So we have wars now in Afghanistan, Iraq and Lebanon - and the ongoing attacks and counterattacks in Gaza, which probably count as one too. They are all covered for us in real-time detail, as are the statements of the leaders of this side or that, explaining why this or that is being done. There are press conferences, audio and video releases to the press or put out on the net, speeches at the UN - the leaders explain themselves and rally their followers, and hope to dismay their enemies.
The problem may be we have no Ernest Hemingway clarifying things, as in this -
Who would he interview today? Our incurious president? Anyone can see the parallel, although George Bush is not one to fake book-learning and intelligence - he considers that stuff just not relevant to leadership, where following your instincts and resolve, not details, matter. He's just not a fraud, like the little Italian fellow. What you see is what you get.
As a young reporter, Hemingway met Mussolini. He recognized him as an act from quite early on, when he and a crowd of fellow reporters were summoned into Il Duce's black-shirted presence at the Lausanne Conference.
"Mussolini sat at his desk reading a book. His face was contorted into the famous frown. He was registering Dictator ... I tiptoed over behind him to see what the book was he was reading with such avid interest. It was a French-English dictionary - held upside down." - Toronto Daily Star, 27 January 1923
And any collection of quotes from Hemingway has statements like these - "You can wipe out your opponents. But if you do it unjustly you become eligible for being wiped out yourself." Hemingway would be banned from Fox News.
And there's this - "They wrote in the old days that it is sweet and fitting to die for one's country. But in modern war, there is nothing sweet nor fitting in your dying. You will die like a dog for no good reason."
That's Michael Moore territory, although it refers to a line from an ode of Horace - "Dulce et Decorum est pro patria mori" - and to Wilfred Owen describing death from mustard gas in the trenches in Word War One here. Michael Moore doesn't cite the Roman poets.
Who knows what Hemingway would report on Tuesday, August 8, as the Associated Press tells us here that south Lebanon is "closed" - basically Israel shut down south Lebanon with a threat "to blast any moving vehicles?" The ground fighting at the Israeli border intensified, even more, and airstrikes killed at least nineteen civilians. The moderate Arab governments we counted on to reject the Hezbollah "terrorists" all called for a full Israeli withdrawal as a condition of any cease-fire, and we still maintain there really should be a cease-fire, as long as Israel stays there and can continue to go get the bad guys, and as soon as the bad guys agree to disband and find something else to do with their time. That's a hard sell.
The Toronto Star is still around, but Hemingway is long gone, so there's no one to capture the nasty absurdity of all this.
The evening was the US, French and Arab negotiators meeting into the night at the United Nations, and Israel "voicing cautious interest" in a Lebanese proposal to deploy 15,000 of its troops to control the ground in south Lebanon, where Hezbollah has been firing a whole lot of rockets into Israel. But this was going nowhere - the issue of who will patrol southern Lebanon, where Hezbollah militants are doing their thing, is the real sticking point in these UN cease-fire negotiations. Lebanon and other Arab nations were insisting the Israeli forces must leave when a cease-fire agreement is reached, and we said we want an international force to replace the Israeli soldiers, to do just what they're doing, even if it takes weeks to make the switch-out. The talk was maybe something could be worked out by late Thursday, but no one sees how. The Security Council put off for at least a day any voting the US (and French) cease-fire proposal. Why? To allow three leading Arab officials to present arguments that the resolution was "heavily tilted" in favor of Israel and did not "take Lebanon's interest and stability into account." We say there might be room for "limited compromise" - but we promise nothing.
And there was this -
Need some help? On various news shows you could see the fellow from Janes Defense Weekly saying this was hardly an army at all - just no capability, no armor, and all the money that should have been spent on equipment and training went into salaries and pensions, to ensure loyalty. And others point out a third of this Lebanese army is Shiite - not inclined to go fight Shiite Hezbollah.
Both Israel and the United States issued positive, if lukewarm, assessments Tuesday of the Lebanese government's plan to dispatch 15,000 soldiers into south Lebanon after a cease-fire and the withdrawal of Israeli forces. "It looks interesting and we will examine it closely," Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said.
The White House said it was willing to consider the proposal but is convinced that Lebanon is not equipped to handle the job on its own. "The administration understands that the Lebanese armed forces are going to need some help, and we're working with allies to try to figure out the proper way to do it," White House press secretary Tony Snow told reporters gathered near the president's vacation home.
It's bit of a joke, and note this -
Saniora is walking a fine line.
