The Spigot of Diplomacy

I’m generally ambivalent about Andrea Mitchell and David Ignatius, but they had an interesting discussion on yesterday afternoon’s Hardball. It might be that they sounded unusually balanced and intelligent because of the quality of the other guests. But I’m pasting in some of the transcript, anyway (emphasis added).

MATTHEWS: OK, thank you very much Karby Leggett who is on the phone from Jerusalem. Great piece in the “Wall Street Journal” today Karby. Let‘s bring in NBC News chief foreign affairs correspondent Andrea Mitchell and “Washington Post” columnist David Ignatius. Andrea, you‘re always on top of these things. Is there something to be on top of right now? Is there a real peace effort at this point?

ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC NEWS CHIEF FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: There isn‘t a peace effort from the United States and not from Israel because, the real goal of Israel, as stated very publicly, is to take out those Hezbollah rockets, particularly the larger and longer range missile that they have long feared, they claim that they took out one rocket with a 1,200-pound warhead that has a 65-mile plus range, which could reach Tel Aviv. They say they did it. U.S. intelligence said don‘t disbelieve that.

In other words, we don‘t have hard confirmation on the ground. So far, they have found that Israel‘s claims have been correct on these matters, that Hezbollah has this increasingly large and lethal arsenal, supplied by Iran, and unless and until the Lebanese government can control that southern Lebanese area, that border area, and a considerable buffer zone to that area, Israel will continue this.

MATTHEWS: Not to be demoralizing to the Israeli cause in terms of their perspective, but what stops one of the allies of Hezbollah to simply replace any rockets destroyed by Israel?

MITCHELL: That‘s exactly why Israel has been bombing every access to Lebanon, the port, the bridges, the airport, the roads from Damascus. They have tried to stop that resupply, as well as stopping any exit for those captured soldiers that could be brought across the border to Syria.

MATTHEWS: Let me go to David Ignatius. You‘ve always struck me as somewhere in the middle politically in trying to understand this Middle East crisis that never seems to end. Do you think this one will have an ending in the near term? Will there a peace cease fire, based upon mutual purposes here?

DAVID IGNATIUS, “WASHINGTON POST” COLUMNIST: It is entirely likely there will be a cease fire down the road. I think Israel wants to keep shooting, wants to keep attacking, having gone in until it really has degraded Hezbollah‘s military capability. The problem, what worries me is that the real consequence of what‘s happened over the last week is that the Lebanese government, in which the United States has a big investment, this was one of the few U.S. success stories in the region, really is going to have trouble recovering the idea that it can easily assert authority again, take control, disarm Hezbollah, which Israelis talk about as their goal. It‘s a wonderful idea, I just don‘t see it happening as a consequence of this war.

MATTHEWS: Dan Ayalon was just on. I want you both to respond to this. Dan Ayalon, of course a well known ambassador in the United States from Israel, says that he believes the heart and mind of the Lebanese government is to try to get rid of Hezbollah but they are afraid to say anything until they‘re crushed. Is that accurate, Andrea?

MITCHELL: Well, I think that was initially the heart and mind of the Lebanese government but they have now seen the infrastructure of their country destroyed by Israel. That‘s exactly what David Ignatius‘ just said is the real risk. There‘s a tipping point here.

This government couldn‘t control its own social services. Hezbollah had gradually become the most popular political force, Shia political force in Lebanon as it was and actually crossing sectarian grounds there by providing social services, by controlling some of the domestic ministries, by electing people to local officials and to parliament. They were a government force on the civilian side, as well as controlling those militias that are supported with great amounts of money from Iran. There is a real risk here that this government will collapse and you will have a civil war. Exactly what David is outlining.

MATTHEWS: OK, let‘s look right now and move to a somewhat lighter vain, potentially. Let look at what President Bush said today in the meeting when he was still over in Saint Petersburg.


TONY BLAIR, PRIME MINISTER OF GREAT BRITAIN: I think the thing that is really difficult is you can‘t stop this unless you get the international presence agreed.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: She‘s going. I think Condi‘s going to go pretty soon.

