of modern times. A repeat of that scenario cannot be ruled out as Beirut burns again. Elsewhere, ethnic conflict is already a reality. Israel's undeclared war against the Palestinians in the occupied territories shows every sign of escalating. There were lethal Israeli air strikes on the Mughazi refugee camp in Gaza last week. Palestinians were also killed in Nablus on the West Bank. There is no longer a peace process; no road map towards peaceful coexistence. This is a war process, and the map Ehud Olmert has in mind will create not a Palestinian state but Arab reservations.

The policy of the Israelis today is motivated above all by pessimism: for not only are they encircled, they are also being out-bred. According to the forecasts of Arnon Sofer of the University of Haifa, by 2020, Jews will account for little more than two-fifths of the total population of Israel, the West Bank and Gaza. In Israel alone, nearly a third of the children under 14 will be Arabs. Yet there is one (albeit grim) source of solace. For the biggest ethnic conflict in the Middle East today is not between Jews and Arabs. It is between Sunni and Shi'a Muslims.

With every passing day, the character of violence in Iraq shifts from that of an anti-American insurgency to that of a sectarian civil war. More than 100 civilians a day were killed in Iraq last month, according to the UN, bringing the civilian death toll this year to a staggering 14,338. A rising proportion of those being killed are victims of sectarian violence.

For Israel, spiralling Sunni-Shiite conflict is a dark cloud with a silver lining. The worse it gets, the harder it will be for Israel's enemies to make common cause. (Fact: Syria is 74 per cent Sunni; Iran is 89 per cent Shi'a.) But for the United States, such conflict, emanating from a country supposedly liberated by American arms, must surely be a cause for concern.

It may not be the Third World War. It nevertheless calls for a much more urgent diplomatic effort than the Bush administration seems to have in mind.

• The last episode of Niall Ferguson's television series, The War of the World, is shown on Channel 4 tomorrow at 8pm.


TOPICS: Foreign Affairs; Israel; News/Current Events; United Kingdom; War on Terror
KEYWORDS: gwot; might; needs; niallferguson; sense; still; this; urgency; war; world

1 posted on 07/23/2006 5:29:32 PM PDT by blam
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To: blam
Arnon Sofer's demographics are wrong. Israel is not being out-bred by Arabs - to the contrary, the Arabs are blowing up the reproductive element of their society. They can replace them only so fast. A society that kills its child-bearing members has no real future. Israel does reproduce enough Jews to replace those lost to war and natural causes and I'm betting that a society that loves life will outlast a society that loves death. End of the debate.

(Go Israel, Go! Slap 'Em, Down Hezbullies.)

2 posted on 07/23/2006 5:34:56 PM PDT by goldstategop (In Memory Of A Dearly Beloved Friend Who Lives On In My Heart Forever)
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To: blam

Any discussion of potential world war would make serious discussion of Iran's nuclear ambitions. This is not even mentioned in passing here.


3 posted on 07/23/2006 5:38:25 PM PDT by C210N (Bush SPYED, Terrorists DIED!)
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To: blam

World wars dont start all at once.

This will be a World War of astounding proportions.


4 posted on 07/23/2006 5:39:04 PM PDT by Chickensoup (S)
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To: blam
This crisis is not going to trigger another world war.

Well, I don't know, Mr. Ferguson, but it seems that a lot of really smart, knowledgeable people are concerned that it could.

Of course, you're a journalist, so you know better than all those idiots. /sarc

5 posted on 07/23/2006 5:50:59 PM PDT by proud American in Canada (Thy Will Be Done.)
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To: proud American in Canada

Actually he's a historian. I don't agree with him wholly on this or much else but at least he puts some thought into it which few journos do.


6 posted on 07/23/2006 5:54:13 PM PDT by Androcles (All your typos are belong to us)
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To: goldstategop
Also, when they registered the Palestinians to vote they found out there were only about 1/4 the number they had thought. Now they are saying 1m instead of 5m.

Now, when prey tell has diplomacy stopped sectarian strife? And, how much of it is Iranian mischief?

7 posted on 07/23/2006 5:59:36 PM PDT by ClaireSolt (.)
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To: Androcles
Actually he's a historian.

Oh. :) *in my best some Seinfeld character voice, somebody pick which one :)* "Never mind". :)

I don't agree with him wholly on this or much else but at least he puts some thought into it which few journos do.

I really shouldn't jump in to these discussions. I was fixated at the beginning, and still am, but the beginning of the fighting occured at the beginning of my one short vacation at a newspaper (I'm a journalist, btw, LOL, but at a local weekly), and I just couldn't maintain the energy.

It's so complex and deep... I just haven't had the time/energy to study everything.

8 posted on 07/23/2006 6:01:08 PM PDT by proud American in Canada (Thy Will Be Done.)
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To: blam
Dear Mr. Ferguson.

It isn't the Third World War. It is in fact the Fourth World War.

Sincerely yours,

L

P.S. Oh and you're a wanker, too.

9 posted on 07/23/2006 6:02:09 PM PDT by Lurker (2 months and still no Bill from Congressman Pence. What is he milking squids for the ink?)
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To: Androcles; proud American in Canada

This crisis is not going to trigger another world war.

While it may not. This "crisis" has changed the middle east. For the 1st time I can recall we see one Arab nation criticizing another Arab nation when it involves Israel.


10 posted on 07/23/2006 6:05:03 PM PDT by Valin (http://www.irey.com/)
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To: Lurker

Re #9: LOL! Might as well use a derogatory term in his own idiom.

