U.S. Politics v. U.S. Foreign Policy

Bush Administration, Middle East

Larry Johnson writes that “Israel Took a Stupid Pill.”

Apparently not content to let the U.S. do a self-immolation act in the Middle East by itself, Israel decided to set itself on fire by invading Lebanon. Burn baby burn? Like George Bush, Israel’s Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, never served in a combat unit and launched military operations without thinking the matter through. In fact, Olmert reportedly never even served in the military. I raise this because there is one simple question Israel cannot answer about the current operations–what is their strategic military objective. Olmert has somehow persuaded the Israeli military to ignore strategy, think tactically, and in the process become really stupid. The events in the next several weeks will expose as myth the canard that you can secure a nation by killing terrorists. No you can’t.

Killing “terrorists” has a place in policy but it is not a strategic military objective. It is a tactical objective and may serve political purposes, but achieves little in terms of securing Israel. Israel is attacking targets in Lebanon like a drunken sailor in a bar fight. Flailing about, causing significant damage, hitting innocent bystanders, and generally making a mess of things. This is not the Israeli military that pulled off the brilliant and daring raid at Entebbe.

But maybe the primary objective isn’t killing terrorists. At the Washington Note, Steve Clemons writes that the objective may be to constrain U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East.

My view is that three broad threats were evolving for Israel from the American side of the equation. One one front, the U.S. will be attempting to settle some kind of new equilibrium in Iraq with fewer U.S. forces and some face-saving partial withdrawal. To accomplish this and maintain any legitimacy in the eyes of important nations in the region — particularly among close U.S. partners among the Gulf Cooperation Council states — America “might have” tried to do some things that constituted a broad new bargain with the Arab Middle East. The U.S. had even previously flirted, along with the Brits, in trying to get Syria on a Libya like track and out of the international dog house.

There was also pressure building to push Hamas — or at least the “governing wing” of it — towards a posture that would move dramatically closer to a recognition of Israel. Abbas was becoming increasingly entrepreneurial in creating opportunities for the constructive players in Hamas to squirm towards eventual negotiations with Israel that could possibly be packaged in terms of “final status negotiations” on the borders and terms of a new Palestinian state. George W. Bush is the first President to actually call the Palestine territories “Palestine” and may have eventually come around on trying to pump up Abbas’s legitimacy as the father of a new and different state. I am doubtful of this scenario — but some in Israel had serious concerns about this unfolding.

Lastly, despite lots of tit-for-tat tensions and enormous mistrust, Iran and the U.S. were tilting towards a deal to negotiate about Iran’s nuclear pretensions and other goals.

If Mr. Clemons is right, somebody should have told Israel they needn’t bother starting a war to constrain American foreign policy. The Bush foreign policy “team” is, um, self-constrained. As in can’t negotiate their way out of a wet paper bag.

Some in Israel viewed all three of these potential policy courses for the U.S. — a broad deal with the Arab Middle East, a new push on final status negotiations with the Palestinians, and a deal to actually negotiate directly with Iran — as negative for Israel.

The flamboyant, over the top reactions to attacks on Israel’s military check points and the abduction of soldiers — which I agree Israel must respond to — seems to be part establishing “bona fides” by Olmert, but far more important, REMOVING from the table important policy options that the U.S. might have pursued.

Israel is constraining American foreign policy in amazing and troubling ways by its actions. And a former senior CIA official and another senior Marine who are well-versed in both Israeli and broad Middle East affairs, agreed that serious strategists in Israel are more concerned about America tilting towards new bargains in the region than they are either about the challenge from Hamas or Hezbollah or showing that Olmert knows how to pull the trigger.

Another well respected and very serious national security public intellectual in the nation wrote this when I shared this thesis that Israeli actions were ultimately aimed at clipping American wings in the region. His response:

    the thesis of your paper is right-on.

    whether intentional or coincidental, that is what is being done right now.

I share these other views only to establish the fact that there is not a consensus either in support of or opposed to Israeli action — but some are beginning to scrutinize what Israel is seeking to achieve with such flamboyant displays of power that are antagonizing whole societies on their borders.

Keeping America from cutting new deals in the region — which many in the national security establishment thinks are vital — may actually be what is going on, and the smarter-than-average analysts are beginning to see that.

If true, this is a fascinating as well as perilous development. The Bushies continue to support Israel even as, allegedly, Israel deliberately is undermining the United States. And why would the Bushies do that? The obvious answer, IMO, is that to do otherwise would alienate what’s left of Bush’s base. The hard-core righties are solidly behind Israel.

