“A Childish Fantasy”

Bush Administration, Middle East

More about the crisis in Lebanon (all boldfacing in the quotes below is added)–

Dan Froomkin:

Bush’s official position is that some blood-spilling in the Middle East is worth it in pursuit of the region’s positive transformation. …

… In the best of circumstances, Bush would be running the risk of being considered callous. But in the current circumstances, he runs the risk of being considered both callous and delusional. …

… You don’t get much more Washington Establishment than Richard N. Haass, who was Bush’s first-term State Department policy planning director and now leads the Council on Foreign Relations. And he apparently finds Bush’s position laughable. Literally.

Peter Baker writes in the Washington Post that Haass “laughed at the president’s public optimism. ‘An opportunity?’ Haass said with an incredulous tone. ‘Lord, spare me. I don’t laugh a lot. That’s the funniest thing I’ve heard in a long time. If this is an opportunity, what’s Iraq? A once-in-a-lifetime chance?’ ” …

Froomkin also notes that Condi’s “shuttle diplomacy” consists mostly of “negotiating” with Israel. Then he brings up a point that IMO is critical —

The White House position appears to be to refuse to even contemplate ideas that, elsewhere, are widely considered obvious: That regardless of who started it, Israeli strikes are taking a vastly more terrible toll on Lebanese civilians than Hezbollah is taking on Israelis; that Israel’s actions are turning the region ever more resolutely against the United States and its goals; that the war is undermining Lebanon’s fragile democracy; that the death of 37 children in an air strike is more than just a “qualifier” — it is a bloodbath that shocks the conscience of the world; and that there is more urgency to stop the killing than there is to pursue a dubious and so far disproved theory of regional rebirth.

It’s apparent to most of the world that Israel has already lost its objective, assuming the objective was to route Hezbollah. The righties continue to make excuses, which mostly consist of “they started it” and “if civilians die, it’s their own fault for not getting out of the way.” They do not see that such “arguments” are not winning them any points; it just makes them look more childishly pathetic.

Even the rightie blogger Michael Totten admits that Israel has lost.

The fog of war makes it impossible for me or anyone else to determine whether or not Israel’s war against Hezbollah is succeeding of failing militarily. But it’s painfully obvious that Israel’s attempt to influence Lebanese politics in its favor is an absolute catastrophe right now.

The (second in a decade) attack on Qana that killed scores of civilians has all but cemented the Lebanese public and Hezbollah together.

Cable news reports that 82 percent of Lebanese now support Hezbollah. Prime Minister Fouad Seniora – whatever his real opinion in private – is now closer to openly supporting Hezbollah in public than he has ever been.

It’s way to late to be whining about how they started it or that, per Victor Davis Hanson, civilians want to be bombed so it’s OK to bomb them. And it’s way too late to whine, as this blogger does, that news photographs of the dead children of Qana are “propaganda.” Right or wrong, fair or unfair, it doesn’t matter. Israel has lost. It’s all over but, unfortunately, the shootin‘. Israel continues to fight, if only to save face.

[Update: The excuse of the hour is that the Qana tragedy was staged. The biggest “clue” is that it appears the building in which the civilians were sleeping didn’t collapse until several hours after the bombing, Saith Carla of Preemptive Karma:

These are the same guys who call lefties conspiracy theorists for questioning Bush’s response to 9/11 and his connection to the bin Laden family. Sheesh.

It just couldn’t be that Israel bombed the crap out of the building and it was so unstable that it collapsed..could it?

Or, it could be that the building did collapse during the bombing attack and the reports of a later collapse are wrong. And even if (for argument’s sake) the collapse was staged — it won’t matter. Here in the United States I have no doubt the audiences of Faux Nooz and rightie talk radio are being told, over and over, ad nauseum, that the atrocity at Qana was staged, and that the Fable of the Staged Atrocity at Qana is already firmly established in rightie mythos. But outside the U.S. most people are exposed to actual news, not wild-ass speculation and propaganda disguised as news, so unless (someday) Israel can actually prove the allegation, it won’t be making headlines. And Israel still will have lost the PR war.]

