March 16, 2005

US Policy Towards Hezbollah...

...looks to be changing ever so slightly given the dynamics underway in Lebanon. Namely, in order to keep a large, united anti-Syrian Lebanese front--Bush (despite McClellan's, and the State Department's, protestations to the contrary) seems to be giving Hezbollah something of an opening (a small one, to be sure).

From the daily brief:

Q Specifically, what would the President like to see Hezbollah do in Lebanon to join the political mainstream?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, Resolution 1559 spells out what needs to happen. And our focus right now is on making sure that there are free and fair elections without any outside intimidation or interference. The Lebanese people should be allowed to choose their own future and to chart their own path, and that's where our focus is. This isn't about Hezbollah, this is about allowing the Lebanese people to freely choose their leaders without any intimidation or outside interference. And you can't have that as long as Syria remains inside Lebanon.

And that's why we are making it clear, as well as other nations, that Syria needs to completely withdraw all its military forces and all its intelligence services from Lebanon, so that those elections can proceed forward in a free and fair and credible way.

Now, if you have free and fair elections, I think experience shows that people tend to choose leaders who are committed to improving their quality of life, not terrorists. But in terms of Hezbollah, nothing has changed in terms of our views. You've heard from administration officials over the weekend; you heard from the President earlier today.

Q The President -- does he recognize that Hezbollah is a potent political force in Lebanon?

MR. McCLELLAN: Hezbollah is a terrorist organization. Our view has not changed when it comes to that. And 1559 also calls for all militias to be disarmed. And we want to see 1559 fully complied with...

...Q Scott, if we can go back to the President's remarks earlier today, he said, we view Hezbollah as a terrorist organization, and I hope that Hezbollah would prove that they're not by laying down arms and not threatening peace. Is the President giving Hezbollah an opportunity to change, to renounce terror? And if so, will the United States consider it a legitimate political organization?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, you're asking me ifs. Those are very hypothetical questions.

Q Well, the President brought up the hypothetical when he said, I hope the Hezbollah would prove that they're not by laying down arms and not threatening --


Q -- that they could become a legitimate organization, not a terrorist organization.

MR. McCLELLAN: Because 1559 calls for Hezbollah to disarm, like other organizations -- terrorist organizations -- in Lebanon. That's what's spelled out in 1559. Again, let me emphasize what we have said previously. You can't have a democratic society and a society based on rule of law where you have groups, organizations, that are committed to violence. And that's why what our focus is on right now is getting Syria to fully comply with Security Council Resolution 1559. That calls for the complete withdrawal of all their forces, military and intelligence, and it says in the resolution, fully and urgently. So we want to see that withdrawal happen as soon as possible. It's important that it happens before the parliamentary elections in May take place, because, in order for those elections to be free and fair, you need to remove the Syrian presence from Lebanon.

And, again, experience shows that when people are given the opportunity to choose their leaders, they tend to choose people who are committed to improving their lives, not terrorists.

Q Is the President saying today, when he says, I hope that Hezbollah would prove that they're not -- being not a terrorist organization -- by laying down arms and not threatening peace, is he giving Hezbollah an opportunity here to prove, if they lay down arms, if they renounce terrorism, that the United States would work with Hezbollah in the future and consider it a legitimate --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, what you're stating would be that they would be -- it would change the dynamic if they disarmed and renounced terrorism, in your own words. So that changes the situation. We're not -- this isn't about Hezbollah. This is about supporting the Lebanese people. The President believes that the future of Lebanon is in the hands of the Lebanese people. We saw that yesterday, again, in the massive demonstration taking place in the square in Beirut, where the Lebanese people were saying, we want freedom and democracy, and we want Syria out; we want the outside intimidation and outside interference in our country removed, and that means Syria needs to leave. So that's where our focus remains.

The step that needs to happen now is Syria needs to leave. And we appreciate all those other countries that share our view, and are calling on Syria to withdraw. We have confidence that the Lebanese people will be able to determine their future and make the choices that are best for their country. So we want those decisions to be in the hands of the Lebanese people, and the way for that to happen is for Syria to get out.

Q But, Scott, the President's comment was about Hezbollah. And what he said -- and you said, that would ultimately change the dynamic if they were to lay down their arms and renounce terror. If they were to change the dynamic, would the administration deal with Hezbollah? Would they consider Hezbollah a legitimate organization? Is the President creating that opening for this organization to change its dynamic?

MR. McCLELLAN: Let me repeat -- would and ifs are hypotheticals. I'm not into hypotheticals. No, the President made very clear that our views have not changed when it comes to Hezbollah. Hezbollah is a terrorist organization. They need to disarm, as called for in Security Council Resolution 1559.

We have -- we support the ability of the Lebanese people to chart their own future. And so we want to support them as they move forward on holding elections in May. And the best way to do that is to continue to call on Syria to leave, and to leave now.

