War Talk: On the Sixth Day of the More-Than-Six-Day War
Topic: Couldn't be so...
War Talk: On the Sixth Day of the More-Than-Six-Day War
As a record of the divide between the old school and the new school in United States foreign policy, on Monday, July 17, the national dialog regarding the two front war in which Israel now finds itself - bombing and shelling Lebanon on the north to take care of the Hezbollah that Lebanon cannot rein in, and doing the same to the south in Gaza to deal with Hamas - took some odd twists. Yes, Hezbollah had captured two Israeli soldiers and was sending rocket fire down on everything down to Haifa as Israel leveled selected pars of Jordan, as earlier Hamas has captured on Israeli soldier and that meant Gaza had to be leveled. These were two provocations on two fronts, and had do be dealt with in some way, and overwhelming force was the option. The widespread civilian suffering in Gaza and the destruction of large chunks of Lebanon's infrastructure (most major roads, bridges and the Beirut airport) seemed to many to be a bit over the top ("disproportionate" in diplomat-speak), but at the UN we had vetoed a resolution that said that. No one agreed with our veto, but we have one, and we used it. We have no problem with what Israel is doing.
All this over three soldiers? Soldiers get captured and held by the other side all the time in military action. Why this, and why now? Yes, the incidents were in-your-face provocations. The response was, "Well, here's something you didn't expect - full war." That was supposed to amaze them. The counter-response was, "Oh yeah, so how do like these rockets?" The reply to that was serious major bombing. And so on and so forth. Shock and awe only works when the other side is appropriately shocked and awed. They were supposed to be devastated and humiliated. That's how it's supposed to work - they're so shamed and disgraced they make no more trouble. Well, it's a theory. It may actually work one day, or not. You never know. In the meantime they will have safety and logistic challenges.
Something else is going on here. This is where the odd twists come in.
At this link you can listen (MP3 format) to the most popular political commentator on radio, Rush Limbaugh, saying that what Israel was doing was "a gift to the world" - what should happen was happening, the ultimate "clash of civilizations." The idea here seems to be that Israel is helping us break free of the wimpy constraints of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq - because everyone knows the real war was "never intended to stop with Iraq." So what Israel is doing, fighting these two minor puppets of Iran and Syria, is giving us a chance to back them and join them and really go after Iran, and anyone else like them. This will get us down to the basics, and we can clean out the whole area - and occupy Damascus and Tehran one supposes, setting up the right people in power, just as we did in Afghanistan and Iraq. We can finally clean up the whole place, as all we have to do is join Israel in what they're doing, and go after the big boys behind Israel's bothersome but really second-string tormentors.
Given Limbaugh's populist red-meat style, it sounds compelling in a details-are-for-eggheads way. That is, it sounds superficially logical and, if you think for moment, quite mad. No wonder he's so popular.
But then he's a "popularizer" - and he's riffing on a more obscure source. That would be William Kristol, one of the founding members (with Cheney, Richard Perle and the whole crew known as the neoconservatives, or "Vulcans") of the Project for the New American Century (PNAC) back in the nineties. Their statement of principles is here, and they were quite open about it all - the United States should take the initiative and change the world, and spread our vision of democracy everywhere, particularly in the Middle East, using our overwhelming superiority as the only "superpower" left after everything settled out at the end of the Cold War. This is our chance. We have to seize it. Thus we get the doctrine of "preemption" - attack any country that the might be a problem somewhere down the road - and regime change in place of diplomacy - we don't talk to bad people, we remove them. And we got the president they found for us who they got to buy into all this - George Bush, not like his father at all (the old man did old-fashioned diplomacy) - giving his famous speech at West Point some years ago saying we will now use our military not to response to those who threaten or attack us, but those who might one day, given their attitude or whatever. It's called taking the initiative. Why wait?
