The United States led a coalition to topple Iraqi ruler Saddam Hussein, and quickly set about the task of rebuilding Iraq and establishing peace in the Middle East. Will the U.S. bring stability to the region with its "road map" to peace, or will mankind's best efforts inevitably fail?
Real peace in the Middle East remains as elusive as ever. Will peace ever come to the Middle East—and to the rest of the world?
After successfully toppling Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq, the United States unveiled a comprehensive "road map for peace" in the Middle East. Meeting not far from the patriarch Abraham's birthplace, leaders of Iraq's competing factions came together to create, under American and British auspices, the framework for a stable and democratic nation.
Soon it became clear that it had been far easier to win the war than it would be to "win the peace." What are the chances of finally bringing long-term peace and stability to this ancient land? Recent history and Bible prophecy agree—mankind's best plans are doomed to founder on the shoals of Middle East realities.
Recognizing that peace in Iraq could not be maintained without peace elsewhere in the Middle East, the U.S. moved quickly to pressure Israel into accepting a comprehensive settlement with the Palestinians. The U.S. plan, also supported by Russia, the European Union and the United Nations, was touted as a way to defuse Middle East tensions, reduce the threat of future terrorism and ensure the smooth flow of oil to Western nations, helping to prevent disruption of the entire world economy.
Will this plan succeed where others before have failed? Will the Bush administration find the key to peace that has eluded its predecessors? Indeed, is there such a thing as a "road map" to real peace?
For all of the violence that characterized the 20th century, it never lacked for peace plans! U.S. President Woodrow Wilson sold the 1914–18 "Great War" to the American people as "the war to end all wars" that would make the world "safe for democracy."
Iraq's very existence today is the result of an earlier "road map to peace." When the Ottoman Empire collapsed at the close of the Great War, the British government sought to redraw the map of the Middle East. Nations such as Iraq, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and Israel all have their origins in the Middle East settlement of that time. Maps drawn by British and French diplomats, and approved by the League of Nations in the years immediately following the Great War, set the boundaries of most of today's Middle East nations. But inherent in yesterday's solutions were the seeds of today's problems.
The Balfour Declaration was issued in late 1917, shortly before the British captured Jerusalem from the Turks. It announced Britain's decision to "look with favor" upon the creation of a Jewish homeland. The Palestine Mandate, an outgrowth of the Balfour Declaration approved by the League of Nations, allowed the trickle of Jewish settlement into Palestine—which had started in the 1880s with the beginning of the Zionist movement—to greatly increase.
After the Allies' victory, Britain approved the uniting of the Hejaz and Nejd regions of the Arabian Peninsula under ibn Saud. Britain then sought to placate Saud's rivals—the displaced Hashemite dynasty—by awarding them the newly created states of Transjordan and Iraq. The French received League of Nations mandates to administer Syria and Lebanon. This was all part of a plan to create a stable Middle East under "benevolent" Western influence.
Of course, things did not work out as planned! Far from making the world safe for democracy, the aftermath of the Great War spawned oppressive totalitarian governments in Russia, Italy and Germany. Just over two decades after the "war to end all wars" had come to a close, it became known as "World War I" when the Allied powers plunged into another world war against these totalitarian regimes—a war that would dwarf the horrors of the "war to end all wars."
Toward the close of World War II in 1945, a new road map for peace was introduced. The Yalta Conference carved the world into spheres of influence held by the Soviet Union, the U.S. and the British. U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt believed that such an agreement would convince the Soviet Union of the West's good intentions, and would promote a stable and peaceful post-war world. The United Nations was created in 1945 as a replacement for the ineffectual League of Nations, in an effort to ensure that the world would finally know peace.
Of course, we know the rest of the story. For decades afterward, the world lived under the Cold War shadow of a mushroom-shaped cloud, and a policy of "mutually assured destruction" between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. While Cold War tensions loomed large, smaller "hot" wars were fought in places like Korea, Vietnam and Afghanistan. Wars of colonial "liberation" brought virtually all of Africa under the power of corrupt native despots. There were "proxy" wars in which America and the Soviet Union each armed allies and let them "fight it out."
