Six Days in June: The War That Redefined the Middle East is a new DVD release from Public Broadcast (PBS) via their Boston affiliate, WGBH. It is an excellent history lesson, well worth seeing, and vividly presents a time when the international political map was altered in a dramatic way that still impacts the entire world down to the present time.
The story is fairly well known. President Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt decided, with the approval of the Soviet Union, to move against Israel with aggressive military action in early 1967. Virtually the entire Arab world openly supported him and even Jordan's King Hussein, who had been more neutral up to that point, turned his army over to the Egyptians. While Egypt amassed tanks in the Sinai Peninsula Israel launched a preemptive air strike against the Egyptian air force and its bases and completely took them out of the military equation in one day. Israeli Prime Minister Levi Eshkol, a man of peace, resisted the military buildup to war but when Defense Minister Moshe Dayan came to the fore to lead his nation in battle the whole plan changed. Not only were the Arabs defeated, they were humiliated. The political map was changed as Israel took new territory that had previously belonged to their neighbors. The most significant gain was the city of Old Jerusalem and the famous Temple Mount and the Wailing Wall.
What most Americans now seem to forget is that the forces that shaped this Arab attack have not fundamentally changed since the summer of 1967. Watching this video last evening I realized again how passionately many Arabs feel about the conclusion that Israel has no right to even exist. And the failed efforts of Abdel Nasser eventually led to the terrorist alternatives of the more recent era sine the Arab world is not strong enough to destroy Israel.
Now Iran threatens to lead a new effort to get rid of Israel and the Soviets are again a menacing presence in these tensions! One of President Bush's biggest international mistakes was his open 'trust' of President Putin who has shown anything but good faith in these matters. After all, there is huge money to be made for Russia in selling weapons and nuclear materials to Iran.
This excellent DVD examines how one of the most important wars of the 20th century came about, how it was actually fought, and how it reshaped the entire regional political landscape. No issue is still more important to the security of both the United States and the free world.
So why then is the U. S. so deeply involved in the Gulf region to this day? If you listen to appeasing liberals, and radical libertarians like Ron Paul, we should not be involved in the region at all. Most suggest the sole reason that we are is oil. Some even see a sinister plot by the Bush family guided by their friendship with the oil industry. But only 17% of our oil imports come from the Arab Gulf and less than 0.5% of our natural gas comes from this area. Japan, on the other hand, gets 80% of its oil there and China gets 70%. What is true, however, is that the oil market is global and rising prices there would impact the world, and thus America, very adversely. But this is NOT our major reason for being in the Gulf, not then or not now.
For the past two plus centuries a global economic and political system was formed, first under the leadership of Great Britain and then the United States. This system, or loose network of people, governments and ideas, maintains the security of world trade over the seas and in the air. Without it the world would descend into economic, and correspondingly, social chaos. Because of our presence in the Middle East countries like Germany, Japan, Korea, India and China do not need to defend their own access to Middle Eastern energy. This dampens enthusiasm among these nations for new wars and aggressive military build ups. (China and India have been moderate exceptions but for different reasons that are more regional at this point, involving perceived threats from Russia and Pakistan respectively.)
As foreign relations expert Walter Russell Mead has put it, "For this system to work, the Americans must prevent any power from dominating the Persian Gulf while retaining the ability to protect the safe passage of ships through its waters." This was the very reason the 1967 War broke out. The Egyptians decided to close the sea lanes that needed to remain open in the Gulf. Israel, and the free world, saw this as an attack on the peace of the entire region. America did not directly hep Israel in the 1967 War, contrary to Arab and Soviet propaganda in defeat, but she certainly had her sympathies.
Today the U. S. is again attempting to build a coalition in the Middle East to oppose Iran's aggressive desires to shape the region and change the world. This is the real political issue in Iraq, regardless of how and why we got there. Says Mead, "The end of America's ability to safeguard the Gulf and the trade routes around it would be enormously damaging---not just to us. Defense budgets would grow dramatically in every major power center, and Middle Eastern politics would be further destabilized, as every country sought political influence in Middle Eastern countries to ensure access to oil in the resulting free for all."
But selling this idea is extremely difficult in America. We are a short-sighted people, focused on our own ends and pleasures, and seem to care less about world stability. We want peace but we do not understand that it comes at the price of vigilance. We tend to take our eye off the ball unless we are actually being attacked directly, as on 9/11. So most of us do not understand why Iraq and Iran really matter that much to America and the world. The media, and the liberal elites, tell us we are just meddling in a place that we ought to abandon as soon as possible. And now we even have a Republican presidential candidate, Ron Paul, who is just wacky enough to promote such a crazy idea.
Adds Walter Russell Mead, a voice for reason and sanity in foreign relations if there ever was one, "The potential for conflict and chaos is real. A world of insecure and suspicious great powers engaged in military competition over vital interests would bot be a safe or happy place." America is not, at least primarily, trying to expand an empire in the old fashioned sense. That is a hugely mistaken smokescreen. Our Persian Gulf policy is about peace. And it is about political realism in a world that could go into total war at the smallest provocation. That we have managed to avoid massive conflict such since World War II is a grace. We should give thanks and remain vigilant.
Walter Russell Mead rightly concludes: "The next American president, regardless of party and regardless of his or her views about the wisdom of George W. Bush's invasion of Iraq, will necessarily make the security of the Persian Gulf states one of America's very highest international priorities."
I hope he is right. This is, in my estimation, the most important issue before us in the coming presidential election. I think that whoever is chosen will likely be forced to stay this course or face a world that devolves into chaos rather quickly. I just wish more Americans understood these hard realities. The inane perspective of many on this issue is frightening and disturbing, none more so than those who rally around a candidate like Congressman Ron Paul.
So long as we are a nation of free speech we will have people like Ron Paul saying what many apparently want to hear. And so long as we have free speech we will have much confusion. I welcome this since I believe in free speech. But I also believe that this makes it imperative that we better teach people how to think about international political realities if they are to understand why we must protect shipping in the Middle East. Most of our political leaders, including President Bush, have not done an adequate job of explaining this reality to ordinary people and thus I hope we elect a president who can and does this much better in the coming years. Our future may well depend on it. Another world war may hinge on it. Forces of international fascism, mostly promoted by radical Islamic groups, would love to incite chaos around the world. If you doubt this then you are sleeping through a critical era in history.