Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

With Hezbollah and U.S. airstrikes in Syria, are we on the verge of a big Mideast war? Is this the end of Ottoman history?

Both the United States and Hezbollah are reported to have conducted air strikes in Syria. And Israel shot down a Syrian jet.   As my wife said over breakfast, "This is getting too bizarre. If it were a novel, the editor would say, ‘you’re going too far.’" The U.S. involvement in Syria is big news, ...

via Wikimedia
via Wikimedia
via Wikimedia

Both the United States and Hezbollah are reported to have conducted air strikes in Syria. And Israel shot down a Syrian jet.  

As my wife said over breakfast, "This is getting too bizarre. If it were a novel, the editor would say, 'you're going too far.'"

The U.S. involvement in Syria is big news, but the Hezbollah strikes, conducted by armed drones, may be more historically significant. As my New America colleagues Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider observe, "Hezbollah's use of drones marks a milestone for terrorist groups worldwide: It would be the first time a group other than a nation state used armed drones successfully to carry out an attack, marking an important step towards closing the gap between the technological capabilities of countries such as the United States and militant groups such as Hezbollah."

Both the United States and Hezbollah are reported to have conducted air strikes in Syria. And Israel shot down a Syrian jet.  

As my wife said over breakfast, "This is getting too bizarre. If it were a novel, the editor would say, ‘you’re going too far.’"

The U.S. involvement in Syria is big news, but the Hezbollah strikes, conducted by armed drones, may be more historically significant. As my New America colleagues Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider observe, "Hezbollah’s use of drones marks a milestone for terrorist groups worldwide: It would be the first time a group other than a nation state used armed drones successfully to carry out an attack, marking an important step towards closing the gap between the technological capabilities of countries such as the United States and militant groups such as Hezbollah."

I think we are at a point at which containing the fighting in Iraq and Syria to those countries is a best-case scenario.

But chances are the war will be bigger than that. My thinking is that what is going on now in Iraq, Syria and Kurdistan is in many ways simply the last fallout from the crumbling of the Ottoman Empire. We saw the beginning of this fallout century ago, with an assassination at the former western end of the Empire, in Sarajevo. And we got pulled into the final act of that crumbling, too, in Bosnia, Kosovo and (from the air) Serbia. Now we are seeing the other Ottoman shoe drop at the old empire’s eastern end.

Does taking such a cosmic view really inform us? I don’t know. But I suspect that establishing context is the beginning of strategic wisdom. If you don’t know where you are, it is hard to know where you are going.

Only one thing struck me about President Obama’s comments this morning: They sounded just like the first President Bush.

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1

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