July 31, 2006
Gross Incompetence & Contempt: Blindness on Lebanon
Although the macabre dance that is the war in Lebanon continues a depressingly predictable shuffle, the utter dilettentism that is the current American administration's diplomatic efforts - although efforts almost grants their clumsy, amateurish statements and reactive myopia too much dignity - continue to be breath taking. This AM, after the fine little Qana Bis blowing up of little girls (unsportingly exceeding certain understandings), I find myself greeted by the news that the amazingly incompetent Rice - I do officially take back everything positive I said with respect to her - suddenly finding that the time is right for a ceasefire. I am not sure that circumstances more detrimental to the image of the Americans in the region could have been fabricated by an enemy (except perhaps a 'transformation' statement). Of course, to be fair, at least she had that modicum of sense to stop the "permanent conditions" as a "pre-condition" idiocy.
Not that the terms sketched in the linked article strike me as particularly achievable or realistic. The concept of an international interpositioning force is pure magical thinking. If the Americans want a real settlement, it has to be one that recognises Hezbullah is a force, else it is mere whanking on to serve domestic American political goals.
However, what I have been finding particularly irritating is online commentary (I shall not bother to link, one can find it easily enough) that the reaction on the part of the Lebanese as reflected in widespread commentary, an a recent poll putting support for Hezbullah in the 80 percent range, is somehow irrational and unjustified strikes me as typical of the blinkered analysis that led the US and Israel to utterly miscomprehend the political dynamic they were and are facing with respect to the Israeli bombing campaign against the country.
Certainly Hezbullah is the provocateur. However, there was nothing written in stone that Israel had to (or logically that it would be useful to) conduct an air power campaign against Lebanon, in the misplaced hope of breaking (as the early language went) Hezbullah.
Of course, some parties (from the WP cited supra) continue to engage in magical thinking, notably the singularly ham-handed Justice Minister in Israel:
"I'm convinced that we won't finish this war until it's clear that Hezbollah has no more abilities to attack Israel from south Lebanon," Justice Minister Haim Ramon told Army Radio. "This is what we are striving for."
He of the Rome Failure Justifies Our Offensive fame.
Rather clearly should be muzzled, as maximalist objectives are not what Israel would be best-served in setting out as goal-posts.
Here in the region the change over the past two weeks is evident, and in fact quite logical: initially Hezbullah attracted not much support given its action. KSA, Egyptian etc governments were comfortable in denouncing it. Israel, however, went to town. Regardless of the empty moral posturing on either side, the result has been a political disaster as quite reasonably, non-Hezbullah Lebanese feel they are the real targets, and that Israel is engaging in its widely perceived (with some justice, if over-done conspiratorial thinking) habit of attempting to destabilise Leb Land. By wider extension, the region certainly can't help but come away with an impression - based on Iraq and now Lebanon - that Americans regard them as sub-human creatures (indeed the sentiment is barely disguised in blog commentary at times) unworthy of consideratoin. Fouad Siniora's anger (recall he's part of the class of the 'Cedar Revolution') is both rational and not-misplaced.
I would further add my opinion that contra the more frightened Lebanese fears of civil war, I do not think a new one will emerge. Indeed, the very fact that the Zaims and ordinary people are actually worried about such and speaking openly about it suggests to me the maximalist dynamic is not going to be there. Compare with Iraq where no one wanted to admit it was possible or emerging - denial and the thought one can reasonably profit from a small armed action here, another one there - playing off of communitarian politics and security - led them into what I called "a Lebanese logic" without the parties necessarily meaning to. In Lebanon the memories of such are still strong, and I think there are enough interests such that civil war will be avoided. But it is a possibility, and certainly Hezbullah gains strength every day the Israeli idiocy of a general air campaign goes on.
Assertions that the Israelis are "justified" - the Lebs had it coming because they didn't control Hezbullah, etc - are empty political whanking. The reality is a State undertakes actions to achieve aims. The Israeli-US position and air-campaign has achieved the exact opposite of stated (and real) political goals, while the physical degradation of Hezbullah is going to be, at best, temporary.
The phrase Pyrrhic Victory should be retained - as well as the whole of The Prince's advice, not merely the first half of the widely misunderstood, "better to be feared than loved" aphorism. The part about importance of not being hated, for example.
Israel had choices in regards to a response - certainly there had to be one, and violent. However, that choice was not between No Response and the current air campaign. The Americans should have looked to longer interests and restrained from the start (and given political cover for a ceasefire from the start, for when needed, the present call by Rice for a ceasefire looks grossly hypocritical and clumsy. The transparent and clumsy diplomatic maneuvering worthy of a 3rd rate banana republic)
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Not sure if this has been linked here already, but WaPo has a lengthy description on Rice appearing "shaken" after she was told about Qana.
Rice did not learn of the attack until midmorning, during one-on-one talks with Israeli Defense Minister Amir Peretz in a meeting room on the 10th floor of Jerusalem's David Citadel Hotel. She was "reiterating our strong concern" about civilians killed during the hostilities, she said later. But Peretz did not mention the attack, nor had Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni over breakfast.
Rice found out via e-mail. It came from the U.S. Embassy in Beirut. Assistant Secretary of State C. David Welch got the message and interrupted the meeting to tell her, U.S. officials said.
Rice was "sickened" by the report, a close aide said. "What is this?" she asked Peretz.
I think Qana, combined with Israel interrupting its own proclaimed 48h aerial ceasfire (to investigate Qana) after 12h - "attacking in cases when we need to protect our forces or civilians" (no, really?) is causing the US to regret the blank check it handed to Israel earlier. The 48h ceasefire agreement appears to have been brokered by State, so I imagine they are rather dismayed about the renewed airstrikes.
Posted by: eerie at July 31, 2006 12:32 PM
U.S. Administration officials have pledged support for displaced Lebanese citizens. Has Israel pledged support? I think it's reasonable to expect this of Israel. Why does the entire world (a lot of it anyway) pledge civilian support in situations like this and Israel remains silent?
Posted by: Mike at July 31, 2006 01:09 PM
The Israelis and their American cheerleaders don't appear to have been "shaken" for very long - there is now a right-wing chorus insisting that the Qana bombings were the fault of HA itself, and even some suggestions that HA lured the Israelis to bomb the building in Qana to make a symbolic PR point. Haim Ramon has been bleating on about how HA has the blood of those Lebanese children on its hands, not Israel.
Sounds an awful lot like the post 9/11 conspiracy theories that the Americans had done it to make Muslims look bad.
Posted by: SP at July 31, 2006 05:52 PM
Yes, SP, I have seen that.
Several places. Sometimes mere hints, other times explicit.
Reminds me as well of the old Gulf war when the American cruiser blew an Iranian passanger liner out of the air, and the conspiracy theories Americans of a certain type made up to explain.
Illustrative of the fact that when the right circumstances arise, humans really are alike - or the frequent snide comments on Middle Eastern conspiracy theorising is often misplaced.
Posted by: The Lounsbury at July 31, 2006 06:07 PM
why, Israel and USA is part of the Middle East.
Posted by: Klaus at July 31, 2006 11:13 PM