Finally, beginning in the fall of 1989, the entire post-World War II order began to melt down in just a few short weeks. Communist regimes across Eastern Europe began to collapse like dominoes. The Berlin Wall—once the most hated symbol of the "iron curtain" between communist and Western nations—was breached by jubilant multitudes and soon torn down. Within a couple of years, even the Soviet Union was no more, and the Communist hammer and sickle flag came down from atop the Kremlin, replaced by the flag of old Russia. Some commentators hailed these remarkable events as the "end of history." Mankind's age-old struggles and rivalries were assumed to be coming to an end. Finally, there would be peace, prosperity and freedom for everyone.
Sadly, we now see that such assumptions were naïve. They lacked a good understanding of human nature, and they certainly lacked an understanding of Bible prophecy.
The twentieth century was undoubtedly the bloodiest in mankind's history, but that was not due to any lack of peace plans! Mankind has plainly shown that it does not know the way to peace. A road map is only useful if the mapmaker clearly knows how to reach his destination! Recognizing that the Bush administration's "road map to peace" is not that much different from earlier proposals by previous administrations, U.S. News & World Report magazine predicted that it "doesn't stand much of a chance" (May 12, 2003, p. 15) and that "there will be talk of a long drive to peace, detours, potholes, and dead ends. Still, it seems we've all been down this road before" (ibid., p. 18).
Today's experts—and God's Word—agree that the current U.S. attempt to broker a Middle East peace is doomed to fail. The prophet Zechariah, more than 2,500 years ago, wrote about today's events in the Middle East, declaring that the Almighty would make Jerusalem "a very heavy stone for all peoples; all who would heave it away will surely be cut in pieces" (Zechariah 12:3).
The collapse of European communism did not mark the end of mankind's great power rivalries and the wars that flow from them. Rather, the stage was being set for yet another rivalry. The recent Iraq War demonstrated that the U.S. has the capacity to pursue its own goals and policies, regardless of "world opinion." British and American forces toppled Saddam's regime in record time, despite France, Russia and Germany voicing their opposition. Now, these nations are chafing at their seeming impotence, and eager to do something about it—at America's expense.
Make no mistake; we are not yet at the "end of history." Other great power rivalries will emerge on the world scene. These rivalries are destined to heat up in the opening years of the twenty-first century, and to demonstrate once and for all that mankind does not know the way to peace. The ancient Hebrew prophet Isaiah wrote, many centuries ago: "The way of peace they have not known, and there is no justice in their ways; they have made themselves crooked paths; whoever takes that way shall not know peace" (Isaiah 59:8). With American power seemingly at a pinnacle, it is almost impossible for most to imagine the precipitous decline that the Anglo-American alliance will experience in the years immediately ahead.
Even today, there are plans afoot in continental Europe to create a counterweight against the Anglo-Saxon powers. The Stratfor Report recently described the beginnings of a fundamental shift in strategic alliances: "Russia and Europe appear to be joining forces to counter the United States' increasing global presence, by trying to create a 'Greater Europe' that would consist of the European Union and Commonwealth of Independent States [the former Soviet Union]… And having Russia as its most important ally, Europe likely will encourage post-Soviet states to unite and join the group—in an attempt to create the world's new power center" (May 10, 2003, emphasis ours).
This new anti-American European alliance will also find rivals in the Arab world. In fact, the Arab world will only temporarily be cowed by the recent display of American power. Rather than stable, democratic governments holding power in the Arab world, the population will become increasingly receptive to anti-Western rhetoric and a message of militant Islam. A charismatic figure, called the "king of the South" in Bible prophecy, will emerge in the Arab world. He will have a militant mindset and espouse a virulent anti-Western outlook. His attempts to challenge this coming "Greater Europe" will trigger a future European intervention in the Middle East (Daniel 11:40–43).