Q So we're not to read into this, the President's comments, that if they were to disarm, if they were to lay down their arms and not threaten peace, that there would be an opportunity here for the United States to recognize Hezbollah as an organization that it can --

MR. McCLELLAN: That's not what the President said. That's not -- you were asking what the President said. I just said he said that our views have not changed when it comes to Hezbollah. And I'm not going to get into hypotheticals. But you, yourself, pointed out if they renounce terrorism, in your question, and if they disarm, well, then that does change -- change the dynamic.

Of course, Lebanese Hezbollah would be tremendously unlikely to disarm before resolution of Shaba Farms and such. But there's a small opening here, and I think some forward progress with Hezbollah is achievable. This is really the crux of Bush's war, isn't it? Persuade terror groups and aggrieved societal segments to lay down arms and renounce the tactics of violence in favor of pursuing disputes peacefully. Some moderate factions of Hamas, one can hope, might go down this road in the future if enough progress on the roadmap were made. Perhaps Hezbollah could too in the future. Fanatics like al-Qaeda or Jihad Islami (or irrendentist segments within Hamas or Hezbollah) would become increasingly isolated. It's not a bad strategy, all told. But resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict will still be critical--as will further democratization and economic liberalization through the region. As for Iraq, I think Zarqawi's brand of terror is not gaining traction amidst a public increasingly disgusted by the massive carnage his brand of nihilistic terror has wrought. More on all this soon.

Posted by Gregory at March 16, 2005 05:14 AM | TrackBack (7)

I've been a little nervous that spooking Hezbollah before the Syrians were out and before the elections would be bad, but so far I think my fear have been swamped by yesterday's outpouring. It would be bad to turn a nationalist/sovereignty dynamic into a shi'a vs. everybody else dynamic, though.

Posted by: praktike at March 16, 2005 06:40 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I agree with your analysis Greg. By giving Hezbollah and others similar an opening then not only does it lay an opportunity for them to acheive the opportunity to develop a legitimacy on the world stage which would be beneficial for them as an organisation, I think your conclusion is right, in that its likely to drive a wedge between those whom like Zarqawi who use terror for the sake of it rather than as an admittedly illegitimate tool for change

It also clearly puts the onus on those organisations to change in return for some benefit - the carrot part of the carrot and stick equation - which in turn legitimises the stick should it be required.

I will be very interested to see if there is an increasing backlash amongst the Iraqi public against the insurgents as self rule and self determination takes a greater hold. I hope so!

Posted by: Aran Brown at March 16, 2005 06:44 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

It's fun being analytical; but can a scorpion really stop being a scorpion? Or can the perverse refrain from being perverse (especially when perversity becomes such a highly respected value!). Keeping in mind that one man's perversity is another's earnest respectability....

I suppose it all does boil down to values, doesn't it. Ideology. Pride, shame, fear?

One must be very clear about what's happening. We are talking about revolution. Nothing less. In perceptions, capabilities. In the ability to acquire certain "self-evident" rights. Which makes it all so very precarious. Because their some very strong vested interests in the region. Not just the dictatorial regimes and the elites that help keep those regimes in power. We're also talking about the vested interest of personal ideology, worldview, bias. Of prejudice. Of hatreds.

Phrased differently, "What really has to happen before true 'freedom of choice'---or epiphany, if you wish---kicks in?"

(Or perhaps, "What really has to happen for the horse to drink that water?")

Of course, we could all excoriate the US (and why not?!) for creating the conditions so that people can live---take your pick---freely (relatively), without intimidation (relatively), without feeling threatened by their neighbors and/or feeling the need to threaten their neighbors in return (relatively), for having some modicum of control (political, social, economic) over their lives---and not having to look over their shoulders continually. All things being relative.

Or we could excoriate the US (why not?!) for not having decided to act sooner.

Or we could just excoriate the US for, well, whatever. "OIL" is certainly convenient. And don't forget "The ENVIRONMENT." Or "EVIL CAPITALISM." Or just for being boors and idiots.

(Or we could say that whatever's happening now would have happened anyway. Inevitably!)

Or we could hope that the whole thing falls apart, and then really start casting aspersions, like the serious people we are.

Did I say "freedom of choice"?

Posted by: Barry Meislin at March 16, 2005 07:29 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink
Their...plural possesive pronoun
They're...contraction of there are...grrrr here or there, meaning locative

I am not sure that one can discern too too much nuance in press briefings as McClellan does not sit at the policy table but he does get to pick nits with the nitwits. Should Hezbullah lay down their arms would they actually be Hezbullah? Granted that they do control some turf in Lebanon, at the behest of Syria, it is the support of the Mullahs in Qom that allow them to continue. Should our dear OLD friends in Euro disney land cease and desist in Hizzie's money train, as well as Iran, it would come to a guns or butter equation for the haters. Should we find that the haters cannot effectivly (no guns, bullets or car bombs) hate would they in fact still be Hezbullah? That IMO is my read on the President's statement.
Yes, Hezbullah does need to do "humanitarian work" if they are to keep their turf quiet. Even the Khmer (sp?) Rouge had to do a bit of humanitarian work, if only to keep the laborers laboring. Can't enjoy the fruits of their labor if they're dead now can we?