William Kristol in his Weekly Standard is the public voice of the neoconservative movement, and Limbaugh was simplifying what Kristol had written in It's Our War (July 24, 2006, Volume 11, Issue 42). The subhead there is "Bush should go to Jerusalem - and the US should confront Iran." It's now time to take out Iran's nuclear sites with massive bombing. Israel has given us the opening, or excuse or whatever. So Bush should stand with the Israeli prime minister in Jerusalem and show we are the sort that doesn't take crap, as the nuclear bunker-busters fall all over Iran. And anyone who doesn't agree is clearly anti-Semitic. But he says it quite elegantly. He's no lout like Limbaugh. He's just kind of creepy with his nervous smile. And like the other PNAC members, he has no military experience at all. These are the theory guys, and the patriotic idealists.
Over at "Crooks and Liars," the go-to place for video clips and audio grabs for political junkies, there's this, Kristol in a discussion of all this with host Bruce Wallace and the token opposition, Juan Williams, on Fox News.
The video is amazing, and it goes like this -
And at that point Kristol just throws up his hands. What can you do with people who think talk solves anything? Williams clearly thinks Kristol and the whole grew are mad, and on some macho kick that could get us all killed.
KRISTOL: Look, our coddling of Iran - if I can use the neutral term like that - over the last six to nine months has emboldened them. I mean, is Iran behaving like a timid regime that's very worried about the US? Or is Iran behaving recklessly and in a foolhardy way?
WALLACE: But isn't that the result of what's happened in Iraq?
KRISTOL: No, it's a result of our deducing from the situation in Iraq that we can't stand up to Iran. I mean, when we stand up over and over and say Iran is shipping Improvised Explosive Devices into Iraq and killing US soldiers, and Syria's providing a line for terrorists to come into Iraq and kill US soldiers, and that's unacceptable. That's not helpful. And then we do nothing about it. When Ahmadinejad says provocative things, continues to ship arms to Hezbollah, and we say, okay, maybe now we'll give you direct talks. That, unfortunately, that weakness has been provocative. Ahmadinejad feels emboldened. Now we need to show him, and I think the administration has done a good job the last couple of days of showing him, that he miscalculated.
And indeed, this is a great opportunity. I think our weakness, unfortunately, invited this aggression, but this aggression is a great opportunity to begin resuming the offensive against the terrorist groups. Israel is fighting four of our five enemies in the Middle East, in a sense. Iran, Syria, sponsors of terror; Hezbollah and Hamas. Al Qaeda doesn't seem to be involved. We have to take care of them in Iraq. This is an opportunity to begin to reverse the unfortunate direction of the last six to nine months and get the terrorists and the jihadists back on the defensive.
WILLIAMS: Well, it just seems to me that you want... you just want war, war, war, and you want us in more war. You wanted us in Iraq. Now you want us in Iran. Now you want us to get into the Middle East, where I think there's a real interesting dynamic at play. I think it's psychological on the part of Israel and many of its supporters, and I'll throw you in here. Somehow you see Israel as weak, and you see Ehud Olmert as weak -
WALLACE: He's the new prime minister -
WILLIAMS: The new prime minister of Israel. And the defense minister as weak. Everybody is weak in the aftermath of Sharon, and so everybody has to prove what a man they are in the Middle East, including - you're saying, why doesn't the United States take this hard, unforgiving line? Well, the hard and unforgiving line has been, we don't talk to anybody. We don't talk to Hamas. We don't talk to Hezbollah. We're not going to talk to Iran. Where has it gotten us, Bill?
And it's not just Kristol. Go here and see former CIA Director James Woolsey to John Gibson of Fox News that it's time, right now, to bomb both Syria and Iran back to the stone age. No Israeli-Hezbollah ceasefires or arrests - just bomb Syria immediately. Gibson asks him why we shouldn't just attack Iran. He says, "Well, ah, one has to take things to some degree by steps."
He's one of the moderates. And, according to this, he belongs to a group that says we've been in an actual world war since 2003. The group was founded by the former Education Secretary William Bennett, the man who wrote "The Book of Virtues" and has the gambling problem. Over the weekend Newt Gingrich said we were really in World War III and no one was willing to admit the obvious. The other group says it's World War IV. That may not matter. We just have to win.