Sebastian Mallaby writes in today’s Washington Post:

The first lesson is that allies do matter, and so does the global public opinion that creates, or fails to create, a political climate in which governments feel able to work with the United States. The Bush administration has at times skated past this truth, correctly believing that doing the right thing can matter more than doing the popular thing. But it has learned, slowly and painfully, that doing right gets to be impossible if your unpopularity becomes toxic. To address any major foreign policy challenge, from Iran to North Korea to Darfur, you need international backing.

In supporting the bombardment of Lebanon, the administration appears to be forgetting this lesson. It has embraced a military operation that puts pictures of bloodied civilians on the world’s TV screens, harming the United States’ image and disrupting vital U.S. policies. American allies in the region, such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan, which fear Shiite militancy, have switched from criticizing Hezbollah to criticizing the U.S.-backed retaliation. American enemies are seizing the opportunity for a propaganda victory. Al-Qaeda has rushed out a new video, complete with a fresh, studio-quality backdrop. China has hinted that U.S. blocking of an anti-Israel resolution last week at the United Nations would justify Chinese resistance to U.N. action against Iran’s nuclear program.

Gerald Kaufman:

Israel’s current adventure has turned out to be a disaster not only for the Lebanese, being slaughtered in increasing numbers by Israeli attacks, but for Israel itself and its sponsor, the United States. Three weeks after their invasion, the Israelis have accomplished none of their objectives. The two soldiers whose kidnapping was the casus belli remain in Hezbollah hands – just as Corporal Galid Shalit is still a prisoner of Palestinian insurgents in the Gaza strip.

None of the Israelis’ military objectives has been achieved, or shows any sign whatever of being achieved. The Hizbullah infrastructure remains intact and has inflicted heavy casualties on Israeli forces. Hizbullah rockets continue to pour down on Israel, with the entire northern half of the country unprecedentedly a vulnerable target.

The Israelis are calling up thousands of reservists and saying their forces will be in Lebanon for weeks more. It is impossible to see how these additional men or this additional time will improve this situation for the Israelis, or for the Americans – the only two countries who have seemed to believe that the running sore of Hizbullah can be cauterised by a short, sharp shock.

… Taking into account that previous Israeli incursions into Lebanon were total failures, with no objectives attained and many Israeli servicemen killed, and taking into account, too, that the Americans suffered 241 servicemen killed in Beirut at the hands of Hizbullah, it is difficult to understand how even ultimate buffoons like Ehud Olmert and George Bush could have expected anything else.

Furthermore, in the whole history of the state of Israel, this is the first time that that country, in all its wars, has been subject to almost unanimous condemnation, worldwide. Not only has Olmert failed abjectly to protect his country. He has turned it into an international pariah.

Paul Krugman

For Americans who care deeply about Israel, one of the truly nightmarish things about the war in Lebanon has been watching Israel repeat the same mistakes the United States made in Iraq. It’s as if Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has been possessed by the deranged spirit of Donald Rumsfeld. …

… both Clausewitz and Sherman were right: war is both a continuation of policy by other means, and all hell. It’s a terrible mistake to start a major military operation, regardless of the moral justification, unless you have very good reason to believe that the action will improve matters.

The most compelling argument against an invasion of Iraq wasn’t the suspicion many of us had, which turned out to be correct, that the administration’s case for war was fraudulent. It was the fact that the real reason government officials and many pundits wanted a war — their belief that if the United States used its military might to “hit someone” in the Arab world, never mind exactly who, it would shock and awe Islamic radicals into giving up terrorism — was, all too obviously, a childish fantasy.

Professor Krugman is sympathetic to Israel and its famous right of self-defense, but …

There is a case for a full-scale Israeli ground offensive against Hezbollah. It may yet come to that, if Israel can’t find any other way to protect itself. There is also a case for restraint — limited counterstrikes combined with diplomacy, an effort to get other players to rein Hezbollah in, with the option of that full-scale offensive always in the background.

But the actual course Israel has chosen — a bombing campaign that clearly isn’t crippling Hezbollah, but is destroying Lebanon’s infrastructure and killing lots of civilians — achieves the worst of both worlds. Presumably there were people in the Israeli government who assured the political leadership that a rain of smart bombs would smash and/or intimidate Hezbollah into submission. Those people should be fired.