(reverts to small typeface b/c she has no idea... Okay, what other World War did I miss? Is it the public schooling? I did grow up in Illinois. I thought we had a pretty good educational system--it was a Chicago suburb. ???)

Man, I feel so freaking stupid. Every time I visit this place. :)


11 posted on 07/23/2006 6:08:56 PM PDT by proud American in Canada (Thy Will Be Done.)
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To: Valin

Hi, Valin! Long time no see. :)

Please see my post #11 for more input on what a complete idiot I am, LOL!

Take care. :)

(p.s., as for the substance of your post, that's pretty much what dirtboy said to me about a week ago. If I have it right. :) )


12 posted on 07/23/2006 6:12:31 PM PDT by proud American in Canada (Thy Will Be Done.)
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To: blam
There's only one continent that the slimes haven't attacked. It's only a matter of time till some imam koranus for brains declares a fatwah against the penguinfidels!


If it aint black and white.... peck scratch and bite!!

Bring It On Sheet for brains!

13 posted on 07/23/2006 6:16:40 PM PDT by rawcatslyentist (I'd rather be carrying a shotgun with Dick, than riding shotgun with a Kennedyl! *-0(:~{>)
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To: proud American in Canada
The Cold War is often times referred to as World War III. It's just that there wasn't all that much shooting, at least not directly between us and the Soviets.

I know I know....Korea....Viet Nam...Dominican Republic...Grenada...

BTW this war started in 1979 and Iran fired the first shots.

L

14 posted on 07/23/2006 6:17:08 PM PDT by Lurker (2 months and still no Bill from Congressman Pence. What is he milking squids for the ink?)
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To: blam

Bttt.


15 posted on 07/23/2006 6:17:41 PM PDT by Inyo-Mono (If you don't want people to get your goat, don't tell them where it's tied.)
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To: proud American in Canada

Oh I wouldn't say you're a complete idiot, but you have made a good start and we all have high hopes for you. :-)


16 posted on 07/23/2006 6:27:03 PM PDT by Valin (http://www.irey.com/)
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To: blam

Kudos to Niall Ferguson for the title; the current conflicts are not a World War--yet.


17 posted on 07/23/2006 6:29:47 PM PDT by Jedi Master Pikachu ( http://www.answersingenesis.org)
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To: goldstategop
Most statistics do show the Arab population of Israel growing faster than its Jewish one. Although many young men are blown up, they also have higher birthrates and larger families.

One of the reasons the Israelis are considering moving out of much of the West Bank (they've already moved out of Gaza) is to keep Israel's population largely Jewish.

18 posted on 07/23/2006 6:33:13 PM PDT by Jedi Master Pikachu ( http://www.answersingenesis.org)
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To: Lurker
The Cold War was not a World War. Stating that it was could be belittling the real World Wars.

The Cold War could have been a global war (as was the Seven Years War, and others before World War 1), but it was not a World War.

19 posted on 07/23/2006 6:36:37 PM PDT by Jedi Master Pikachu ( http://www.answersingenesis.org)
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To: Jedi Master Pikachu
Says you. However, some relatives of mine who were participants in a couple of those 'minor police actions' would vigorously dispute your assertion.

L

20 posted on 07/23/2006 6:39:30 PM PDT by Lurker (2 months and still no Bill from Congressman Pence. What is he milking squids for the ink?)
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To: proud American in Canada
Okay, what other World War did I miss? Is it the public schooling? I did grow up in Illinois. I thought we had a pretty good educational system--it was a Chicago suburb. ???

The one that lasted for more than 40 years, between Communism and the West. As I recall, the West won. Relatively few actual shots were fired (beyond Korea, Vietnam, Kampuchea, and various other third-world locations) because if they had been, the world itself would've been destroyed wholesale.

This one, the Fourth, is between radical Islam and everybody else. Unfortunately, some of the other players haven't clearly allied themselves on the correct side yet. They're still playing games. Also unfortunately, unlike the Dark Side in WWIII, the Dark Side in this war has no sense of self-preservation, so MAD is no deterrent. In fact, the only thing that will keep them from coming for us is if we either kill them first, or find an effective way to destroy their ideology.

21 posted on 07/23/2006 7:22:11 PM PDT by Luke Skyfreeper
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To: Jedi Master Pikachu
The Cold War was not a World War. Stating that it was could be belittling the real World Wars.

It's debatable. In a way, it's largely a matter of semantics and how you choose to use them.

It was certainly a prolonged period of struggle for global supremacy.

22 posted on 07/23/2006 7:24:44 PM PDT by Luke Skyfreeper
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To: Jedi Master Pikachu
I still view Sofer's demo statistics as being overly alarmist. The Arabs may start out with a womb advantage but they have nothing to live for. A society obssessed with death soon passes into history. Just ask the Nazis.

(Go Israel, Go! Slap 'Em, Down Hezbullies.)

23 posted on 07/23/2006 7:29:50 PM PDT by goldstategop (In Memory Of A Dearly Beloved Friend Who Lives On In My Heart Forever)
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To: blam

It nevertheless calls for a much more urgent diplomatic effort than the Bush administration seems to have in mind.

I don't see how this conclusion follows from the rest of the article. I'm with Bolton (and Bush). Syria already knows what it need to do. "Diplomacy" would only give further legitmacy to the Hezbos.

24 posted on 07/23/2006 8:01:18 PM PDT by RedRover
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To: blam

Given that of the 68 conflicts going on in the world today, all 68 involve Muslims ... I think that qualifies as a "world war".


25 posted on 07/24/2006 12:35:16 PM PDT by Mack the knife
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