Saturday, July 22, 2006

Random Thoughts on Israel-Lebanon

1. Cease-fire. There's a lot of all-or-nothing talk regarding a cease-fire. Israel and its patron--us--say no cease-fire because...well...that would only help the Hezbollah terrorists who've "provoked" the current crisis. But why not call for a cease-fire concerning Beirut and all points central and north in Lebanon? There's justification for Israel to combat Hezbollah in the south of Lebanon, where their power base is and from where they're launching rocket attacks into northern Israel. So why is the notion of a cease-fire being talked about as if it has to be a total cease-fire or none at all?

2. Disproportionate force. The Israeli bombing of Beirut has been way over the top, outrageous and immoral. There's anywhere between 500,000 and 1 million refugees and dislocated persons as a result, not to mention hundreds of civilians already dead from the attacks.

3. Forcing a crisis. The motive of Israel's over-reaching seems to be to provoke an international crisis. Israel probably thinks that absent a crisis of monumental proportions, Hezbollah would never be disarmed per the United Nations Security Council resolution 1559 and for the lasting peace of the Lebanon-Israel border generally.

4. The Bush-Rice response to the Israeli attacks has been despicable. Digby says Rice's They've put all the blame on Hezbollah, and talked about the group's attacks on northern Israel as if no broader, more destructive attacks on Lebanon were being conducted by Israel. Hezbollah did "start" the current series of events by kidnapping the Israeli soldiers. But the rocket attacks into northern Israel didn't start until after the knee-jerk air attacks on Beirut by Israel.

4a. Digby says: "The Bush administration are monsters. That is not hyperbole. There can be no other explanation as to why the secretary of state, the person in charge of American diplomacy, would be so crude and stupid... Jesus. They don't even know how to fake it anymore. Isn't it at least smart to pretend you care about the dying children?"

4b. What Glenn Greenwald says.

5. Media coverage. I generally only watch CNN and for the most part, it's coverage (except for Lou Dobbs) has been OK; they've paid attention to the refugee crisis and to the Israeli destruction of Beirut generally. They continue to raise the question of Israeli's disproportionate response. But the Bush administration and most American pundits have been tone deaf to the consequences of Israel's actions.

6. Lasting peace. I referenced Richard Cohen's op-ed yesterday in which the Wash Post columnist alluded to Israel's 1948 creation and location in the midst of Arab Muslims having been a mistake. I don't know if that is true. As I mentioned, Egypt and Jordan have ultimately established peaceful relations with Israel, so it doesn't strike me as completely impossible for the surrounding governments to peacefully accomodate the Jewish state. But lasting peace won't be possible if Israel destroys Lebanon and scatters half or more of it's four million people. And the damage has probably already been done now, regardless of whether an eventual cease-fire and international force in southern Lebanon is agreed to.

7. Long term implications. Although Egypt, Jordan, and even Saudi Arabia's governments have issued official statements condemning Hezbollah, I can't help but think that the response on the Arab Street is and in the future will be, anything but further inflammation against Israel. I doubt any of us living well in the U.S. have any sense of what it's like to be living as most Arabs live in the Middle East. We had two skyscrappers and 3,000 people killed and we freaked out. Arab countries have the rough equivalent of 911 on an almost continual basis. If you think the nationalist response from Americans after 911 was significant, take that reaction to the nth power for a sense of how humiliated most Arabs probably feel, given the poverty most Arabs live under and how little their governments represent their aspirations (Bush is largely right on this point although the new "democracy" in Iraq he has helped create does not appear to be either stabile or supportive of our Israeli friends).

7a. James Wolcott says we're complicit in our government's contribution to the massacre in Lebanon, not to mention the civil war in Iraq. And he's right. I don't know if World War III has started, but I can see our unapologetic defense of Israel's savagery causing many of us who gave the administration a pass on Iraq to start taking to the streets and withdrawing our support and discontinuing our enabling of our society for sanctioning this new war.