In His famous Olivet Prophecy (cf. Matthew 24; Mark 13; Luke 21), Jesus Christ explained that His return as King of kings would be preceded by an upsurge in wars and rumors of wars. It would be the most intense time of pressure or "tribulation" in the world's history (Matthew 24:21). The ancient prophet Jeremiah describes it as "the time of Jacob's trouble" (Jeremiah 30:7). The modern-day descendants of Jacob include not only the Jews, but also the Anglo-Saxon-Celtic peoples. Remember that the ancient patriarch Jacob, whose name was later changed to Israel, had 12 sons. Judah—the father of the Jews—was only one of those sons (If you do not yet understand this vital key to prophecy, please request our free booklet The United States and Great Britain in Prophecy).
Writing in the early sixth century bc (when the Jews first returned from Babylonian captivity to rebuild Jerusalem), the prophet Zechariah looked down through the centuries, to our day and the years immediately ahead of us. He described the consequences of today's Middle East turmoil, revealing that a great multinational army will come against all of Jerusalem in the end-time, and will occupy the city. That invasion and oppression of Jerusalem is not the end of the story by any means. Rather, Zechariah records: "Then the Lord will go forth and fight against those nations… and in that day His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives" (Zechariah 14:3–4).
Jesus Christ came to this earth, nearly 2,000 years ago, with the good news of the Kingdom of God. He came proclaiming the only way to real peace. Very few have embraced that way. Many have used Jesus' name, and acknowledged His Messiahship—while ignoring His message! When Christ returns, however, He will come in power and glory to establish a literal kingdom—a real government, bringing peace!
In the book of Revelation, the Apostle John saw in vision the establishment of that future Kingdom. John recorded that Jesus Christ, soon after His return, will restrain Satan the Devil so that he can no longer deceive the nations (Revelation 20: 1–3). John next saw a vision of thrones—i.e., positions of leadership—occupied by the newly resurrected saints, made immortal (1 Corinthians 15:50–53). As Jesus Christ had told John: "And he who overcomes, and keeps My works until the end, to him will I give power over the nations" (Revelation 2:26). During His earthly ministry, Christ told all 12 of the Apostles what their specific reward in His coming Kingdom would be: "So Jesus said to them, 'Assuredly I say to you, that in the regeneration, when the Son of Man sits on the throne of His glory, you who have followed Me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel'" (Matthew 19:28).
Jesus Christ is going to set up a literal government on this earth when He returns. His disciples had expected Him to establish a kingdom immediately, so before His crucifixion He told them a parable. In that parable, He compared Himself to a young nobleman who went away to a far country to be crowned, and then returned to rule (Luke 19:11–12).
What will Jesus Christ's government be like, and how will it establish peace on earth when all previous attempts have failed? It will be a world-ruling government (Zechariah 14:9). It will be a government based upon God's righteous law, properly administered from the new world capital of Jerusalem (Isaiah 2:3). There will be universal disarmament. Mankind's energies and resources will be turned to productive channels rather than the building of armaments (v. 4). It will be a time when a King (Jesus Christ) will reign in righteousness, and princes (the newly resurrected saints) will rule with justice (Isaiah 32:1).
How will peace come about? The prophet Isaiah declared that "the work of righteousness will be peace, and the effect of righteousness, quietness and assurance forever" (Isaiah 32:17). God's commandments define the way of true righteousness (Psalm 119:172). There can never be peace on earth until mankind follows the only way that leads to peace! That way—the way of love and outgoing concern that flows through the channel of God's law—leads to peace with God, and peace with our fellow man.
Peace really will come to the Middle East—and the entire world—and it will come in the lifetime of many of you reading this article. That future time of peace is pictured by the Feast of Tabernacles, one of the seven annual festivals that God gave to ancient Israel in Leviticus 23. The Feast of Tabernacles is a celebration that anticipates the millennial reign of Christ and the saints on the earth. This will be a time when the whole earth is at rest (Isaiah 14:7) and when everyone will be able to "sit under his vine and under his fig tree" and no one will make him afraid (Micah 4:4). God speed that day!