A day after his Cabinet conditionally approved dispatching the troops to the south, Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Saniora praised Hezbollah's resistance, but said it was time for Lebanon to "impose its full control, authority and presence" nationwide - as directed in previous UN resolutions that also called for the government to disarm Hezbollah. "There will be no authority, no one in command, no weapons other than those of the Lebanese state," he said on Al-Arabiya television.
And it just gets worse (or better, if you're a Cheney-Kristol neoconservative) -
Yep, it's that pesky eighteen-mile no-drive zone Israel establish - we warned you civilians to get out, but you figure out how to do it. And good luck with that. The United Nations suspended attempts to send relief to southern Lebanon because of the heavy shelling. They're not crazy.
After four weeks of fighting, nearly 800 people have died on both sides. Rescuers in Lebanon pulled 28 additional corpses from the wreckage of Monday's attacks, raising that day's toll to 77 Lebanese - the deadliest single day of the war. Early Wednesday, Lebanese and Palestinian officials said Israeli gunboats shelled a Palestinian refugee camp in south Lebanon, causing a number of casualties.
In Tyre, part of the south Lebanon region where Israel declared the no-drive zone, only pedestrians ventured into the streets. Country roads and highways were deserted throughout the region because of the Israeli threat. Although Israel said it would not attack humanitarian convoys, the UN was not taking any chances. "There are two words that sum up where the humanitarian situation is, and these are 'not enough,'" said Wivina Belmonte of the UN Children's Fund. "Fuel supplies are not enough, hospitals are on life support, supplies of humanitarian goods trying to get into the country are not enough."
At least 160 Hezbollah rockets hit northern Israel, most of them in and around the towns of Nahariya, Kiryat Shemona, Maalot, Safed. No Israeli civilians were killed.
Some of the fiercest ground fighting raged around the village of Bint Jbail, a Hezbollah stronghold that Israeli has tried to capture for weeks. Three Israel soldiers were killed there Tuesday, the military said, claiming 35 Hezbollah guerrillas died in the fighting. Hezbollah would not confirm any deaths.
Travel in Lebanon's south has been severely limited since early in the conflict because roads were cut by Israeli airstrikes, many civilians were killed trying to flee the fighting, and rescue and aid workers also were in danger.
The tally as of August 9 - at least 689 people have died on the Lebanese side, and on the Israeli side we have 100 killed - 36 civilians and 65 soldiers. It's just a place mark - record of a spot in time.
And no one reporting now has Hemingway's eye for telling detail and gift for narrative compression, so what's being said is a bit pedestrian, although this from Kevin Drum at the Washington Monthly gets to the logic underlying the madness of Israel waging major war against folks who don't play by those rules, who are just playing a different game (hide-and seek versus NFL football perhaps) -
You get the point, but it's a thought-experiment, and a cold one at that. Of course it captures how Israel and the Bush administration say things will inevitably and certainly work out, just as they have in Iraq for us, or something.
Readers more hawkish than me sometimes wonder what it would take to convince me that conventional war is an effective tool even against a guerrilla force in the Middle East. Well, suppose this proposal pans out and we end up with a sequence of events something like this:
1. Israel launches massive assault on Lebanon.
2. Lebanese government eventually sues for peace and offers to send its army to the border.
3. Over a period of months the Israeli army hands off control of southern Lebanon to the Lebanese army and withdraws.
4. Hezbollah isn't destroyed, but the Lebanese army manages to keep control of the border and maintain relative peace. Over time their control increases and Hezbollah's influence decreases.
I don't expect this to happen, but if it did it would mean that in this case I was wrong and the hawks were right - and I would have to reexamine my broader worldview about when and where the use of force is effective.
But how about the reverse? I wonder what sequence of events would cause the hawks to reassess their assumptions?
Daniel Goldhagen is a bit more dour in the August 8 Los Angeles Times with this review of the options Israel really has in dealing with Hezbollah -
- Deterrence. Won't work because Hezbollah doesn't care if Lebanon gets bombed.
- Genuine peace. Impossible because Hezbollah will never agree.
- Conventional war. Not effective against a guerrilla army.
- Put up with the status quo. Intolerable because Hezbollah's attacks will only escalate.
- War with Syria and Iran.
So that's the only option, of you want to rid yourself of this "mortal enemy."
That summary also comes from Kevin Drum, who adds that when you put it like that, a massive regional war almost sounds reasonable. But he adds this -
But our administration doesn't like "slow" - and "agonizing frustration" doesn't come easily to the former frat boy and former alcoholic at the helm.