Two writers at The New Republic say here that we should just let the Israelis do all the bombing invloved, as long as they're careful about civilian casualties. That's a thought.
Digby at Hullabaloo has some thoughts the other way -
And that leads to Joseph Cirincione of the Carnegie Endowment with this item -
When are Americans going to take the neocons seriously?
I'm not talking about the Republican Party here or the movement conservatives. I'm speaking specifically of the group that can be called the true neocons of the era: The PNAC signatories and their supporters throughout the rightwing think tank intelligentsia.
I've been writing about these guys online from practically the first moment I went online back in the 90's. My friends thought I was a tin-foil nutter and at times, I thought I was too. The sheer grandiosity of their scheme was awesome.
Despite a reputation for Straussian opacity, the truth is that they have always made their plans known. There is no mystery about what they are about. To a shocking degree they have successfully promoted their agenda within the Republican establishment for the last two decades. And in the last six years we have seen them act without hesitation to opportunistically advance their strategic goals, regardless of the price.
These guys have been around for a long time, but I honestly never thought they would ever be granted the kind of power they would need to do what they sought to do.
How foolish of me.
But who will stop them? Try that and you get labeled, at best, anti-Semitic, an at worst a traitor (or what Ann Coulter calls a girly-man).
Neocons Resurrect Plans For Regional War In The Middle East
In 1996, Richard Perle, Douglas Feith and David Wurmser (all later senior officials in the Bush administration) had a plan for how to destroy Hezbollah: Invade Iraq. They wrote a report to the newly elected Likud government in Israel calling for "a clean break" with the policies of negotiating with the Palestinians and trading land for peace.
The problem could be solved "if Israel seized the strategic initiative along it northern borders by engaging Hizballah (sic), Syria, and Iran, as the principal agents of aggression in Lebanon." The key, they said, was to "focus on removing Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq — an important Israeli strategic objective in its own right — as a means of foiling Syria's regional ambitions." They called for "reestablishing the principle of preemption." They promised that the successes of these wars could be used to launch campaigns against Iran, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, reshaping "the strategic balance in the Middle East profoundly."
Now, with the US bogged down in Iraq, with Bush losing control of world events, and with the threats to national security growing worse, no one could possibly still believe this plan, could they? Think again.
William Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard, is still pushing this radical vision. He now uses the excuse of Hezbollah terrorist attacks - what he calls "Iran's Proxy War" - to push the United States deeper into a regional war against Iran and Syria:
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.
Perle has already weighed in in a June 25 Washington Post editorial decrying Bush's "ignominious retreat" on Iran. He, too, wants war. Newt Gingrich on Meet the Press this Sunday said we were already in World War III and that the US needed to take direct action against North Korea and Iran. Less well known pundits have flooded cable news and talk radio this weekend beating the war drums. Meanwhile, David Wurmser is ensconced in Vice-President Cheney's office, and his neoconservative colleague Elliot Abrams (the convicted Iran-Contra felon who urged war with Iraq in a 1998 letter to President Bill Clinton) directs Middle East policy on the National Security Council staff.
The neoconservatives are now hoping to use the Israeli-Lebanon conflict as the trigger to launch a US war against Syria, Iran or both. These profoundly dangerous policies have to be exposed and stopped before they do even more harm to US national security then they already have.
And we got the president they found for us who they got to buy into all this, and his now famous comments at the G8 summit in Russia, where he didn't know the microphone was still on and we got a chance to see how he thinks. He speaks to Tony Blair, with his mouth full, being real casual.
The University of Michigan professor of Middle East Studies, Juan Cole, offers a transcript here -
So it's all Syria's fault. Someone should call up the head man there, Bashar al-Asad, and tell him to knock it off. He's supporting Hezbollah. We don't speak to such people. But someone should make the call - the quiet black guy from the UN maybe. That would fix everything.
