July 31, 2006

What, Me Worry? Opportunity's A-Knockin'

Bush, a couple days back with Blair:

We agree that a multinational force must be dispatched to Lebanon quickly, to augment a Lebanese army as it moves to the south of that country. An effective multinational force will help speed delivery of humanitarian relief, facilitate the return of displaced persons, and support the Lebanese government as it asserts full sovereignty over its territory and guards its borders.

We're working quickly to achieve these goals. Tomorrow, Secretary Rice will return to the region. She will work with the leaders of Israel and Lebanon to seize this opportunity to achieve lasting peace and stability for both of their countries. Next week, the U.N. Security Council will meet, as well. Our goal is a Chapter 7 resolution setting out a clear framework for cessation of hostilities on an urgent basis, and mandating the multinational force.

WaPo, today:

Haass, the former Bush aide who leads the Council on Foreign Relations, laughed at the president's public optimism. "An opportunity?" Haass said with an incredulous tone. "Lord, spare me. I don't laugh a lot. That's the funniest thing I've heard in a long time. If this is an opportunity, what's Iraq? A once-in-a-lifetime chance?"

Bush's elephantine innocence about the Middle East increasingly has us staggering about the region like purblind ignorants. Meantime, his rhetoric is getting increasingly uneven. Note this part of the same press conference, where he mixes up Syria and Iran, and appears to state one or the other already has a nuke:

Q Thank you. Mr. President, and Prime Minister Blair, can I ask you both tonight what your messages are for the governments of Iran and Syria, given that you say this is the crisis of the 21st century?

PRESIDENT BUSH: Want me to start? My message is, give up your nuclear weapon and your nuclear weapon ambitions. That's my message to Syria -- I mean, to Iran. And my message to Syria is, become an active participant in the neighborhood for peace.

As I said, uneven, sloppy rhetoric. Bush, who struggles to understand even the broadest contours of the Middle East canvas, clearly cannot effectively imbibe the myriad complexities (dreary details!) of this so complicated region. And, alas, this is not a situation like we had with Ronald Reagan, where a leader of limited intellect and strong core convictions, at least could delegate to serious players. Now instead, we have Rumsfeld and Cheney-- in short, discredited, damaged goods. Meantime, Rice has her hands (very) full, and has lost in Bob Zoellick a talented deputy. I again repeat my call for Richard Armitage to be urgently appointed Secretary of Defense. These are times of significant crisis, and the bench is far too thin. While bridges between the Bush-Cheney camp and Powell-Armitage one may have been mostly burned (this is sheer speculation, of course), I have heard some accounts that Bush felt more comfortable around Armitage than, say, Powell, and had even bonded with him on occasion. And while I'm no Plameologist a la Tom Maguire, I trust Armitage is eminently confirmable. There will be quite a few military-centric, diplomatic security issues to grapple with in the Middle East over the coming months, and Rumsfeld won't have nary a clue how to broach them. We need someone like Armitage, badly--whose combination of long military (four Vietnam tours, rather than deferments) and diplomatic experience would be a major asset.

Posted by Gregory at 04:15 AM

July 30, 2006

A Futile Little War

Roger Cohen:

A little over two weeks into the conflict's current incarnation, it is safe to say the following: Hezbollah has already kept the Israeli Army busy longer than the army of any Arab state in the past several decades; the standing of its leader, Hassan Nasrallah, is likely to rise. The disarming of Hezbollah - the group widely believed to have been behind the slaughter of the U.S. Marines back in 1983 - appears remote.

Whatever vestigial standing the United States had as an honest broker in the Middle East has disappeared with the Bush administration's embrace of Israel's sustained use of force in response to Hezbollah's murderous July 12 cross-border raid.

With little subtlety and great predictability, the administration has gone through its familiar post-9/11 paces: Hezbollah equals terrorism, terrorism must be crushed, ruthlessness is the only way forward, and damn the consequences.

This position has allowed Israel to do its own post-9/11 thing. "Everyone understands that a victory for Hezbollah is a victory for world terror," said Haim Ramon, the Israeli justice minister.

Not so: A victory for Hezbollah is a victory for Hezbollah, which is not Al Qaeda, which is not the Palestinian national movement, which is not the Iraqi insurgency, which is not homegrown European Muslim suicide bombers.

Trying to turn the problems of the world into a single undifferentiated issue - the war on Islamic terror - does nobody any good.

Witness the current mayhem, a reflection of a terrible American failure to address the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in any serious way over the past five years.

Problems must be fixed one at a time, which requires the curiosity to understand them, and to come up with particular solutions. Not everyone in the Middle East wants to be Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan, a man generally ready to do America's bidding. Siniora, who is understandably furious, certainly does not want to be. Nor, of course, does President Bashar al-Assad of Syria.

But nor do these leaders want to be in the pocket of Iran. The United States has room to probe this ambivalence. But first, of course, it must stop giving a green light to Israel to, in the current parlance, smash terror.

Bush, however, is very unlikely to change course, especially in an American election year. His stance is popular not only with many Jewish Americans, but also the Christian right.

"The United States has been more a party to this conflict than an arbiter," said Mourhaf Jouejati, director of Middle Eastern Studies at George Washington University. "Lebanese democracy, a supposedly cherished American aim, has been sacrificed for the Israeli ally."

The fragile Lebanese polity born since the withdrawal of Syrian troops last year has been shattered.

The democratic movement of 2005, applauded by the State Department as the "Cedar Revolution," has been left with shipments of American food as a token of sympathy. America's regional record of cheering on democratic uprisings and disappearing when the going gets rough - remember the Shiites of Iraq at the end of the 1991 Gulf war - has notched another unhappy chapter.

Yep. This 'accidental' war (as The Economist recently put it) will end up having proved something of a disaster for all parties involved save, perhaps, Hezbollah. Israel will not have eradicated Hezbollah (a totally unrealistic war aim, regardless, Krauthammer and Co's reckless imbecility aside), the United States has complicated its regional position immensely, and, as Cohen points out, the Cedar Revolution lies in ashes. Was the IDF action worth hundreds dead, thousands wounded, massive flows of internally displaced and refugees numbering in the hundreds of thousands, an environmental disaster unprecedented in Lebanon's modern history, and the scuttling of Lebanon's tenuous movements towards emergence from an oppressive Syrian yoke? All for, at the end of the day, a deal on Shaba Farms, the return of the two soldiers (probably in the context of a prisoner exchange anyway), French and other troops on the Lebanese-Israeli and Lebanese-Syrian borders (gee, wonder how porous that latter one will be?), and some (likely mostly chimerical) 'disarming' of Hezbollah?

Well no, of course not, this was more by way of an ill-advised temper tantrum than a serious military operation, as Arik Sharon would himself admit, if only he were aware of the disaster underway. Sharon would have recalled previous Lebanese quagmires and would have well understood (aided by the wisdom of years and the lack of any need to prove himself) that resort to airpower, in the main, cannot succeed in this context, with the specter of hundreds and hundreds of civilian deaths earning Israel international opprobrium in every world capital (save Washington), and that there is no real, sustained post-'82 appetite in Israel for a massive land incursion regardless, not least given the ultimate futility of same. No, Sharon would likely have chastised Ehud Olmert for his impestuous over-reaction, one so helpfully fanned on by myopic strategic blunderers and amateurs in Washington, both in policy and journalistic circles.

Walid Jumblatt, the irrepressible Druze survivor, puts it well:

From his hilltop citadel, Walid Jumblatt was a worried man Saturday. In Lebanon's Byzantine, ever-shifting politics, the leader of the country's Druze community has emerged as one of Hezbollah's harshest critics. But a savvy veteran, he understood the arithmetic of the Middle East these days: In war, survival often means victory. And after 18 days of the conflict with Israel, he was bracing for what Hezbollah's survival would mean for a country seized with volatile uncertainty.

Lebanon's survival, he said, was now in the hands of Hezbollah and its leader, Hasan Nasrallah.

"We have to acknowledge that they have defeated the Israelis. It's not a question of gaining one more village or losing one more village. They have defeated the Israelis," he said. "But the question now is to whom Nasrallah will offer this victory."

In contrast to the first days of the war, with ambitious U.S. and Israeli vows to dismantle the Lebanese group's militia, hardly anyone now expects Hezbollah to fade from a scene in which it has long played an intrinsic part, drawing support from a Shiite Muslim community that feels even more besieged today. And in a country where one community's gain is another's loss, Hezbollah's survival seems sure to fundamentally alter Lebanon, which is already reeling from the shock of a conflict that has killed hundreds of civilians, forced 750,000 to flee their homes and left the country's infrastructure in shambles. For a country whose identity was never settled, its religious diversity more curse than blessing, Lebanon is facing the very contradictions of its history.

Even before a cease-fire has been reached, Lebanese have begun to ask: What kind of a nation will the war leave?

From the southern city of Tyre to the Christian suburbs of Beirut, residents dourly talk about the prospects of civil war in a country still shadowed by 15 years of fratricide that ended in 1990. Divisions between Shiite Muslims and the country's other sects -- Druze, Sunni Muslim and Christian -- have grown deeper than at any time in perhaps a generation. To an unprecedented degree, Lebanese speculate whether the government can remain viable, or even survive.

Nasrallah strenuously tried to address those worries Saturday, in a broadcast on his group's television channel, al-Manar. "I tell the Lebanese that no one among you should be afraid of the victory of the resistance," he said, sounding low-key and assured. "I assert that the victory will be for all of Lebanon, for every Arab, Muslim and honorable Christian, who stood with Lebanon and defended it."

More reflective of the mood were the words of Hassan Taryaki, a Sunni helping care for Shiite refugees in the southern city of Sidon, where 57,000 Shiites have fled their homes.

Taryaki, an earnest 21-year-old, has worked for days with 30 other volunteers at the Saint Joseph University, a hilltop campus in the seaside Sunni city where 440 Shiite Muslim displaced have sought refuge. They slept just a few feet away in the courtyard, in classrooms and on a shady grass bluff overlooking a rocky valley. But a chasm separated his sentiments from theirs.

"The country's all ruined now," he said. "Not just what was reconstructed but everything. It's all ruined."

A student at Lebanese American University, Taryaki was blunt. He said Hezbollah would emerge from the war with its organization intact. It would keep its weapons in one form or another, and Lebanon's other sects would have to respond.

"If Hezbollah wins, it will become the leader of the country, and everyone else will start rebuilding their militias all over again to have their say," he said. "If you have a militia, you can survive. If you don't, you can't. It will be just like the 1980s."

The goal now, he said, was for each community "to protect itself."

Sound familiar? Baghdad becomes 70s era Beirut, and Beirut, perhaps, will go full circle yet again, and join Baghdad in the quasi-civil-war stakes. We're not there yet, of course, and let us at least hope Condi will belatedly nail down a cease fire in the next 5 or so days, so that we can do our best to stave off greater chaos, including the specter of such a Lebanese civil war. If adults had been at the helm, and people weren't chattering on about "root causes" and "birth pangs" like cocksure, naive pimpled adolescents, we wouldn't be in this mess, having instead sought an immediate cease-fire in early days, and asked the Israelis to restrict their military retaliation solely to actual Hezbollah military targets in the south, and very select strategic targets elsewhere. But no, adults weren't at the helm, and the consequences have been rather devastating. This appears to have been, in the main, an unmitigated blunder, save I guess, for the comfort that cross-border kidnappings and rocket attacks will no longer occur under the watch of the multinational force (well, at least for a spell, as we'd have to talk seriously with the Syrians and the Iranians, directly and indirectly, respectively, to effect any long-lasting dimunition in Hezbollah's power). But such a result could have been achieved regardless, without the severe over-reaching of an Israeli military campaign that has set back Lebanon (and increasingly the region) many years.

David Brooks writes:

Many of those calling for this immediate cease-fire are people of good will whose anguish over the wartime suffering overrides long-term considerations. Some are European leaders who want Hezbollah destroyed but who don’t want anybody to actually do it. Some are professional diplomats, acolytes of the first-class-cabin fundamentalism that holds that “talks” and “engagement” can iron out any problem, regardless of the interests and beliefs and fanaticisms that make up the underlying reality.

The best of them have a serious case to make. It’s true, they say, that Israel may degrade Hezbollah if it keeps fighting, but it may also sow so much instability that it ends up toppling the same Lebanese government that it is trying to strengthen.

They point to real risks, but if a cease-fire is imposed now, there won’t be only risks. There will be dead certainties.

But there are "dead certainties" also, alas, if the Israeli offensive continues. Hezbollah will not be conclusively defanged regardless, as they enjoy too much support among a good 30-40% of the country's populace, and the central government will continue to get weaker and weaker by the day, and the risk of pan-Iraqi re-alignments leading to a heightened insurgency against US forces in Iraq will grow, and the Egyptians and Saudis will increasingly align themselves with forces of reaction in the region, rather than Western-style moderation. The diplomats are not engaged in any "first-class-cabin fundamentalism" to speak of, they are engaged in cold, practical realities, and they realize that there are no panaceas or tidy, neat solutions to be had, if only we allow the war to go on, so they are instead (wisely) seeking to stem this futile bloodshed. The only real "dead certainties", finally, are that many more innocents will perish for no good reason (perhaps Mr. Brooks intended a grim pun, of sorts?) if we follow the prescriptions of the David Brooks's and Charles Krauthammer's (the former infinitely more reasonable and compelling, but lately appearing to have lost the "incrementalism" in the "neo"). More on all this soon.

UPDATE (Sunday AM NYT): British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett on the horrific loss of civilian life in Qana overnight: "quite appalling". Ironically, this attack reportedly took place around the time Condoleeza Rice was meeting with Israeli defense officials and calling for maximum efforts to avoid civilian deaths and exceed utmost caution in target selection. The Lebanese now don't even want Rice to come to Beirut (not suprisingly) unless she calls for an immediate cease-fire (which she still hasn't), and there are reports that after another day of meetings in Israel she will return to Washington to work on a UN Security Council Resolution. The Qana attack makes her task much harder, and emotions are getting increasingly raw, with pressure on the governments in Amman, Riyadh and Cairo to take a stronger anti-Israeli stance now certain to mount considerably, and the risk of miscalculations with regard to potential fighting between Syria and Israel perhaps mounting materially (though still unlikely, all things considered). Needless to say, Condi's presence in Israel during this attack (an unfortunate coincidence, you might say) is another shattering blow to America's image in the region. Karen Hughes, take note.

Posted by Gregory at 04:43 AM

Composition of the Multinational Peacekeeping Force

Will the French perhaps have the lead role? Also, why the Germans are reticent to play a major role.

Posted by Gregory at 04:31 AM

July 28, 2006

Morality and War-Fighting

Two Israeli views, one (call it the J-Pod school), from Yoel Marcus: ("(b)efore any international agreement, Israel must sound the last chord, launching a massive air and ground offensive that will end this mortifying war, not with a whimper but with a thunderous roar"), and then Ze'ev Sternhell's:

When there is fighting, guerrilla organizations want the entire population to be harmed. When everyone is a victim, the hatred will be directed at the enemy more forcefully. That is why bombing residential neighborhoods, power plants, bridges and highways is an act of folly, which plays into Hezbollah's hands and serves its strategic goals: An attack on the overall fabric of life creates a common fate for the fighters and those standing on the sidelines. At the same time, the greater the population's suffering, the greater its alienation from the formal ruling institutions - the government, the parliament and the various security forces that are powerless to save them.

It is an illusion to hope that the 700,000 Lebanese refugees will direct their fury at their government, or that the population that still remains in place will evict the Hezbollah members from among it. As far as the population is concerned, responsibility for its catastrophe lies entirely with Israel, and failure to cooperate with whoever fights against Israel would be considered national treason. It was foolish to assume that the Lebanese political elite would dare to confront Hezbollah and use force against it. And anyway, who was even capable of using force? The Lebanese Army, whose bases were bombed as well?

That is why Israel's interest must be to isolate Hezbollah, to strike a hard blow at its bases and camps, but to avoid harming the infrastructure of life for the general population, even when its gives refuge to those bearing arms. This is not a matter of military ethics, but of a cold practical considerations.

Well, count me among the Sternhell School. As for J-Pod , don't miss this snippet from his NY Post piece:

What if the tactical mistake we made in Iraq was that we didn't kill enough Sunnis in the early going to intimidate them and make them so afraid of us they would go along with anything? Wasn't the survival of Sunni men between the ages of 15 and 35 the reason there was an insurgency and the basic cause of the sectarian violence now?

If you can't imagine George W. Bush issuing such an order, is there any American leader you could imagine doing so?

And if America can't do it, can Israel? Could Israel - even hardy, strong, universally conscripted Israel - possibly stomach the bloodshed that would accompany the total destruction of Hezbollah?[emphasis added]

It's quite sad that the son of an accomplished, prestigious American intellectual would muse so innocuously about the merits of mass butchery--basically the wholesale slaughter of a broad demographic of an ethnic group writ large--a policy prescription that is quasi-genocidal in nature. John should think of previous genocides in this century, in such contexts, as he ponderously queries the pros and cons of the extermination of entire population groups. Where is the decency? It’s repulsive, really. There is also his revealing reasoning that "even hardy, strong, universally conscripted Israel", yes even she, might not have the guts to do such a thing. Quelle dommage! Yes, even an unflagging, staunch, indefatigable society like that of the Israelis doesn't have the cojones to do this kind of thing. Western civilization truly is imperiled, the hand-wringing goes.

This speculative dribble isn't only amoral and outrageous. It's also just plain stupid, and shows an abysmal lack of understanding regarding the most basic tenets of counter-insurgency doctrine, as even Rich Lowry feels compelled to write (although, risibly, he calls J-Pod's effort in the NY Post "bracing and powerful," whilst reassuring us skittish cowards who lack the requisite sang-froid for roving mass massacres in Mesopotamia that all this is simply by way of hypothetical interrogatory, nothing serious, mind you). The fact that any of this passes for hifalutin' commentary, and indeed gets debated in NRO as being even close to the realm of seriousness is, it must be said, rather disturbing (farcical also, of course, but I lean more towards the concern prong given the war-drums loudly blaring in the usual Washington quarters).

Cue then Glenn Reynolds who, as is his wont, breezily links to this heady fare with a pithy comment, seemingly blissfully unmindful of the import of what Podhoretz is asking us to contemplate: "JOHN PODHORETZ WONDERS if Israel is too nice to win." Glenn then writes: "This reminds me of Josh Marshall's 2003 worry that we weren't killing enough Iraqis and that this would come back to haunt us. I think they're both probably wrong. I certainly hope so." And herewith the usual pattern with Glenn when he links to something prima facie absurd. Preserve plausible deniability that these are not his views, of course, ("I think they're both probably wrong"), and throw in a good leftist too, when possible, so people don't think it's just a Republican brown-shirt kinda thing or such. And so, another neat little blog-post, you might say, but of course thousands of readers in places like Knoxville and Peoria and Omaha read this, and they see a nice guy, Yale lawyer, and ostensibly serious personage wrestling with, when you cut through all the bullshit and fog, whether Israel, basically, should march into Lebanon south of the Litani, and kill on the spot any Shi'a male between the ages of 15-35, or something like that. Cuz they're Hezbullies, or Hez-lovers, or Gonna-Be-Hez-Soon and Big Things Are Afoot, and sometimes a mega-ass-kicking is just the thing to set the world aright. And while it's convenient to fold in Josh Marshall to the 'genocide-lite' aficionado brigades, much as Glenn likes to enlist Duncan Black as a fevered Ledeenite when it comes to Iran, it's just not accurate. What Marshall had written was:

Not only did millions of Japanese and Germans die in World War II, but U.S. and British aerial bombing of major Japanese and German cities alone killed hundreds of thousands of civilians in what is now delicately termed “collateral damage.” And that’s not even counting the carnage caused by the atomic bombs we dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in the final days of the war against Japan.

My point here isn’t to question the justice of America’s war against the Axis powers or how we chose to wage it. Japan and Germany brought the war on themselves. Their occupations and bombings of China and Eastern Europe, respectively, were almost infinitely more brutal. They were fascist regimes that had to be destroyed and we were trying to do so as quickly as possible. But we shouldn’t ignore these facts about what happened during the war if we want to understand the ‘hows’ and ‘whys’ of what came after.

Violence, death and destruction on such a massive scale have a profound conditioning effect on the psyches of individuals. And the same applies to whole nations. Japan and Germany weren’t just ‘defeated’ or ‘occupied,’ they were crushed — not just their armies, but their civilian populations too. This led to a sort of national humiliation and a transformative willingness to embrace defeat and change.

True defeat changes people and nations too. The fact that our subsequent occupation turned out to be so benign was extremely important. But part of that importance was the contrast between how much these populations had suffered during the war and how much better things got for them after we took over.

And thus our problem. If everything goes according to plan, the loss of civilian life in Iraq will be minimal. Certainly, we all hope so.

But it is one thing, isn't it, in the midst of a massive World War, to use carpet bombing techniques (a la Dresden) or atomic weapons, in a bid to stave off a Hitlerian Empire on the march, and major fascist forces in East Asia—some almost 70 years ago to boot—and when norms of fighting were rather different. It’s quite another, I'd think, to cogitate in polite society about the wisdom of, now more than half a century on, and in the course of a preventative war of choice, intentionally killing, man by man, the entire population (save the kiddies and elderly, mind you) of a major ethnic group in that country. This is the logic of a Slobodan Milosevic or Saddam Hussein or Pol Pot or, yes, Adolf Hitler—not the sort of stuff we should be pondering whether George Bush or Ehud Olmert have the guts and fortitude to accomplish.