Sure, Israel should retaliate against Hezbollah's rocket attacks and destroy what infrastructure they can, but beyond that wouldn't it be wiser for the US and Israel to retain the support of surrounding Arab countries by helping to steadily strengthen Lebanese civil society and the Lebanese government until it gets to the point where it can control Hezbollah?
Yes, this might easily take another decade. And yes, it might not work. But while it may be comforting to think that a massive military assault would work better, recent history suggests this is naive. Sometimes the only answer is the slow and agonizingly frustrating one.
That is captured by Daniel Froomkin in his summary column in the Post, Tuesday, August 8, here -
Hemingway would have made much of that, but he's gone. Ah, but we still have Norman Mailer capturing the essence of the whole thing in a speech to The Commonwealth Club in San Francisco a few days before we rolled into Baghdad with this -
A vacationing President Bush briefly suited up and faced the media hordes yesterday morning to outline his administration's vision for an eventual cessation of hostilities in Lebanon. Then he high-tailed it back to his sprawling country home, leaving Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to do the heavy lifting.
Bush was generous with the familiar talking points but didn't exactly give the impression of someone who feels any sense of personal urgency to stop the killing.
So why worry? You decide.
Because democracy is noble, it is always endangered. Nobility, indeed, is always in danger. Democracy is perishable. I think the natural government for most people, given the uglier depths of human nature, is fascism. Fascism is more of a natural state than democracy. To assume blithely that we can export democracy into any country we choose can serve paradoxically to encourage more fascism at home and abroad. Democracy is a state of grace attained only by those countries that have a host of individuals not only ready to enjoy freedom but to undergo the heavy labor of maintaining it.
The need for powerful theory can fall into many an abyss of error. One could, for example, be wrong about the unspoken motives of the administration. Perhaps they are not interested in Empire so much as trying in good faith to save the world. We can be certain at least that Bush and his Bushites believe this. By the time they are in church each Sunday, they believe it so powerfully, tears come to their eyes. Of course, it is the actions of men and not their sentiments that make history. Our sentiments can be flooded with love within, but our actions can produce the opposite. Perversity is always looking to consort with the best motives in human nature.
David Frum, who was a speechwriter for Bush (he coined the phrase "axis of evil"), recounts in The Right Man: The Surprise Presidency of George W. Bush what happened at a meeting in the Oval Office last September . The President, when talking to a group of reverends from the major denominations, told them, "You know, I had a drinking problem. Right now, I should be in a bar in Texas, not the Oval Office. There is only one reason that I am in the Oval Office and not in a bar: I found faith. I found God. I am here because of the power of prayer."
That is a dangerous remark. As Kierkegaard was the first to suggest, we can never know where our prayers are likely to go nor from whom the answers will come. When we think we are nearest to God, we could be assisting the Devil.
"Our war with terror," says Bush, "begins with al Qaeda, but it does not end ... until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped, and defeated."
But … what if America ends up alienating the whole world in the process?
… "At some point, we may be the only ones left," Bush told his closest advisers, according to an administration member who leaked the story to Bob Woodward. "That's okay with me. We are American."
And what about what Ulysses S. Grant - a tanner's son who knew his business - called the Butcher's Bill, as Bill Montgomery discusses here? That's a detailed discussion of the "kill ratio" - Hezbollah guerillas to Israeli regulars to date. Israel expected 10:1 in their favor and it looks like 2:1 at the moment.
The problem -
But they've made their choice, and they're rolling in, having replaced their top general in the north. Hemingway interviewing Olmert would be cool.
At a kill ratio of 2:1, that would equal 656 (rounded down) Israeli KIA - about a quarter of Israel's combat deaths in the Yom Kippur War, when it was fighting the armies of two Arab states. At a 4:1 kill ratio, it would be 328 KIA - about half of total Israeli deaths in the first Lebanon War.
Of course, if Israel goes to the Litani it would then find itself waist deep in a prolonged guerrilla war of attrition, which no doubt would result in even more Israeli casualties. But we'll leave those off the back of the envelope for now.
Israel has a total population of just over 6 million - about 2% of the US population. So proportionally, 656 Israeli KIA would equal roughly 33,000 American combat deaths, or about two-thirds of US losses for the entire Vietnam War. And like I said, that would probably just be for starters.
Does the Olmert government have the stomach for that kind of fighting? Is the Israeli public willing to pay so much blood to conquer a piece of ground that almost certainly will have to be given back later? And what if the big push doesn't stop the rocket attacks but only reduces them temporarily? Would it still be worth such a price?
These are the questions the Israeli prime minister and his cabinet will have to answer if a ceasefire cannot be arranged. I don't envy them.