BUSH to Blair: "I think Condi is going to go (to the Middle East) pretty soon."
BLAIR: "Right, that's all that matters, it will take some time to get that together ... See, if she goes out she's got to succeed as it were, where as I can just go out and talk."
BUSH: "See, the irony is what they need to do is get Syria to get Hezbollah to stop doing this shit and it's over."
BLAIR: "Who, Syria?"
BUSH: "Right ... What about Kofi? That seems odd. I don't like the sequence of it. His attitude is basically ceasefire and everything else happens."
BLAIR: "I think the thing that is really difficult is you can't stop this unless you get this international presence agreed."
BUSH: "I felt like telling Kofi to get on the phone with Assad and make something happen. We're not blaming Israel. We're not blaming the Lebanese government."
Everyone thinks it's complicated. All it takes is one phone call. No big deal.
That may be overreacting, but Bush has fresh eyes. He knows nothing of the details and doesn't care for details. He's never bothered himself with knowing very much So he must be right?
So, the whole blow-up is Syria's fault, for putting Hezbollah up to making mischief. No reference to Israeli actions in Gaza. No reference to, like, the wholesale destruction of Lebanon by the Israeli air force. And no blame for the Lebanese government of Fouad Siniora. And Bush thinks that Nasrullah of Hezbollah takes direct orders from Damascus. And he thinks that if Bashar al-Asad orders Hizbullah to stop firing its little katyushas and give back the two Israeli soldiers, everything will suddenly settle down.
It is an astonishingly simple-minded view of the situation, painted in black and white and making assumptions about who is who's puppet and what the Israeli motivations are. Israel doesn't appear as a protagonist. It is purely reactive. Stop provoking it, and it suddenly stops its war.
Since Israel is just being provoked and has no ambitions of its own, in this reading, it is useless to begin with a ceasefire. That treats the two sides as both provoking one another. Here, only Hezbollah matters, so you lean on Syria to lean on it, and, presto, peace breaks out.
It is a little window into the superficial, one-sided mind of the man, who has for six years been way out of his depth.
I come away from it shaken and trembling.
We're in trouble. And everyone is upset he said a bad word?
To those of the old school, this is upsetting, as shown by Marc Lynch here -
Well, yes. But we have a leader who doesn't like the grown up stuff, like policy based on who's who and what their aims are.
American public diplomacy has been virtually invisible on all this, at a time when it is more urgently needed than ever. I can understand this - you have to have a policy if you want to try to explain or defend it, and right now the Bush administration doesn't seem to have any policy at all beyond supporting Israel and issuing calls for "restraint" which Israel promptly and publicly rejects. And what administration official wants to subject him or herself to tough Arab questioning on live TV right now? The idea that Palestinian-Israeli relations could be cordoned off from wider Middle East questions was always misguided. It's now become actively destructive to all of our interests in the region.
The only reason I'm not calling more loudly for Bush to get involved and take a leadership role in the conflict is the expectation that he would probably do the wrong thing. But at this point, doing nothing is, in fact, doing something. The Bush administration right now looks weak, confused, and vaguely pathetic... which is better than batshit crazy (like the folks who are demanding that America either smile on or even join in a war with Damascus and/or Tehran), but not nearly as good as exercising actual grown-up leadership at a time when the world could really, really use some.
Also very old school is Fred Kaplan here -
Won't happen - too complicated.
Where's the shuttle diplomacy? In any other administration, at least since Nixon's, the secretary of state would have flown to the Middle East days ago, would already have touched down in Tel Aviv, Beirut, and Damascus - maybe more than once - to hammer out a cease-fire, a settlement, or at least some sort of compromise to keep the conflict from expanding.
This is how Henry Kissinger and James Baker made their reputations (the good sides anyway). President Clinton and the first President Bush had a special Middle East envoy, Dennis Ross, whose sole job was to put out local and regional fires the instant somebody struck a match.