I mean, we've foresworn, haven't we, with the progress we've made in precision weaponry (often un-precise, of course, but still), with better technologies for espying the enemy, with the painstaking growth of international human rights laws and norms against genocide, and mass slaughter, and population transfers, and collective punishment--we've tried to move towards a more civilized future, one where there is rule of law, and where civilization, not barbarity, reigns? Are we now to stoop to the level of our worst enemies (it is the militias of Moktada al-Sadr, after all, who are slaughtering young Sunni males willy-nilly), pondering politely as if an interesting academic conundrum, with arguments ostensibly of equal merit on both sides, whether we should have fought the war in Iraq by exterminating hundreds of thousands of middle-aged male Sunnis? How then does this make us different than Saddam? How then does this make humanity different in the post-Auschwitz era? What have we learned? How then can we believe in progress, and decency, and history not doomed to cyclical savageries?

My point isn't to cast aspersions at Glenn or John, really. And, God knows, I've gone rounds with Josh Marshall in the past, and it's no secret Duncan thinks I'm something of an "useful idiot", as he recently linked to a post so stating. I'm not trying to curry favor with this or that blogger, or pick sides, or defend "new" ideological bed-fellows, or whatever. I mean, who gives a eff really, at the end of the day. This is so much bigger than any and all of us. I'm just honestly baffled and stunned that people are writing this kind of stuff, and seriously debating it as if it's even within the outer reaches of the rule-book. It's not, it's bat-shit crazy, it's absurd, it's insane. And people wonder why people like me are being forced, day by day, to perhaps abandon the Republican Party (though where to go, faced with the often ferocious lameness of the Democrats, like the recent carping about Maliki not being sufficiently anti-Hezbollah (Schumer), and therefore an anti-Semite (Dean))? Look no further than what passes for serious discussion among supposed opinion leaders in its ranks.

J-Pod concludes his piece by asking: "(c)an it be that the moral greatness of our civilization - its astonishing focus on the value of the individual above all - is endangering the future of our civilization as well?" Sounds so reasonable, doesn’t it, J-Pod's closing, heart-felt query? But I fear it's nothing more than hyperbole born of deep paranoia, one married to serious incompetence, given that the tactics J-Pod would have us consider would, not only lead us towards a savage race to the moral gutter, and thus immense catastrophe in terms of the decent society America has been able to, almost miraculously, preserve these past two odd centuries plus—but also not even achieve the intended result—as fighting an insurgency movement in such fashion, as any serious West Pointer would tell you, is absolutely, drop-dead, out of the gates, doomed to failure. Utter, total, mega-failure. But I digress, somewhat.

Hannah Arendt once wrote:

No civilization would ever have been possible without a framework of stability, to provide the wherein for the flux of change. Foremost among the stabilizing factors, more enduring than customs, manners and traditions, are the legal systems that regulate our life in the world and our daily affairs with each other.

The cornerstone of our polity and civilization, that what distinguishes us from our fanatical, nihilistic foes, is our respect of law, including the laws of war enshrined in the post-WWII, post-Holocaust era. To throw these by the way-side, in favor of the law of the jungle, is to defeat ourselves. We will have done the bidding of the Osama bin Laden's of our own volition, hoisted ourselves on our own petard, condemned ourselves to reversing the great human gains obtained via the Renaissance, Enlightenment, and modernity. This is too terrible to contemplate, and we cannot allow it to come to pass as a polity. I remain confident it won’t, though in my darker moments I wonder what awaits us if greater 9/11s visit our shores.

MORE: Mark Kleiman adds:

John Podhoretz fears that we may be too civilized to win asymmetric conflicts, and proposes (behind the poltroonish veil of the question mark) that we become somewhat less civilized. If his prose means anything, it means that we erred in not slaughtering as many "Sunni males between 15 and 35" as possible after we conquered Iraq.

There is a technical term for that approach to war-fighting. It's called "genocide," and it's punishable by death...

...Aside from his moral mistake, Podhoretz makes a fundamental strategic mistake: he likens the current fight against the movements of violently politicized Islam — Hamas, Hezbollah, al-Qaeda — and the states that support them — notably Iran and Syria — as if it were the same sort of civilization-threating conflict as World War II or the Cold War. In this regard, John Derbyshire's unapologetically racist contempt for the people he refers to in public as living in "worthless countries" (and no doubt refers to in private as "wogs") gives him clearer vision, though no greater moral elevation.

Our civilization is not at risk. To think so reflects cowardice. To persuade others that we are at risk is to spread cowardice. Podhoretz's tough-guy persona hides either a man too terrified to think like a civilized human being or a man who hopes to terrify his fellow-citizens into supporting policies he favors for other reasons. He'd make a good teller of scary stories around a Boy Scout campfire. As a strategic thinker, he'd have to improve a lot to be contemptible.

Indeed. Meantime, an expat blogger in China adds: "It is definitely a most peculiar time in America, when suggestions such as Podhoretz's can be made so casually, and find audience in our mass media."

Yeah, and he's not the only one who believes it's "a most peculiar time in America". As I've said, it's an era of incompetence and paranoia. Look, I live just a few blocks north of Ground Zero, and was in Manhattan on 9/11 itself, so I well understand that we are living in a difficult, new era. But this endless harrumphing and WWIII talk (sorry, WWIV, I think it is), or that we need Dresden techniques and mass killings, if we really mean to win, and so on and on, is just obscene. Incidentally, having recently returned from Beijing and Shanghai, and as I'm sure the expat blogger I link above would also attest, I can assure you the Chinese are very much focused on the real world, as it is, and busily setting about out-flanking us in terms of trade and commercial relationships in large swaths of the globe (they are also making in-roads in terms of East Asian security architecture and trading arrangements, lessening US influence there also). Meantime, our titular opinion leaders are subjecting us to psuedo-intellectual blatherings about quasi-genocide and the merits thereto. None of this is to put the Chinese on some pedastel, as god knows they have displayed on countless occasions why they are not yet a mature, world power, and thus why American leadership remains so critical as stabilizing force in the international arena. But with our leadership increasingly mindlessly fixated on the GWOT, and with the self-contented, group-think piffle being scribbled about NRO and the Standard, we appear to be dropping the ball more and more. The GWOT is a global counterinsurgency campaign and, to be sure, a critical one. But we are fighting it rather poorly, and while making something of a ham of it, we are also neglecting many other likely equally critical matters. J-Pod's mindless cogitations reveal something of a zeitgeist, almost decadent in its remove from the real world, amoral and dirty in terms of implications, and generally just really, really underwhelming, finally. So yes, I agree with Mark Kleiman that, as a strategic thinker, John leaves much to be desired indeed.

Posted by Gregory at 10:32 PM

July 27, 2006

The Perils of Over-Simplifications

Where are we now, vis-a-vis the Israeli-Lebanese crisis, post-Rome? With every passing day, unfortunately, it appears we are becoming more isolated in the international community. For instance, any nascent trans-Atlantic rapprochment looks to be coming under increasingly heavy strain in coming days, particularly as Condi Rice appeared the only participant at the Rome meeting opposed to an immediate cease-fire. It is widely viewed, of course, fairly or unfairly, that she is stalling to give the Israelis more time to conduct their ongoing Lebanese offensive, but that might well take many more weeks, if not months, in terms of achieving real results on the ground. During that time, the humanitarian situation in Lebanon is going to go from bad to worse to desperate, and it is far from clear regardless that Israel will even be able to achieve its objectives of eradicating or otherwise conclusively defanging Hezbollah’s military wing.

The reality is, at some juncture sooner than many of us realize, Olmert will probably want a cease-fire deal pretty badly too. So rather than see America's reputation continue to plummet through the region (Condi's comments about the disaster unfurling in Lebanon constituting part of the "birth pangs" of a new Middle East might have even made Karen Hughes cringe, so poorly chosen the verbiage--and the de facto Israeli bombing halt of Beirut that coincided with her visit was no great shakes in the public diplomacy wars either) for the achievement of, at best, uncertain ends, or risk even more American forces coming under attack in Iraq as a result of Sadrists and perhaps others becoming even more radicalized by the unfolding situation in Lebanon, I believe it is incumbent on the Administration to listen to its allies both in Europe and the Arab world and move with utmost urgency and speed to get a cease-fire deal negotiated no later than very early August.

After all, it is the Europeans (and perhaps some Arab and Islamic countries), that will be asked to contribute, not only men for a stabilization force in the south of Lebanon, but also reconstruction funds for a Lebanon that is being steadily decimated (while the people of northern Israel are suffering mightily too, of course, the destruction in places like Tyre and southern Beirut are exponentially worse than anything that has occurred in Haifa or elsewhere in northern Israel, as is manifestly clear to any judicious observer). It is high time to listen to some of our European friends, and put down the mantle of arrogant American exceptionalism that we are somehow the unimpeachable do-gooders in all this, merely presiding over a (somewhat messy, alas) birthing that will lead to a new flowering of democracy in the Middle East. The region is complicated, and the narrative cannot be simply distilled to Israel as torch-bearer of freedom, along with benevolent pan-regional hegemon Uncle Sam, ever at the ready to preside over rosier times but for the bad guys trying to spoil the party.

It is time to engage with subtlety and nuance, for a change. I know it has become unfashionable to do such things, amidst all the macho Manichaeanism so popular among the serried ranks of various think-tanks, journalistic eminences, and blogospheric blowhards, where far too often ideological affiliation trumps fact-based inquiry. But stay with me, if just for a moment or two: Al-Qaeda is not Hezbollah, and Hezbollah is not al-Qaeda, and Hamas is not either of them. It is easy to scream like a boy from the rooftops that they are all terrorists, and terrorists, we know, are bad, and so must be defeated, for if they aren't, we are showing weakness, and showing weakness too is bad, because, you see, Mogadishu and then, well, you know the script. But Islamists come in different shapes and sizes, and with different agendas, and we cannot tar them all with the same broad brush and presume that we will prevail in a complex global counter-insurgency campaign against radical Islamists simply by egging on the Israelis to eradicate Hamas and Hezbollah (whatever that means), while we take care of Sadrist death squads and al-Qaeda radicals, neo-Baathists, and hard-line Sunni nationalists in Iraq (before turning to Syria and Iran!) Does anyone seriously believe that such simplistic, quasi-messianic approaches will make this country safer, as legions of individuals from (aptly named) 'Londonistan' to the Parisian banlieu to Dearborn to Jeddah to Lahore to Jakarta look on with horror at the scenes of Arab and Muslim blood being shorn hither dither? (Yes, of course, there has been episodic (mostly de minimis) cooperation among some of these groups, and your friendly, neighborhood rogue Pentagon intelligence shop, or bushy-tailed-eager-to-please research assistants at neo-con rags, could make your head spin morphing Nasrallah into Osama to Khaled Meshal and so on and on. But the reality is that these groups have vastly different agendas, although it is obvious of late that Hamas and Hezbollah have perhaps engaged in a level of strategic cooperation with regard to the timing of the kidnapping of IDF forces).

But putting aside that we shouldn’t put all these actors into one big, easy pot labeled terrorists, necessarily, and certainly not from the perspective of over-arching, long-term strategic threats to the U.S, recall too that large swaths of the Lebanese public, particularly the poor in the Shi'a south and slums of Beirut, view Hezbollah as a legitimate resistance movement. Similarly, the Palestinians have voted in Hamas, impressed by their anti-corruption platform and, to some extent, rejectionist stance against Israel (though Palestinian polling often finds majorities in favor of a two-state solution). The stubborn irredentism and noxious resort to terror tactics of such groups aside, they cannot simply be eradicated, or wished away, solely via the use of military force or communal punishment techniques. Remember, the power of these groups was enhanced by the very democratic precepts we’ve fought in Iraq to introduce to the region. Do we plan on bombing them into moderation now, because we don’t like their platforms?

Yes, of course, by all means let us work intelligently to effectively disarm the military wings of these organizations, but by killing scores and hundreds of innocents, and by ignoring that each of these organizations, like it or not, have plausible social welfare arms too, and by refusing to think about the context of outstanding territorial disputes and other unresolved grievances that should be addressed diplomatically, in the main, and whose lack of resolution feed their support—how do we really plan to change the basic dynamics of the region, clear the underbrush of much of this fanaticism born of poverty and propaganda and hate? By more wars? By so myopically and simplistically and self-contentedly categorizing them as all as one and the same, with all their constituents but terrorist sympathizers and enablers for whom collateral damage isn’t worth shedding a tear? America's national interest must be focused on continuing to fight transnational terror organizations (of which Hamas is not one, as they focus on Palestine/Israel, and of which Hezbollah has been on occasion, but more often than not has been primarily active in the context of Lebanon-focused operations--like the horrific slaughter of our Marines which led to an American exit from that country--but also of course keeping in mind odious attacks like that of the Jewish center in Argentina, among other operations reaching well beyond Lebanon).

My point? We must remain very focused on reducing the winds in the sails of radical Islamist groups like al-Qaeda, but our basic carte blanche to Israel these past weeks, and our total conflation of Hamas, Hezbollah, al-Qaeda and seemingly every other group under the sun that we don't care for in the Middle East--is not only leading to far too simplistic foreign policy analyses among too many in the Beltway--but also, more important, serving as recruiting sergeant for more radicalized Islamists to proliferate, not only in the region, but in Europe and perhaps even the United States itself. And what of Israel, you ask, an ally of long-standing that deserves staunch (but not blind) US support, in my estimation: it is clear, to me at least, that Israel’s long term security and existence will only be guaranteed by a two-state solution, one that the entire international community gets behind, involving binding resolution of the Sheba Farms, Golan Heights, West Bank, East Jerusalem and other so-called final status issues. America has to reclaim the mantle of ‘honest broker’ and lead this effort to a successful conclusion, whether a year or five years or ten years from now. In the immediate context, of course, what is needed is a cease-fire, and I’ll be writing much more about that in coming days. Finally, and at the same time, the US must focus like a laser on trying to turn back the savage sectarian carnage underway in Iraq, so as to try to push Iraq's nascent post-Saddam polity towards moderation rather than furious score-settling and internecine rage, and also to contain Iranian trouble-making (Teheran's biggest strategic opportunity for greater regional influence lies today in Baghdad, more than Beirut or Damascus, say), each a mammoth task we are failing at dismally today. These are the key ingredients of a sane approach to Middle East policy-making at the present hour, not gross over-simplifications that, while seductive and appealing to the masses (by which I mean too much of our political governing class and commentariat), will run aground in the real world and severely jeopardize the American national interest both in the Middle East and indeed throughout the globe.

Posted by Gregory at 03:44 AM


Rome was rather a disappointment, even for those of us who weren't expecting an immediate cease-fire. Then again, others more versed in the subtleties of diplomacy appear pleased, so who am I to grumble? Von has more.

Posted by Gregory at 03:01 AM

July 26, 2006

Hezbollah's Staying Power

Roula Khalaf:

Israel’s offensive has caused massive damage, killed more than 400 Lebanese, most of them civilians, and displaced over half a million others. More than 40 Israelis have died. Yet Israel has yet to achieve its objective: limiting the military capabilities and the political power of Hizbollah, a disciplined political party representing a large part of Lebanon’s largest minority which is backed by both Iran and Syria.

Instead, the offensive has incited Arab anger and elevated Mr Nasrallah to hero status in the Arab and Muslim world. It has also forced many of his political rivals in Beirut to mobilise against the Israeli onslaught, and shelve – for now, at least – their fury at the party that started the conflict.

Alarmingly for Israel, ordinary Lebanese, whether Shia, Sunni or Christian, are becoming convinced that the Jewish state, which invaded Lebanon in 1982, is waging war against the whole country. At the entrance to the Beirut port, in front of a building damaged by Israeli strikes, Lebanese families have been gathering in hope of evacuation. Asked why the conflict has broken out, a customs official raises his hands in the air in exasperation. Plainly an opponent of Hizbollah, he says the question should be addressed to Mr Nasrallah as well as Syria and Iran. He adds: “I don’t know why it’s going on but I know it won’t end until we’re over, until Lebanon is gone, until everything we built is gone.”

The determination – and the military sophistication – of the group is at the heart of the international conundrum over how to resolve what is happening in Lebanon. The world has been seized by the tragedy of Lebanon. The small Mediterranean country is seen as paying the price for the standoff between the US and the axis of Syria and Iran.

Envoys have rushed to Beirut to offer their sympathy to a government dominated by a pro-western coalition that, while not endorsing Hizbollah’s actions, has implored the world to intervene to halt Israel’s retaliation. A similar show of support will be mounted on Wednesday when foreign ministers from the US, Europe and Arab states gather in Rome to hammer out the shape of a possible ceasefire.

But most of the ideas for a ceasefire assume that Israel will be able to neutralise Hizbollah, paving the way for the implementation of UN Security Council 1559, which calls for the group’s disarmament.

The comments of those who have found a temporary home in Keyfoun help to explain why that assumption is flawed, ignoring as it does the relationship between Hizbollah and the Lebanese people. The US considers Hizbollah a conventional terrorist organisation such as al-Qaeda that is ripe for obliteration. But in Lebanon it is viewed as a legitimate resistance movement that forced Israel out of southern Lebanon in 2000. As well as being one of the country’s largest political parties, it is also its most organised.

The US this week proposed the deployment of an international force alongside the Lebanese army south of the Litani River, which runs some 25 miles from the Lebanon-Israeli border, in order to push the guerrillas and their arsenal of rockets away from Israeli cities and towns.

Lebanese officials, however, know Hizbollah would reject such proposals out of hand. They fear that attempts to enforce them could lead to a renewal of the internal sectarian conflict that ended only in 1991, after 16 years of war.

In the Grand Serail, the former Ottoman barracks that act as the seat of government, Fouad Siniora, the country’s mild-mannered prime minister who has pleaded for an end to the Israeli offensive, says a resolution to the conflict requires a comprehensive deal that addresses all the outstanding disputes between Lebanon and Israel, and gives the government cards to negotiate with Hizbollah.

This deal, he says, would include a prisoners’ swap as well as the settlement of the dispute over Shebaa farms, a strip of occupied border land over which Lebanon claims sovereignty but the UN and Israel consider part of the Golan Heights, the Syrian territory Israel seized in the 1967 Middle East war.

So far, at least, Hizbollah has not felt under pressure to negotiate an end to the conflict. Israel has entered a new phase in the offensive, emptying Lebanese areas close to its borders of residents and sending troops on missions to take over Hizbollah strongholds.

The group has perhaps 5,000 fighters but many more reservists – and, Israel suspects, more longer-range missiles than it has deployed so far. As Anthony Cordesman, security expert at Washington’s Centre for Strategic and International Studies, says, Hizbollah can easily disperse, replace its fighters, then regroup and improve its ambush techniques.

His assessment is that Israel’s strategy could only succeed if the Shia population turned against the group, something which he and many analysts in Beirut believe is unlikely.

Read the whole thing, which makes for a sobering read, in large part. Whatever the 'Rome Declaration' to be hammered out by Condi Rice in the next day or so, if we might call it that, it must not only signal a persuasive way forward on bona fide security assurances that are directly and persuasively responsive to Israeli concerns, but also must signal to Lebanese Prime Minister Siniora that he will have real cards to table with Nabih Berri, who in turn will have to pitch them to Nasrallah. This will likely have to go beyond face-saving linked to Sheba Farms (and on this last, wouldn't it be easier to have the Syrians at the table, at some point relatively soon, keeping in mind too the Israelis want a NATO or EU led-force to monitor Syrian-Lebanese border crossings--and assuming using the UN as proxy negotiator won't be particularly efficacious, or even the Saudis and Egyptians?), not least because Nasrallah will be very resistant to any 'occupation'-style force with a robust mandate, so will be looking for concessions in return beyond Sheba.

Frankly, with Hezbollah putting in a stronger military showing than many expected, and Olmert therefore particularly keen to keep the offensive afoot for a while yet--the situation still appears very ripe for potential miscalculations, leading to further escalation and potentially even a spreading conflagration. I wish I was as apparently sanguine as some that we have the luxury of good time in terms of waiting for a ceasefire that we deem to be appropriately "sustainable" in nature, but I'd think the basic parameters of a workable cease-fire have to be in place by not much later than very early August, if not sooner. With significant military action underway, various recalcitrant parties cleaving to maximalist positions, humanitarian conditions dire and worsening--and some key actors not even at the table--it is clear a massive amount of deft diplomatic activity is going to be required in the next week, involving significant pressure on all the key parties, not to mention a good dose of luck too, if real progress is to be made in an acceptable timeframe. To what extent this is our Secretary of State's mandate, I'm not yet really sure, and obviously more will become clear during the Rome meetings--but I'd again stress allowing this conflict to fester for too long will increasingly, I believe, help extremists in the region rather than moderates.

Posted by Gregory at 03:52 AM


Another one for the time capsule. I mean, I thought we had over 130,000 men in theater there still, yes?

Posted by Gregory at 03:49 AM

Q&A at the Pentagon

Q: Is the country closer to a civil war?