BLAIR: Well that‘s all that matters, if you see, it will take some time to get out of there. But at least it gives people …

BUSH: It‘s a process I agree. I told her your offer too.

BLAIR: Well it‘s only, or if she‘s gonna or if she needs the ground prepared, as it were. See if she goes out, she‘s got to succeed as it were, where as I can just go out and talk.

BUSH: See the irony is what they need to do is get Syria to get Hezbollah to stop doing this (EXPLETIVE DELETED) and it‘s over.


MATTHEWS: Well, skipping the expletive, Andrea, what does it mean to get Syria to stop Hezbollah from doing what it is doing. Is that as simple as he made it sound?

MITCHELL: Not at all. Because he may be correct that there has been not enough pressure from Kofi Annan and others with relationships with Damascus, but, I mean, let‘s look back. Warren Christopher went 33 times to Damascus and was criticized for a rather ineffectual show of diplomacy. But, we have no relationship with Damascus for a lot of reasons on both sides.

This administration has basically put off limits direct talks with Syria or Iran. We have no leverage with either party. We have to rely on others. And to get Syria now to back off? Why would it be in Syria‘s interests to back off when in fact Hezbollah is its proxy?

MATTHEWS: Let me ask you David, I‘ve been reading your columns for years. You‘ve got contacts in the Druze community and all those people over there. Are they all anti-American now? Anti-Israeli?

IGNATIUS: No Lebanese like to see their country pounded. And you wouldn‘t want to go around waving an Israeli flag in Lebanon. There are many Lebanese who are sick of Hezbollah. The idea of this militia, which has pitched Israel across the border, taking out bridges, power stations, making life miserable. That upsets people. And they‘re sick of it. I think the key here is to have a more aggressive, engaged U.S. diplomacy in this part of the world.

As Andrea said, we don‘t even have an ambassador in Damascus who could start this process. If we want to build up the Lebanese government so that it someday can control all the territory of Lebanon, make it safer for everybody, for Israelis, for Lebanese, for everybody, we‘ve got to get more involved. That‘s not going to happen and President Bush in that comment that was picked up by the microphone, talks as if diplomacy is a little spigot you can turn off and on. Let‘s send Condi. Let‘s pick up the phone and let‘s have Kofi do this. It doesn‘t work that way. It requires sustained engagement over time. And that‘s been missing. We‘re paying the price for it.

MATTHEWS: Why is he so different than his father?

IGNATIUS: Dr. Freud needs to come in on this I think. His father was a person who knew the Middle East deeply. He traveled and he knew the leaders. He knew it from an intelligence standpoint. He had run the CIA, the texture, the feel on your fingertips of the Middle East, the father had. The son never really has had that. To him, I think, as to many Israeli leaders, this is really about toughness. About standing up to adversaries. It is not about the feel and texture of diplomacy.

MITCHELL: In fact, Chris, if I may, second that. The only foreign trip that George W. Bush took before becoming president was to Israel. And Ariel Sharon, this was when he was defense minister, I believe or housing minister in charge of settlements, not when he was prime minister even, took him north in a helicopter to see the proximity of that border there.

MATTHEWS: I know that trip very well, I‘ve been on it. It is called the Likud trip. I know that trip.

MITCHELL: And that is to toughen up American politicians and other visitors to just how vulnerable Israel really is. But, he had not been to Europe. He had not been, aside with from as a kid with his father to Asia, when his father was the special envoy in Beijing, he had not been anywhere else in the world. His sole experience is through an Israeli prism.

MATTHEWS: We‘ll come right back. It is getting very interesting here. Andrea Mitchell and David Ignatius are staying with us. And when we do return, we‘ll get an update on the evacuation of Americans trapped in Lebanon right now. This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. As the fighting rages on between Israel and Hezbollah, 25,000 Americans remain in Lebanon. Tonight plans are underway to evacuate them, to get them out. At least those who want to get out. NBC‘s Pentagon Correspondent Jim Miklaszewski joins us now with the latest.