Yet six days into Israel's most violent border conflict in nearly a quarter-century, President George W. Bush seems in no hurry to put Condoleezza Rice on a plane.
... Why the wait?
There are two possible reasons, neither mutually exclusive. First, Bush may not yet have decided what to do, and there's no point sending Rice - who would clearly be speaking with the president's authority - if she has no position to offer. Second, Bush may be in no hurry to put this fire out; he may want the Israeli government to gain more leverage, to twist Hezbollah's arm tighter, before pressuring them both to the negotiating table.
... in order to do what Bush himself sees is necessary to "make something happen," he needs to get some third party to get Syria to get Hezbollah to stop firing rockets.
What kind of way is this for a superpower to behave?
Unless he wants to heighten the chances of a war that engulfs the entire Middle East, Bush needs to do what most presidents in far less dire circumstances would already have done: drop the moral posturing; resume diplomatic relations (not the same thing as friendship) with all parties; "get on the phone with Assad" himself (don't leave it to Annan, whose leverage is limited); and get Condi on that plane, not "pretty soon," but now.
So on we go.
Here's a good summary (Tim Grieve, Salon) of how the day, Monday, July 17, ended, and it notes that March 5, 2005, the president chatted up "remarkable developments" in the Middle East. "In the last five months, we have witnessed successful elections in Afghanistan, the Palestinian Territory and Iraq; peaceful demonstrations on the streets of Beirut; and steps toward democratic reform in Egypt and Saudi Arabia. The trend is clear: In the Middle East and throughout the world, freedom is on the march."
Now we have this -
Other than that, things are fine.
Afghanistan: No less of an authority than the Voice of America reports that "daily violence" is now routine in Afghanistan, which is now suffering through its "bloodiest year" since the US-led invasion in 2001. More than two years after the president declared the Taliban "no longer ... in existence," Afghan officials said today that the group has taken control of two towns in the southern part of the country.
Palestinian territories: According to an AFP report, Israeli warplanes destroyed the Palestinian Foreign Ministry building in Gaza today. At least 85 Palestinians have been killed in fighting that followed the kidnapping of an Israeli soldier. Reuters says that the yellow flag of Hezbollah is "flying off the shelves" of stores in Gaza.
Iraq: Coordinated car bombs killed dozens of Iraqis at a Shiite market south of Baghdad today in what the Washington Post calls "one of the most brazen assaults in months of sectarian fighting." (Maybe it was more retaliation for what the New York Times called a "brazen daytime rampage" that killed more than a dozen Sunnis last week.) Meanwhile, three more American soldiers were killed in Iraq today, bringing the US death toll to about 2,552.
Beirut: Israel attacked Beirut's port and other targets across Lebanon today as Hezbollah fired rockets deeper into Israel. The U.N.'s Kofi Annan and Britain's Tony Blair are calling for an international force to help stem the violence, but the Bush administration seems to want no part of it. Pentagon officials say the United States is sending military vessels, airliners and cruise ships to help evacuate Americans from Lebanon as the president declares that all would be better if Syria would just get Hezbollah to "stop doing this shit."
Egypt and Saudi Arabia: The two countries joined Jordan and several other Arab states over the weekend in condemning Hezbollah for its "unexpected, inappropriate and irresponsible acts," but the condemnation comes, the New York Times reports, not from some movement toward democracy but rather from fear of Iran. "There is a school of thought, led by Saudi Arabia, that believes that Hezbollah is a source of trouble, a protégé of Iran, but also a political instrument in the hands of Iran," Jordanian sociologist Adnan Abu Odeh tells the Times. "This school says we should not play into the hands of Iran, which has its own agenda, by sympathizing or supporting Hezbollah fighting against the Israelis."
So the joint is now being run by those who, never having been in one, want this war to be done right - they want us to be real men and roll into Damascus and Tehran, and make the world better, and explain nothing, discuss nothing, and just be strong-willed, and well-armed. And they found a man to be the spokesman for all of this, and he doesn't like details.
Head for the hills.