On the other hand, some things are just naturally good and absurd narrative, as in this -
Indeed it is, but the whole idea is loopy, even if the rest of the world is being polite and not laughing in our faces.
"The position that we're taking in the UN is just nuts," a former White House official close to the US decision-making process said during the negotiations. "The US wants to put international forces on the ground in the middle of the conflict, before there's a ceasefire. The reasoning at the White House is that the international force could weigh on the side of the Israelis - could enforce Hezbollah's disarmament"
… A former US Central Intelligence Agency officer confirmed this view: "I am under the impression that George Bush and Condoleezza Rice were surprised when the Europeans disagreed with the US position - they were running around saying, 'But how can you disagree, don't you understand? Hezbollah is a terrorist organization.'"
And who needs the severe Hemingway when you have the flamboyant Montgomery with this -
But the problem is the neoconservatives, of course -
This is supposed to encourage the French to plunk their people down in the middle of a hot LZ?
Ever since 9/11, there's been this attitude among the Bushies that the most important thing is to convince the world that America's enemies (who are now identical with Israel's enemies) represent the ultimate in evil - the Wal-Mart of evil, the Pittsburgh Steelers of evil, the Dr. Evil of evil. Once that goal has been accomplished, why then of course the "free world" will line up and enlist in Uncle Sam's army. Or so the thinking seems to be.
In other words, the PR strategy is also the diplomatic strategy - and, as we've seen in Iraq, the military strategy as well.
… To paraphrase a slogan, Manichaeism is not a plan. Other than Tony Blair, even our closest allies no longer buy the shining-city-on-the hill act - if they ever did (and Blair may just be a good actor with an eye for the main chance.) The French, like the rest of the non-Islamic world, look at the United States and see a great big muscle-bound bundle of great power ambitions, resource hungers, security paranoias and ideological arrogance - in addition to the good things America represents (or once represented, back in the day.) They look at Hezbollah and see a complex mixture of religious fanaticism, grassroots loyalty and political pragmatism - as well as Iran's proxy in Lebanon. A problem to be handled, but handled with care.
The distinction between these two viewpoints has been overanalyzed to death in recent years. America is from Mars, Europe is from Venus, etc. But at this point it looks pretty fairly straightforward: Americans believe their own PR spin and the Europeans don't. But the French are the ones being asked to put boots on the ground in southern Lebanon, not the Americans. The French aren't very happy about doing this because it's not really in their interests - although papering over their differences with the Cheney administration is in their interests. But they certainly won't go in unless they're satisfied Hezbollah is ready to stop shooting. So if Shrub wants a French-led peacekeeping force in southern Lebanon, he has no choice but to accept French terms, which at this point means accepting Hezbollah's terms, which means getting the Israelis out of Lebanon.
… What matters is whether a ceasefire, on terms acceptable to Hezbollah, would be more evil or less evil than allowing the continuation of a war that no longer has much point to it (not unless the Israelis really are prepared to fight their way far enough north to put Hezbollah's rocketeers out of business.)
That's the choice, and all the harrumphing in the world about the "evildoers" isn't going to change the basic power equation. If Bush doesn't like the choices on the diplomatic menu, then he needs to be ready to send in the 82nd Airborne - and accept the consequences. It doesn't look like he is.
Well, Montgomery is not Hemingway, but the man can write. He'll do just fine. Someone needs to tell the story.
The neocons are absolutely hooked on unilateralism: It's hardwired into their brains and it doesn't look like any number of fiascos will be enough to rearrange the circuits. The unilateral exercise of American power, particularly military power, is the fundamental, defining, unifying idea of neoconism. It can't be abandoned or the whole pretentious edifice collapses.
A unilateralism that reflects an accurate reading of underlying power relationships is one thing - it may be ugly, but it can certainly "work," from a realpolitik point of view. Just ask Otto von Bismarck. But a unilateralism based on nothing more than a conviction of one's own inherent superiority is a foreign policy disaster waiting to happen (and now it's happening.)
… As a practical matter, it makes no difference whether such delusions are based on imperial tradition, fantasies of racial supremacy, or a deeply held belief in one's own superior morality. Napoleon once said that the moral is to the physical in war as three is to one. Which may be true, but you still need to have that one. And in this particular situation - like so many situations these days - Shrub doesn't have it.
What this means is a need to choose: between a conviction of moral superiority that lives within its means, so to speak, or a much more aggressive mobilization of America and its resources to fight the "long war." But that kind of mobilization doesn't seem to be on anyone's to-do list, except for a few Fox News gasbags.