8. If you don't know this already, Juan Cole is the preminent Middle Eastern commenter around these parts. Go read up. He's generally pro-Arab and pro-Palestinian. But if you want the Israeli view point, you can get that on just about any cable network.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Organized Disorganization

Just finished reading State of War by James Risen, the author who neo-conservative scold, William Bennett, said belongs behind bars for...well I'm not really sure; obstensibly because Risen's reporting on the CIA's secret overseas prisons and NSA's massive domestic surveillance program damaged "national security", but most likely because Risen's reporting sheds light on, and deigns to criticize, the Republican administration and its foreign policy. And that's downright illegal and unAmerican. Anyway, if Bennett says the guy's reporting warrants inprisonment, than you just gotta go out and get the book, don't you?

I read State of War on the heels of reading most of the way through The One Percent Doctrine, a more recent book that covers much of the same ground, the war on terra through the frame of the CIA, although Risen's book comes across as more critical, particularly of Tenet, who was apparently the primary source for One Percent Doctrine.

I'll probably have more to say about both books in future posts, but one thing that stands out from them, and Cobra II as well, is (a) just how poorly the Iraq invasion was planned and (2) the planning, or lack thereof, was so bad, it couldn't have been by accident.

Cobra II's authors write about how uninterested the Pentagon was in identifying, much less securing, the supposed sites of Iraq's WMD in the lead up to the war, to prevent those arms and materials from ending up in the hands of foreign jihadists or would-be-insurgents. Risen notes the lack of Arabic speakers in the CIA, kind of a surprising one would think when invading two Middle Eastern countries.

When I read these accounts and see the chaos and killing Iraq, I can't help but think that while an Iraqi civil war might not have been the war architect's plan or hope, there's a sense that how Iraq has played out isn't necessarily counter to the neo-con's vision of global affairs.

I wrote a week or two back about different foreign policy perspectives including neoconservatism. One thing about neoconservatism that I probably didn't emphasize is that orientation's comfort level with instability and chaos. But the administration's response, or again, lack thereof, amidst the most recent Middle East explosion in Lebanon just reinforces the idea that the neocons would just assume see the Middle East, except Israel, meltdown. That would seem to carry over to the neo-con's call to bomb/invade Syria and Iran. That we presently lack the troops needed for such a mission, and that our Iraq debacle should be an object lesson, a negative object lesson, for planners wanting to bomb/invade any more Middle Eastern countries is beside the point. In the world of Bill Kristol, and the neocons still spread throughout the administration and reporting the "news" at Fox, any instability in the Middle East caused by our bombing and destruction is either irrelevant or actually beneficial, to the degree that it weakens ours, or Israel's, opponents.

For an administration "creating its own reality", there's little need to play by the old rules, or any rules at all. All of which would have been largely irrelevant had it not been for 911, which was absolutely fortuitous for the neocons spreading throughout the administration. As Ron Suskind notes in The One Percent Doctrine, 911 not only gave the neocon defense establishment a perfect opening to invade Iraq and expand executive power, but created, or at the very least, reinforced, in the mind of the president the idea that any past historical evidence, practice, or practicioners (including his father) were unreliable or inapplicable for the crisis posed by global terrorism, meaning that the administration insulated itself to an even greater degree in its decision-making than it probably would have anyway.

A final inference I draw from State of War is that the administration's governmental neglect extends beyond the most obvious domestic linkages to FEMA and the Mine Safety and Health Administrations of the executive branch, but even to foreign policy agencies including the CIA and the State Department. Both were regarded by the neocons in exile as subversive and insufficiently political. And while State was initially awarded to the administration's most distinguished member, Colin Powell, the General was all but shut out of the major decision making process and he and his successor, Condi Rice were barreled over by an aggressive Rumsfeld Pentagon.

And the latter, while dominating the foreign policy decision-making has made clear it's disdain, both before hand and afterwards, for "nation-building". The result has been a narrow circle of insulated decision-makers in Washington, playing hit and run over the Middle East, with little regard for diplomacy or for reconstructing the desecrated society's they leave in their wake. Afghanistan, the first point of entry, is over-run with heroin growers, Iraq is awash in blood, and Lebanon has all but been destroyed. Think the "west" will include in its strategy for "peace" the healing of Beirut? Not likely. Syria and Iran await.

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?