SEC. RUMSFELD: Oh, I don't know. You know, I thought about that last night, and just musing over the words, the phrase, and what constitutes it. If you think of our Civil War, this is really very different. If you think of civil wars in other countries, this is really quite different. There is -- there is a good deal of violence in Baghdad and two or three other provinces, and yet in 14 other provinces there's very little violence or numbers of incidents. So it's a -- it's a highly concentrated thing. It clearly is being stimulated by people who would like to have what could be characterized as a civil war and win it, but I'm not going to be the one to decide if, when or at all.

No, he won't, as he's become increasingly irrelevant, and a disgrace to his office. How the sitting American Secretary of Defense can be so breathtakingly glib about whether Iraq is closer to civil war in a year that has seen over 14,000 Iraqis die (mostly because of conditions of incipient civil war) beggars belief. Note to how he is increasingly responding to questions of critical import regarding Baghdad's security by deferring to Generals Casey and Dempsey--with Casey evidently the main liason with Prime Minister Maliki on such issues--including not only military strategy per se, but also the so-called 'reconciliation' initiatives underway, or strengthening the key ministries, or rendering more efficient intelligence gathering efforts, all of which have important non-military dimensions, and all of which would benefit from protracted non-military input by a competent leader at the helm of the Pentagon. I mean, what exactly is Rumsfeld doing, if he is not at least actively seized by the critical import of trying to bring Baghdad back from the brink (quite shockingly, he doesn't even know how many extra troops are being sent into Baghdad saying simply, "it's not in my head", and "I'm not going to do numbers")? Stabilizing Baghdad is the linchpin struggle we must engage full-on to hope against hope to turn Iraq back from even greater calamities, and our Secretary of Defense appears, variously, dismissive, insouciant, tired, and callously disinterested in our ultimate success there. Could the urgent need for fresh leadership at the Pentagon be any clearer? Resign, Rumsfeld!

MORE: Will ink-blotting Baghdad make the difference? I doubt it, frankly. What we see here is a perfect encapsulation of the entire flawed war strategy. Reactive, not proactive, temporarily pulling forces from already volatile regions to ones that have become even more volatile, and therefore failing to conclusively prevail in either--basically too little, too late. Or the Rumsfeld Doctrine, if you will: "just enough troops to lose". I prefer the Powell Doctrine, but call me old-fashioned, and not a courageous new paradigmer.

Posted by Gregory at 03:10 AM

A Long, Long Time Ago....

Bush, today:

The terrorists are afraid of democracies. And what you've witnessed in Israel, in my judgment, is the act of a terrorist organization trying to stop the advance of democracy in the region.

I assured the Prime Minister that I care deeply about the suffering that takes place, that we understand the anguish of leaders in the region who see innocent people losing their life. I also assured him that Condi Rice's mission is to help get humanitarian aid to the Lebanese people. She's working on not only air corridors, but sea corridors and land corridors, to get aid to the people. And the United States will participate, as will other nations.

I also talked about making sure that we adhere to U.N. Resolution 1559, which basically -- not basically -- strongly urges political parties not to be armed. A key part of our strategy is to support democracy. And so, not only do we support democracy in the Palestinian Territory, we also support the Lebanese democracy. I think the Prime Minister was pleased to hear my strong support for the Siniora government.

And so Condi goes with the following messages: We support the Siniora government; we care about the people; we will help to get aid to the people; and that we want a sustainable cease-fire. We don't want something that's short-term in duration. We want to address the root causes of the violence in the area, and therefore, our mission and our goal is to have a lasting peace -- not a temporary peace, but something that lasts.

And I believe that Iraq, in some ways, faces the same difficulty, and that is a new democracy is emerging and there are people who are willing to use terrorist techniques to stop it. That's what the murder is all about. People fear democracy if your vision is based upon kind of a totalitarian view of the world. And that's the ultimate challenge facing Iraq and Lebanon and the Palestinian Territories, and that is, will the free world, and the neighborhood, work in concert to help develop sustainable democracy?

And Iraq took a long step along that -- a big step on that path when they developed a constitution that was ratified by the Iraqi people. And it's a modern constitution, and it's a landmark moment in the history of freedom advancing in the Middle East.

I believe that deep in everybody's soul, Mr. Prime Minister, is a desire to be free. And when 12 million Iraqis went to the polls and said, I want to be free, it was an amazing moment. I know it seems like a long, long time ago that that happened. But it was a powerful statement about what is possible in terms of achieving peace. [emphasis added]

And yet, it is democratic elections that put Hamas in power, and democratic elections that put Hezbollah into a leading political role in Lebanon, and democratic elections that have failed to stave off barbaric sectarian warfare in Iraq. When will we put these pitiable nostrums about some illusory "march to freedom" aside, and confront the region as it is, not as we dream it to be?

Posted by Gregory at 02:47 AM

July 25, 2006

The WWIII (or IV...) Hyperbole

Gideon Rachman pours cold water on Gingrich and Co.'s hyperbole and transparently faux Churchillianism:

If you are looking for reassurance at this time of international crisis, do not consult Newt Gingrich. “We are in the early stages of what I would describe as the third world war,” says the former speaker of the House of Representatives, who is currently a member of the Pentagon’s Defence Policy Board. Mr Gingrich is not alone in his diagnosis. Dan Gillerman, Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, said last week that: “The third world war, I believe, has already started. What we’re seeing today in the Middle East is a chapter of it.” Even President George W. Bush has casually endorsed the idea. He told a television interviewer last May that the passengers who fought back against their hijackers on September 11, 2001 had staged “the first counterattack to world war three”. Symbolically, Mr Bush has placed a bust of Churchill (a gift from the British), in the Oval Office.

Any argument simultaneously associated with Newt Gingrich, the Israeli ambassador to the UN and President Bush is likely to be dismissed on those grounds alone in much of Europe. But the “third world war” crowd deserve a careful hearing. Essentially, they make two points. The first is that Islamist extremists are already waging a multi-front war. Fighting is under way in Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon and Palestine – and a confrontation with Iran is looming. Those inclined to dismiss this multi-front war as essentially a broad regional conflict are reminded that Islamist terrorists have also struck in New York, Madrid, London, Bali and elsewhere. The second argument is that these conflicts are all linked because Islamism is a “seamless totalitarian movement” – in the words of Michael Gove, a British Conservative member of parliament and author of a new book on the subject*. Mr Gove and many neo-conservatives in America argue that Islamism is a direct descendant of the totalitarian movements of the twentieth century because, like them, it is implacably and violently hostile to western, liberal democracy...

...But the idea of a “seamless totalitarian movement” also has some obvious holes in it. It requires making almost no distinction between the Arab-Israeli conflict and the “war on terror”. It glosses over the fact that Saddam Hussein was not an Islamist – and that it was the American-led invasion of Iraq that turned the country into a honey pot for “Islamofascists” (to use the neo-cons’ preferred term). And it struggles to make sense of the fact that the single biggest source of bloodshed in the Middle East at the moment is internecine conflict between Sunni and Shia extremists in Iraq. Indeed, some of those who now worry most about Shia militancy had convinced themselves a couple of years ago that the real problem in the Middle East was Sunni radicalism – and that the Shia were a key part of the solution.

But perhaps the most telling argument against the “world war three” thesis is that even many of those advancing it do not appear to believe their own rhetoric. In the same Fox News interview in which Mr Gingrich painted “a worldwide picture of efforts to undermine and destroy our civilisation”, he was asked by a clearly embarrassed interviewer about those who argue that “look, this is a costly war and maybe it includes raising taxes on the upper income to fight it”. Mr Gingrich was having none of it. The third world war will apparently not require “raising a penny in taxes”. Clearly, we are not yet at the blood, sweat and tears phase. The Bush administration is similarly reticent. It argues that we are engaged in a struggle to save western civilisation. But it is still all but inconceivable that the administration would re-introduce the draft – or even sharply raise taxes on petrol – to help win that struggle...

...The constant analogies between the war on terror and the war on Nazism do still matter, however. Choose the wrong analogy and you may end up choosing the wrong policy as well. Slogans about “Munich” and appeasement have been heard before some of the worst foreign policy disasters of the past 60 years – such as the Suez crisis and Vietnam. The same talk was heard before the invasion of Iraq and is now rife in connection with Iran.

But there have been other events in history besides appeasement and there are other decades that can be learnt from besides the 1930s. In fact, the struggle between western liberalism and Islamism may end up looking a lot more like the cold war than the second world war. In the cold war, people had to get used to the idea that normal life was taking place against the backdrop of terrifying risks that could not be eliminated by military action alone: then it was Soviet missiles, now it is the fear that a terrorist might get hold of a nuclear bomb. Then, as now, there were episodes of “hot war” – in Korea and elsewhere. But the cold war ultimately turned on a struggle between ideologies and social systems, rather than armies.

Communism finally imploded because it could not produce prosperity or a decent society. Militant Islamism – a miserable, medieval philosophy – is bound ultimately to go the same way. In Iran, which has had to live with a fundamentalist regime since 1979, there is plenty of evidence of popular disillusionment with the system, particularly among the young. It is this disillusionment that offers the best hope for the kind of “regime change” that actually lasts. Incapable of offering the hope of a decent life (at least on earth), Islamism’s only real recruiting sergeant is an appeal to a sense of Muslim humiliation and rage against the west. There may be further occasions when the “war on terror” requires military action.

But each new military front will be eagerly greeted by Islamists as a validation of their world view. It is no accident that one man who would happily embrace Mr Gingrich’s vision of a “third world war” is Osama bin Laden. [emphasis added]

MORE: I'm not sure if Bill Buckley is a resurgent Burkean or a "neoincrementalist" (perhaps just a Burkean all along...), but it's quite clear he's not a "staunch Churchillian", if we must insist on this typology (one far too generous, I'm afraid, to those so easily granted the mantle of exalted Churchillianism). And while we'll give neo-incrementalism a fair hearing in coming days, don't miss these choice words from Buckley:

Despite evidence that Iran is supplying weapons and expertise to Hezbollah in the conflict with Israel, Buckley rejects neo-conservatives who favor a more interventionist foreign policy, including a pre-emptive air strike against Iran and its nuclear facilities.

"If we find there is a warhead there that is poised, the range of it is tested, then we have no alternative. But pending that, we have to ask ourselves, 'What would the Iranian population do?'"...

....Asked what President Bush's foreign policy legacy will be to his successor, Buckley says "There will be no legacy for Mr. Bush. I don't believe his successor would re-enunciate the words he used in his second inaugural address because they were too ambitious. So therefore I think his legacy is indecipherable."

Posted by Gregory at 05:18 AM

An American Honey-Trap?

Yossi Ben-Ari:

Israel has never enjoyed such broad American support for both its policies and military actions as it does today. It began with an explicit presidential objection to international calls for an immediate cease fire that could disrupt the attaining of certain goals (with Bush's call in the background 'to do battle with an organization that initiated terror attacks and with the countries that support it'); all the way to the emergency shipment of "smart bombs" meant to help the effort that refuses to end.

It may be a comfortable feeling to have US backing, but we must be careful of this "honey trap." It's a strange paradox.

Israel has always refused to sign a strategic agreement with the United States, for fear that such a treaty could inhibit Israel's freedom of action. But even though no such agreement exists, America has hinted at expectations that Israel act as an active partner in America's campaign against world-wide terror.

This could even stand in contrast to Israel's interests and bog Israel even further down than it is bogged down today: Lebanon continues to exact a heavy price every day, mainly amongst Israeli civilians but also from the IDF.

And–voila! –even senior IDF officials are signaling that they won't be able to finish the military conflict without a diplomatic arrangement. In other words, it would appear that a quick ceasefire and significant entry of an international force on the ground, could very well be in Israel's interest.

Indeed. There are a lot in the Beltway right now hankering for Israel to fight Hezbollah for months towards glorious, total "victory," but wiser Israelis know well it would likely be a Phyrric one indeed (thus the reluctance to go in on the ground, in large number, of course). Still, it's fun to be more Catholic than the Pope, especially when you live in far-away Chevy Chase, or Bethesda, or whatever. This won't stop those like BD, of course, who dare to recommend moderation to the Israelis during this ongoing offensive, from being tarred as appeasers in the GWOT or such. But the reality, of course, is that true friends of Israel realize well that a cease-fire in the relative short-term is likely in her interests, all things considered, despite the loud chest-beating in the usual quarters for Israel to march to the Litani (or the southern suburbs of Beirut!), and the US to start striking Damascus and Teheran, the better so a pan-regional solution 'appears', as if by divine inspiration.

Posted by Gregory at 04:09 AM

What Troops Would Secure the Buffer Zone?

There appears to be a good deal of reticence among some key countries that would ostensibly be front and center as leading candidates to provide troops to patrol southern Lebanon:

The challenge of creating a viable international force to secure Israel’s border with Lebanon was captured by Nahum Barnea, a columnist for the Israeli daily newspaper Yediot Aharonot. The European foreign ministers were enthusiastic, he said.

“They only had one small condition for the force to be made up of soldiers from another country,” Mr. Barnea wrote. “The Germans recommended France; the French recommended Egypt, and so on. It is doubtful whether there is a single country in the West currently volunteering to lay down its soldiers on Hezbollah’s fence.”

This would likely be a good time to look at Turkish troops, in particular, under the aegis of an EU or NATO led mission. With some major European powers reluctant to take on major duties (UK, France, Germany), for varying reasons, and with Turkey hoping to prove its bona fides as good EU citizen, if you will, one sees a sizable Muslim Turkish contigent as perhaps an idea worthy of serious investigation--despite the obvious Sunni/Shi'a issue this presents.

MORE: How reluctant will Hezbollah be to accept a foreign force (even if it's for an interim period, with the Lebanese Army being trained simultaneously, to eventually take control of the southern parts of the country)? Hard to say, really, but it will take more than breezy cajoling, to be sure, to get them on board.

Posted by Gregory at 03:31 AM

The Importance of Shaba Farms

Shaba Farms as a key ingredient to any workable cease-fire? Zvi Bar'el thinks so.


Saturday saw another development in the status of Fuad Siniora's government versus the strength of Hezbollah. After the government received "a franchise" to enter into negotiations on a prisoner-exchange deal, Energy Minister Mohammed Fneish, a Hezbollah representative, announced that once the IDF withdrew from the Shaba Farms area, Hezbollah's role as a "liberating" army would be over, and it would stick to a purely a defensive role. This is a very significant statement, because it begins to define the conditions for Hezbollah's disarmament.

The government of Lebanon, Hezbollah, the United States, France and the United Nations have all realized now that the key to achieving a long-term and sustainable cease-fire by means of the deployment of the Lebanese Army in the south lies in a resolution to the Shaba Farms dispute.

Read the whole piece for the key Syrian angle too, critical with regard to Shaba Farms, of course. I'm starting to see the broad parameters of what a cease-fire deal will look like, and hope to provide more detailed analysis, time permitting, in the next day or so. It's also interesting to note that the Israelis think Condi Rice is in Israel more in 'listening' mode, which may well be the case give the Administration's posture in this crisis to date (though one wonders whether this is more by way of what Eliot Abrams may have signaled to the PM's office, and if Olmert's office might not be posturing a bit to the press in advance of the meeting to telegraph expectations). Regardless, note this Haaretz piece:

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert will present Rice on Tuesday morning with Israel's conditions for a cease-fire in the north. Olmert will tell Rice that the new order in the country must be based on Resolution 1559, which calls for Hezbollah's disarmament and the deployment of the Lebanese Army in the south of the country.

Olmert also is expected to tell the secretary of state that Israel will not object to a strong international force stationed in south Lebanon in the interim.

A political source in Jerusalem said the prime minister will also tell Rice that Israel will continue its military campaign in Lebanon, and has no intention of stopping it now.

The source believes that Rice is in Israel "to listen," and will not make any demands regarding an end to the fighting.

Meantime, Tony Blair sees a deal soon:

In London, Prime Minister Tony Blair said he hoped a plan, including an international force, a mutual cease-fire and the release of the captured soldiers, could be negotiated and announced in the next few days.

“If someone’s got a better plan, I’d like to hear it,” he said. “It’s the only one I’ve got and I’m trying to make it happen.”

The "next few days" strikes me as a rather optimistic timeframe, alas, but as I said, more on all this soon, I hope.

MORE: One reason the cease-fire is likely not going to happen within days is, not only the difficulties Condi Rice will have on the Israeli side (Olmert will want more time to further degrade Hezbollah capabilities--while attempting to ensure Israel clearly appears to have the leg up when the cease-fire is broached, which is not yet the case, so as to appear to be standing down from a position of strength), but also that her visit to Lebanon appears to have been, not suprisingly, rather dicey:

Political sources in Beirut....said the talks had not gone well. The US is seeking a package of measures that would involve deployment of an international force, along with the Lebanese army, south of the Litani river, an area Israeli troops have entered to try to stop Hizbollah rocket attacks on northern Israel.

Mr Siniora’s government says it needs cards in its hands – including an Israeli willingness to withdraw from the occupied Shebaa farms, which Beirut claims sovereignty over, and an exchange of prisoners – if it is to have a chance of persuading Hizbollah to compromise.

Mr Berri demanded an immediate ceasefire that would leave open the question of moving the Lebanese army to the south as demanded by Israel and the US. Ms Rice, who arrived in Israel late on Monday, was due to meet Ehud Olmert, Israeli prime minister, in Jerusalem on Tuesday followed by talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Although Washington has rejected the Lebanese prime minister’s appeals for an immediate ceasefire, she told reporters on her way to the region: “We all want to urgently end the fighting. We have absolutely the same goal.”

Well, not quite, unfortunately...

Posted by Gregory at 02:38 AM

A Banana Republic Coup D'Etat

Ricks via Kakutani:

Mr. Ricks argues that the invasion of Iraq “was based on perhaps the worst war plan in American history,” an incomplete plan that “confused removing Iraq’s regime with the far more difficult task of changing the entire country.” The result of going in with too few troops and no larger strategic plan, he says, was “that the U.S. effort resembled a banana republic coup d’état more than a full-scale war plan that reflected the ambition of a great power to alter the politics of a crucial region of the world.”

Query: How soon before Ricks gets tarred as a defeatist, appeasing America-hater by dim blogospheric and talk-radio blow-hards?

Posted by Gregory at 02:28 AM

July 24, 2006


A reader dissents regarding my take on the Lebanese government's view of the Israeli action against Hezbollah:


I am a regular reader and I generally enjoy your writing. I also just returned from to the States from my apartment in Lebanon, where I had been living for the last few months. Regarding Rich Lowry's comments on the Lebanese government being secretly pleased by the Israeli campaign, I think that it is a bit more complicated then your quoting of Fouad Sinoura would suggest. I think that it is undeniable that the Sunni community in Lebanon has conflicted feelings about the attacks on Hizballah. Prior to this latest outbreak of violence, there was tremendous inter-communal tension between the Shia and the Sunni in Lebanon--mostly revolving around the axis of the Syria question. Hizballah and Amal have remained close allies of the Syrians, despite overwhelming evidence that Syria was complicit in the assasination of Rafiq al-Hariri. The Sunni community, represented principally by Saad al-Hariri and the Future party, has long resented this position and despite the fact that Saad al-Hariri has been parliamentary majority leader (not to be confused with Nabih Berri, the speaker), he cannot act without the acquiescence of the Shiite bloc. Many have been speculating in Lebanon, prior to the kidnapping, that if the country were to fall back into civil war, it would be a civil war between the Shiite and the Sunni, rather than the Muslim and Christian communities with the Druze alternating between them.

To make a long story short, Saad al-Hariri has been very quiet. His close allies in Saudi Arabia (the Hariri family was always, of course, very close to the ruling family) have made unambiguous statements against Hizballah. al-Hariri's ally in the March 14 Movement, Walid Jumblatt, has been making strong statements in the Arabic press against Hizballah (while also assigning some blame to Israel). I think that it is not unreasonable to suggest, as Lowry or his sources did, that a substantial element of the Lebanese government, at least the two leaders of March 14 (Jumblatt and Hariri), are willing to let the Israelis take Hizballah down several notches, before making stronger public statements and enlisting considerable international assistance (Hariri is much closer to the Saudis, the French, and the Americans than Sinoura).

I saw the Sinoura speech, and it was indeed desperate. You should also know, however, the Sinoura occupies a somewhat desperate place in Lebanese politics during peacetime. He does not come from a zaim family, he has no real base of influence in Lebanon born of business or family, and he knows that if and when March 14 finally topples Lahoud, he is out and Hariri is in as PM. It is not surprising to me that he would make such strong statements.

Perhaps Lowry was a bit strong in his language - "happy to see Israel pound Hizballah." I would, however strongly dispute your contention that it was breathtakingly ignorant.

Posted by Gregory at 03:27 AM

July 21, 2006

Koppel and Jordanian Intelligence

Ted Koppel:

The United States is already at war with Iran; but for the time being the battle is being fought through surrogates.

That message was conveyed to me recently by a senior Jordanian intelligence official at his office in Amman. He spoke on the condition of anonymity, reflecting gloomily on the failure of the Bush administration’s various policies in the region.

He reserved his greatest contempt for the policy of encouraging democratic reform. “For the Islamic fundamentalists, democratic reform is like toilet paper,” he said. “You use it once and then you throw it away.”