Israel’s decision to rely on shock and awe rather than either diplomacy or boots on the ground, like the U.S. decision to order the U.N. inspectors out and invade Iraq without sufficient troops or a plan to stabilize the country, is having the opposite of its intended effect. Hezbollah has acquired heroic status, while Israel has both damaged its reputation as a regional superpower and made itself a villain in the eyes of the world.

Here’s a message for righties:

Complaining that this is unfair does no good, just as repeating “but Saddam was evil” does nothing to improve the situation in Iraq. What Israel needs now is a way out of the quagmire. And since Israel doesn’t appear ready to reoccupy southern Lebanon, that means doing what it should have done from the beginning: try restraint and diplomacy. And Israel will negotiate from a far weaker position than seemed possible just three weeks ago.

Professor Krugman calls the U.S. response “hapless and malign.”

For the moment, U.S. policy seems to be to stall and divert efforts to negotiate a cease-fire as long as possible, so as to give Israel a chance to dig its hole even deeper. Also, we aren’t talking to Syria, which might hold the key to resolving the crisis, because President Bush doesn’t believe in talking to bad people, and anyway that’s the kind of thing Bill Clinton did. Did I mention that these people are childish?

If you want to understand just who Hezbollah is, Juan Cole provides a primer. They are not, as Michelle Malkin seems to think, another version of al Qaeda. Although after this week they could be inspired to go into the international terrorism business. Who knows?

See also: “A World Gone Mad“; “Why the Middle East Crisis Isn’t Really About Terrorism“; “Israeli Attacks Strengthen Hezbollah“; “The Triumph of Crackpot Realism“; “War in the Age of ‘Poodle-ism’”

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  1. renate  •  Jul 31, 2006 @8:07 pm

    Could it be Bush and Olmert are getting pay-back for Schock and Awe?

    The US and Israel are like siamese twins now. The Us will not be able to broker agreements with both sides anymore.

    I is like Uri Avnery said: They mounted a tiger and don’t know how to get off. It will be a ruff ride for all of us.

  2. larkspur  •  Jul 31, 2006 @8:20 pm

    Paul Krugman is doing the sensible thing: he’s talking about Israel as nation made up of people, instead of some myth or icon or coded signifier of rapture. What a drag that such an approach should be so refreshing.

    You wonder how much louder we could have yelled, given our lack of success with Shock and Awe. I’m waving my arms and yelling “Go around! Go around!” and the Olmert government still drives straight into hell.

    Look what we (the U.S. and Israel) have given the next few generations: blood, guilt, crushing responsibilities, remorse, and endless opportunities for making amends.

  3. joanr16  •  Jul 31, 2006 @9:00 pm

    In a rational world, after 9/11 one of the things the U.S. Congress would have done is end all sales of military supplies to other countries, unless we are signatories to a mutual-defense treaty. We have no such treaty with Israel. It would have been a first step to disentangling ourselves from our lopsided involvement in the Middle East. Too bad we don’t live in a rational world.

  4. Swami  •  Jul 31, 2006 @9:45 pm

    The US and Israel are like siamese twins now

    Yeah, that’s the victory al Qaida was trying to secure. We just married Israel in the eyes of the Muslim world. A stupid move!

    Bush is eager to conflate this conflict with Iraq. I think he believe that the more he expands the conflict the less his mistake in Iraq will appear to be.

    Krugman does a good job of looking at and explaining the situation.

  5. Chief  •  Aug 1, 2006 @8:29 am

    Sec of State Rice maybe a brilliant academician. But she is way out of her league in real world negotiating.

    Most U.S. administrations would not have someone as incompetent as her in any position. This administration is so incredibly, so unbelievably incompetent that can’t tell that she is a life-time minor leauger.

  6. fshk  •  Aug 1, 2006 @1:33 pm

    A little off topic, but I was reading this morning both about rightie reactions to the Israel-Hezbollah war (“Woohoo! Violence! Go Israel!”) and their responses to Mel Gibson’s recent DUI arrest and his subsequent rabid anti-semitism (“Woohoo! We hate Jews, too! Go Mel Gibson!”). Good times.

    I agree with larkspur, Israel is a nation of people, not a mythical concept, and should be represented as such. I suspect a lot of fringe righties (and maybe even some more mainstream ones) have different reasons for supporting Israel than the rest of us do.

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