- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 1, 2002

Neoconservatives are preparing the groundwork for interminable U.S. conflict with the Middle East. In the current issue of Commentary, the influential magazine of the American Jewish Committee, Norman Podhoretz makes a case that it is not enough for the U.S. to attack only Afghanistan and Iraq. Mr. Podhoretz argues that "changes of regime are the sine qua non throughout the region."

The challenge that President Bush faces, says Mr. Podhoretz, is "to fight World War IV the war against militant Islam." He identifies the enemies: "The regimes that richly deserve to be overthrown and replaced are not confined to the three singled-out members of the axis of evil" (Iraq, Iran, North Korea). At a minimum, the axis should extend to Syria and Lebanon and Libya, as well as 'friends' of America like the Saudi royal family and Egypt's Hosni Mubarak, along with the Palestinian Authority."

Unlike the Bush administration, Mr. Podhoretz realizes that to overthrow the Taliban and Saddam Hussein is merely to stir a hornets' nest, while leaving in place multitudes of anti-Israeli and anti-American militants. President Bush must own up to the true task, states Mr. Podhoretz, and find "the stomach to impose a new political culture on the defeated" Middle East, just as we did unapologetically on Germany and Japan.

There is logic to Mr. Podhoretz's argument. But what happens to Mr. Bush's Middle East coalition against terrorism if the coalition members think they are next on the list? If Islam replaces Iraq as the target, the U.S. and Israel are left dangerously isolated. Mr. Bush could even lose the support of the American people if they see an invasion of Iraq as just the opening step of a prodigious agenda of conquering and reforming the Muslim world.

Mr. Podhoretz reveals the flaw in U.S. strategic thinking: Invading Iraq will not only widen the conflict by inciting militant Muslims against moderate Middle East governments aligned with the U.S., but also will incite more terrorists against Israel and the U.S. Unless the U.S. is willing and able to reconstruct the entire Middle East, invading Iraq will be like starting a Thirty Years War. Such a struggle would leave the U.S. exhausted, unable to confront the rising power of an ambitious China.

The U.S. cannot fight a wider conflict with the Middle East on the Bush administration's stomach alone. The question is whether the American people have the stomach for such a conflict. Americans see the invasion of Iraq as a short-term affair, the purpose of which is to remove weapons of mass destruction that could be used against Americans. They support the invasion as a solution to a specific problem, not as the opening gun of a wider war.

A critical question is whether open borders have turned "the American people" into an abstraction. The Washington Post has always favored massive immigration because it builds Democratic voting rolls. But on Sept. 15 the newspaper called the U.S. a "Tower of Babel" whose sense of community has been shattered by the rise of ethnic media.

The Post reports that the penetration of what we are accustomed to call the major media is down to 43 percent of the U.S. population and dropping rapidly. Increasingly, "people in key metropolitan areas now get their news from ethnic newspaper and broadcast outlets."

The Post asks: "If you can't understand what your fellow subway rider is reading, if you can't follow the opinions he or she listens to each night, how can you hope to hold a discussion about national politics? Aren't our opinions and national discourse likely to become ever more Balkanized?"

President Bush should ponder this question before he undertakes to reconstruct the Middle East. He must face the fact that his own country has been reconstructed by massive immigration from the Third World. Are these legions of hyphenated-Americans in sympathy with the aura of U.S. hegemony and war against the Middle East?

A great deal more thought is needed before the U.S. risks becoming embroiled in conflict with 1 billion Muslims for which it lacks both economic means and popular support. Once such conflict begins, our withdrawal would have serious consequences for Israel. We could not pack up and go home like we did in Vietnam without handing a death sentence to Israel.

Despite extreme measures, Israel is unable to defend itself from Palestinian terrorists. What strategic goal is achieved by an action that is certain to incite more Muslims against Israel and the U.S.?

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