So, foreign policy be damned. All that matters is appeasing the Bush base.

Steve Clemons also wrote,

To take one moment though and argue a counter-point to this, one serious analyst I spoke to this morning who stopped by to talk after attending synagogue raised a good point. He said that he thought that Olmert’s insecurity about military management was driving the over-reaction.

But he also said that the QUALITY of the attacks against Israel were freaking out the Israeli military and intelligence leaders. Complex incursions that included abductions along with a successful attack on an Israeli gunship show that the enemy is no longer an unimpressive, rag-tag lot. Training and armaments have been improved, and Israel is scrambling to figure out how this happened.

To which Billmon added,

In A Bright Shining Lie, Neil Sheehan talked about the difference between the U.S. generals he knew in Vietnam and the ones who fought and won World War II. That earlier generation, he said, had been keenly aware they could lose — after all, just a few years earlier they’d been conducting training exercises with soldiers armed with wooden guns and trucks pretending to be tanks, and here they were taking on the most famously competent military establishment in the world. And because they feared their enemy, and feared failure, they were tough on themselves. Losers — like the general who blundered into a German trap at the Kasserine Pass, were quickly cashiered. Winners were promoted, even if they were eccentric flakes, like George Patton. The Army that fought its way into Germany in 1945 was far from perfect, but the guys at the top never took victory for granted, and rarely underestimated their opponent. When they did, as in Operation Market Garden, their soldiers paid dearly for it.

By Vietnam, though, two decades of superpower status, and the budgets that went with it, had changed the mentality. The generals in charge were acutely aware they controlled the most powerful military machine in the history of the world. And they saw their enemy — particularly the Viet Cong irregulars — as hopelessly inferior ….

… It’s beginning to look as if the Israeli Defense Force (if not the entire Israeli political and military establishment) may be suffering from the same syndrome — the disease of hubris. This isn’t the army of ’67, or even ’73, which believed the country’s survival was at stake and constantly worried that Israel’s qualitative edge might be too narrow to outweigh the quantitative advantages enjoyed by its enemies. The years of U.S. largesse and bloated procurement budgets, the state-of-the-art tanks and fighters, the fascination with technology and push-button war, plus the pitiful state of the Syrian Army and Air Force — Israel’s remaining conventional front-line foes — all appear to have infected the IDF with the arrogance and complacency that plagued the United States in Vietnam.

Which is not to say that Israel won’t prevail in the current military action. But yesterday Hezbollah rockets struck Haifa again, killing at least nine Israelis, and residents of Tel Aviv have been put on alert. Did Israel understand the risks to her citizens when she initiated the current assault?

I’m going back to Larry Johnson now (emphasis added)

While most folks in the United States buy into the Hollywood storyline of poor little Israel fighting for it’s survival against big, bad Muslims, the reality unfolding on our TV screens shows something else. Exodus, starring Paul Newman, is ancient history. Hamas and Hezbollah attacked military targets–kidnapping soldiers on military patrols may be an act of war and a provocation, but it is not terrorism. (And yes, Hezbollah and Hamas have carried out terrorist attacks in the past against Israeli civilians. I’m not ignoring those acts, I condemn them, but we need to understand what the dynamics are right now.) Israel is not attacking the individuals who hit their soldiers. Israel is engaged in mass punishment.

How did Israel respond? They bombed civilian targets and civilian infrastructure and have killed many civilians. Let’s see if I have this right. The Arab “terrorists” attack military units, destroy at least one tank, and are therefore terrorists. Israel retaliates by launching aerial, naval, and artillery bombardments of civilian areas and they are engaging in self-defense. If we are unable to recognize the hypocrisy of this construct then we ourselves are so enveloped by propaganda and emotion that, like the Israelis, Hezbollah, and Hamas, we can’t think rationally. We can only think in terms of tribalism and revenge.

Certainly Israel has suffered mightily from terrorist attacks; no one is denying this. But in this case, the provocation for Israel’s action was not an act of terrorism.

“Iran, meanwhile, is sitting in the catbird’s seat,” Larry J. continues. Israel may not be thinking strategically, but Iran is.

The events unfolding in Iraq and Lebanon are going Tehran’s way. The United States is being portrayed in the world media as someone who tolerates and excuses attacks on civilian populations. The perception becomes the reality and the ability of the United States to rally support among the Russians, the Chinese, and even the French becomes more impaired. We need the international community to deal effectively with nuclear proliferation in North Korea and Iran. Now, we will be bogged down trying to defend Israel from an angry international community.

