Like W. S. Gilbert’s cowardly policemen in The Pirates of Penzance, Europe’s prospective peacekeepers have decided that “a policeman’s lot is not a happy one.” Europe’s serious exercise in peacekeeping led to the massacre of Bosnian Muslims at Srebrenica, when Dutch soldiers turned over Muslims in their charge to Serb death squads.

France offers no more than 200 engineers to join the peacekeeping force that the United Nations Security Council has mandated as a buffer on the Israeli-Lebanese border. The last time French peacekeepers ventured into Lebanon, a Hezbollah suicide bomber killed 58 paratroopers. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has appealed to Italy to lead the 15,000-strong UN force. The last time an Italian army confronted a well-armed and determined force in the region, at the Ethiopian battle of Adwa in 1896, the Italians suffered 70% casualties.

Otto von Bismarck pronounced the Balkans unworthy of the bones of a single Pomeranian grenadier, and Europe’s governments seem unwilling to sacrifice a single soldier to maintain the peace in southern Lebanon. This raises the question: What is Europe’s interest in the Middle East? The answer appears to be: To disappear and be forgotten with the least possible fuss.

A people without progeny will not accept a single military casualty. If this generation is the last, there will be no children for whom to sacrifice. Today’s Europeans value their distractions and amusements more than they do prospective children. Germany’s 2005 birth rate of only 8.5 per 1,000 inhabitants indicates that Europe is following the low variant of UN population estimates. These guarantee the virtual disappearance of the Europeans by the end of the present century.

Only 300 million Europeans, nearly half of them geriatric, will remain at the end of the present century against more than 700 million (including all of Eastern Europe) today. Europeans younger than 60 years of age now number about 560 million; that number will fall by only 150 million by the year 2100. This number excludes immigrants, overwhelmingly from the Middle East and Africa, who show no signs of assimilating as Europeans.

The number of Americans will exceed the number of Europeans, Russia included, by around the year 2080, although the aggregate numbers mask the true extent of the catastrophe, for nearly half of Europe’s survivors will have reached retirement age. A fifth of Europeans are past 60 now; by 2050 more than a third will be above 60; and by the end of the century nearly half. The United States’ elderly will number about 30%, so that the number of Americans younger than 60, at 280 million, will be close to double the number of young and working-age Europeans.

It might be objected that Europe’s demographic catastrophe lies a generation hence, and that it need not determine European policy today. Just the opposite is true: it is Europe’s present attitudes that dictate the demographic catastrophe. Europe began to die in the 1990s when deaths outnumbered births.

It seems unlikely that French diplomats deceived the world by promising French leadership and boots on the ground to enforce the latest UN ceasefire resolution. It simply is difficult to find volunteers to bell the cat.

From this we should conclude that the so-called “international community” is an empty construct. The Europeans, Russia included, are the walking dead. Europe wants a quiet transition to the cemetery, while Russia plays spoiler indifferent to future consequences; whatever those consequences might be, very few Russians will be alive to see them. The United States is the only superpower not because no other Western country will have sufficient people to act like a superpower a century hence; the United States will have more people a century hence precisely because Americans think and feel like citizens of a superpower.

All that matters is the coming confrontation between the United States and Iran. Iran’s own demographic future resembles that of Europe more than it does the United States. By mid-century, Iran’s aged will compose nearly a third of its population, and its population pyramid will invert. Social and economic catastrophe threatens Iran, persuading its present leaders to establish a regional empire while they still have the opportunity.

The Israeli-Hezbollah ceasefire came into effect because Washington threatened Tehran with something extremely unpleasant if it continued to enrich uranium. Iran is not sure how far the United States will go, or how it should respond, and wants to buy time. That is why it kenneled its dogs in southern Lebanon, at least for the moment. Israel shrank before the number of casualties required to neutralize Hezbollah, and was happy to let the United States have a heart-to-heart conversation with the dogs’ master. The rest of the matter, notably France’s buffo part, is light farce.

What happens next is entirely up to Iran. I have predicted that Iran will remain intransigent, for it cannot abandon its last chance for a new Persian Empire. The Persians have been an annoyance since the Battle of Marathon, and it will not displease me to see them fail again. If Iran refuses to change course, nothing short of force of arms will keep it from building nuclear weapons, something the US is reluctant to employ. That would bury what is left of America’s nation-building exercise in Iraq, and possibly throw the world economy into recession through much higher oil prices. The two protagonists are circling each other, while their proxy warriors – Hezbollah and Israel – lick their wounds and watch.

In the end, I believe the US will attack Iran’s nuclear facilities. But the outcome is in Iranian hands. Even Nineveh repented and was saved after hearing Jonah’s prophecy that it would be destroyed otherwise; who can tell if Washington’s threats are as potent as the execution?

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