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Time to Keep Cool: This Time It’s Not Different

We shouldn’t rush to repeat the past’s mistakes because of the violence in Israel-Palestine.

Credit: zapomicron

Reacting to the horrific Hamas attacks on Israel, Rep. Dan Crenshaw of Texas, a Republican, tweeted, “This looks like it will be the war to end all wars. It’s different this time.” In so saying, Crenshaw committed two heresies for conservatives. 

First, in speaking of a war to end all war, Crenshaw was quoting a utopian socialist, H.G. Wells. Wells will always be regarded as a great science fiction writer, but his Fabian geopolitics haven’t aged well. (The war-to-end-all-war phrase is often attributed to Woodrow Wilson, who actually shied away from it, although the twenty-eighth president did say that the Great War would be “the final triumph of justice.” In light of subsequent injustices, of course, the Great War had to be renamed as World War One.)


Second, Crenshaw used the eternally naive formulation, “it’s different this time.” The true conservative, like the wise Wall Street investor, knows that it’s never different. There is nothing new under the sun; the most we ever see is variations on themes, including the human propensity for folly. As Alfred North Whitehead said knowingly, all history is a footnote to Plato.

In fairness to Crenshaw, he was referring to the Middle East, although not everyone in U.S. politics is able to keep the United States and the Middle East distinct. For instance, Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley declared, “This is not just an attack on Israel—this was an attack on America.” And H.R. McMaster, a former national security advisor, went further, much further: “The United States and other nations need to join Israel in the response just as our allies did after 9/11. That response should be swift and devastating to the Iranian terrorist network and the source of this unadulterated evil.” 

Yes, the level of fervor, at least in some quarters, is starting to resemble the feeling after 9/11. In the days thereafter, some 22 years ago, this author can remember watching former education secretary Bill Bennett say that, in response, the U.S. needed to carry the war to not only Afghanistan, but also Iraq, Syria, Iran—even China. And as we know, the U.S. did go to war against some of those countries, and the effort ended in disaster. 

So before we make some more epic mistakes, let’s get a grip. Let’s put recent events in perspective. 

Israel suffered a massive military defeat on 10/7. It will be a date that will live in infamy in that country, not just for the vicious nature of the attacks, but also for the incompetence of Israel’s vaunted defense forces. As Tennyson would say of an earlier military debacle, “someone had blundered.” Indeed, it appears that there were blunders on multiple fronts. 


Clearly, aerial attack now has the upper hand over aerial defense. Around the world, attacks now consist of swarms of drones or missiles that overwhelm the defense with sheer numbers. To put that another way, it appears that offensive weapons can be made more cheaply than defensive weapons. In that same vein, air forces haven’t yet come to grips with the fact that remote-control swarms are more effective, in toto, than a relative handful of arduously trained human pilots and their aircraft. Military history is littered with instances in which generals and admirals were loth to admit that their treasured way of warfare—cavalry and battleships, for example—were obsolesced by newer, nimbler innovations. A deep rethink of air defense is needed, even if it means retiring the ultra-testosteronal top guns. 

In addition, while the Israelis had admirable walls, they don’t seem to have guarded them. The watchtowers need watchmen. (And yes, the U.S. should pay particular attention here: On our border, we have neither walls nor watchmen.) 

Moreover, there’s a deeper syndrome in Israel to which the U.S. might also be prey. The split over Prime Minister Netanyahu has been so wide that it led some reserve soldiers to declare that they wouldn’t serve under Bibi’s overall command. Whether that threat is still in force remains to be seen, and yet we can wonder whether that antipathy might have contributed to Israel’s ill-preparedness on 10/7, either by distraction or by intention. Once again, history is replete with instances of countries so split as to be unready; France in 1940 comes to mind; the left and the right both seemed to hate each other more than the invading Germans. ’Twas ever thus: The eminent historian Arnold Toynbee concluded that civilizations were more likely to crumble through internal divisions than external threat. 

Of course, none of this necessarily takes Netanyahu himself off the hook. In the painful excavations to come, one wonders whether Israeli diggers will find a document as damning about their leader as was found about President George W. Bush. Five weeks prior to 9/11, the 43rd president was briefed, “Bin Ladin (sic) Determined To Strike in US.” These and other warnings were ping-ponging around the White House, and yet the administration stayed serenely focused on stem cell research, as well as, of course, the long-germinating liberation of Iraq

Whatever happens in Israel and Gaza, the U.S. needs to absorb some lessons about its own defense. 

Most immediately, no rush to war. That most reliable neocon hawk, Sen. Lindsey Graham, a Republican from South Carolina, has already suggested that the U.S. could join in on the attacks. (For some people, lamentably, it’s never different—it’s always the same hawkery.) Indeed, we are warned that the Authorization for the Use of Military Force, the Congressional war writ enacted on September 18, 2001, is still in effect, having been applied to twenty-two countries. Could we wake up one morning and find that the U.S. has gone to war again? As things stand now, that would be up to Joe Biden, who earlier in his career voted aye on not only the AUMF but also specifically to support the Iraq War

In the meantime, whatever lessons the Israelis are learning about border security, we need to learn, too. We can add that the situation here is in its own way grotesque. Originally, the U.S. military defended U.S. borders. But then the Department of Defense got too involved overseas to worry about the U.S. itself, and so the mission was turned over to the Department of Homeland Security, which boasts plenty of military firepower. But as we know, DHS is not doing it. So do we need another outfit to protect the border? Or could we somehow yet entice DHS, or DOD, to recommit to border security? It’s possible, but as we know, the Biden administration is so confused about border security that even when DHS decides to start building a wall, the president denounces the plan

In addition, the U.S. needs to think more about energy security. Thanks to fracking and Trumping, we made great strides in domestic energy production, mostly oil and natural gas, strides which the greens in the Biden administration sought to reverse and would love to reverse, even now. So if something happens to, say, Iranian oil facilities, what will happen to gas prices, and to the U.S, economy? It won’t be good.

Those with long memories will recall that this magazine was founded, back in 2002, in large measure to oppose the rush to foreign war. So now, here we are again, maybe. But then, as we know, there is nothing new under the sun.