Lest the point elude me, the official conducted a brief tour of recent democratic highlights in the region. Gaza and the West Bank, where Hamas, spurned by the State Department as a terrorist organization, was voted into power last spring and now represents the Palestinian government; Lebanon, where Hezbollah, similarly rejected by the United States, has become the most influential political entity in the country; and, of course, Iraq, where the Shiite majority has now, through elections, gained political power commensurate with its numbers.

In each case, the intelligence officer reminded me, the beneficiary of those electoral victories is allied with and, to some degree, dependent upon Iran. Over the past couple of months alone, he told me, Hamas has received more than $300 million in cash, provided by Iran and funneled through Syria. He told me what has now become self-evident to the residents of Haifa: namely, that Iran has made longer-range and more powerful rockets and missiles available to Hezbollah in southern Lebanon.

Ah, you say, it is all about the Iranians! On to Teheran, with a side excursion to their proxy bed-fellow Syria!

But wait...Koppel, again:

But Washington’s greatest gift to the Iranians lies next door in Iraq. By removing Saddam Hussein, the United States endowed the majority Shiites with real power, while simultaneously tearing down the wall that had kept Iran in check.

According to the Jordanian intelligence officer, Iran is reminding America’s traditional allies in the region that the United States has a track record of leaving its friends in the lurch — in Vietnam in the 70’s, in Lebanon in the 80’s, in Somalia in the 90’s.

In his analysis, the implication that this decade may witness a precipitous American withdrawal from Iraq has begun to produce an inclination in the region toward appeasing Iran.

It is in Iraq, he told me, “where the United States and the coalition forces must confront the Iranians.’’ He added, “You must build up your forces in Iraq and you must announce your intention to stay.”

What responsible people in the Beltway should be doing now, regarding Middle East policy, and aside from seeking a cease-fire in Lebanon and preparing for the next round of Iran-related diplomacy on the nuclear issue--is focusing anew like a laser on how America can marshall all its resources to improve the security situation in Iraq. As Koppel (and his Jordanian source, one admitedly somewhat self-interested in terms of preserving Hashemite stability) correctly points out, this is the main battle-field with Iran at the moment, and this is where America must make its strongest stand in the neighborhood: namely to turn around the increasingly abysmal disaster that has become the US intervention in Iraq. If we lose there, we will have handed the Mullahs in Iran their greatest prize. Fanciful talk of wars on Iran and Syria (this includes ginning up civil wars there or air strikes) and related cogitations replete with easy, seductive talk of pan-regional panaceas in the offing, but for new interventions, are really just irresponsible, quasi-mastubatory drivel. It's about Iraq, stupid--and cooling the situation in Lebanon too, of course. This last, ultimately, involves a return to the negotiating table, meaning a mature peace process that America, front and center, would lead with sustained attention. And resucitating Iraq, in my view, means we need a new Defense Secretary, one not tarred by the legacy of the past three odd awful years there, and one ready to do a top-down review of our Iraq policy without ideological, bureaucratic or other blinders on. Yes, hoping against hope to turn Iraq around will take so much more than one single personnel adjustment, of course, but it is a necessary precursor to moving towards forging a fresh approach, I deeply believe. Appoint Dick Armitage!

Posted by Gregory at 01:05 PM

Siniora's Dismay

I don't know if any of you caught Larry King's recent interview of Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, but if so, you'll see it yet again put the lie to Rich Lowry's breathtakingly ignorant reportage below:

Rich Lowry: "Just talked to someone very close to U.S. policy-making on the Mideast. I didn't cull much new or different from what we've been hearing and reading. The sense is that the Lebanese government is happy to see Israel pound Hezbollah, but can't say it out loud."

Anyway, if you missed the show, don't miss this speech he gave in Lebanon to the assembled diplomatic corps, and then think anew of Rich Lowry's credibility (and indeed that of NRO generally) on this issue:

I have convened the diplomatic corps in Lebanon today to launch an urgent appeal to the international community for an immediate humanitarian cease-fire and assistance to my war-ravaged country.

You are all aware that seven continuous days of an escalating Israeli onslaught on Lebanon have resulted in immeasurable loss. The toll in terms of human life has reached tragic proportions: over 1,000 wounded and 300 killed so far; over half-a-million people have been displaced; in some areas, the hospitals have been crippled and are unable to cope with the casualties; there are shortages of food and medical supplies; homes, factories and warehouses have been completely destroyed; UN facilities in Maroun al-Ras and Naqoura have just been shelled, so have army barracks and posts of the Joint Security Forces; a Civil Defense unit has been wiped out and foreigners are being evacuated.

As I speak, the trauma, the desperation, the grief and the daily massacres and destruction go on and on. The country has been torn to shreds.

Is the value of human life in Lebanon less than that of the citizens of other countries? Can the international community stand by while such callous retribution by Israel is inflicted on us?

Will you allow innocent civilians, churches, mosques, orphanages, medical supplies escorted by the Red Cross, people seeking shelter or fleeing their homes and villages to be the casualties of this ugly war?

"Is this what the international community calls self-defense?

Is this the price we pay for aspiring to build our democratic institutions? Is this the message to send to the country of diversity, freedom and tolerance?

Only last year, the Lebanese filled the streets with hope and with red, green and white banners shouting out: Lebanon deserves life!

What kind of life is being offered to us now?

I will tell you what kind: a life of destruction, despair, displacement, dispossession, and death.

What kind of future can stem from the rubble?

A future of fear, frustration, despair, financial ruin and fanaticism.

Let me assure you that we shall spare no avenue to make Israel compensate the Lebanese people for the barbaric destruction it has inflicted and continues to inflict upon us, knowing full well that human life is irreplaceable.

You want to support the government of Lebanon? Let me tell you, ladies and gentlemen, no government can survive on the ruins of a nation.

On behalf of the people of Lebanon, from Beirut, Baalbek and Byblos, to Tyre Sidon and Qana, to each and every one of the 21 villages at the Southern border, declared a no-go zone by Israel, to Tripoli and Zahle, to every other town, I call upon you all to respond immediately without reservation or hesitation to this appeal for an immediate cease-fire and lifting of the siege, and provide urgent international humanitarian assistance to our war-stricken country.

I would also like to thank the international organizations and the friendly countries that have already extended their valued help.

I would like to thank all those who are also preparing to do so.

The Israeli war machines continue to inflict destruction and killing without any hesitation.

Excellencies, we the Lebanese want life. We have chosen life. We refuse to die.

Our choice is clear.

We have survived wars and destruction over the ages. We shall do so again.

I hope you will not let us down this time. Thank you.

So much for Rich Lowry's sources. Or perhaps this is all theatrical verbiage, and the PM is happy to see the bombing campaign increase in coming days, eh? Methinks not. The key reason the Lebanese PM is so aghast at what is happening to Lebanon is obviously the inordinate loss of life among civilians.

Carpenters are running out of wood for coffins. Bodies are stacked three or four high in a truck at the local hospital morgue. The stench is spreading in the rubble.

The morbid reality of Israel’s bombing campaign of the south is reaching almost every corner of this city. Just a few miles from the Rest House hotel, where the United Nations was evacuating civilians on Thursday, wild dogs gnawed at the charred remains of a family bombed as they were trying to escape the village of Hosh, officials said.

Officials at the Tyre Government Hospital inside a local Palestinian refugee camp said they counted the bodies of 50 children among the 115 in the refrigerated truck in the morgue, though their count could not be independently confirmed.

Abdelmuhsin al-Husseini, Tyre’s mayor, announced on Thursday that any bodies not claimed in the next two days by next of kin would be buried temporarily in a mass grave near the morgue until they could receive a proper burial once the fighting ends.

“I am asking the families, if they can come here, to claim the bodies,” said Mr. Husseini, whose bloodshot eyes hinted at his mad scramble to secure food rations and bring some order to the city. “Otherwise, we have no choice but to bury them in mass graves.”

With the roads and bridges to many surrounding villages bombed out, few families have come to the hospital to claim their dead.

Even if they could make the journey, they would fear being hit by airstrikes along the way, Mr. Husseini said. Emergency workers have been unwilling to brave the risk of recovering many bodies left along the road, leaving them to rot.

For those relatives who reach the morgue, conducting a proper burial is impossible while the bombing continues. Many have opted to leave the bodies at the morgue until the conflict ends.

The morgue has had to order more than 100 coffins with special handles to make it easier to remove them from the ground to be reburied later.

“What? He wants a hundred?” a local carpenter said, half shocked, half perplexed. “Where the hell am I going to get enough wood to build that many coffins?”

At the hospital, members of the medical staff now find themselves dealing with the dead more than saving the living.

“This hospital is working like a morgue more than a hospital,” said Hala Hijazi, a volunteer whose mother is an anesthesiologist at the hospital. Lately, Ms. Hijazi said, she has begun to recognize some of the faces arriving here as the scale of the Israeli bombings has continued to widen. “A lot of the people are from Tyre, and we know some of them,” she said of the bodies.

Rich Lowry says the Lebanese government is happy this pounding is taking place. As Groucho Marx said, who are you going to believe, me or your lying eyes? Look, I harp on this because, soi disant, NRO is a serious magazine, and people ostensibly believe what they read there, and it reflects a certain swath of Beltway conventional wisdom. If people think the Lebanese government is happy as peach for their country to be bombed back 20 years, it makes it easier for Americans to support unequivocally the Israeli action, and also leaves Americans less concerned about Condoleeza Rice's tortoise-like pace towards effectuating a cease-fire. But the assumptions undergirding such journalistic forays are just wrong, not to mention overly breezy, self-important, and simplistic.

Posted by Gregory at 04:15 AM

Strategic Failure by the West in the MidEast?

Philip Stevens:

These are genuinely dangerous times. Israel is far from alone in believing that Hizbollah had Iranian and Syrian sanction for its rocket attacks and the abduction of two Israeli soldiers. Syria is still smarting from its enforced departure from Lebanon. From Iran’s perspective, Hizbollah has at once diverted attention from the nuclear dispute and reminded the west of its capacity to make serious mischief.

George W.Bush has highlighted Syria’s role. Tony Blair has laid more of the blame on Tehran. The British prime minister also talks of a rising extremist threat across the broader Middle East. The shared message is that, whatever the specifics of the present fighting, all this is about a much bigger threat.

President Bush has thus declined to restrain Israel’s military operations in spite of the feeling among US allies that they are disproportionate and, in significant measure counterproductive. Bombing the Lebanese army and weakening the government of Fouad Siniora will not drive Hizbollah from southern Lebanon.

European diplomats aver that the ferocity of the Israeli response owes as much to the weakness of Ehud Olmert, the prime minister, as to the traditional use of massive force as a deterrent against future aggression. Israel, though, has persuaded Mr Bush that Hamas and Hizbollah should be seen through the prism of his own war on terrorism. The terrorists, in this flawed but, for Mr OImert, useful analysis, are all the same.

As a simple description of the many fires smouldering in the region, there is something to be said for Mr. Blair’s “arc of extremism”. The Taliban is resurgent in Afghanistan, Iran remains defiant about its nuclear ambitions, Iraq has fallen to sectarian civil war, Hizbollah threatens to destroy Lebanon’s fragile stability, Hamas is fighting Israel in Gaza.

Much more dubious is the attempt to draw through these conflicts a single thread of extremism. That is to ignore their complexities and the myriad grievances and rivalries. These set Sunni against Shia, Arab against Iranian as well as political Islam against the west. Al-Qaeda and Hizbollah are not allies.

The multiple threats, though, do hold up a mirror to the strategic failures of the US and Europe. The west is not to blame for al-Qaeda nor for the noxious regime in Syria. It has played its part in creating the conditions in which fundamentalism and extremism flourish.

The results of the unconscionable refusal in Washington to think beyond the removal of Saddam Hussein are painfully obvious in Iraq. That country now resembles Lebanon at the height of its civil war. The fighting in Gaza speaks to the abandonment by the US of sustained engagement to promote peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

Mr Bush has paid lip service to the two-state solution set out in the so-called road map. So, too, has the Israeli government. Condoleezza Rice’s US state department has shown occasional interest in reviving talks. But for most of the time Washington has endorsed Israeli unilateralism.

Even as Ms Rice prepares to travel to the region, officials with intimate knowledge of the diplomacy say that Israel is receiving two sets of messages from Washington. Ms. Rice presses for Israeli restraint and urges diplomatic as well as military means. Elliot Abrams, the president’s Middle East adviser, offers Mr Olmert a presidential blank cheque.

Europeans cannot escape blame. As the initial promoters of the road map, they have stood more or less idly by as Israel has redrawn its 1967 borders in the West Bank with the tacit support of the US. So much for a European foreign policy.

Here lies the danger in casting the various conflicts as a grand struggle between the forces of modernism and reaction across the greater Middle East. Mr Blair’s arc of extremism becomes an excuse for inaction, a diversion from the tasks at hand. Exhortation replaces engagement, emotional rhetoric hard commitment.

What moderates – those in Iran and Lebanon as much as in Palestine [ed. note: and I'd add, in Israel too)– need from the west is a sustained and even-handed effort to secure a settlement that guarantees Israel’s security and gives Palestinians the state they have been promised.

Mr Blair used to understand this. There was a time when the prime minister used every conversation with Mr Bush to press the case for US re-engagement. All the while Israel was building its barrier deep in the occupied West Bank and Hamas was building support among Palestinians.

As for Iran, the US must recognise that diplomacy is not synonymous with appeasement. However unpalatable the regime, Washington cannot ignore the reality of Iranian influence – the more so as the debacle in Iraq has greatly strengthened that influence. Sometimes, as the US well understood during the cold war, you have to talk to your enemies. Ms Rice has moved the administration in that direction. Half a step is not enough. [my emphasis]

I endorse pretty much every word (save I can't opine on whether Abrams is trying to scuttle Rice, as I haven't a clue, really--and, anyway, it would be too fatiguing and tiresome and perhaps woefully predictable to bother finding out). Most important, however, is Stephen's call for key US and European players to engage in less exhortation, and more engagement; less emotional rhetoric, and more hard commitment--vis-a-vis grappling with the mestastasizing crises rippling through the region. But Condoleeza Rice appears to have left behind such tactics of consistent engagement and "hard committment" (perhaps deemed old-fashioned residues of her earlier Scowcroftism, and thus too often ingloriously relegated to the dust-bin), and instead increasingly veered more towards 'transformational diplomacy', which strikes me mostly, as Stephens says, as "emotional rhetoric" and "exhortation." It's time to get in the weeds and have our Secretary of State pull Israel and Lebanon back from the brink, in a very hands-on, pragmatic, unemotional and realist fashion--and it's then time for her to return to the Iran portfolio in earnest. Meantime, Cheney and Rumsfeld appear to have disappeared for the past week, in large part, though I noted Cheney was doing a spot of fund-raising in Iowa or such. While normally I'd be pleased, all told, I'm frankly wondering who's minding the Iraq brief in Washington these days, as things are getting very ugly there indeed, and most everyone in Washington (save Chris Hill, of course) seems focused on the Lebanese-Israeli situation. Perhaps Bush would do the unthinkable, and bring back Richard Armitage at this critical juncture, to breathe new life in the Pentagon and be able to assist Condi on some of the more military-centric diplomatic security issues percolating through the Middle East? Boy is the bench thin, and new talent desperately needed! Just a thought...

UPDATE: Oh brother....from the WaPo:

President Bush's unwillingness to pressure Israel to halt its military campaign in Lebanon is rooted in a view of the Middle East conflict that is sharply different from that of his predecessors.

When hostilities have broken out in the past, the usual U.S. response has been an immediate and public bout of diplomacy aimed at a cease-fire, in the hopes of ensuring that the crisis would not escalate. This week, however, even in the face of growing international demands, the White House has studiously avoided any hint of impatience with Israel. While making it plain it wants civilian casualties limited, the administration is also content to see the Israelis inflict the maximum damage possible on Hezbollah.

As the president's position is described by White House officials, Bush associates and outside Middle East experts, Bush believes that the status quo -- the presence in a sovereign country of a militant group with missiles capable of hitting a U.S. ally -- is unacceptable.

The U.S. position also reflects Bush's deepening belief that Israel is central to the broader campaign against terrorists and represents a shift away from a more traditional view that the United States plays an "honest broker's" role in the Middle East.

In the administration's view, the new conflict is not just a crisis to be managed. It is also an opportunity to seriously degrade a big threat in the region, just as Bush believes he is doing in Iraq. Israel's crippling of Hezbollah, officials also hope, would complete the work of building a functioning democracy in Lebanon and send a strong message to the Syrian and Iranian backers of Hezbollah.

"The president believes that unless you address the root causes of the violence that has afflicted the Middle East, you cannot forge a lasting peace," said White House counselor Dan Bartlett. "He mourns the loss of every life. Yet out of this tragic development, he believes a moment of clarity has arrived."

One former senior administration official said Bush is only emboldened by the pressure from U.N. officials and European leaders to lead a call for a cease-fire. U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan demanded yesterday that the fighting in Lebanon stop.

"He thinks he is playing in a longer-term game than the tacticians," said the former official, who spoke anonymously so he could discuss his views candidly. "The tacticians would say: 'Get an immediate cease-fire. Deal first with the humanitarian factors.' The president would say: 'You have an opportunity to really grind down Hezbollah. Let's take it, even if there are other serious consequences that will have to be managed.' "

Jack Rosen, chairman of the American Jewish Congress, said Bush's statements reflect an unambiguous view of the situation. "He doesn't seem to allow his vision to be clouded in any way," said Rosen, a Democrat who has come to admire Bush's Middle East policy. "It follows suit. Israel is in the right. Hezbollah is in the wrong. Terrorists have to be eliminated, and he sees Israel fighting the war he would fight against terrorism."

Many Mideast experts warn that there is a dangerous consequence to this worldview. They believe that Israel, and the United States by extension, is risking serious trouble if it continues with the punishing air strikes that are producing mounting casualties. The history of the Middle East is replete with examples of the limits of military power, they say, noting how the Israeli campaign in Lebanon in the early 1980s helped create the conditions for the rise of Hezbollah.

They warned that the military campaign is turning mainstream Lebanese public opinion against Israel rather than against Hezbollah, which instigated the violence. The attacks also make it more difficult for the Lebanese government to regain normalcy. And what seems now to be a political winner for the president -- the House overwhelmingly approved a resolution yesterday backing Israel's position -- could become a liability if the fighting expands to Syria or if the United States adds Lebanon to Iraq and Afghanistan as a country to which U.S. troops are deployed.

"There needs to be a signal that the Bush administration is prepared to do something," said Larry Garber, the executive director the New Israel Fund, which pushes for civil rights and justice in Israel. "Taking a complete hands-off, casual-observer position undermines our credibility. . . . There is a danger that we will be seen as simply doing Israel's bidding."

Robert Malley, who handled Middle East issues on the National Security Council staff for President Bill Clinton, voiced skepticism about whether the current course would pay off for either Israel or the United States. "It may not succeed with all the time in the world, and Hezbollah could emerge with its dignity intact and much of its political and military arsenal still available," said Malley, who monitors the region for the International Crisis Group. "What will you have gained?"

"Root causes." A "moment of clarity". Not allowing his "vision to be clouded in anyway". This is thinly dressed-up Hewittism, that is to say, resort to faith-based verities in the midst of highly complex, significant international crises, ones that simply cannot be defined in such simplistic, overarching, essentially messianic terms. We must do better, and the President must be persuaded to emerge from this cocoon of empty evangelicalism as foreign policy strategy. What is concerning, alas, is that the Secretary of State has been seduced by much of this talk too, but she is smart and able, and about to hear an earful from key Arab allies, and better understand (one hopes) the regional subtleties, which might help shake her back to reality some, and so the President. Here's hoping.

Posted by Gregory at 03:34 AM

The Mailbag

Thanks for all your E-mails. Here's a selection of reader views from the past couple of days.

Mr Djerejian: Thanks for your recent thoughtful but no less heartfelt comments on the terrible war in Lebanon. I think Western opinion makers are still very badly behind the "power curve" in assessing just how dangerous this war is and consequently why every effort should be made to stop it. You note "Israel's right to self-defense", as just about everybody does. The right to self-defense, however, does not give a nation the absolute right to destroy its neighbor. When Argentina seized the Falklands in 1982, did Britain respond by bombing Buenos Aires, or blockading the River Plate? (For that matter, did the US bomb Pnomh Penh when the VC used Cambodia as a "sanctuary"?) Goodness knows there is still controversy about the sinking of the General Belgrano, a heavy cruiser that threatened the Royal Navy's small task force. Yet even you suggest that it's perfectly OK for Israel to bomb Beirut, as long as it's aiming at "select party leadership targets of import".

Frankly, that's throwing proportionality out of the window. Hezbollah ambushed an IDF patrol on the Israeli side of an armistice line for which the Israelis have had precious little regard when it suited them. The Hezbollah rockets didn't start to fly until the Israeli bombs and shells started to fall on Lebanon. Even then, bombing Beirut was hardly going to stop a guerilla from firing a Katyusha rocket -- more significantly, if the Israelis really believed that it would cause the Lebanese government to stop the guerillas, they are even more deluded than our reality-challenged neo-cons in Washington.