Getting back to Lebanon, Hezbullah and Nasrallah must support Syria. Their reason for being will be gone if they can't sit on Israel's border lobbing rockets at innocents. They can't whip up the mood in the hood if they can't do a little killin' now and then. Nasrallah knows that if Lebanon goes democratic the locals will soon tire Hezbullah's tactics. If you throw a war and no one shows up what can you do. Guess they would have to go back to hijacking airplanes and shooting up airports. When the Jihad ends through lack of interest what is the reason for the existance of groups like Hamas and Hizbullah? It will become obvious that they are just Mafiosi types.

On the side, how much do you think Nasrallah's watch costs? Wasn't that a top end rolex he was wearing at that press conference. Charitable fellow that he is.

Posted by: Katensky at March 16, 2005 12:07 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

What I got from the President's remarks is that if the Lebanese people elected representatives of Hizbollah we would about have to deal with them. That's kind of the deal there. We can't tell them we worship free elections but they have to vote for who we say they have to vote for. That kind of illegitimizes us right out of the chute, and redeems those who claim we are interfering for our own benefit.

Posted by: spongeworthy at March 16, 2005 04:37 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Great point spongeworthy. I also think Katesky makes an interesting point. In a democratic lebanon, will the people tolerate continued attacks on Israel, which ultimately put them at risk of Israeli reprisals and counter attacks?

I will admit to not being overly informed of Hezbollah's raison d'etre, but they better have something more than pure enemity towards Israel or I suspect in a democratic Lebanon they will potentially lose support quickly from the Lebanese people - particularly without a Syrian presence to provide a sense of immunity.

It also brings into sharp focus to a certain degree the disgraceful behaviour of the likes of the Syrians and Iranians, who provide funding and logistical support to terrorist organisations to promote unstability in the region and to be the "sharp" point of their enemity towards Israel.

Whilst there is a great deal of increased focus on Syria and Iran at the moment (for reasons other than their supprot of terrorist organisations), is there enough pressure being put on both nations to stop providing funding and support to Hezbollah and others?

Posted by: Aran Brown at March 16, 2005 08:37 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Just became aware of this site. I'm very impressed.

The premise behind democracy in the Middle East is in part that it will either marginalize terrorist groups or force them to foreswear violence and become part of the process. If we are going to advocate democracy, we have to accept whoever wants to participate, however, unsavory. So really, we have no choice but to accept Hezbollah if it enters the process. This is similar, I think, to Northern Ireland, where, in order to establish a peace process, they had to include a role for the IRA. That obviously hasn't been a complete success, but it would presumably have been worse if they had tried to exclude the IRA. I suspect that Hezbollah and the IRA have a lot in common, in the sense that they are willing to use political techniques to gain power if possible but are unwilling to foreswear violence. Still, as a group becomes more a part of a democratic process, violence becomes a less viable option (I hope).

I think a settlement of the Israeli-Palestiniean issue is important because it could potentially make it a less cogent issue. I'm under no illusions that Hezbollah and Hamas have any intention of accepting Israel, but a settlement could take it off the front burner for the populace in general.

Posted by: Marc Schneider at March 16, 2005 09:57 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Which is precisely why such a settlement is against the interests of those who sincerely wish to to remove Israel from the map. We're talking about deeply held principles (held by many principled people).

So that at the moment (a rather long moment, at that) Hizbullah, Iran, and Syria (along with Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the Arafat Martyrs Brigade---and perhaps even Abbas, as well) have far more important priorities Lebanese independence.

Keeping in mind that the longer the conflict lasts, the more Israel is weakened and deligitimized. Attrition, with smaller or larger doses of terror, seems to be working. Uncertainty, plus hope, can be a lethal combination. Keep 'em guessing and keep 'em off balance. You can count on the support of progressive opinion worldwide.

But be careful not to overplay your hand, at least not until the right moment; perhaps.

Posted by: Barry Meislin at March 17, 2005 07:15 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

You can trust Hezbollah just as far as you can trust the IRA--i.e., not at all.

It takes two to tango--and nobody can deal with a group that has no intention of honoring their agreements. Thugs willl be thugs.

Posted by: miriam at March 17, 2005 07:41 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

But things are still better in Northern Ireland than before. I agree that the IRA is nothing but thugs, but the agreement has clearly had some impact. People aren't getting blown up every day. The fact is that agreements don't necessarily require trust; they simply need to provide some inducements (whether positive or negative) that make it worthwhile for the groups at issue to modify their behavior. If you can change the ground underneath, you might force a change-albeit reluctantly-in behavior. The alternative only strengthens Hezbollah.

Posted by: Marc Schneider at March 17, 2005 04:26 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink
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