THE CURRENT unpleasantness in the Middle East may be remembered less for what eventually happens than for what we learn from it.
Lesson 1: Even without an aggressive Soviet menace, the United States cannot afford to disarm. Before the Soviet Union there was Ho Chi Minh in Vietnam. Before that, Kim Il Sung in North Korea (which he still rules today). Before that, Emperor Hirohito in Japan and Adolf Hitler in Germany. Before that, Kaiser Wilhelm And on and on, through a list of names and places now long forgotten.
Though U.S. ground troops may no longer be needed in Europe, plenty of world-class troublemakers stand ready to spread their mischief, and the United States -- the "Imperialist Devil!" -- remains their favorite target.
Lesson 2: When the troublemakers try it, we must stand ready to give them a swift, firm kick in the rear. No, the United States is not the world's policeman. But we're not strictly a continental power any longer. We can't withdraw from the world without jeopardizing our own future. If legitimate U.S. interests are threatened, we should act quickly and with firm resolve.
Lesson 3: The Middle East "peace process" is fiction. Israel's Likud government, the object of much derision and criticism in this country, has been right all along: Many of its neighbors won't be satisfied until every Jew has been driven out of the Middle East, and Israel -- the Land of Milk and Honey, has been turned into another desert rat hole, fit only for camels and scorpions.
As Robert Loewenberg of the Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies in Jerusalem reminds us: Israel can't afford to lose a single war. Just one loss means the country's destruction. With neighbors like Iraq's Saddam Hussein, whose aggression has been cheered by the Palestinians, is it any wonder that Israelis generally, and Israeli military strategists in particular, have been inhospitable to the idea of handing the West Bank over to PLO types?
Lesson 4: We need to end the fiction that developing a defense against guided (and perhaps unguided) missiles was a Ronald Reagan pipe dream. The Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) is necessary. It is well within our ability, we now know, to develop weapons that would destroy incoming missiles before they reach their targets. Just days after the Iraqis rolled into Kuwait, Israel test-fired an interceptor missile, which it has been developing in cooperation with the Pentagon. We need to move ahead without delay to develop and deploy SDI.
Iraq has chemical warheads and intermediate-range ballistic missiles -- and would have had nuclear warheads if the Israelis hadn't destroyed Hussein's nuclear weapons plant. During the next decade, more countries will join the nuclear club, and some of them undoubtedly will beg, buy, steal or build the kinds of missiles needed to lob one or more warheads our way. There's no rational, or moral, reason to leave ourselves naked to such a threat. Congressional foot-dragging on this is a disgrace.
Edwin Feulner is president of the Heritage Foundation, a 1/2 conservative Washington think tank.