I am not suggesting that the Israeli government should just cave in to Hezbollah, but frankly as an American I don't think it's my business to tell the Israelis what they should do, per se. On the other hand, as an American I think it's perfectly OK for me to tell the Israeli government that whatever they're doing in Lebanon, they won't be doing it on our nickel and with our gear. Otherwise, we are endorsing their actions, and with the increasingly closer identification of the US with Israel since 1967 I don't see how we can avoid that characterization (particularly when the President practically embraces it). Israel is radicalizing people who have little use for armed militia, but have less use for being indiscriminately bombed out of their homes and livelihoods. The Germans were fond of "community punishment" techniques during their battles with European resistance movements during the war, and we all know how much that endeared the Germans to their fellow Europeans. Giving a blank cheque to Israel is as mad as Kaiser Wilhelm giving a blank cheque to Conrad von Hötzendorf in 1914.

Of course, our government will take no such drastic action, particularly not having "committed" itself as it has, but how ironic that fifty years ago this summer our government rather brutally brought the Suez crisis to an end by squeezing Britain until the pips squeaked. I would defy anyone to reconcile the strategic worldview of the United States as reflected by these two seminal events.


Mr. Djerejian, if Hezbollah is supported by the Lebanese population to the degree election results suggest, particularly in the south, then Cordesman's suggestion, that, "First, the UN has to help Lebanon actually disarm Hizbollah, stop it from receiving further arms from Iran and Syria and prevent it sending military aid to Hamas." is simply a silly fantasy. If that large a percentage of the Lebanese population wishes to wage war on Israel, then there will be war, and Israel will inevitably wage war on the population of Lebanon, and there isn't a damned thing that the President of the United States can do about it, whether it be George Bush, John McCain, John Kerry, Rudy Giuliani, Bill or Hillary Clinton, or anybody else who is so unwise as to want the job.

When a large percentage of a population desire war, war is the result. Only later, when they look around at the rubble and corpses, does the reappraisement begin; attitudes among the populations of Europe in 1918 were much different than they had been in 1914. We live in interesting times, and I don't have the slightest notion as to how to make them less interesting, until after a trip into the abyss has occurred, and it depresses me greatly to think, as I have reluctantly come to do, that nobody else has the slightest notion as to how to accomplish this either...Might things be delayed? I suppose, but the desire for war runs too strong, among to many people, for it to be avoided.

The other depressing aspect to contemplate, of course, is that we also stand on a precipice of a new era in which the proliferation of destructive technology has reached a point where unavoidable wars, unavoidable due to the
sheer number of people who desire it, can pull many other nations into the whirlpool, even if they are better led than the European nations were in 1914. Always happy to send along a cheerful note...

Another, from blogger Praktike:

Just wanted to drop you a quick note to express my solidarity with you in your frustration at the lack of leadership across the political class in America...it seems that the realists are too scared to speak the truth for fear of being branded pro-Hizballah or somesuch nonsense.

From my perspective, what the US needs to remember--because under Bush I and Clinton and before them it knew this--that nations other than the US have interests and to one extent or another they need to be accomodated or they will seek undiplomatic means of attaining their goals. As odious as the Syrian regime may be, and as much as we don't like Hizballah, they are there and only a horrific amount of violence will be able to dislodge the latter. As for the former, its removal would create another Lebanon/Iraq, with Hizballah-aligned Sunnis coming to power after a protracted bloodletting.

From my seat here in Cairo, the American democratization project in the Middle East is "ala faresh al-mout" or on its deathbed. I'm sure you know well that Condi Rice's decision not to go troubleshoot until Israel has time to "mop up" is being received very, very, very angrily in the region. This will not be forgotten, and rest assured that more
Americans will die. Americans seem to have forgotten that moral indignation will only get you so far in foreign affairs; at the end of the day, politics is about power and interests and only secondarily about norms and values.

And more:

Hi Greg,

I just sent you the DC Post story on conservative critics of second term administration foreign policy. It's nothing you don't know, but still interesting to see in print. One thing that struck me, in the context of Hugh Hewitt, was Kenneth Adelman's suggestion that Bush was now taking the foreign policy stance of any 'middle of the road' administration. Hewitt, of course, keeps referring to his own views as 'center-right,' but of course Adelman has it right---at least where NON-Middle East policies are concerned. It's odd: the right doesn't want to be the right. Instead, Hewitt seems to want to pretend---or perhaps he is simply so parochial that he can't imagine a real left or has never encountered it---that he and his friends are the center and people like Hillary Clinton, who as you know is a right wing social democrat in European, Indian, or Latin American terms---is a raving leftist. Mrs C. is far closer to Calderon than to Lopez Obrador in the Mexican context, for example. Oscar Wilde said that the nineteenth century's dislike of realism was Caliban seeing his own face in the mirror, while the nineteenth century's dislike of romanticism was Caliban's dislike at NOT seeing his own face in the mirror. People like Hewitt want to claim that theirs is a radical departure from the culture of what they call appeasement, and associate themselves with the transformative international project enunciated in the President's second inaugural. They insist that the 'status quo' policies of the past sixty years in the Middle East have been an abject failure and both for morality's sake and that of US national security, they had to be transformed. But then, when called radicals, by you and now by George Will, they indigantly insist that they are nothing of the sort.' Caliban's rage. Of course, given the other agenda of people like Hewitt---that of the rapture, I mean--- and the other agenda of people like Krauthammer---Israel, I mean---perhaps such subterfuge is only to be expected.

Please keep the notes coming, I'll try to post representative samples once in a while.

Posted by Gregory at 02:44 AM

July 20, 2006

A Plea for Basic Sanity: No To A Neo-Con Ressentiment

Gideon Rachman, writing in the FT (subscription required):

So what conclusion should be drawn, now that all these splendid examples of transatlantic co-operation have run into difficulties? The uninspiring truth is that foreign policy is difficult. Just because military force and US leadership have run into trouble in Iraq, does not mean that diplomacy and multilateralism are going to succeed elsewhere. Pre-September 11 2001, Mr. Bush was all too aware of this. In his first presidential election campaign, he called for a “humble” foreign policy that was realistic about America’s ability to change the world and warned against the idea that “our military is the answer to every difficult foreign policy situation”. The current array of crises may encourage Mr Bush to relearn that lesson. But there is also an alternative and powerful interpretation doing the rounds in Washington. This argues that the problems America is encountering around the world are precisely the result of the Bush administration’s renewed willingness to work with its allies. According to this thinking, weak-kneed Europeans have lured the US down the path of appeasement in Iran, North Korea and the Middle East. The result is that America’s enemies have been emboldened. William Kristol, the editor of The Weekly Standard and one of the intellectual godfathers of neo-conservatism, argued this weekend that the fighting in the Middle East was part of a broad-based attack on “liberal, democratic civilisation” and had been encouraged by western weakness: “Weakness is provocative . . . The right response is renewed strength – in supporting the governments of Iraq and Afghanistan, in standing with Israel and in pursuing regime change in Syria and Iran.” He urged Mr Bush to order an immediate “military strike against Iranian nuclear facilities” and to fly from St Petersburg to Jerusalem to demonstrate solidarity with Israel.

Mr Kristol’s argument is characteristic of the neo-conservative world-view – both in the seductive ease with which it links different crises and proposes a simple solution; and in its alarmingly casual attitude to military escalation. This neo-con combination of “moral clarity”, radicalism and an appeal to military force carried the day after 9/11. After America’s experience in Iraq, it seems less likely that Mr Bush will take his advice from this quarter. But crises can shift attitudes quickly. If Mr Bush heeds even half the advice he is now getting from the radicals in Washington, the European-American divisions that were evident in St Petersburg this weekend will be just a foretaste. [emphasis added]

Three years ago, I would have poo-pooed anyone using the word "radicals" to describe the neo-cons. No more. Any group that can so brazenly (and breezily) avoid a real reckoning with the continuing crisis in Iraq--which is descending into civil war as we speak--any movement that has the gall to suggest as some panacea that we mount significant military operations in Iran and Syria and god knows where else (with Israel in Lebanon to boot), well, their credibility is at a very low ebb indeed, and they very much need to be urgently reined in. Yes, it is scary when, in the pages of respectable papers like the FT, one hears more and more the intimations there is something of a bona fide radical-wing in Washington. Could it be, you know, true? Well, we're getting there, it seems...To help stem the follies, it is time to call spades, spades. Is it not, for instance, and as George Will has pointed out, a grotesque misnomer to describe the neo-cons as resembling anything remotely conservative anymore, given that they appear blissfully unawares of the resource strains we are operating under given the hot wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and given how gungo-ho at the ready they are to pursue their neo-Trotskyite fantasies by moving into wars Nos. 3 and 4 in the 'region'?

It's all about "root causes" these days, in places like the pages of the Weekly Standard, and Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice (at least from her talk show utterances) appears to have been seducted by these simplified nostrums too. Eradicate Hezbollah! Hamas too! They are the bad guys, the "nut jobs", as David Brooks has put it in the august pages of the New York Times. But Hezbollah garnered the second largest number of electoral seats in the Lebanese parliament, having joined up with Nabih Berri's Amal Party. Hezbollah, in fact, has some 35 seats in a 128-strong parliament, second only to the 72 seats of "Future Tide", Said Hariri's anti-Syrian coalition. How do you just eradicate an entire political party, that enjoys major support from the country's Shi'a population (keeping in mind the Shi'a are the single largest religious sect in Lebanon, representing 30-40% of the population)? And does anyone seriously believe reducing rows of apartment complexes in southern Beirut to heaps of rubble, imposing an air and naval blockade on the entire country, and pummeling Shi'a towns in the south is the answer to this conundrum? Are the Shi'a of Lebanon going to wake up the day after and say, gosh darnit, Nasrallah is just an out and out sonafabitch, and thanks to the Israelis for getting rid of him? Well of course not.

This is not to say the Israelis don't have a right to self-defense, and that they shouldn't attack robustly Hezbollah militants firing rockets in the south, and select party leadership targets of import in Beirut--but by acting disproportionately (of which more in a future post), the Israelis are actually not advancing their interests, as anti-Syrian sentiment in Lebanon will increasingly become anti-Israeli instead--especially as the economic recovery and hope and sense of national renewal capsizes around them day by day, with over USD 2B of infrastructural damage and counting, 300 civilians dead and counting, and so on (unlike what you are hearing breathlessly reported by blushed-cheek, if well-meaning, naifs--the Lebanese government is not privately cheerleading this action by any stretch). What was needed was a more proportionate response, one that didn't jeopardize the nascent fruits of the Cedar Revolution. (Again, putting aside a justly ferocious response in terms of what needed to be meted out to Hezbollah militants operating in the south themselves, as Israel must be able to defend herself against those lobbing rockets into civilian towns like Haifa, an attempt at indiscriminate slaughter which constitutes a war crime, or those brazenly violating basic rules of game by kidnapping IDF soldiers, whether at Iran's express bidding (Iran's influence, it seems to me, being rather overstated in the likely quarters), or to show solidarity with the Gazans, or both).

In tandem with such more restrained military action, the international community might have been better positioned to stem the spread of the conflagration, get the temperature down, and move to find a solution that involved insertion of an international force in a buffer zone, in conjunction with a renewed emphasis on implementing Resolution 1559 (not least the provisions related to disarming of the Hezbollah militia). But, to stress, to disarm a militia--for the duration in a sustainable fashion--you need a strong central government (just like our problem in, you guessed it, Iraq!), and does anyone believe the major Israeli action underway is in any way strengthening the reformers, the already weak central government, the institutions of national (as opposed to sectarian) power that were beginning to crawl out from under the post-Syrian yoke? No, of course.

Meantime, don't miss this Washington Post article, which is rather eye-opening, on a related topic. We are treated to this gem of a quote from Danielle Pletka:

"It is Topic A of every single conversation," said Danielle Pletka, vice president for foreign and defense policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, a think tank that has had strong influence in staffing the administration and shaping its ideas. "I don't have a friend in the administration, on Capitol Hill or any part of the conservative foreign policy establishment who is not beside themselves with fury at the administration."

Washington has always been a small, somewhat provincial one-industry town--but this disconnect from reality is really getting out of hand. Look, if these assorted Friends-of-Danielle were infuriated because we were making a hash of Iraq (see honest smart critics like Frederick Kagan, Eliot Cohen, others), and were focused on salvaging the project there (say, for instance, by finally inserting enough manpower in Baghdad proper to control the capital and stem the daily horrific blood-letting), well I'd support them with eagerness. Our priority right now, to retain our credibility and try to assist the beleaguered Iraqi polity, must be to stabilize that country. But we are already over-stretched, just dealing with Iraq and Afghanistan alone, where both efforts are floundering, albeit to differing degrees. So it is just flabbergasting that Danielle's "friends", rather than focus their attentions on the Iraq situation--not least given the crisis in Lebanon--instead apparently want us to, alternately, strike Syria, or strike Iran, or read Mubarak the riot act and withold funding to him at such a precarious moment on the Arab-Israeli front, and so on. The region is already overloaded with crises, and the outrageously looney Ledeenian creative destruction approach will lead to greater carnage and chaos that will put the final nail in the coffin to U.S. foreign policy objectives there, goals that are already tottering dangerously amidst the growing chaos.

Rachman is likely right that, in the main, Bush is unlikely to imbibe again the Jacobin-like fervors emitting from NRO and the Standard given the massive train wreck that is Iraq. But Rachman is also right, of course, that in times of crisis unexpected turns and events and forks in the road can lead to cascading blunders (Guns of August, anyone?). Is it possible, even with Lebanon's Cedar Revolution now lying in ruin, even with Iraq bleeding profusely, even with Afghanistan (and portions of Pakistan) increasingly seeing a reconstituted neo-Talib and al-Qaeda presence--is it really possible that Bush would listen to an unholy alliance of unrepentant, incorrigible and increasingly reckless neo-cons (Krauthammer, Kristol's Standard, most of NRO etc.), crude Jacksonians (Bolton, Steyn) and hotted up evangelical rapturists (the legions of Hewitts)? (By the way, when will another prominent neo-con--say, for example, the brightest one of them all to have served in government, in my view Paul Wolfowitz--stand up and pull a Fukuyama, by remonstrating some of his prior tutees for their too abundant enthusiasms, so as to help calm things down a tad?) Friends, these days, given the near total dearth of quality political leadership in Washington, given a media that, in the main, can only be described as severely cretinized and moronic, given a sense of pervasive paranoia and incompetence and fear gripping swaths of the country like a national mania, of sorts, well, anything is possible. But let us fight the good fight here for a sense of judiciousness and intelligence in our foreign-policy making. It is time to stop speaking messianically of root causes willy-nilly, and absolutist solutions, and eradication of this or that writ large, and rather to confront an exceedingly complex neighborhood with more deftness and realism and sobriety and, yes, humility. Hopefully someone is listening.

UPDATE: A reader, David Weinstein, sends in a note he wrote to Charles Krauthammer responding to his latest op-ed today.

Dear Mr. Krauthammer:

In 2005, Lebanon held an election. Hizbullah and Amal formed a common voting bloc entitled the Resistance and Development Bloc. It won all 23 seats in the south, on a platform that opposed the disarmament of Hizbullah. I am not happy about this development, and am no fan of hizbullah, but there it is. I have seen no evidence (by you or otherwise) - or even seen it asserted - that the election does not accurately reflect sentiments among the Shia in southern Lebanon.

Under these circumstances, please tell me what it means to "defang" Hizbullah? What can it mean to "liberate" the south, "expel the occupier" and "give it back to the Lebanese" when 1) the local population supports the "occupier" (which is made up of local residents) and hates the proposed liberator; and 2) the proposed liberator has already sought to "liberate" the area once before, in 1982, which led to the present antagonism, and the creation of Hizbullah in the first place?

And one small little matter: How will this Hizbullah-sympathetic population react to an Israeli invasion? And what should we do about these people? Are they to be eradicated too? And if not, how do you propose to make the distinction (in Israel's air or ground campaign) between the Hizbullah "occupier" who sits in the living room with an AK-47, and his cousin in the kitchen? Do any of Israel's previous efforts at the same goal, from 1982 through 2000, give you any reason to believe this is possible?

There once was a time when foreign policy conservatives were the voice of realism, and their opponents (myself included) indulged in too much naivete. No longer. This latest piece is simply crazy. To quote George Will (in a slightly different context), it is "so untethered from reality as to defy caricature." One would think that Israel's efforts at the same goal in 1982-85, 1993, 1996, etc. would have dissuaded you about the ease of this task. But, then again, perhaps Israel did not possess sufficient "will" back then. Or, perhaps, not enough pixie dust.

Don't hold your breath for a coherent response David, as Charles has been suffering the vapors for some time now....

Posted by Gregory at 05:52 AM

Cordesman Weighs In...

Anthony Cordesman:

Israel may or may not have played into the hands of Hamas, Hizbollah, Iran and Syria. The scale of its escalation showed it could not be trapped into massive prisoner swaps, but it has also almost certainly radicalised many more young Palestinians and Arabs. Even if Palestinians and/or Hizbollah are intimidated into a ceasefire, the radicals are likely to benefit from Israel’s actions. It is also clear that rockets, second fronts, tunnels and other measures can at least partially defeat Israel’s security barriers, and new attacks can begin at any time.

Both sides can escalate the war process. The problem is that neither Israel nor the Palestinians can really win; their values and goals are steadily diverging, and any final settlement is less and less likely. The Israeli-Palestinian war of attrition since September 2000 will continue to escalate to nowhere; outside diplomacy will accomplish nothing real because there is no bargain acceptable to both sides, and the Israeli and Palestinian centre not only cannot hold, it cannot move forward. Worse, Hizbollah and Iranian, Syrian and Islamist extremists can all play a spoiler role at any time, and broaden the conflict at minimal risk, attacking both the US and Israel indirectly with considerable safety.

If there is to be any real hope, two things have to happen. First, the UN has to help Lebanon actually disarm Hizbollah, stop it from receiving further arms from Iran and Syria and prevent it sending military aid to Hamas. Brokering a ceasefire and another hollow UN peacekeeping force will have a short-term cosmetic impact, at best. Second, the Quartet group of Middle East mediators – the US, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations – should break its near silence to put major pressure on both Israel and the Palestinians: on Israel, to halt unilateral expansion into the West Bank and aid moderate Palestinian voices such as Mr Abbas; and on the Palestinians, to understand that aid and support are tied to either Hamas changing or going. This must be followed by a “road map” that confronts both sides with a true peace plan, specific final settlement proposals and time schedule – a plan over which the Quartet members unite and constantly pressure both sides to adopt. Half measures and conventional diplomacy in the current situation have all the value of putting lipstick on a pig and will be neither Halal nor Kosher. [emphasis added]

Fat chance, Mr. Cordesman. Under this Administration, we've totally abdicated any real leadership role on peace process diplomacy. It's another "quaint" figment from the past, not appropriate for these brave new times. John Judis, over at TNR, explains more:

When George W. Bush assumed the presidency in January 2001, he withdrew from the ongoing negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians that had begun at Camp David and continued at Taba. These might have broken down anyway--the second intifada had started--but Bush's alternative of letting matters take their own course only made things worse. Bush waited until April 2002 to declare the mounting violence between Israelis and Palestinians unacceptable, but even then he proved incapable of bringing the two sides together to halt it. By that point, Bush had his own preoccupation: the coming invasion of Iraq.

Pressured by British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Bush eventually agreed to a "road map" for peace, but his principal means of seeking peace in the region were based on a neoconservative fantasy about the road to Jerusalem passing through Baghdad (which presumed the success of the American invasion and occupation of Iraq) and on the assumption that Palestinian elections would result in a moderate alternative to the late Yasir Arafat. When these strategies failed, the administration pulled back its diplomatic effort. Its response to Hamas's election has been confused and divided, and helped set the stage for the present crisis. As it began, the United States was nowhere to be found. On July 5, Yossi Beilin wrote in Haaretz:

One of the most striking phenomena of recent weeks, given the stepped-up launching of Qassam rockets on Sderot, the painful incident at Kerem Shalom, and the abduction of IDF soldier Gilad Shalit, is the absence of the American factor. ... [I]n terms of direct influence on the ground, there has been absolute American silence.

What to expect next? One can hope that the Bush administration, like the Nixon administration, will learn from its failures and devote itself to easing, if not resolving, the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. Unfortunately, Bush's public and private (but overheard) statements at the G-8 summit were not promising.

No, the petulant butter-roll side-bar with Blair, with its profanity-laced musings, and querulous calls for Kofi to "make something happen", and other assorted locker room fare, none of it was particularly promising, it is true.

Not one bit.

Posted by Gregory at 04:23 AM

The Corner Follies (Con't)

Rich Lowry: "Just talked to someone very close to U.S. policy-making on the Mideast. I didn't cull much new or different from what we've been hearing and reading. The sense is that the Lebanese government is happy to see Israel pound Hezbollah, but can't say it out loud."

And, now, reality:

Lebanon’s embattled prime minister said on Wednesday Israel’s fierce military offensive would backfire, suggesting it could bolster support for the Hizbollah group rather than undermine it.

Fouad Siniora said, in an interview with the Financial Times, the bombings, which have killed 300 people in a week and caused massive destruction, were more violent than during Israel’s 1982 invasion.