What Israel is doing hurts the United States. Try to get a rightie to see that. Even better, try to teach algebra to a duck.

Meanwhile, the Freep are celebrating the deaths of Lebanese children. (Sample comments: “Hold up those babies up…..and cry to the sky!”; “boo friggin hoo. just eliminating future terrorists IMO”)

This is evil, people. Ain’t nothin’ else but evil. Whatever the cause, the provocation, the goal, the excuse — the deaths of children are always regrettable. Anyone who celebrates in the deaths of children, any children, is evil. People who rejoice in the deaths of children are no better than terrorists. And as long as our foreign policy caters to these creatures, the whole world suffers.

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  1. Seattleite  •  Jul 16, 2006 @2:52 pm

    Link to Stratfor article via google posted @ 11am PDT:

    Lebanon: Israel’s Crisis Expectations

  2. erinyes  •  Jul 16, 2006 @3:19 pm

    We’re on the same page on this issue Maha, but sadly, our leaders differ. Biden, Feinstein, Lott, and Newt the poot were on the tube this morn defending Israel’s overwelming response.No one in an elected office (except possibly the dog catcher in Flint Michigan) will say anything against Israel, which is totally moronic considering the potential for this act of war to spiral out of control.Israel has just created numerous new enemies, the world community is quite sick of Israel’s act, I would not be surprised to see some UN action condemning Isreal, or perhaps some kind of sanction, particularly if the claim that the “Kidnapped” IDF soldiers were indeed operating inside Lebanon when they were captured.
    This “appears” to be the causus belli for war with Iran….
    I hope I’m wrong.

  3. Jeff r  •  Jul 16, 2006 @7:51 pm

    Last week a fellow wrote to my local paper arguing that the reason we do not appear to be winning the war on terror is because we haven’t been brutal enough:

    “civilian casualties are . . . much deserved in the battle with militant Islam.”

    “I would order the whole area [where the two U.S. soldiers were tortured to death] leveled, destroying every man, woman, boy and girl.”

    “Americans no longer seem to have what it takes to defeat such a barbaric enemy.”

    Note the quite unself-conscious irony of calling the enemy “barbaric” while advocating the mass murder of women and children.

    I found out who the guy is, too: he is a Christian minister with a website, Kingdom Foundation Ministries. He’s got LUVVAJESUS slathered all over the place, too. His hero is Joshua and his model for fighting the war on terror is the battle of Jericho.

    Have you ever noticed how many people of this ilk pretend they support New Testament values of love, mercy and compassion, but whenever they talk about people like Muslims, gays, or secularists, they suddenly start invoking a wrathful Old Testament God?

  4. the exile  •  Jul 16, 2006 @8:46 pm

    erinyes is sadly right. We are in a sick country when friggin Pat Buchanan is the only major politician who gets it right. And the only reason he gets it right is the wrong reason– because he really IS an antisemite.

  5. Doug Hughes  •  Jul 16, 2006 @10:18 pm

    There is something missing in this analyses. Hamas & Hezbollah are becoming sophisticated and they have gathered on the north and south borders of Israel. Various UN resolutions & agreements state they are NOT allowed to be there. The announced goals of these Islamic Fundamentalists is the anniahlation of Israel. I tend to view with distain any peace envoy, cease-fire or peace plan which does not include the teeth of an international force emposered to dismantle militias in countries on Israel’s borders.

    If the UN won’t roll up their sleeves and defend Israel with troops, expect heavy-handed reprisals from Israel, because they bury their dead at the rate of about 200 per year in various suicide bombings and missile attacks.

    Among the Palestinians, there are 2 groups. Moderates who will never like Israel, but are willing to co-exist if they can have a measure of hope for peace and prosperity. This group needs to have the full support and help of the world in forming a free and independent state.. The second group of Palestinians is bent on the destruction of Israel. They do not deserve a place at the table.

    This discussion of Israel’s motives does not go far enough. Israel knows that if the UN and/or US decide that the support of Israel is too expensive, they will not rescind the resolution that created that nation. They will tie Israel’s hands and allow the Islamics without a country to do what they will to Israel and make speeches of condemnation afterwards.

  6. maha  •  Jul 16, 2006 @10:38 pm

    Doug: It’s a terribly complex situation. Nobody is saying that Israel shouldn’t defend itself, or that Hezbollah and Hamas are not dangerous organizations. However, Israel’s recent actions are way disproportionate, are punishing large numbers of innocent people, and are playing into Hezbollah’s (and Iran’s) hands in the long run.

    See Juan Cole, here and here.

