Daniel Greenfield
Daniel GreenfieldCourtesy

The desperate effort to keep Israeli soldiers from going into the last Gaza stronghold of the Islamic terrorist organization is about more than the sum of the geopolitical parts.

After nation building failed in Afghanistan and Iraq, and everywhere else it’s been tried, the radioactive ‘Palestinian’ nation building experiment from over 30 years ago is its last hope.

Long before George W. Bush tackled nation building after 9/11, his father began the era of turning Muslim terrorist groups into countries with the project to give the PLO a state. Where the first Bush failed, Bill Clinton succeeded with the Oslo accords and a Nobel prize for Arafat.

The PLO state failed long before Iran took over Iraq and the Taliban took over Afghanistan. There had never been anything peaceful, democratic or aspirational about Arafat and the PLO. By the time that Hamas had captured Gaza after winning democratic elections, it had long been clear to everyone outside of D.C. that rather than ending terrorism, statehood had incarnated it.

Any ‘Palestinian’ state was doomed to be a terrorist state. The only question is who would run it. And the answer was that the biggest and deadliest terrorists would command popular support.

When Iraq and Afghanistan went bad, America could just leave, Israelis did not have that luxury. Sharon forcibly expelled the Jews living in Gaza to the other side of a border wall, but despite all the sob stories that the terrorists were living in an “open air concentration camp” with five-star hotels and mansions, walls weren’t that hard to get through even before Oct 7.

Israel has been stuck living next door to a failed thirty year nation-building experiment gone bad. And everyone in the international community is worried that the Oct 7 war will see it taken apart.

Lately the nation building experts have taken to warning that Israel is doing it the wrong way. Former CIA Director David Petraeus who also oversaw American forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, has been arguing that Israel needs to pivot to a “counterinsurgency” model. And then we’re back to “winning hearts and minds” instead of actually trying to win a war.

The Biden administration has never stopped insisting that Israel needs a “day after” plan for rebuilding Gaza under a PLO government and some “moderate” terrorists from Hamas. Three generations after it became the norm, fighting a war without nation building as an endgame is so impossible that warfare experts can’t even understand what they’re seeing in Israel.

But among all the other problems with nation building is that it doesn’t work. And the Israelis who have been living next to the original chernobyl of nation building know it better than anyone.

Nation building has failed in every single Muslim country it’s been tried, not just by the United States after 9/11, but by the British between WWI and WWII. The entire Middle East is one long great nation building disaster shaped by primeval nation building experiments such as the Sykes-Picot agreement, the Hashemite monarchies and finally the recession of colonialism.

But it’s not just Muslim countries where nation building has backfired in familiar patterns.

D.C. elites can look to Haiti where decades of interference led to one disaster after another. The armed gangs overrunning the island nation started life as police forces. Democracy initiatives just worsened tensions and led to murderous outbreaks of political violence.

The same situation abounds across much of Africa, and parts of Latin America and Asia, where no amount of nation building could overcome tribalism, gang violence and political extremists.

Our nation building fails even worse than the British variety because it follows the American model of trying to overcome tribalism, assuming that democracy will empower individuals instead of blocs, and that having elected officials control institutions will lead to good government when in reality the majority seizes power and then viciously suppresses minorities.

American foreign policy believes that no people or group are good or bad, they just lack sufficient representation or the ability to participate in democratic elections. And that any governments that suppress any group, no matter how evil, are inherently illegitimate.

That’s why Truman insisted on ending Chiang Kai-Shek’s repression of Communists in China, why Carter bailed out the Islamists in Iran, and why, based on this stunning track record, we decided that the only way to stop terrorism in Israel was to give the terrorists their own state.

Faced with 30 years of terrorism, the nation builders see no other alternative to a terror state.

But Israelis do. They saw it before Oct 7 and they certainly see it all too clearly now. David, Ben and Ezra aren’t dying in tunnels and bombed buildings to create another terrorist state in Israel.

Americans have gotten sick of sending their sons to die for nation building. The term has become so toxic that no one wants to use it anymore. Biden loudly claimed that the withdrawal from Afghanistan marked the end of nation building. And now he’s back to nation building again.

Biden, Secretary of State Blinken and every one of the nearly 80,000 State Department employees are very upset (some have already resigned) that Israel isn’t following the nation building playbook. Some accuse Israel of harboring dire plots to expel all the Muslims from Gaza or to impose their own authority on them, but they’re too blind to see the actual reality.

The Israelis have had friends and family members brutally butchered, burned to death, raped and kidnapped on Oct 7 and they don’t care what exists in Gaza so long as it isn’t the terrorists. They’re being forced to supply food and medical aid to the perpetrators by D.C., which no army was forced to do in the past, but they have no interest beyond that in the enemy population.

Israelis care as much about Gazans as we cared about Afghans on 9/11. And while the U.S. officials who oversaw over a decade of failed nation building experiments may not understand,. America would have been far better off if we had focused on hunting down the perpetrators, their enablers and then left giant holes in the ground as a warning to any future terrorists.

Our “day after” plans for Afghanistan and Iraq cost us a generation of fighting men for nothing. Even the ‘Surge’, the last stand of the counterinsurgency model, did nothing to stop Iraq from falling into the hands of Iran which is now using it to launch attacks on American bases.

“Truly winning this war would require creating some sort of government in Gaza that could gain the support of the people and prevent Hamas from returning after Israeli soldiers pull out,” ex-neo con Max Boot argues in his Washington Post column.

But what if killing Jews is what the ‘people’ in Gaza really want? Just as what the Shiites in Iraq really wanted was to step on the Sunnis and the Kurds, what the Sunnis in Iraq really wanted was to kill the Shiites and rape the Yazidis, and what the Kurds wanted was their own country. And just as a whole lot of Afghans really wanted to lock up women and mandate beards again.

Nation building’s faulty premise is that people everywhere want what Americans want.

And so we ignore what they say they want. We ignore what they vote for. And then we ignore it when they actually start killing each other as we try to give them what they’re supposed to want.

Nation building was built on denying that tribalism is a fundamental force and that demographics is destiny. We refused to believe that in Afghanistan, we refused to believe it in Iraq and now we still refuse to believe it in Gaza. But the trouble is that the Arab Muslims of Gaza do believe it.

After two decades of failing to win a war (because we didn’t even try) maybe it’s time to let the Israelis give it a shot. What’s the worst that could happen? Gaza will be overrun by Islamic terrorists? Muslims will hate us and try to kill us? There will be op-eds in the New York Times?

The Israelis have grown tired of trying to win the hearts and minds of rapists, kidnappers and killers. They’ve grown tired of giving them what we think they want and are giving them what they deserve. Maybe we could learn something from their experiment in ‘un-nation building’.