“The result of this has been unprecedented in Lebanese history,” he said. “What’s happening has brought the country to its knees . . . and rebuilding Lebanon will take years.”

Pointing out that the 1982 invasion led to the formation of Hizbollah, the Shia movement that triggered the current crisis with the capture of two Israeli soldiers last week, he said: “The mentality of using force has proved it doesn’t yield results in Lebanon . . . If you carry on doing the same thing excessively you get the opposite effect.”

Mr Siniora called for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire and the provision of humanitarian aid.

At least 58 people, all but one a civilian, died in attacks across Lebanon on Wednesday while the death toll also rose in Israel with rocket attacks on Nazareth and Haifa.

Lebanese officials say attacking the country risks rallying more people to Hizbollah and weakening the animosity towards the party that had been growing during the past week, particularly among Sunni Muslims and Christians.

Mr Siniora, who has made clear that he believes Hizbollah’s action was “not right”, said if Israel sent in ground troops, the army would no longer stand on the sidelines....

...Mr Siniora, however, made clear that Lebanon could no longer return to the status quo that preceded the Hizbollah operation. “It would be a major crime to Lebanon if we returned to the status quo,” he declared.

He was referring to the return of the occupied Shebaa farms, a strip of border land that Beirut claims sovereignty over but that the UN says belongs to Syria, not Lebanon, and the release of Lebanese detainees in Israeli jails. “It’s high time to really make clear the agendas of all concerned,” he said.

Amid rising discontent in Lebanon over the muted response of leading Arab states to the conflict, Mr Siniora said Arab support was “less than we really need and deserve.” He also expressed disappointment with the international community’s reluctance to pressure Israel to stop the offensive.

”I’m disappointed with the reaction of world public opinion – it expresses sympathy with Lebanon but people are not asking the right questions,” he said. “The abduction of soldiers is not a right cause but no one talks about the Lebanese detainees in prison (in Israel) as if they were a bunch of sheep.”

But Rich Lowry relays (rather like a gullible ignorant, I'm afraid), "that the Lebanese government is happy to see Israel pound Hezbollah, but can't say it out loud".

I report, you decide.

Posted by Gregory at 04:00 AM

July 18, 2006

The Human Toll

In Tyre:

Not far from here, near the village of Marwaheen, a van filled with fleeing families was bombed Saturday, and 16 of the 20 aboard were killed. And on Monday afternoon, a bomb fell near an irrigation canal on the edge of the city where three children were swimming, severely wounding them. Hours later, another group of children was wounded in a nearly identical incident. Late Sunday, a residential building adjacent to the Amel Hospital on the outskirts of town was bombed repeatedly, local residents said.

The bombing feels sporadic — an apartment demolished in one part of town, a home bombed in another, a residential tower abutting a hospital destroyed — but for many that only rattled nerves further.

“If there were heavy bombing you could find ways of avoiding it,’’ said Mr. Mehdi, who was jailed by the Israelis when they occupied southern Lebanon in the 1980’s.

At the Amel Hospital, Dr. Ali Mroue took stock of what he had seen in recent days: decapitated bodies, severe burns, disfigured faces. The hospital has lost 25 patients, he said, but saved 100.

But most of all, he lamented the death of a 2-year-old girl, whom he tried desperately to save. She had severe burns on half her body, internal bleeding and her eyes were perforated, but she fought to live, he said.

“She was a mere child,” he said, as his voice cracked. “She had nothing to do with this. Maybe you can accept the death of an adult, but she had so much ahead of her.’’

Meantime, Israelis continue to face the specter of rocket attacks in their north, and hunker down under difficult conditions there.

Well, I guess, let's hope Kofi can "make something happen" so the "shit" stops, yes? Of course, there's a lot of shit going down in Iraq too, where over 150 people are dead these past three days, during the very period Bush was holding Iraq up as democratic model to a bemused Vladimir Putin. What's the plan to handle the "shit" underway there, Mr. President? Meaning, while they're massacring each other rather than "standing up", that is?

More: Nearly 6,000 dead in Iraq over the past two odd months. I predict some idiot blogger will mount a blogswarm, or whatever they're called, to dispute the U.N.'s findings, and reassure us the number was really closer to 4,000 or such. Meantime, for the rest of us, you know, stuff happens. Oh, and we have a plan. As they stand up, we'll stand down. So no need to worry kiddies, all is under control (especially if we attack a country or two in the meantime too, sayeth the Bill Kristols!) After all, freedom of religion and the press have been secured there Pootie, and hopefully one day you'll get to be more like them up here! Just you wait, as they say! Meantime, a 9/11 a month in terms of fatalities? No biggie, guys, the Iraqi Army is growing--they've got the battle space under control, see, or at least, that's what Don and Dick are tellin' me....

Posted by Gregory at 04:40 AM

July 17, 2006

The Corner Follies

If the current situation weren't so grave, one would have to chuckle at the going-ons at the Corner. Even J-Pod is having to rein in Michael Ledeen, who as is his cheery jingo wont, is getting carried away yet again ("Faster, please", the plaintive cow-wail rings out!), positively frothing at the mouth for us to attack Iran and Syria (Ledeen: "Is this not the time to go after the terrorist training camps in Syria and Iran?" [ed. note: followed by the inevitable, and so tiresome, Chamberlain analogy, assiduously lapped up by all the Churchill wannabes at various VDH-style troughs, doubtless]. Memo to Michael: The vast majority of Israelis themselves don't want to go into Syria, because nobody really has a clue who would replace Bashar Assad, and his successor could be even worse for the Israelis.

But I digress. J-Pod points out the blindingly obvious--that no Israeli government could realistically have hoped for better than the rather massive carte blanche that POTUS and his Secretary of State have provided these past days to Tel Aviv, not only refusing to issue any cautionary signals of real note about the wisdom of the Israeli policy, but indeed repeatedly stressing instead that the Israelis are free to pursue their Lebanese offensive pretty much however they see fit.

Meantime, Jonah Goldberg (reacting to Newt Gingrich's astoundingly hyperbolic, transparently amateur and screamingly faux Churchillian Meet the Press performance over the weekend, yes, please keep this man far from the Oval Office) is busily holding court on whether it's WWIII, or WWIV. Weighty stuff this, but yeah, as Jonah points out, guess Newt hadn't read the previously distributed memo.

But enough, it's WWIV (not III), didn't you know? Momentous times are afoot, and you're either seized of this and on message, or a defeatist, an appeaser, a coward, a rank traitor to the cause. Yes, it's just that simple, although a few paleos in their midst dare dissent and play party-pooper amidst the ginned up hoopla and sense of deep occasion and civilizational peril (this does not mean we aren't confronting real and varied national security threats at the present hour, but a sense of proportion and sobriety is urgently needed lest we march off towards another folly-infused blunder).

Meantime, in NRO proper, Michael Rubin is talking about the need for the "eradication of Hezbollah and Hamas." One can't help wondering what exactly "eradication" in this context means, really (Hamas and Hezbollah don't only have military wings, of course)--though Rubin is of course entitled to use whatever heated verbiage he prefers, even if it has unfortunate, shall we say, resonances. But somewhere along the way, it seems, we've gone from advocating that our Middle East policy be about moderating democratically elected parties (like, say, Hamas) to, well, simply eradicating them. I leave it to readers to ponder the rich ironies.

But, again, I digress. Just a quick post to point out some of the giddy burlesque of the ribald sand-box that is so often the Corner these heady days (and let us not forget the chuckle-inducing inanities emitting from the resident "fashion plate" manque). The state of play among our titular opinion 'leaders', my friends, is rather underwhelming, no? Bring back Bill Buckley, I say, and other sane adults...and, yes, faster, please...!

MORE: While I'm focused on NRO, don't miss George Will's (another adult in the Beltway, there are so few these days) remonstrations vis-a-vis the increasingly embarassing exuberances afoot at the Weekly Standard. Some excerpts:

The administration, justly criticized for its Iraq premises and their execution, is suddenly receiving some criticism so untethered from reality as to defy caricature. The national, ethnic and religious dynamics of the Middle East are opaque to most people, but to the Weekly Standard -- voice of a spectacularly misnamed radicalism, "neoconservatism" -- everything is crystal clear: Iran is the key to everything .

"No Islamic Republic of Iran, no Hezbollah. No Islamic Republic of Iran, no one to prop up the Assad regime in Syria. No Iranian support for Syria . . ." You get the drift. So, the Weekly Standard says:

"We might consider countering this act of Iranian aggression with a military strike against Iranian nuclear facilities. Why wait? Does anyone think a nuclear Iran can be contained? That the current regime will negotiate in good faith? It would be easier to act sooner rather than later. Yes, there would be repercussions -- and they would be healthy ones, showing a strong America that has rejected further appeasement."

"Why wait?" Perhaps because the U.S. military has enough on its plate in the deteriorating wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, which both border Iran. And perhaps because containment, although of uncertain success, did work against Stalin and his successors, and might be preferable to a war against a nation much larger and more formidable than Iraq. And if Bashar Assad's regime does not fall after the Weekly Standard's hoped-for third war, with Iran, does the magazine hope for a fourth?

As for the "healthy" repercussions that the Weekly Standard is so eager to experience from yet another war: One envies that publication's powers of prophecy but wishes it had exercised them on the nation's behalf before all of the surprises -- all of them unpleasant -- that Iraq has inflicted. And regarding the "appeasement" that the Weekly Standard decries: Does the magazine really wish the administration had heeded its earlier (Dec. 20, 2004) editorial advocating war with yet another nation -- the bombing of Syria?

Neoconservatives have much to learn, even from Buddy Bell, manager of the Kansas City Royals. After his team lost its 10th consecutive game in April, Bell said, "I never say it can't get worse." In their next game, the Royals extended their losing streak to 11 and in May lost 13 in a row.


Posted by Gregory at 11:36 PM

Quote of the Day

"See, the irony is what they really need to do is to get Syria to get Hizbullah to stop doing this shit and it's over."

The President of the United States of America, George W. Bush, in an exchange with Tony Blair (as captured on mike).

Posted by Gregory at 02:33 PM

Hugh Hewitt, or The Beautiful Calm of the Hysteric

I see that Hugh Hewitt has labeled this blog a leading contender for titular leadership of something he's calling the "American Appeasement Blogs" (is this like the American Idol sweeps, or something, as it sounds about as inane?), demoted me to being part of the "center-left establishment", and taken to calling me a weak-kneed Etonian Whitehall type a la Geoffrey Dawson (wrong "GD", good one Hugh!). Well that's rich. Look, I'll go toe to toe any day of the week with Hugh on who is advocating a more robust, albeit intelligent, approach to the defense of the American national interest. Hugh, all rapture-like, appears keen for the coming of the apocalypse, replete with the US marching heroically into Damascus and Teheran next (it's WWIII!). But there's a little problem with all this Hugh. We're bogged down in Iraq, where a low-grade civil war could get much worse in a hurry, and where we've lost almost 3,000 men, and, more generally, Bush's ill-fated messianic, neo-Wilsonian naiveties (presto, elections!) have not worked in Palestine, have not worked in Iraq--nor are moderating impulses afoot in Egypt, or Lebanon, or Iran, or Syria. All Hugh is offering, really, is faith-based adventurism, really just a bogus, non-strategy. But it's all charming, to a fashion. Over a beer or two with David Rieff yesterday, we mentioned Hugh, and David in reference to him quoted one of Sigmund Freud's teachers Charcot, who once quipped about: "the beautiful calm of the hysteric". Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I give you: Hugh Hewitt, so evocative of "the beautiful calm of the hysteric". Must be fun, this blissful reverie, eh Hugh?

Posted by Gregory at 12:27 PM

July 16, 2006

Significant Escalation

Hezbollah rocket-fire kills 8 Israeli civilians in Haifa, and over 100 Lebanese (mostly civilians as well) are now dead too in the ongoing violence. Olmert is promising a response with "far-reaching consequences" to the Haifa attack. Israeli infantry reserves are reportedly being called up, and there are reports Syrian reserves are as well. It is not unlikely, given the escalating violence, that a major Israeli ground incursion may be in the cards over the coming days, especially if continued application of airpower over the coming days does not serve to prevent further major attacks on the Israeli heartland. Meantime, the U.S. Secretary of State is not traveling to the region, or even, apparently, thinking in serious fashion about the broad parameters of a realistically workable cease-fire, as apparently events don't yet warrant such expenditure of American diplomatic prestige and capital. That's rather interesting, you might say.

Posted by Gregory at 04:26 PM

An Alarming Dearth of Leadership

I'm taking in the major Sunday talk shows this AM, and I have to say it is manifestly clear we are facing a real leadership crisis in this country. How the level of debate has become this dumbed-down, or hyperbolic, or clueless, well I'm not quite sure, but we very clearly have a real problem on our hands. This is a country whose political class is rudderless just now--pretty much on both sides of the aisle--as events are overtaking people's belief systems, modes of analysis, and general understanding of regional dynamics in the Middle East--and their impact on vital US interests. It's a rather alarming spectacle, to be sure.

Posted by Gregory at 04:00 PM

A Road Diverted...

Another one from the "the road to Jerusalem runs through Baghdad" department, courtesy of the Chicago Tribune:

In the mosques and streets of Iraq, all the talk Friday was of war, but for a change it was someone else's.

In a country that only a few days ago seemed to be spiraling out of control toward civil war, where whole neighborhoods were engulfed in ugly sectarian battles, the escalating war between Lebanon and Israel dominated talk in Friday prayers, on the streets and in newscasts.

"Dozens of innocent men, women and children are being killed for a couple of military men while they can be freed through negotiations," Sheik Abdul-Mehdi Karbalai told worshipers in the Shiite city of Karbala, condemning the "destruction, killing and horror" of the "Zionist war machine."

The violence and chaos here hasn't stopped. On Friday, 11 Iraqi soldiers were killed at a checkpoint, two mosques were bombed and at least three people were beheaded. And on Saturday, heavy clashes between Iraqi soldiers and gunmen in downtown Baghdad left 11 people wounded, police told The Associated Press.

Yet Friday prayer sermons--many by preachers allied with the U.S.-backed government--were not aimed at rival sects, lawless militiamen, ineffective politicians or even U.S. forces.

They were aimed almost exclusively at Israel, which has sealed off the Lebanese capital of Beirut by bombing the airport and road to Damascus, Syria, as well as blockading the maritime exits from the country.

Other Muslim countries condemned the Israelis as well, but none did so amid the kind of chaos and violence that engulfs Iraq. It was as if Iraq's religious leaders used the Lebanese crisis as a way of diverting attention from the country's own problems, which have left hundreds dead in just the past week.

Nowhere was it more obvious than with radical Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr, who has been under fire himself in recent days because he oversees the Mahdi Army militia, which was accused of killing dozens of Sunni Muslims at point-blank range last Sunday.

Sadr set the tone for Friday prayer services throughout the country by issuing a morning statement condemning both Israel and the United States.

"The eyes shed tears and the hearts ache as we see our dear people in Lebanon suffer from what the Zionist terrorist does with the aid from America, the enemy of the people," he said. "Let everyone know that we in Iraq are not going to remain with our hands folded against this Zionist march."

In Baghdad's impoverished Sadr City neighborhood, the Friday preacher read Sadr's statement, then went on to liken the American invasion of Iraq to the Israeli attack on Lebanon.

I think the chances of a renewed Shi'a insurgency against US forces in Iraq is growing rather significantly, given the chaos escalating through the region. We really need to keep our eyes on that, and in a razor-effing sharp kinda way. Hopefully we are.

Posted by Gregory at 03:03 PM

Quote of the Day

Bill Kristol:

In the meantime, perhaps President Bush can fly from the silly G8 summit in St. Petersburg--a summit that will most likely convey a message of moral confusion and political indecision--to Jerusalem, the capital of a nation that stands with us, and is willing to fight with us, against our common enemies. This is our war, too.

Well, glad that's cleared up!

P.S. Just for fun, here's another quotable from Bill Kristol, from back in the day:

There's been a certain amount of pop sociology in America," he told National Public Radio listeners in the war's opening weeks, "that the Shia can't get along with the Sunni and the Shia in Iraq want to establish some kind of Islamic fundamentalist regime. There's been almost no evidence of that at all," he continued. "Iraq's always been very secular."

Yeah, the Shi'a and Sunni get along swell, that is, when not drilling holes in each other, blowing up each others shrines and generally mass murdering each other with increasing abandon. Pop sociology, indeed. You know, the previously unthinkable is happening to me. As '08 approaches, and I see such rhetorical and policy excesses emitting from the Bill Kristols (whom, historically, has been a major influence on McCain, my presumptive fave) I wonder, ever so slightly, might I need to support Hillary (or Warner, Bayh, etc?) in '08? Given McCain's noble, leadership stance on torture (a drop-dead, absolutely critical issue for the moral fiber and future direction of this country), of course, I would be surprised to end up supporting another candidate. But to conflate so totally Israel's conflict with Hamas and Hezbollah (whatever the merits of this particular action, but at least keeping in mind the disproportion of the response putting to ruins the short-lived Cedar Revolution), with America's war on terror writ large, to the point of urging Bush to fly to Jerusalem to show solidarity--well, let's just say it's quite something, even by Bill Kristol's standards. After all, is Hamas now an enemy of these United States? If so, why exactly? (Because David Brooks has this Sunday deemed them "nutjobs", perhaps?)

We need to remember these assorted exuberances (there are so many more here and there round the 'sphere and in the dead-tree media these days...) come the election, as we gauge what kind of influence the Kristols will wield on McCain, versus Hillary's (or, again, whatever alternative) advisors. Kristol's a smart guy, of course (the pop sociology idiocy aside, we all say drop-dead dumb things every now and again, as my archives doubtless prove in spades), but we are seeing him get carried away in a moment of emotion, and it is rather revealing, it must be said.

UPDATE: A reader writes in, about Bill Kristol's recommendation that Bush tear away from the G-8 summit to go to Jerusalem: ."..when did Israel's capital move from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem? I missed that headline." Heh. Yeah, so did I--but we're probably just 'old paradigmists' or such, as the peace process and notion of final status issues being bilaterally negotiated with America acting as 'honest broker' is doubtless 'quaint', or such, these days.

MORE: Another reader writes in: "I'm not going to engage any particular arguments with respect to the current crisis (not because I necassarily agree or disagree, it just isn't what prompted me to write in) but I did want to point out that the Israeli government is located in Jerusalem, and if you want to go find the leaders in the middle of a crisis, that's where they are likely to be, whether the UN accepts it or not. Politically, the world may prefer people say Tel Aviv is the seat of Israeli gov't, but reality says it isn't and hasn't been for a long time."

Fair point.

Posted by Gregory at 02:30 AM

July 15, 2006

In the Mailbag....

A U.S. soldier serving in theater in the Middle East writes in:

The shocking intelligence/reasonability/credibility free-fall at Instapundit is closely mirrored among many close friends and family members -- exceptionally smart and serious people in all other areas of life! -- who are leaving low earth orbit over Bush and the war. All bad news is merely the product of left-wing media bias, the New York Times is a hotbed of actionable treason, the war is going incredibly well, the Middle East is stabilizing as democracy takes hold... And you just, you know, stare in horror: Who are you, and what have you done with my smart friend? I've had a running argument going with some Republican friends, and my father, who think that Rep. Steve King has made an excellent point about D.C. and Detroit being statistically far more dangerous than Baghdad. No facts will sway them; they simply know it to be true. Glenn Reynolds has caught a very common disease.


Posted by Gregory at 11:41 PM

Putin To Bush: Thanks, But No Thanks

Well, this is just priceless:

During a joint news conference Saturday in St. Petersburg, Bush said he raised concerns about democracy in Russia during a frank discussion with the Russian leader.

"I talked about my desire to promote institutional change in parts of the world, like Iraq where there's a free press and free religion, and I told him that a lot of people in our country would hope that Russia would do the same," Bush said.

To that, Putin replied, "We certainly would not want to have the same kind of democracy that they have in Iraq, quite honestly."

This beats Putin's crack about Cheney's unsuccessful hunting shot, methinks. The fact that the President, even as Baghdad descends into ferocious sectarian conflict, would dare to describe Iraq as a model for anything just now (let alone religious freedom!) is flabbergasting (as in stupefying, jaw-dropping, certifiable, just staggering). Or Neroian, even, you might say. Perhaps he's getting all his news from fellow rapturists like my blog pal Hugh Hewitt, or something, but someone really needs to give POTUS a little reality check. But what Wise Men can mount the urgently needed intervention? There are so few left, and POTUS still appears to take Don Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney's word at face value. Crazy times, eh?

Lunch with Frank

The FT sits down w/ Francis Fukuyama.


Till now we had mostly avoided the visceral issues that divide Washington, but I was curious to hear what Fukuyama thought of George W. Bush. I asked if he had heard of the British tabloid headline that appeared the day after Bush’s re-election: “How can 59,054,087 people be so dumb?” Was that fair?

“I didn’t vote for Bush,” he said. “But I think there is an unfair caricature of him in Europe. Bush is broad-minded on a lot of issues, such as trade and immigration. Even in foreign policy his presentation was in many cases worse than the policy. My complaint is that he is good at campaigning, but no good at governing. Governing means bringing in people who have a lot of knowledge and listening to them. On that measure Bush has been just awful.”

