“Our policy is very simple. The Jewish state was set up to defend Jewish lives, and we always reserve the right to defend ourselves.” – Benjamin Netanyahu
Jeffrey Goldberg has a rather lengthy article over at the atlantic discussing the prospect of an Israeli attack on Iran to prevent Iranian development of nuclear weapons. It’s a fairly comprehensive discussion of the current grappling with issues going on in Israel and the fact that they may well attack Iran when no other option exists … and other options are vanishing fast.
The discussion got me thinking, as I do from time to time, about my position on issues of warfare. As you know, I am a Christian, and try to consider how my religious leanings apply to my view of government policy. On domestic policy this is usually pretty simple – human freedom should carry the day and government do-gooders generally do no good at all. The government is neither God nor the Church and should not attempt to assume either role. But for foreign policy, especially military affairs, it’s not so simple.
Let me state first that I am neither a war hawk nor a pacifist. As for the later, C. S. Lewis explains the issue quite nicely in The Weight of Glory, indicating that Christ’s admonition to “turn the other cheek” is a reference to subjugating pride and not seeking revenge for personal suffering; which cannot be extended to imply that we must stand aside as a madman murders the entire village. The issue then is not only removing vengeance from our thinking and acting, but also viewing our scope of actions in the light of all affected parties. The Lord has always advocated defending the innocent and the downtrodden.
My libertarian tendencies would possibly lead one to think me an isolationist, but this too is not the case. While I see the theoretical appeal of isolationism – believe me I do – military affairs are not legal matters. In a court of law, the defendant is given a presumption of innocence, and a high bar is set for proving guilt. This is because we tacitly recognize that it is worse to send an innocent man to jail than to let a guilty man go free.
In warfare this is not so. We do not need to extend every potential “plausible deniability” to every possible adversary. If we have reason to believe that a foreign threat is about to attack us, it is reasonable to take preventative measures – even if the proof isn’t 100%. This is no different than defending one’s family. If I think the man at the door poses a threat to my wife and kids I may well shut the door on him, quite rudely, without asking what he wants. If he attempts to stop me from shutting the door (it has happened) I may well swing first and ask questions later. He’s standing at my door and preventing my freedom of movement and control on my property – he has lost his defensible rights.
Let us consider the case of WWII. Japan attacked the US, followed by a German declaration of war – before these two we were ostensibly neutral. Now, suppose Japan did not attack, and Germany stayed neutral until after they had secured victory over Britain and fought Russia to a standstill. At this point, would America have been able to turn the tide, or would we have been washed away with fascism? I don’t know the answer, but victory would have been anything but certain. If we had reason to believe that (a) Japan and Germany would not stop with England and Russia and (b) once the other allies fell we would not be able to win – we have every reason to join the fight now. (The Japanese just made the decision easier.)
My point is that if there is a reasonable threat to security of a nation, a credible risk to its survival, the sooner action is taken to neutralize the threat the better. Waiting for the enemy to load his gun before you open fire is a bit stupid. If you know you’re in danger, forces are gathering for your destruction, and you have the capacity to act, well, sometimes you just have to shoot first and let the historians ask the questions.
If I were Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, I wouldn’t feel a huge need for restraint in this issue. Ahmadenijad has already declared his desire and intent to wipe Israel off the map. You cannot, you absolutely cannot, dismiss this as the ravings of a lunatic. When Hitler railed against the Jews – then killed 6 million – we learned that sometimes the madmen are serious. Israel cannot allow him to obtain nuclear capabilities, and will be forced to act unless some last ditch international efforts succeed.
I certainly hope and pray that it doesn’t come to that. War between Israel and Iran would be bad – really, really bad. Lots of casualties on each side. Massive tension across the world as Russia and China back Iran while the US (probably) backs Israel. Oil prices go through the roof – sending everybody into a tailspin recession/depression. And, to top it all off, the threat of terrorism on US soil escalates dramatically. (We already hear that Hezbollah, Iranian puppets, has infiltrated quite a few agents via the US southern border.)
But, war is not the greatest of all evil. Compared to the genocide that Iran may well unleash if given the power, war and hardships now seem a rather small price to pay. But, it may yet resolve without conflict. Here’s hoping President Obama and Secretary Clinton have a few more cards to play. Here’s hoping the international community, especially the arab states and Europe, come to the table with their support. And if it all fails, then here’s wishing the Israeli strike package well. May civilian casualties be low, may Iranian nuclear ambitions be scuttled, and may this mark the beginning of the collapse of the Iranian theocracy.