    Americans have to understand that when Israel goes wild and bombs a civilian airport and civilian neighborhoods in Beirut, a lot of the world’s Catholics (Lebanon is partially a Catholic country) and its 1.4 billion Muslims blame the United States for it. Israel is given billions every year by the United States, including sophisticated weaponry that is now being trained on the slums of south Beirut. It should also be remembered that Bin Laden said, at least, that he started thinking about hitting New York when he saw that 1982 Israeli destruction of the skyscrapers or “towers” of Lebanon. How many future Bin Ladens are watching with horror and rage and feelings of revenge as Israel drops bombs on civilian tenement buildings? When will this blow back on Americans? (I mean blow back in other ways than an already painful further spike in petroleum prices).

    As I’ve said several times lately, I see blame on all sides here. Most players in this drama — Israeli, Palestinian, etc. — are wrong most of the time.

    From the current issue of The Nation:

    Less than a year after its disengagement from Gaza, Israel has become deeply re-engaged, in a sharp escalation of fighting that could ignite a third intifada. The proximate cause was a Palestinian guerrilla attack against an Israeli army base, in which two soldiers were killed and one was taken prisoner. In response Israel launched a furious assault on the entire population of Gaza, destroying its only energy plant, which left 700,000 people without power, and seizing more than two dozen Hamas elected officials. Israel’s leading liberal daily, Ha’aretz, warned that “the government is losing its reason…arresting people to use as bargaining chips is the act of a gang, not of a state.” Amnesty International condemned the attacks against civilian infrastructure as a war crime, and the UN’s Relief and Works Agency warned that Gaza is “on the brink of a public health disaster.”

    In an exercise of selective memory, Under Secretary of State Nicholas Burns defended Israel, saying, “Let’s remember who started this. It was the outrageous actions of Hamas in violating Israel’s sovereignty, in taking the soldier hostage.” In fact, the current cycle of violence was set off by weeks of Israeli shellings that culminated in the killing of eight Palestinian civilians on a Gaza beach. On a deeper level, the violence arises from the Israeli strategy of unilateralism, in which even the pretense of negotiations is abandoned and Israel alone decides its final borders, while maintaining control over the territories through closures, military assaults and assassination. After Hamas came to power in January in the Arab world’s most democratic elections, Israel and the United States tried to provoke the government’s collapse by cutting off aid and tax revenues, even though Hamas maintained its yearlong cease-fire and its officials repeatedly declared it could accept a two-state solution or at least a long-term truce. Far from leading to Hamas’s demise, the economic strangulation infuriated Palestinians, convincing many that the United States and Israel care nothing about democracy. After the beach killings, popular outrage finally led Hamas’s military wing to call off its cease-fire.

  7. Swami  •  Jul 17, 2006 @1:45 am

    7 dead Canadians….Oh, Israel apologized… like Rumsfeld says about innocent victims killed by Americans in Iraq..its regrettable.

    Ted Bundy regretted taking the lives of his victims also.

  8. Brian Levy  •  Jul 17, 2006 @3:02 am

    Israel by attacking Lebanon is only creating more terrorists and more hattred for itself in a region that already wants them wiped off the map. At the same time however it is hard to blame a nation for wanting to protect itself. For to long Israel has been under attack by all those in the region and i worry that they have simply had enough and that this attack on Lebanon is only the beggining of an all out war that could evetully invlove not only Lebanon but Lebanon, Syria, Iran , the Palestinians and eventuly the rest of the world.

  9. janinsanfran  •  Jul 17, 2006 @8:06 am

    People in the US really believe that mostly ineffectual rocket attacks on a nuclear superpower with a huge, fully equipped (US tax-payer funded) modern army mean that there is equivalence between the two parties. What in hell is wrong with the political and moral judgement of people in the US?

    These are not equal parties. Israel claims to be a modern, democratic state. If it wants to be seen as such, rather than as a brutal, bullying monstosity, it has to give up collective punishment and its fondness for wanton murder and make peace with its neighbors. Opportunities have been offered for over 40 years; Israel sabotages them routinely. (Most recently Hamas was edging toward ‘recognition’ — so what does Israel do? they try to shoot, bomb and starve the Palestinian leadership.)

    The Israeli lobby does lead our politicians around by the nose (purse strings and threat of abuse); I’ve worked for ones who knew better but would not speak up. It is up to the people to look at those dead children and say ENOUGH.

  10. Raghav  •  Jul 21, 2006 @8:11 pm

    US foreign policy extremely flawed and baised. Look at this link and checkout, how baised there approach is.