World War III?
Bill Kristol, editor of The Weekly Standard and regular commentator at Fox news, has said the closing of U.S. embassies in 21 countries is a sign of weakness on the part of the U.S. and suggests capitulation to al-Qaeda.
He may be partly right, but chances are that the closing of the embassies auger something far more ominous. The shutdowns may be a sign of an increased conflagration in the Middle East and Northern Africa. We may be looking at the onset of World War III.
For some time, the power-struggles of the listed nations have been largely characterized as civil wars among various Muslim factions, including the Muslim Brotherhood. But civil wars are confined within national boundaries. Once the boundary lines have bled into one another, as is presently the case with Syria, the wars become a generalized struggle, with various factions joining with the likeminded of surrounding nations. As World Wars I and II demonstrated, when war escapes national boundaries or aggressive entities invade other national boundaries, nations with a vested interest in maintaining or extending their power bases begin to team up with one another according to ideological empathies. The fighting then spreads as more and more nations get sucked into a black hole of conflict.
As the West has gradually abandoned its former role in the area, the national lines the Allied Powers drew in the Versailles Treaty, which basically carved up the ancient Ottoman Empire, have been under incessant pressure. The pressure increased exponentially since 1979, when extremist Islamists attacked the U.S. embassy in Tehran, capturing 60 American hostages, whom these Islamists held for 444 days.
The Islamist movement spread from nation to nation, placing the area in constant chaos. Those nations had been carved into supposedly manageable European-sized entities with the probable hope that each nation would gradually take on democratic form, with the League of Nations as a calm and judicious mentor. But the creators of the Versailles Treaty were oblivious to the intransigently authoritarian nature of Islamism, as the Middle Eastern and North African countries were at the time relatively subdued.
Now, however, the national boundaries established in 1919 are becoming increasingly meaningless, as the Islamist movement is more about empire-building than nation-building. The West, with its long tradition of democracy, has never fully grasped the Islamist preference for authoritarianism and empire, and so it has believed that the national lines it drew would encourage the growth of democracy. What the Islamist impulse for empire means, however, is that war among the Middle East and North African nations is inevitable, as national boundaries mean nothing to those determined to re-establish the equivalent of a caliphate.
All the above is to say that the probable reason for the closure of the U.S. embassies is that the hostilities in the area have reached such proportions that the civil wars afflicting the area are no longer containable in any meaningful way. Further, al-Qaeda and its ilk, not long ago described by the current U.S. administration as completely defeated, have doubtless metastasized to such a degree that they feel safe to attack Big Satan in its most vulnerable outposts -- outposts that have long been islands of diplomacy that is no longer possible.
The vanishing of the Western centers of diplomacy in the Middle East and northern Africa may mean that the West has been warned -- perhaps by Israel? -- and finally sees that there is no diplomatic solution possible, regardless of the present posturing of the so-called "peace talks" between Palestinians and Israel. The "peace talks" probably should be regarded as a complete charade, kept up to the bitter end while the entire area is about to go up in flames as America exits stage left.
Meanwhile, two chief players, Iran and Russia, are in a deadly chess game designed to ensure hegemony in the area -- a hegemony that will almost certainly be successful if Iran already has the nuclear bomb.
But another chief player may already have signaled the U.S. that she is about to do a pre-emptive strike. While the world is focused in the utterly useless Middle East "peace talks," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, knowing beforehand that the talks will be absolutely fruitless, could have already made the decision to strike Iran's nuclear facilities. It may be that he has already sent word to President Obama, who, with the Benghazi fires still burning in the minds of the conservative media as well as in the hearts of some congressmen, is now committed to retreat. The administration does not want a dozen Benghazi-type incidents to occur before the elections of 2014 and 2016. It would be more politically expedient to close the embassies and warn Americans not to travel rather than to risk protecting either the diplomatic outposts or American citizens.
When embassies are closed, it is usually because war is imminent. The lines of the Versailles Treaty are dissolving as nations disintegrate and new entities take shape. What those new lines will look like is anyone's guess, but it could be that Iran allied with Russia will be the biggest power-broker in the Middle East, but not without a dreadful struggle.
The question before Israel is whether or not she will allow Iran the capacity to annihilate her, as Iran's leaders have expressly said they would like to do. Will Israel passively face another holocaust?
The survivalist mentality that has served Israel so well is probably already kicking in. Israel has often said, "Never again." For her, it is indeed now or never. It may be that the chaos and confusion now gripping the Middle East will afford her the opportune moment to strike as the nations surrounding her fight one another.
As for the United States, it is anyone's guess as to the role this administration sees for our nation regarding Israel. There is warrant for suspecting that our president will opt out of any meaningful alliance with Israel, leaving her to face the consequences of a strike alone while he mouths empty words of support.
Time will tell, of course.
But in the meantime, some reading of the tea leaves is warranted, as the unprecedented closing of our embassies gives us a big clue that ominous events are happening behind the scenes, soon to burst into the open with consequences we can scarcely imagine.
Fay Voshell may be reached at email@example.com.