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"It is better to be drunk with loss and to beat the ground, than to let the deeper things gradually escape."

- I. Compton-Burnett, letter to Francis King (1969)

"Cynical realism – it is the intelligent man’s best excuse for doing nothing in an intolerable situation."

- Aldous Huxley, "Time Must Have a Stop"

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Monday, 14 August 2006
Winners and Losers
Topic: Perspective
Winners and Losers
Monday, August 14, the "no one got what they wanted" cease-fire went into effect and the war in Lebanon halted, sort of. As the newspaper of record out here, the Los Angeles Times, put it - Hope Expressed for Cease-Fire's End to Violence.

Hope is nice.

But and the end of the day Hezbollah was still dropping a few rockets into northern Israel, and Israel was claiming it had the right to got after Hezbollah anywhere in Lebanon and take out road and bridges as they could be used to bring in more rockets and such from Syria. You see, they were stopping all offensive military operations, but that would be defensive, really, if you just thought about it.

And this from Fred Kaplan summarized where it goes from here -
Hezbollah says its militias won't leave southern Lebanon until Israeli forces also leave. Israeli leaders say they won't leave until Hezbollah also leaves. Lebanese officials say they won't deploy their army in the south until they're assured that they and the UN peacekeepers are the only armed forces in the area. Yet, according to Resolution 1701, the UN forces can enter southern Lebanon only to "accompany and support the Lebanese armed forces."

Each group has good reasons for their hesitations. Hezbollah doesn't want to leave Israel as an occupation force. Israel doesn't want to leave a vacuum that Hezbollah could fill. The Lebanese army doesn't want to get in the middle of shooting between Israeli soldiers and Hezbollah militias. The United Nations wants to be seen as assisting the Lebanese government, not as an unwanted interloper. It's a Catch-22: Who's going to make the first move, and under what authority?

In other words, there's a chance that this security arrangement could collapse from the get-go.

So from here it goes nowhere fast, or goes nowhere quite slowly if the locals are lucky. They're pouring back into southern Lebanon to get home and see what's left of where they lived and worked. And Hezbollah is there, offering aid - food, water, medicine, and help rebuilding. They're no dummies. That's how they deflect any anger at tripping off this thirty-day war by grabbing the two Israeli soldiers. They'll help, and Israel didn't exactly win much here - and they still have the soldiers.

In fact the day opened with Hezbollah claiming a win as the cease-fire held (details here) - the rag-tag band of rebels stood up to the Empire and the dark side of The Force.

No, wait - that's Spielberg Star Wars. But what may be the third most powerful military in the world couldn't do much with them. Israel has a history of wiping out whole Arab armies in a matter of days - think 1967 and all that. This time they were checked, for a full thirty days. It was kind of a first, and Hezbollah took that as a victory. And there were victory dances in the streets of Beirut - joy in the streets. The idea that had been floated by some in the Israeli government - that all the death and destruction would really piss off the locals and they'd turn on Hezbollah and then Hezbollah would be scorned and discredited and slink off into obscurity, toothless and disgraced for having started all this - didn't exactly work out. But it was an interesting theory.

Well, such a claim couldn't stand. A few hours later, President Bush dropped by the Sate Department - a place where you'd just never expect to see him - and with Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice at his side, said, no, Israel had soundly defeated Hezbollah (details here). That's not what Israel was saying, but never mind - "There's going to be a new power in the south of Lebanon." And maybe there will be, one day.

He also said the war was part of a broader struggle between freedom and terror and "we can only imagine how much more dangerous this conflict would be if Iran had the nuclear weapon it seeks."

What? How did they get in there?

You just had to think deeply, and after all, the president has been reading Camus. The deep thoughts are these - Hezbollah started all this and all the suffering, death and destruction is their fault, no one else's. And everyone knows Hezbollah is just the tool of Syria and Iran - and those two, along with North Korea somehow - are part of a worldwide war on American and its values. The hate freedom, and Starbucks and KFC and Wal-Mart too maybe. You had to look at the big picture. Then he got a little wobbly, or the teleprompter crapped out. He reverted to his usual simple-man Texas rhetoric, as in his words -

The world got to see - got to see what it means to confront terrorism. I mean, it's a - it's the challenge of the 21st century, the fight against terror.

A group of ideologues, by the way, who use terror to achieve an objective - this is the challenge.

And that's why in my remarks I spoke about the need for those of us who understand the blessings of liberty to help liberty prevail in the Middle East.

And the fundamental question is: Can it? And my answer is: Absolutely, it can. I believe that freedom is a universal value. And by that, I mean I believe people want to be free.

People want to be free. One way to put it is I believe mothers around the world want to raise their children in a peaceful world. That's what I believe.
That's a tad embarrassing. Rice with her PhD and all would have rolled her eyes, but you don't do that on camera. He's the boss. Cheney just stood there just looking as if he were thinking of other things - it really don't matter what the boy says, as he's been a good front and the press is too frightened suggest this is simple-minded drivel, and the public loves their rambling and somewhat incoherent cowboy. Simple is fine.

