Tuesday, July 18, 2006


This Wash Post editorial is about the dumbest thing I've read yet on the latest Middle East conflict:

In other words, the current warfare in Lebanon, Gaza and Israel stems not from Israel's occupation of Arab lands or its holding of Palestinian and Lebanese prisoners, but from a blatant bid by Iran and Syria and their allies in Hamas and Hezbollah to stop the creation of a democratic Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza and the parallel consolidation of a democracy in Lebanon.

So, Hamas, which surprisingly won control over the Palestinian Authority in recent elections, is trying "to stop the creation of a democratic Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza..."? That makes no sense. Same with Hezbollah. They're trying "to stop...the parallel consolidation of a democracy in Lebanon"? What does that mean? Now, I doubt Hamas and Hezbollah care anything about democracy, liberal or otherwise. But to suggest that Hamas and Hezbollah--spurred on by their patrons in Syria and Iran of course--are deliberately self-sabotaging their own societies strikes me as pretty way off the mark.

Richard Cohen, of all people, may be closer to the truth when he suggests here that the latest outbreak of violence between Israel and its neighbors has an air of historical determinism about it:

The greatest mistake Israel could make at the moment is to forget that Israel itself is a mistake. It is an honest mistake, a well-intentioned mistake, a mistake for which no one is culpable, but the idea of creating a nation of European Jews in an area of Arab Muslims (and some Christians) has produced a century of warfare and terrorism of the sort we are seeing now. Israel fights Hezbollah in the north and Hamas in the south, but its most formidable enemy is history itself.

At the same time, Egypt and Jordan, which have previously and unsuccessfully warred against Israel, have more or less come around to Israel's regional presence (and hegemony) and have established peace and normal diplomatic relations with it. That there are still forces within both nominally friendly and officially unfriendly countries, however, suggests that the conflict remains largely intractible and highly complex.

The latter is perhaps why the Bush administration has taken a reserved posture on the conflict and in contrast to its GWOT and Operation Iraqi Freedom days, recognizes an ambiguity here that is either not amenable to simplistic black and white depictions or in any event, presents conditions that do not lend easily lend themselves to simple, dramatic solutions or modes of intervention.

All of which is to say the world of puritanical neo-conservatism is not happy with the Bush administration's words and actions so far. Seemingly unaware of ongoing conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, the neo-con machinery is geering up for another war or wars for someone else's children to fight. Even normally moral absolutionist commentators such as George Will are at the breaking point with his movement's ideologues:

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?

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