Thursday, August 10, 2006

As Dangereous As 1962?

Now, it’s beginning to get really dangerous. The guns of August are firing all over the place.

The consequences if the security agencies had not managed to stop the plot to blow up a number of jumbo jets in mid-Atlantic would have been tremendous.

I’m saying that also as a rather frequent flyer on precisely the London – Washington route.

But even now they will be large.

There is a risk of US opinion even more seeing everything that happens everywhere through the prism of the “global war against terrorism”.

Iraq, Hezbollah, Iran, al-Qaeda, Hamas – everything seems to merge into some sort of super-plot that requires a super-response by the world’s superpower. And that super-response by definition has to be military.

The upcoming midterm elections in the US in November might well have the tendency of moving the White House even more in this direction.

But such an approach risks making a very risky situation even more dangerous.

Richard Holbrooke sometimes has a tendency to be somewhat hyperbolic in his statements, but I think he has it absolutely right now:

Two full-blown crises, in Lebanon and Iraq, are merging into a single emergency. A chain reaction could spread quickly almost anywhere between Cairo and Bombay.

Turkey is talking openly of invading northern Iraq to deal with Kurdish terrorists based there. Syria could easily be pulled into the war in southern Lebanon. Egypt and Saudi Arabia are under pressure from jihadists to support Hezbollah, even through governments in Cairo and Riyadh hate the organisation. Afghanistan accuses Pakistan of giving shelter to al-Qaeda and the Taliban; there is constant fighting on both sides of that border. NATO: s own war in Afghanistan is not going well. India talks of taking punitive action against Pakistan for allegedly being behind the Bombay bombings. Uzbekistan is a repressive dictatorship with a growing Islamist resistance.

His rather dark conclusion is that “this combination of combustible elements poses the greatest threat to global stability since the 1962 Cuban missile crisis.

Then it was one situation that required the acute attention of two men. Had they failed, a nuclear war might have resulted.

Now, it’s a far more diffused conflict, where it is difficult and demanding for policymakers to differentiate sufficiently between the different challenges and develop policy responses that don’t make things worse.

And it is vitally important not see everything as one super-plot, but rather as a number of extreme serious and mutually reinforcing challenges that have to be handled with policy responses that disaggregates rather than fuses together the challenges.

For all the attention given to the war in Lebanon, it seems as if more people have been killed in Baghdad in the last two weeks. And today’s deadly attack in Najaf takes Iraq even closer to the feared civil war.

The multiple crisis now exploding from Mogadishu to Kabul – and its terrorist extensions into London and everywhere – makes it even more imperative to calm down whatever can be calmed down.

For Washington to give Israel green light for a major ground invasion of southern Lebanon in this situation would be a very major mistake.

Minds that are burning all over the Muslim world will be inflamed even more – in London as well as in Baghdad.

The purpose of policy should not be make bad things even worse.

That's the least we need in this increasingly dangereous situation.