And for that public he's "the decider." He said so. First when he said Rumsfeld stays - and now with this. He decided we, the good guys, won, for all the mothers in the world. He understands all of them, and the universal. Everyone else doesn't. Israel might want to sack Olmert for what happened. Olmert is even saying, yes, he screwed up. Hezbollah may be more wildly popular than ever. But we won. And that's that.

Oddly, it seems to be another "Mission Accomplished" moment, but without the banner. We won.

But then there's Seymour Hersh in the New Yorker with this on what was really going on with this thirty-day war with the ambiguous ending, if it's ended. From the man who broke the story of the My Lai Massacre back in 1968 and the man who most recently broke the story of what was going on at the Abu Ghraib prison, the item deals with what he learned from his inside sources this time.

Hersh doesn't get things wrong and what he reported here is that this Israeli war with the Hezbollah had been carefully planned with the Pentagon - in fact, by the Pentagon. The kidnapping of the two soldiers was what they were waiting for - an excuse to launch what was a demonstration run for what we could and would do with Iran, as Iran apparently will not stop their development of a nuclear weapon. Israel agreed to be a test case for the theory.

It was very simple. Using the Iraq "shock and awe" model, bomb the crap out of the country but use minimal ground forces - the Rumsfeld model, as it were. And the idea that had been floated by some in the Israeli government really came from Cheney's band of neoconservatives - all the death and destruction would really piss off the locals and they'd turn on Hezbollah and then Hezbollah would be scorned and discredited and slink off into obscurity, toothless and disgraced for having started all this. This is parallel to the argument William Kristol, the public face of the neoconservative movement, has been making in their journal of record, the Weekly Standard, and on Fox News - we need to bomb Iran right now and take out all their nuclear facilities, maybe using our nuclear weapons, and then the upshot will be the locals will rise against their theocratic rulers and overthrow them and welcome us and our way of running things - democracy will triumph and we'll be the good guys.

Hersh reports that we encouraged Israel to follow the model, and they bought in. They really did have a problem, so why not? It was both a test run of the theory - seeing if it worked or if it should be tweaked a bit with any necessary minor modifications - and a very public demonstration for Iran to consider, and quake in the shoes.

Hersh reports that the Israeli plan, according to the former senior intelligence official, was "the mirror image of what the United States has been planning for Iran."

It just didn't work out -
The surprising strength of Hezbollah's resistance, and its continuing ability to fire rockets into northern Israel in the face of the constant Israeli bombing, the Middle East expert told me, "is a massive setback for those in the White House who want to use force in Iran. And those who argue that the bombing will create internal dissent and revolt in Iran are also set back."

Nonetheless, some officers serving with the Joint Chiefs of Staff remain deeply concerned that the Administration will have a far more positive assessment of the air campaign than they should, the former senior intelligence official said. "There is no way that Rumsfeld and Cheney will draw the right conclusion about this," he said. "When the smoke clears, they'll say it was a success, and they'll draw reinforcement for their plan to attack Iran."
And do they did. And Iran is next, even if the theory is, as the scientists like to say, so bad it isn't even wrong. It doesn't even rise to that level.

But Iran it is -
A former intelligence officer said, "We told Israel, 'Look, if you guys have to go, we're behind you all the way. But we think it should be sooner rather than later - the longer you wait, the less time we have to evaluate and plan for Iran before Bush gets out of office.'"
It seems Bush does not want to leave office without regime change for the three charter members of the Axis of Evil. He is not his father, who wouldn't even take Baghdad after the first Gulf War.

And then, as Bill Montgomery notes here, the president does have a demonstrated tendency to treat any unexpected reversal or failure as a personal rebuke. This will only make him more eager to take out Iran - to prove he's right, no matter what people say and what seems so. That's how he is.

Montgomery -
The thing is, if a devastating strategic bombing campaign couldn't even deter the Hezbollanians - the direct target of all those bombs - then it isn't likely to deter the Iranians. If one were intelligent and sensible, one would probably conclude that only an air campaign backed by a full-fledged ground invasion would do the trick. But Hezbollah's success at defending its turf (even in the face of something like 10-to-1 IDF numerical superiority) also suggests Iran's Revolutionary Guards aren't likely to be quite as easy a pushover as Saddam's conscript army and the professional criminals who commanded his Republican (body) Guard.

But of course, the neocons are not intelligent and sensible, so they'll likely conclude that the problem with Israel's war was that it didn't go far enough, fast enough. (This, of course, has been the neocon explanation for every military or foreign policy debacle they have caused or helped cause since the Vietnam War.) In this case, there's an element of truth to it - the Israelis did move slowly and hesitantly on the ground, and did shy away from the barbarity of Curtis LeMay-style total war from the air. (If they hadn't, the Lebanese really would be sitting in the dark for the next couple of years.)

Whether the failure to bomb Lebanon back into the Paleolithic, as opposed to the Neolithic, Stone Age was due to some residual shreds of humanity on the part of Israel's military and political elites, or simply because Hezbollah retained the deterrent capability to lob a few missiles into downtown Tel Aviv is not clear -- or particularly relevant. The former constraint certainly doesn't apply to Dick Cheney (the man who has defied medical science and proven that a human being does not in fact need a functioning heart in order to survive.) The latter - the ability to lob a missile into downtown Washington - isn't a credible deterrent - not unless Iran has developed ICBM capabilities.