Fukuyama seemed animated by this change of topic. At this stage on the tape his voice projects clearly through the surrounding clatter of cutlery. So did Bush’s alleged incompetence mark him out as an aberration, I asked?

“I wouldn’t put it that way,” he said. “I don’t think Bush’s level of competence or intelligence is any worse than the average senator.” I countered with the names of a couple of very impressive senators. “I said `average senator’,” Fukuyama shot back.

Having abandoned our coffees, we sauntered outside. Perhaps it was this last focus on Bush. But Fukuyama’s departing grip was far stronger than the one with which he had greeted me.[emphasis added]

Of course, Bush has needed to listen to more knowledgeable voices from the outside for years now, as it is manifestly clear that advice he's often gotten from Cheney and Rumsfeld has been just god-awful. There has been of late, it appears, some reaching out to the Fred Kagans, Eliot Cohens and other whip-smart critics of assorted whopping Rumsfeldian blunders. But it appears to be of the too little, too late, variety. Regardless, and for the sin of daring to point this out, people like Fukuyama have been excommunicated from the cathedrals of the true-believers, who amazingly are recommending such imbecilic policy prescriptions as whipping up a civil war in Iran, as if one in Iraq isn't enough. Schumpterian creative destruction, after all, is an economic theory--not a persuasive approach to statecraft. Quick, someone clue in the gang in DC still manning the transformationist Krauthammerian ramparts. The gig is up kiddies, and there's a damn big mess to clean up. Let's not make it bigger, OK?

Posted by Gregory at 03:43 PM

IDF Mood Watch

Old college "homey" and defense guru Noah Shachtman links to a very interesting Stratfor piece:

Israel lives with three realities: geographic, demographic and cultural. Geographically, it is at a permanent disadvantage, lacking strategic depth. It does enjoy the advantage of interior lines -- the ability to move forces rapidly from one front to another. Demographically, it is on the whole outnumbered, although it can achieve local superiority in numbers by choosing the time and place of war. Its greatest advantage is cultural. It has a far greater mastery of the technology and culture of war than its neighbors.

Two of the realities cannot be changed. Nothing can be done about geography or demography. Culture can be changed. It is not inherently the case that Israel will have a technological or operational advantage over its neighbors. The great inherent fear of Israel is that the Arabs will equal or surpass Israeli prowess culturally and therefore militarily. If that were to happen, then all three realities would turn against Israel and Israel might well be at risk.

That is why the capture of Israeli troops, first one in the south, then two in the north, has galvanized Israel. The kidnappings represent a level of Arab tactical prowess that previously was the Israeli domain. They also represent a level of tactical slackness on the Israeli side that was previously the Arab domain. These events hardly represent a fundamental shift in the balance of power. Nevertheless, for a country that depends on its cultural superiority, any tremor in this variable reverberates dramatically. Hamas and Hezbollah have struck the core Israeli nerve. Israel cannot ignore it...[emphasis added]

I think that's very true and rather perceptive. You can add also the tactical adeptness (or slackness, depending on your vantage point) of the successful Hezbollah drone attack on the Israeli navy ship off Beirut, and also this story (apparently there was earlier at least some surprise that Hezbollah katyushas were reaching Tiberias, and perhaps beyond, note Tiberias hasn't come under rocket attack since 1973). The IDF is an immensely talented force, and they hold themselves to very, very, very high standards (as they must, they live in a very tough neighborhood, and even with their overwhelming military edge, the slightest missteps can be immensely costly).

So Noah is right to prominently link this piece, as it doubtless explains much of the raw psychology at play here. Frankly, and this is obviously hugely speculative, I think some of what I believe to have been the strategic over-reaching and over-reaction (the attack on Hariri International Airport, a full blown naval blockade, significant attacks on the Beirut-Damascus road), might be a result of not a small amount of embarrassment among some in the IDF that the soldiers were kidnapped, both in the south and to the north, so brazenly. And with the drone attack and reports that some missiles might be able to reach even Tel Aviv, and in the continued absence of any real American leadership as this crisis intensifies (we are woefully AWOL in terms of trying to get an immediate ceasefire), I see things ratcheting up, rather than down, over the weekend. Many innocents on both sides will continue to die before this conflagration is over, alas.

Posted by Gregory at 01:15 PM

Sullivan on Reynolds

Sullivan writes:

I don't think of Reynolds as a political animal. He has independent integrity. But when push came to shove, Reynolds never challenged in any serious way the abuses of power in this administration nor the extremism of the Malkinesque blogosphere. When a libertarian finds any excuses to ignore or minimize government-sponsored illegality and torture, then he has truly ceased to be a libertarian in any profound sense. If my opinion weren't so high of his abilities, my disappointment wouldn't be so deep.

As another guy who has looked up to Glenn as a major innovator of this medium, it is with sincere regret that I have to agree with every word Andrew writes here. Glenn's dimly repetitive primitive attacks on the "Yale Taliban" (only John Fund gave him a run for his money), or his blase, schoolyard jests about Guantanamo, or so much more besides (no need for a long bill of grievances here, it would tire us all)--all have led me to respect his oeuvre at Instapundit much less these past months (I also know, as he's told me, he feels the same way about B.D, so there you go).

I'd also add, and I say this with genuine regret as well, that his credibility on matters related to foreign policy is in free-fall--certainly if one judges the quality of his views by the standard of whom he links to approvingly, and routinely, re: varied matters. Often, what he links to can only be described as deeply embarrasing to anyone with a modicum of foreign policy knowledge and expertise--given how often the stuff is outrageously looney, laughable fare--showcasing a breathtakingly naive Jacksonianism, fused with some soi disant neo-conservative gloss. It must be said, many of these sophomoric policy prescriptions, if implemented, would probably find us in a series of 100 year religious wars, which is the only reason I waste time writing about it this morning--because I care about the future of the Republican party's foreign policy, and if people seriously believe this utter claptrap and horseshit in too great numbers, we're gonna have some serious problems on our hands beyond where we're already at. Look, Glenn, I know, is a nice guy--and I'd love to have a beer with him sometime, just as I enjoy listening to his podcasts like the recent one of McCain--but when you get over 100,000 readers a day, and are a very intelligent Yale-trained lawyer, there should be some responsibility shown. When there appears not to be, and with reluctance, I gotta call him on it.

But it goes beyond this. Glenn will routinely piss on people who have loyally served their country (see Generals Batiste and Swannack, for the most damning examples), if they dare to point out what is blindingly obvious to all but the residual denialist fringe of bloggers and columnists--who still believe our war strategy was basically sound in Iraq--rather than an epic blunder (at least to date). Just one random, somewhat related (but well evocative) example from this morning (which I'll admit, was the catalyst for this post, as we're only human), Glenn links approvingly to Tammy Bruce (whom I've never heard of before, but whatever), who writes, of Tony Blair (you really have to click through the link to appreciate how outrageous and cheap it is, and see the photo of Blair): "Yes, Mr. Blair, look down--it is difficult to look people in the eye when your dignity and courage have moved to the gutter. But we shouldn't be surprised, should we? This is a world, after all, that proves time and time again that they think nothing is worth fighting for." Oh give me a effing break. Tony Blair has proved "time and time again" that he thinks there is "nothing...worth fighting for"? What is this based on? Did the commissars of risibly under-informed blather-mouths like Tammy Bruce judge some Blairite comment on the unfolding events in Lebanon as insufficiently supportive of Israel? This is absurd. What bloody planet are these people on? I mean, seriously. We've had no better friend than Tony Blair these past years. People have to get their head out of their asses, frankly, and get some perspective. Seriously.

Posted by Gregory at 12:30 AM

July 14, 2006

A Road Diverted....

Hey, it turns out the road to Jerusalem does run through Baghdad! Just in a different sorta way than expected, I guess.

Posted by Gregory at 10:44 PM

Miscellanea, and More on Lebanon

Ross Douthat reminds us that all (geo)politics are local, David Frum engages in (clumsy) historical analogizing (always a perilous endeavour, even for seasoned scriveners), and Glenn Reynolds rues the so early passing of the Cedar Revolution, en passant at least, before elucidating thus: "...what's unfolding now is something that was prepared for, as part of the next stage in the war on terror". Meantime, a 'shorter' Glenn-style analysis, if you will, is showcased by a commenter at Tom Maguire's (a blog pal, though his commenters don't think much of me, alas), who simply opines (with almost poignant innocence): "Israel liberates Lebanon." The residents of Beirut will clap and cheer when they hear these reassuring words, doubtless...

...meantime, back in the real world:

Late Thursday, Israeli warplanes dropped leaflets across Lebanon warning residents to stay away from any areas where Hizbullah is active.

"Due to the terrorist activities carried out by Hizbullah, the Israeli Army will continue its work within Lebanese territories for as long as it deems fit to protect Israeli citizens," the leaflets read. "For your own safety and because we do not wish to cause any more civilian deaths, you are advised to avoid all places frequented by Hizbullah.

"You should know that the continuation of terrorist activities against Israel will be considered a double-edged sword for you and Lebanon."

The leaflets were signed "The State of Israel."

Hopefully these IDF leaflet warnings will work, as not even 48 hours into this operation, some 55 Lebanese civilians are already dead (In Israel, two civilians have died so far as well). What is Israel hoping to accomplish by delivering deep psychological blows to the people of Lebanon by imposing a total naval blockade, shutting down Beirut's Rafik Hariri International Airport, and bombing the key Beirut-Damascus road (for starters)? Zvi Bar'el appears puzzled, somewhat, as am I:

"It seems now that Israel is acting out of a desire for revenge and punishment," a Lebanese analyst told Haaretz via email. "After Hassan Nasrallah said at his press conference that he doesn't want to drag Lebanon into war, Israel wants to show him and Lebanon that Nasrallah is more dangerous than Lebanon imagines. But you must understand that there are huge swathes of Lebanon that understand the extent of the Hezbollah danger, but are helpless. Don't expect citizens to demonstrate outside government buildings tomorrow and demand that the state disarm Hezbollah. Washington, France and the UN tried through Resolution 1559 and failed, and you want a weak government that has not yet really begun to govern to succeed? We can do nothing right now but wait, and maybe you will disarm Hezbollah. That is also the message that slain Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri's son Saad sent to Jordan's King Abdullah and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, both of whom sought to use their good relations with Israel to curb the military attack.

The message that Israel was trying to send to Lebanon's government and citizens seems unclear. On one hand, the Lebanese hear that the Israeli government does not plan to allow Hezbollah to return to its positions in southern Lebanon. That is too tough a mission for the Lebanese government, so people wonder what Israel wants and why it is attacking targets that are not related to the positions in the south, like the Beirut-Damascus highway or the airport.

On the other hand, Israel warned the Lebanese government that it holds it wholly responsible both for the attack and for the fate of the abducted soldiers. Here again, the Lebanese government has no idea what it is supposed to do - go to war against Hezbollah? "Of course, this government can't go to war against Hezbollah, and can't and wouldn't recruit Syria to rein in Hezbollah," said the Lebanese analyst.

This is because there has been an almost complete disconnect between the Lebanese government and Syria ever since the Hariri assassination and Syria's withdrawal from Lebanon. Moreover, Syria is not dissatisfied with the heavy price that Prime Minister Fuad Siniora's government is paying, or with the fact that there are no more appeals from Beirut to Damascus to curb Hezbollah. Syria is now free to claim that without it, there is no Lebanese government that can bring order and quiet to Lebanon.

That was also the gist of criticism uttered Thursday by Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, who said that Syria wants to exploit this war to rehabilitate its power centers in Lebanon. The result is that though Israel holds the Lebanese government responsible, there is really no address in Lebanon that can assume that responsibility.

The only thing that the Lebanese government, and particularly Saad Hariri, can do is hold a series of meetings with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and French President Jacques Chirac to get them to restrain Israel, or at least limit its attacks to ones that will show the Lebanese that the target is Hezbollah, and not all of Lebanon. The only diplomatic development Thursday was the beginning of back-channel talks among Arabs aimed at recruiting international pressure against Israel.

Inside Lebanon, the usual indecision continues. Along with condemning Israel, should they also come out against Hezbollah? No clear voice has yet spoken. [emphasis added]

I think Israel is making a strategic mistake by over-reacting to Hezbollah's provocations (the IDF should have limited the lion's share of its retribution in the south of the country, near the border, or only very specific Hezbollah-related targets elsewhere). If Bush and Rice don't exert pressure to very significantly cool down the offensive by early next week important American interests will increasingly become jeopardized, as ironically increased chaos in Lebanon will likely strengthen Iran and Syria's position there, rather than weaken it. Middle East peace has always been a race between moderates trying to cobble together democratic space and politics (like Hariri's son has been trying since the, so short-lived it appears, Cedar Revolution), and extremists who thrive on chaos (such as Nasrallah and Co). Bombing Lebanon back 20 years serves to assist the latter, not former. Regardless, let's see if cooler heads prevail in the coming days. I think the odds are just above even that happens (the timing of the G-8 meeting might not hurt, as other leaders will pressure Bush to take a more neutral approach), but there is a very significant chance indeed that matters instead escalate, not least because of this Administration's inattentions to date. We'll see soon enough, I guess, whether Washington becomes more seized by the regional implications at play, or is instead happy to see Israel beat back Iranian and Syrian proxies (but let's be careful describing Hamas as merely an Ahmadi-Nejad chess piece, no?) with impunity whatever the consequences to Lebanon's short to mid-term political future, civilians there and in Gaza, not to mention likely more loss of life in northern Israel.

MORE: Michael Young rightly points out that Hezbollah has wantonly violated various rules of the game, but concludes: "One important thing: No Lebanese government could legitimately help to advance such a plan if Israel were to try to, as its army chief of staff put it this week, “turn back the clock in Lebanon by 20 years.” Israel must cease its attacks and let diplomacy take over."

Posted by Gregory at 05:05 AM

Poseur Alert

Years from now, the kidnapping of Corporal Gilad Shalit will be regarded like the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand. Against the backdrop of Kassam rocket fire on Israelis living within range of the Gaza Strip, it was the fate of Corporal Shalit that triggered the Israeli return to Gaza, which in turn brought the Hezbollah forces into the game...Hamas inside Gaza and in Damascus, Hezbollah in Lebanon, and the Assad dictatorship in Syria--are chess pieces on the Iranian board. The pawn moves, drawing in the Israeli bishop; the Lebanese rook challenges; the Syrian queen is in reserve...Ephraim Sneh, a former general and Labor Party leader who is the Israeli longest drawing attention to the approaching conflict with Iran, is saying that the current moment reminds him of the Spanish Civil War. The broader global forces are aligned; local actors are committed. It is a bloody test, a macabre dress rehearsal, for what lies over the horizon.The war with Iran has begun.

-- David Twersky, writing in (where else?) the NY Sun.

Posted by Gregory at 04:20 AM

July 13, 2006

The Emerging CW, Another (Low-Grade) Regional War?

I see from reading Yossi Klein Halevi, Steven Erlanger, and Robin Wright that a new CW is emerging--a few dozen rockets and three hostages later--Israel is on the cusp of a long war involving, not only Hamas and Hezbollah, but sponsors Syria and Iran. With the US bogged down in Afghanistan and Iraq, the Israelis can pick up the slack in Damascus and Teheran, or such. Got that peeps? My humble advice to the Israeli government would be to take a quick look at the shambles the US is facing in Iraq, and beware strategic over-reaching. But I am but a lowly (very) part-time blogger, and much like my advice yesterday for the US Administration to try to take the temperature down a notch or two appears to be going unheeded, so doubtless will my advice to the Israelis.

Meantime POTUS is in Germany, and his rhetoric regarding this burgeoning crisis can, most generously, be described as uneven and halting, and less solicitously, infantile in its gross over-simplications. Such Manichean speechifying may have worked wonders back on 9/20/01 (yes, yes: I drank the Kool-Aid too), but people have to wake up and smell the coffee now all grown up a few years on. It's a big, complex world out there, with lots of shades of gray, and this is a time for deft statecraft to contain various mestastasizing crises, not simply resort like woeful Pavlovians to the always-at-the-ready empty and tired bromides.


...Syria "needs to be held to account" [ed. note: Like NoKo and Iran, doubtless?] for supporting and harboring Hezbollah.

"If you really want the situation to settle down, the soldiers need to be returned," the president said. "It's really sad where people are willing to take innocent life in order to stop that progress. As a matter of fact, it's pathetic."

Bush's comments came during a joint news conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, as Israel intensified attacks in Lebanon. Israel bombed Beirut's airport and the southern part of the country in its heaviest air campaign against its neighbor in 24 years.

Israel also imposed an air and naval blockade on Lebanon to cut off supply routes to militants.

Pressed on whether Israel's military assaults could trigger a wider war, Bush said he was concerned about any activity that would weaken or topple the Lebanese government. "Having said that, people need to protect themselves," he said of Israel.

"My attitude is this: there are a group of terrorists who want to stop the advance of peace," he said. "Those of us who are peace loving must work together to help the agents of peace."

Ah, if it were all so simple...all bible-like with the peacemakers blessed and the rest of us all goin' to hell.

P.S. As for Yossi Klein Halevi's piece, I'd understand his demand for "zero tolerance" better in the aftermath of a general peace deal internationally recognized with all the bells and whistles and final status issues resolved--but his argument is less compelling when you are talking about a unilateral withdrawal from Gaza. After all friends, no one, I'd think, was under the delusion that the Hamas gang was suddenly going to transform themselves into our best buddies and better angels, and that they were going to really lay down arms when Israel pulled out of Gaza, so as to go all Hudna-like on us suddenly. Israel pulled out of Gaza because it deemed it strategically useful (resource drain, etc etc), all told, and even today Sharon's decision (despite Netanyahu and other hard right back-biting) was likely the correct one. What is needed now is a sense of proportionate response Yossi H., not apocalplytic rumblings about Iran in the cross-hairs because three IDF soldiers have been kidnapped (though of course, as I've said, this kidnapping tactic is reprehensible and the IDF must care for its men to the bitter end, always, but again, with a sense of proportion). Did Israel really need to bomb Beirut's international airport today, for instance? I'm just not persuaded, and I think the rhetoric both by the government and some of the smartest commentators (like Yossi) is getting carried away. But I guess that's no surprise, really, and so a long, hot summer beckons, on a variety of fronts...

Posted by Gregory at 12:29 PM

Those Plucky Mumbaikers

The date 7/11 now joins a long list of terrorist atrocities. Sullivan blogs of the stoicism of Mumbai. I'd prefer to call it Mumbaiker pluck, impressive indeed, and reminiscent of the reaction of other financial capitals to such cowardly attacks (see London and, of course, NYC). The NYT is reporting today al-Qaeda is claiming responsiblity, but this sounds more like a transparent bid to showcase reinvigorated relevance in new theaters--rather than a truly convincing claim. My money would still be on Lashkar-e-Taiba, but what do I know...

Posted by Gregory at 12:11 PM

July 12, 2006

A Brewing Regional Security Crisis?


The Lebanese government has called on the UN to call for a cease-fire after IDF troops entered its territory to rescue two soldiers captured by Hizbullah earlier Wednesday.

Israel rejected the cease-fire request, Channel 10 reported.

The European Union called for the immediate release of the kidnapped Israeli soldiers, and urged all sides to respect the Blue Line border between Israel and Lebanon.

The IDF put reservists on standby and has already ordered reservist brigades to set up along the northern border for continued operations there.

Chief of Staff Maj.-Gen. Dan Halutz was holding hourly consultations in the War Room in the Kirya.

A very high ranking military officer said that if the soldiers were not returned in good condition, Israel would turn Lebanon back 20 years by striking its vital infrastructure.

The temperature is getting very hot indeed among Israel and her neighbors. A humanitarian crisis looms in Gaza, and there is talk of turning the clock back 20 years on Lebanon's infrastructure by some in Israel's military. Olmert has talked very tough too ("act of war"), somewhat understandably, as he must be seen to be able to step up into Sharon's big shoes as credible guarantor of Israel's national security. Still, however, too robust action in Lebanon (and even Syria, as some in Israel appear to be calling for)--in conjunction with what is already underway in Gaza--neither is particularly helpful from a U.S. perspective. (None of this will get significant coverage in the major right-wing blogs, of course, as there are no 'protest babes' or such filling the streets of Beirut, and so analysis gets a tad more complex, you see, than 'hotties' waving flags and such, but major attacks on Lebanon's infrastructure are not helpful to U.S. policy objectives there). As for Gaza, the fact that some there are eating just one meal a day (the fruits of democracy!), has already given the lie to our cheap talk of democratic elections there proving a step forward for the Palestinians. To midwife democracy, you don't only need elections, but also sustainable civil society and governance structures, none of which are easily developed in the face of collective punishment techniques.

The irony in all of this too, of course, is that Israel's likely overly strong resort to punitive actions meant to serve as deterrent will actually likely backfire--as they will serve neither to deter (just the opposite probably) while also leading to less support for Israel internationally, if she is deemed to overeact. The better solution is for the US President or his Secretary of State to intervene to cool the temperature, and also give Ehud Olmert an out on pursuing a too robust escalation (Olmert for instance, could tell his public that the US Administration would not accept punitive strikes on any non-Hezbollah assets in Lebanon, to take just one example, to include all infrastructure assets such as power generators--thus relieving the pressure on him domestically) .

