Published by The Freeman Center
The Maccabean Online
Political Analysis and Commentary
Reflections on Peace and Indirect Warfare
By Paul Eidelberg
In a previous article the positive meaning of peace was defined as “fullness of being” or the absence of any privation. In contrast, politicians and citizens typically mean by “peace” the absence of political tension or conflict—one may almost say anesthesia.
Surely anesthesia is not preferable to all forms of conflict. As stated by this author in Beyond Detente: Toward an American Foreign Policy (1977), to rest content with a negative view of peace would preclude every revolution, including the American Revolution of 1776. Such a view of peace would condemn revolution against any tyranny, whether Communist, Fascist or Islamic. Of course, revolutions, like any conflict that changes the ruler-ruled relationship of a regime, may have salutary as well as vicious ends.
No less than three interrelated types of conflict may be distinguished: military, economic, and political, and each type may be overt or covert, “direct” or “indirect.” For example, the transfer of fifty American destroyers to Britain in 1940 constituted, according to international law, a belligerent act. It was, in fact, an indirect attack by the United States against Nazi Germany. Germany thus had cause not only for breaking diplomatic relations with Washington, but for launching a direct military attack on any part or possession of the United States.
This being the case, that the United States supplies the Palestinian Authority with hundreds of millions of dollars of aid may rightly be deemed a belligerent act against the state of Israel since the PA is at war with the Jewish state. Indeed, from s purely legal perspective, and exclusive of other obvious considerations, Israel has just cause for attacking the United States! The converse does not apply to the PA because the latter is in fact a terrorist organization; and not only is it a violation of international law to aid such an organization, but as Purdue Professor Louis Rene Beres has pointed out, it is an international obligation to punish that organization.
Of course, we are not advocating an Israeli attack on the USA—although this has been a subject of the following piece Israeli humor: Israel attacks the U.S. expecting to lose but with the expectation of becoming enriched—the experience of Germany and Japan losing to the US. But as the punch line has it, Israel has the bad luck to win!
Another example of indirect war is that being waged against Israel by Iranian proxies—Hamas and Hezbollah. This alone gives Israel just cause for attacking Iran quite apart from the latter’s threat to wipe Israel off the map. (Cyber warfare is another matter.)
The example of Iran and its indirect and covert war against Israel may remind some people of the Soviet Union and its client communist North Vietnam. Not only was North Vietnam president Ho Chi Minh educated in Moscow, but the Soviet Union wanted to gain control of the strategic Strait of Malacca situated just south of South Vietnam. While American soldiers were fighting in Vietnam, President Lyndon Johnson never informed the American people that the Strait of Malacca connects the Pacific Ocean to the east with the Indian Ocean to the west, and that it was through this strait that Japan received most of its oil from the Persian Gulf. This means that, in reality, the Vietnam War was an indirect war between the U.S. and the USSR. Something comparable to this, but more obvious, may occur if Iran chokes off the Strait of Hormuz. This would constitute an economic war against the United States and her allies and would warrant a U.S. military response.
The trouble is that governments are fond of keeping their people ignorant about geostrategic and geopolitical realities—which is why the U.S. lost the war in Vietnam and why Israel has not won the war against her Islamic enemies. This reminds me of the teaching of Metternich: “When called upon to handle important matters, the statesman must tackle them vigorously. For this to happen it is necessary that the course decided upon should not only be clear in the eyes of the Cabinet, but should also be made clear in the eyes of the public.”
Of course, fighting proxies results in protracted war, in which democracies are at a disadvantage to the extent that their leaders fail to define the behind the scenes enemy.