Still, the fact that everything has not gone to plan in their splendid little war in Lebanon must have had some impact on the gang's thinking.
Hersh says no.

And the neoconservatives are ticked that this ended with a damned UN resolution. There's a roundup of what they're saying here, with things like this:

National Review Editors - "In addition to winning in Lebanon, Iran has the upper hand both in Iraq and in the contest over whether it will be allowed to acquire nuclear weapons. If current trends continue, the Bush administration's project in the Middle East will require the same sort of expedient we have just seen in the Israel–Lebanon conflict: a papering over of what is essentially a failure."

This - "Our war President has turned out to be a disgrace. At this point in world history, the Islamofascists look like they deserve to win. In fact, they might."

Michelle Malkin - "Israel and the West surrender to Hezbollah."

This - "I'm hoping we can get through the next two years without any major disasters, and then I'm looking to elect a real war leader to the White House - somebody with a warrior's temperament and a leader's skills. George Bush has neither. He is a dangerous failure, and America will be well rid of him."

William Kristol and Charles Krauthammer both said this weekend on Fox that Hezbollah won and Iran has been strengthened.

Maybe the "bomb them and they'll like us" theory is wrong. That doesn't seem to be a permissible thought with these guys.

And now William Kristol is in despair as the left is useless and so is diplomacy -
So the Democrats are hopeless. Unfortunately, back in the real world, Bush administration policy hasn't been particularly strong either.

... What good has the recent affinity for carrots done us? Are our enemies in retreat? Are Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Moktada al-Sadr, Bashar Assad, the Sunni holy warriors in Iraq, al Qaeda operatives and sympathizers in the United Kingdom, and Kim Jong Il on the run?

... The State Department has succeeded in the past year in making the Bush administration more Euro-friendly and UN-attentive than ever. For this, the president has reaped no political benefit at home - and the dangers continue to mount abroad. How Bush deals with Ahmadinejad's terror-supporting and nuclear-weapons-pursuing Iran will be the test.
There's only military action in this world - and no one gets it - now not even the president. What are you going to do?

Well, here a thought. There's something called forbearance.

In one of the many items on the Lebanon war, as it was at its climax, you could find Robert Wright in and interview with Ann Althouse saying this -
What I think is actually sometimes the smartest thing to do in response to terrorist provocation, which is forbearance, is very hard to counsel. [But] if you ask what kind of shape would Israel be in if they had done a day's worth of retaliation, and since then just endured any missiles, and said, "OK, look, at this point there's no excuse for what they're doing, we're not even fighting them," I think Israel as a nation would be more secure than they are.

But it's very hard to convince people of that, and I admit that rhetorically it's hard to make that a winning strategy.
No kidding.

And two days before the cease-fire, you could find Caleb Carr in the Los Angeles Times on the escalating cycle of reaction and overreaction by Israel, the Palestinians, and Hezbollah asking this -
Is there an alternative to this pattern of mistakes and countermistakes? There is, but it involves a quality that neither the Israelis nor the Palestinians have ever come close to mastering: tactical restraint in order to achieve strategic advantage. Simply put, this involves looking past immediate and all-out retaliation as the best method of countering threat. It is not a call for turning the other cheek; rather, it suggests that savagely swinging back every time one's cheek is dealt so much as a brushing blow does not amount to effective boxing, much less enlightened belligerent behavior.
It's just not smart, even if emotionally satisfying.

These were found by Kevin Drum at the Washington Monthly who adds this -
It's human nature to demand action following an attack. Any action. Counseling restraint in the hope that it will pay off in the long run is politically ruinous.

But our lives may depend on figuring out how to make this case. If it wasn't obvious before, it should be obvious by now that conventional military assaults are usually counterproductive against a guerrilla enemy like the ones we're fighting now. We can't kill off the fanatics fast enough to win, and in the meantime the war machine simply inspires more recruits, more allies, and more sympathy for the terrorists.

… Unfortunately, I'm not smart enough to figure out how to formulate this argument in an effective way. I wonder at times how Harry Truman managed the trick at the dawn of the Cold War, fending off the "rollback" hawks and convincing the public that containment was a more realistic strategy. But despite reading a fair amount about the era, I still don't know what the key was - though the presence of a sane faction in the Republican Party at the time was certainly a factor.

Beyond that, of course, actually having a coherent long-term strategy to pair up with a short-term counsel of forbearance would make the job easier. Ditto for a more aggressive short-term approach to homeland security. But neither of those will do the trick alone. Someone has to figure out how to sell the basic plan.
Can that even be done? Not these days. But it sure would be cool of some political leader, who no one could consider a wimp, just came ought and said - "What, another bombing campaign, followed by invasion and occupation? Are you stupid or something? We want to win this thing, you fool."

Then people would rub the sleep out of their eyes, perk up and try to figure out ways to win over the world and not just slap others around, and work on shoring up things at home here. And, oh yeah, pigs would fly.

Posted by Alan at 22:14 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Monday, 14 August 2006 22:18 PDT home

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