We have to keep things in perspective here: three soldiers taken hostage should not lead to talk of outright war between Israel and some of her neighbors, however emotionally difficult it is for Israel, not to mention deeply frustrating, to have to grapple so frequently with this repulsive tactic of kidnapping serving soldiers to see them then used crudely as bargaining chips. The US government needs to be front and center making the point that restraint is needed at this juncture, as a regional security crisis impacting Israel, Lebanon, Syria and Gaza is about the last thing needed now in the Middle East--a region already, shall we say, fraught with problems far and wide. At the same time, the US and EU should be taking more of a lead trying to gain the release of these soldiers, the better so Israelis don't feel it is them against the world and act overly irrationally. In short, this is a detiorating situation crying out for leadership from the White House--adult supervision at the highest levels of the US government. Let's see what gets mustered up by this Administration in the next 24-48 hours....so far, I've heard little more than a statement from Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Welch, and much more is needed, I'd think.

Posted by Gregory at 12:22 PM

July 11, 2006

A Ray of Hope?

Could a smidgen of decency, honor and best practices have (astoundingly belatedly) made their way to senior levels of the Pentagon with regard to detainee policy? Demetri Sevastopulo writes in the FT:

The Pentagon has decided in a major policy shift that all detainees held in US military custody around the world are entitled to protections under the Geneva Conventions, according to two people familiar with the move.

The FT has learned that Gordon England, deputy defence secretary, sent a memo to senior defence officials and military officers last Friday, telling them that Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions – which prohibits inhumane treatment of prisoners and requires certain basic legal rights at trial – would apply to all detainees held in US military custody.

This reverses the policy outlined by President George W. Bush in 2002 when he decided members of al-Qaeda and the Taliban did not qualify for Geneva protections because the war on terrorism had ushered in a “new paradigm…[that] requires new thinking in the law of war”.

The policy U-turn comes on the heels of the Supreme Court ruling last month that the military commissions Mr Bush created to try prisoners at Guantanamo Bay contravened both US law and the Geneva Conventions.

The White House had argued that Mr Bush, as commander-in-chief, had the authority to convene the military commissions. Critics who rejected this interpretation said the commissions were unjust because, for instance, defendants were unable to see all the evidence levelled against them.

In a stunning rebuke of Mr Bush, the Supreme Court ruled 5-3 that his administration had overshot its authority in constituting the controversial commissions, concluding that they did not offer defendants sufficient legal rights.

The court also suggested that the administration work with Congress to reach a solution that would address the problems, including the introduction of evidence.

Arlen Specter, the Republican chairman of the Senate judiciary committee, is scheduled on Tuesday to kick off a series of Congressional hearings that will examine the Supreme Court ruling in the case of Salim Ahmed Hamdan - the former driver of Osama bin Laden who became the first detainee brought before a military commission – and its implications for dealing with the 450 detainees remaining at the Guantanamo.

In the wake of the Supreme Court decision, legal experts had disagreed about whether the ruling meant that Geneva protections should be given to only those detainees brought before the military commissions, or to all detainees held at Guantanamo Bay and other US military detention facilities around the world.

That question now appears moot in light of the Pentagon move. Congress could conceivably still rewrite US law to eliminate the Geneva protections, but such a move would generate huge international criticism.“This memo was a prudent and responsible thing to do,” said a former Bush administration official with knowledge of the memo.

“Humane treatment is at the centre of the Pentagon’s directives and procedures, but the court’s ruling expanded previous understanding of the applicability of Common Article 3 so this memo was an important next step. It is now up to Congress to provide statutory clarity if possible.”

Of course, my trust of various Administration players on this issue is near nil, so take this with a big grain of salt, and let us all be sure to monitor how this issue plays out step by step, day by day. With David Addington and others still enjoying significant power, that is obligatory, alas. As I had previously written:

We need to monitor, very, very closely, the machinations emitting from certain quarters of the Executive Branch through the end of Bush's term. There are many smart, honest, fair, moderate Republicans fighting the good fight internally, the Mora's have shown us, and we need to do our part to bolster them however and whenever possible. The stakes are too high, and some of the key players, alas, we've now learned beyond any doubt, will stoop to very mendacious behavior indeed in pursuit of their misguided goals.

True then, true now. Especially as this is an election year, and all the predictable Congressional cretins will be gearing up to portray the Democrats (or even serious Republicans like John Warner or John McCain) as being 'pro-terrorist rights', or whatever, like know-nothing opportunists of the lowest order.

NB: Also, we need to better understand how the new rules would impact the 'OGAs', as they're called....

Posted by Gregory at 10:44 AM

Losing Baghdad?


In al-Jihad, the residents who remained a day after the deadly rampage said they looked out onto ghostly quiet streets as Iraqi police and soldiers enforced a daytime curfew and cordoned off the neighborhood.

"It has been quiet since yesterday -- we have not heard a single bullet," said Hayder Emad, 26, a resident. "The people were running in the streets trying to buy what they need and hurrying back."

Ali Muhsin, 58, said his neighbors grabbed guns and stood sentry on their roofs, fearing another onslaught by militiamen. He sent his son to a town south of Baghdad to live with relatives and called him Monday to warn him not to return.

"I fear that someone will kill him," he said.

Muhsin said he worried that the Mahdi Army, controlled by radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, remained close by. The area is not controlled by the Iraqi army, he said. "The security forces are not capable of maintaining security."

The killing on Sunday began as early as 7 a.m., residents said, but American troops did not respond until nearly four hours later, a U.S. military spokesman said. At a briefing for reporters Monday, Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell said that "at the time that this occurred, we were not in that exact location."

"And we responded when asked to by our [Iraqi] counterparts. When the request came in for additional forces to move there, we had some and we moved them there in concert with when we were asked to move," he said.

U.S. troops found 14 dead Iraqis in the neighborhood but not the "30 or 40 or more that was in the reporting that we heard going on," Caldwell said. An Iraqi police officer said that 57 corpses, plus those of three policemen, were taken to Yarmouk Hospital after the violence. Caldwell did not place blame for the killings on the Mahdi Army, but he acknowledged the problem of what he called "illegal armed groups."

"The civilians clearly are taking a heavy hit at the activities of these illegal armed groups through murder, intimidation, kidnappings, and everything else," he said. "And those are the groups that we're going after."

Mahdi Army officials denied involvement in the mass killings in al-Jihad. One militiaman said recent raids by Iraqi and U.S. troops against Mahdi Army mosques and homes had angered the group. He said that in his Baghdad neighborhood of Shula, Iraqi army and police are working with the militia to establish checkpoints and monitor streets, mosques and public markets.

"We don't think any stranger can attack Shula," said Ghazi Ahmed, the militiaman.

In some Sunni neighborhoods of Baghdad, religious leaders went door to door seeking volunteers to join self-defense groups and promised to distribute AK-47 assault rifles to those who didn't have them. Mahmoud al-Obaidi, a cleric at the al-Abaz mosque in Amiriyah, canvassed the neighborhood asking for one male volunteer from each household. He told residents to be ready to mobilize if mosques broadcast " Allahu Akbar " -- God is Great -- three times. [emphasis added]

I repeat, at the risk of sounding like a broken record: if our current strategy is merely to respond to requests by a barely functional Iraqi Army to send reinforcements after horrific killing sprees in the capital city of the country (with half-day time lags, to boot), we are risking dismal failure. Recall, Iraq was meant to serve as model of an Arab democracy being midwifed by the world's reigning superpower in organized, coherent fashion. Rumsfeld's "just enough troops to lose" doctrine has instead turned the capital city into an anarchic zone where people are forced to form vigilante style self-defense groups to protect themselves against mass carnage. Will we see a material change in strategy, or will this detestable incompetence and display of American impotence go on and bloody on? With Rumsfeld still in office, the answer seems clear, doesn't it?

Posted by Gregory at 10:26 AM

July 10, 2006

Quote(s) of the Day

"We've said it several times that there are people who want to create civil war....Today, this country is on the edge of civil war, not sectarian strife."

-- Wafiq al-Samarrae, an adviser to Iraqi President Jalal Talabani


Police picked up 57 bodies from the al-Jihad neighborhood, and three Interior Ministry policemen were also killed there, said Ali Hussein, a commando with the Interior Ministry who ferried bodies to Baghdad's Yarmouk Hospital. Gen. Saad Mohammed al-Tamini of the Interior Ministry confirmed that more than 50 people were killed.

Some of the corpses that littered the streets lay handcuffed, pocked with bullet holes, while others were pierced with bolts and nails, witnesses said.

Iraqi officials and residents of the neighborhood identified the gunmen as members of the Mahdi Army, the powerful militia controlled by the radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. In the past three days, Iraqi troops, with the support of U.S.-led forces, have raided the homes of militiamen and detained some of their leaders.

U.S. commanders and diplomats say Sadr and his militia constitute one of the gravest threats to Iraq's security. Two years ago, U.S. forces fought Mahdi Army militiamen in Baghdad and in the southern holy city of Najaf. Sadr also holds considerable sway over the political system, with ties to more than 30 members of parliament and several cabinet ministers.

On Sunday, Iraq's deputy prime minister for security affairs, Salam al-Zobaie, accused the Defense and Interior ministries of working with the militias to carry out the killings.

"Interior and Defense ministries are infiltrated, and there are officials who lead brigades who are involved in this," Zobaie said in an interview on al-Jazeera. "What is happening now is an ugly slaughter...

...In al-Jihad, a predominantly Sunni neighborhood along the road to Baghdad International Airport, police in white pickup trucks patrolled the roads. Fighters gathered in the streets holding rocket launchers and belts of machine-gun ammunition while helicopters swarmed overhead. A hot wind scoured the neighborhood, scattering the black smoke that billowed from burning tires.

The Iraqi government later imposed a daytime curfew in the neighborhood, and mosque loudspeakers broadcast warnings that residents should flee or they would be killed.

Hayider Hussein, a resident, said that outside his house, militiamen were milling around a minibus in which the bodies of the driver and a dozen passengers could be seen.

"They were all shot in the head," he said.

Ali Muhsin, 58, a retiree who lives in the neighborhood, said he saw gunmen in three cars pull up near his house and begin shooting people. Four corpses lay on the ground about 100 yards from his door and he saw four other people shot at a vegetable market nearby, he said.

Muhsin described seeing gunmen get out of a sedan, remove two bodies from the trunk "and throw them on the street."

Residents said the violence stemmed from a car bomb attack on the Shiite al-Zahra mosque Saturday night, expanding into door-to-door pursuit of Sunnis by Shiites.

Outside the morgue at the Yarmouk Hospital, a distraught woman wearing a red head scarf searched for her missing brother. At 7 a.m., she said, black-clad gunmen broke into her house and demanded to know the family's tribal name. When her brother responded "Jubour," one of the gunmen said, "You are definitely Sunnis."

"I swear on Hussein, I swear on Ali, that we are Shiites," her brother, Muzahim Salman, pleaded, referring to relatives of the prophet Muhammad who are revered by Shiites.

The gunmen locked the woman, who refused to give her full name, and her mother in a room before kidnapping her brother. A half-hour later, she said, she called her brother's cellphone.

"The man who answered said: 'We are the Mahdi Army. We killed your brother. Go to the morgue and pick up his body.' "

"Go to the morgue and pick up his body." Call it a variant to Rumsfeld's "Stuff Happens" or "Freedom is Untidy", only more direct, you might say. By the way, to the extent we move to disarm and lessen Mahdi militia influence in the coming weeks at the Interior and Defense Ministries (as we must at least try)--I predict we will likely see a reignited Shi'a insurgency of some significance by the mid-autumn. (Rumsfeld has doubtless explored in depth contingency plans to handle such an eventuality should it come to pass). On the other hand, our efforts to reduce Shi'a militia influence in the 'national' army might be so halting, weak and amateurish that Sadr and fellow travellers might calculate it's in their better strategic interest to lie low rather than stoke a direct confrontation with the Americans.

Either way, we continue to seem to be plodding along haphazardly hoping somehow that Maliki's unity government will prove some panacea as it consolidates power. But hope is not a plan. And while the kidnapping of a single Israeli corporal seems to be getting all the attention these days on the hostage-taking front, there is another hostage situation causing arguably greater problems. A Sunni legislator was kidnapped back on July 1, and a major Sunni bloc is threatening to pull out of the government if he isn't released. This national government is likely to face such crises on a weekly basis for many months still. It's in no way close to being able to cohesively lead and provide the order that is screamingly needed in Baghdad.

So it's quite clear that the U.S. must lead the show on security efforts rather than punt to Maliki and hope for the best, but I just don't see this happening now. To the extent this remains the trend-line, what is the point of staying, one must ask? Either our leaders come clean, tell the public this war is but at mid-stream and far from won, and make clear that talk of premature withdrawal in '06 or '07 is just folly (indeed we should be increasing our force posture by as many men as possible back up to around 160,000 or more)--or we continue to 'bow' to political realities at home, scale-back gradually, and basically concede the battlespace to militias and terrorists (unless by some miracle the Iraqi National Army turns into a big, loving family and bulwark of stability like Turkey's, and the local police forces don't remain infested by ethnic divides and rampant corruption). Again, hope is not a strategy, even if some in this faith-based gaggle of mediocrities might think differently. So if things don't improve just because we wish it to be so, what is our back-up plan, one must ask again?

P.S. See my post immediately below for more on the strategic quandaries facing the U.S. currently. I suspect neither the North Koreans nor the Iranians will be in a position to launch a credible nuclear missile for 5-10 years yet. Having a talented diplomat like Chris Hill handle the North Korea dossier, in the face of Russian, South Korean and Chinese reticence to get much tougher, is probably the best we can do just now. Ditto Condi's Iran diplomacy maneuverings. But whether it's our lack of adult supervision on the Israeli-Palestinian front (why has a major power station been bombed as a result of a single hostage taking, one can't help wondering, given the humanitarian difficulties and communal punishment this causes?), the detiorating security situation in Afghanistan or Sudan or Chad or Somalia, the neglect of Latin America providing Chavez and other leftists greater strategic maneuvering room, our risible attempts to chide China and Russia on back-tracking on democracy building (Cheney lectures Putin fresh from a cozy visit to Astana's sweetheart!)--American influence is heading towards a low ebb. The basic reason is that Iraq has sucked out all the oxygen among the key policy-makers, not to mention the monetary and human costs that grow daily.

And don't buy the tired bromides that we can walk and chew gum at the same time. As scores of Iraqis are routinely massacred in broad daylight by roving gangs of ethnic killing squads, our credibility lies increasingly in tatters as some credible, competent guarantor of varied security architecture across the globe. We can't even get Afghanistan and Iraq nailed down, which is why Kim Jong and Ahmadi-Nejad are basically telling us to eff off, and why they will more or less continue to do so until we get those situations under plausible control. Now, the problem is, you have varied dimwits who are prescribing ethnically stoked wars of 'liberation' in Iran (astoundingly idiotic arguments that leading bloggers, whose crediblity on foreign policy matters have plummeted of late, link to routinely), or other such ham-handed alternative strategies, if one can call them that, but what is really needed now is centrist, sober strategic thinking pursued on a bilateral basis--mostly focused on how to salvage Iraq--so that the next President will be on a firmer footing to tackle the residual mess there, not to mention the looming crises in Iran and North Korea if both regimes are still in place around, say, 2011 (when nuclearized weaponry in their hands becomes a more immediate concern). It's going to be a big election, to be sure, and until then--we can only hope that the damage caused by this one can be contained somewhat. In this era of incompetence (Iraq, Katrina etc.) and paranoia (Dubai Ports, brave-thinking new paradigmists junking Geneva, NYT as rogue enemy etc), I am not particularly optimistic, but at least the '08 election nears.

Posted by Gregory at 08:49 AM

Stuff Happens Watch

Another day of wanton mayhem in Baghdad. I guess Frederick Kagan's policy prescriptions have been given short shrift by this Administration, as we continue to appear to be mostly AWOL (recent operations of dubious efficacy in Sadr City aside) in terms of establishing a semblance of order in Baghdad. And so it's depressing to see one of our few intelligent Administration figures (rather rare in this era of incompetence and paranoia, as a very wise octegenarian I spent time with while in Beijing last week put it to me succinctly), Nicholas Burns, say the following on Wolf Blitzer's show today:

BLITZER: Do you have confidence that the Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, himself a Shiite, is going after these Shiite militias which are apparently responsible for this latest surge in sectarian violence?

BURNS: Wolf, we have great confidence in Prime Minister Maliki. He's someone who has a very clear sense of what he wants to do. He's someone who's been saying the right things and doing the right things, frankly, to try to bring order back to the streets of Iraq.

Obviously, the government of Iraq has a right and a self-interest in going after terrorist groups, and those terrorists who would disturb the peace and who are responsible for the bombings in Baghdad. And so you have to understand that the government has that right, and I think we have to wait and see in the full light of day.

All the details of these reports are coming in, but we have great confidence in the government of Iraq, and we understand that law and order and maintaining order in the streets, and especially going after the terrorist groups is something that any government, including the Iraqi government, has a first-order priority to accomplish. [emphasis added]

Memo to Nick Burns: This is our job, and should be our first priority to accomplish. You break it, you own it--as Colin Powell memorably put it. Look, if this Administration cannot advance a credible strategy to assert control over Baghdad, the gig might as well be up. If there are any grown-ups left out there--and they just might be reading this humble blog--I beseech them to alert the powers-that-be that the time has come to put up, or shut up. Either the US has to show it has the wherewithal to stand tall and fight this fight (meaning more than anything just now, that we must lead the effort to secure the capital rather than blather on about Maliki having a "first order priority" to go after "terrorist groups", whatever the hell that means), or we should start thinking about a strategic withdrawal, if it comes to that. Alas, there is no Henry Kissinger around to engineer a 'peace with honor' style exit, so our increasing impotence (see Israel-Palestine, Iran, N. Korea, etc) would be even more nakedly apparent for all to see.

Is it hyperbolic of me to speak of strategic despair in the face of the gross incompetence emitting from Washington these days? Perhaps. But I've spoken to some very seasoned former diplomats recently, guys who were real players in their day (not just your typical retired Foggy Bottom blowhards, and most of them Republican-leaning) and they are pretty stunned also by the sorry spectacle we're all taking in. It's not pretty, and the Democrats have little better to offer, sadly. So what is to be done?

Nic Robertson today reports on CNN International that the fear and chaos are so bad in Baghdad that rumors were swirling around town that a girl (I forget if she was Sunni or Shia) had been decapitated by a militia and that a dog's head had been sewn back to her neck. The story is doubtless bogus, of course. But that's not the point. The point is this speaks to a mood. A mood of medieval fear at savage, pagan-like forces afoot. Does "freedom is untidy" Rumsfeld have a clue at the depth of this insecurity and fear gripping Baghdad? Of course not. He's a spent, tired force--running out the clock now with impunity until he's good and ready to go. The Boy Emperor, his heart in the right place but his historical ignorance and incredible myopia rendering him ineffective in the extreme, cannot help either. Cheney, as Brent Scrowcroft intimated, is no longer the credible national security player he once was. Condi has at least contained Rumsfeld's so imbecilic forays onto State's turf, but hasn't yet helped cause a major strategic re-think of our increasingly failed polices, on display from Gaza City to Kandahar. The bench is thin, you might say.

P.S. Sorry to be so grim upon returning from overseas, but there it is. Maybe it's the jet lag. As for this blog, I suppose it's no secret I've become increasingly disenchanted with large swaths of the blogosphere. I guess while horrific events are underway as today in Baghdad, and people seemingly appear to care more about whether some site has gone down because of a DoS attack of some such, or are busy moronically chastising the NYT about photographs of Rummy's St. Michael's digs, I get tired of all the crap (see Glenn Greenwald's evisceration of this last here). Will I keep writing here? Yes, but perhaps without comments, timestamps, and the rest of it--so that it's less 'bloggy'. Then again, I have enjoyed comments often, so may end up keeping them (they're down still regardless for a spell as I sort out Moveable Type issues).

Anyway, just a brief digression by way of clueing you in to my state of mind. Traffic will go down, but I'm OK w/ that. I'm afraid I just don't have the fortitude or time to keep up with the "dialogue" anymore, especially given how often it degenerates into laughable stuff like the St. Michaels hullabaloo. It's all rather "BAD", in the way Paul Fussell meant the term as sketched out in the book I link, and I've little desire to wallow around in all of it. Sorry if this sounds off-putting to anyone out there passionate about the New York Times treasonous surreptitious alliance with al-Qaeda and its reckless endangering of our finest public servants. If that's what you're after, I beg you, please don't come around here anymore. As for my readers who do stick it out, I will try to put up new content here, mostly on foreign policy matters, once or twice a week (sometimes more often, sometimes less). Thanks for sticking around through it all. Yes, the thrill may be gone, but there's a lot afoot on the foreign policy front, and so I feel compelled to keep on throwing in my 2 cents now and again. Hopefully some of it might even make sense, at least once in a while.

Posted by Gregory at 03:29 AM

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Gregory Djerejian comments intermittently on global politics, finance & diplomacy at this site. The views expressed herein are solely his own and do not represent those of any organization.

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