YOU COULD HAVE IT SO MUCH BETTER. My colleague Harold Meyerson has analogized the current Mideast crisis to the crisis set off by the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in late June 1914: "Nobody wanted global conflagration, yet nobody knew how to stop it, and the American president (Woodrow Wilson, who was not yet a Wilsonian) did nothing to help avert the coming war." Rich Lowry retorts "that this significantly underestimates Germany's drive to war." He quotes from Michael Lind's The American Way of Strategy:

For half a century after 1914, most historians agreed that the great powers of Europe tragically had stumbled into an avoidable war. However, research in Imperial German archives in the 1960s revealed the truth: the Kaiserreich had deliberately launched a preventative war against Russia and its ally France, out of fear that growing Russian military power would soon make German dreams of European domination impossible to realize.

I think that's right. And I also think it actually makes for a better analogy. The current dynamic, in essence, is that various elements -- mostly in the United States and in Israel, but also elsewhere throughout the West -- see Hezbollah's cross-border raid as providing a useful pretext for launching a preventative war against what's seen as rising Iranian and Hezbollah power. You can get a flavor of this line of thinking from the Washington Post's headline "In Mideast Strife, Bush Sees a Step To Peace".

In 1914, Germany viewed war with Russia as inevitable and thought it was better to fight sooner rather than later and therefore sought opportunities to get into war. Similarly, when it took office, the Bush administration was convinced that war with Iraq was inevitable and began casting about for opportunities to fight one. As of a month ago, Bush and Israeli leaders were convinced that despite the Cedar Revolution and six years of waning Israel-Hezbollah tensions that war was inevitable, and now they�ve found an opportunity to fight it. Significant elements of American opinion likewise see a clash with Iran as inevitable and have been persistently trying for the past several years to find a saleable pretext for starting one, and many see the current crisis as promising in that regard. As Anatol Lieven and John Hulsman point out in their new book Ethical Realism, this embrace of preventative war has a long legacy on the American right dating back at least to James Burnham and it's invariably been disastrous -- just as it was for Wilhelmine Germany.

--Matthew Yglesias

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