JIM MIKLASZEWSKI, NBC PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Chris, the State Department estimates that of the 25,000 Americans in Lebanon, 24,000 of those have dual citizenship, Lebanese and U.S. and they estimate that only about 5,000 of those may want to get out of Lebanon and fast. So far, U.S. military helicopters have air lifted only 63 Americans out of Lebanon to the nearby island of Cyprus. At that rate, it would take forever to evacuate all 5,000 or so.

So beginning tomorrow, the U.S. has chartered a Greek cruise, The Orient Queen, to begin ferrying Americans, 750 at a time, for the five hour sail from Lebanon to Cyprus. Now the U.S. warship the USS Gonzales, a destroyer, will accompany and escort the Greek cruise ship and provide force protection. And within days some 2,200 marines, an amphibious task force, including the air craft carrier Iwo Jima, are expected to arrive in the area, again to provide force protection if need.

But U.S. military and Pentagon officials say those warships will maintain a discreet distance from the shoreline of Lebanon, so as not to provide any provocation or targets. Because after all, it was in the early ‘80s that the U.S. was attacked twice by Hezbollah when they bombed the U.S. embassy, and the marine barracks at the Beirut International Airport, killing 241 marines. Chris?

MATTHEWS: Thank you, NBC‘s Jim Miklaszewski at the Pentagon.

We‘re back right now with NBC News chief foreign affairs correspondent Andrea Mitchell and “Washington Post” columnist David Ignatius. Listening to Dan Ayalon today, the Israeli ambassador, I thought I was listening to a Bush administration official, Andrea, because he kept talking about how everybody who is opposed to us or Israel in that whole region of the world is basically the same person. They‘re a terrorist. Are they sort of aping our line or we‘re aping their line, what is it now?

MITCHELL: Well I think there is a confluence of interest here between the United States and Israel. The U.S. would not mind at all and is permitting through this green light diplomatically, permitting Israel to go after Hezbollah because the U.S., this administration clearly wants Hezbollah wiped out, wants to be able to also deal an indirect blow to Iran, its chief sponsor, and wants to try to stand up that democracy.

But as David and I were discussing with you just a minute ago, the real problem is whether that Lebanese fledgling democracy, which was created with the withdrawal of Syrian forces 18 months ago can really stand up, with having been beaten down so far and with the infrastructure of Lebanon so badly destroyed.

MATTHEWS: David, the same question. Are we speaking the same language? The government over there, which is sort of a combination of Likud and some more moderating forces and this administration. Are they speaking the same world view here?

IGNATIUS: You know increasingly, it the same language, which I have this weird sense of deja vu, Chris. I was in Beirut in 1982 when the Israelis invaded. That was another big roll of the dice. It was an effort to transform the situation. That time the terrorists were the PLO and Yasser Arafat.

Israelis rolled the tanks all the way to Beirut thinking we‘ll finally crush them in their lair. That proved to be a strategic disaster for Israel by the account of every Israeli I talked to. And I worry that in a sense, Israel may be repeating the same mistake. It‘s understandable they want to go after the people who were firing rockets at their cities, who were kidnapping their soldiers.

The question is whether they‘ve taken the bait of this adversary. You know, Lebanon swallows up invaders, as we have found, as the Israelis found. It is a merciless kind of battlefield. And I just worry that at the end of this mini war, whatever you want to call it, Israel won‘t really be very much more secure than it was before it started. And that should worry everybody.

MATTHEWS: David Ignatius of the “Washington Post,” Andrea Mitchell of NBC News, our chief foreign affairs correspondent. When we return, we‘ll get back and give you the latest from Haifa, where Israelis continue to live with the threat, in fact the reality of Hezbollah rockets. This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.


UN Ambassador Bolton says there is no “moral equivalence” between Israeli civilians killed by terrorist attack and Lebanese civilians killed by Israeli bombs. However, there may be a moral equivalence between Bolton and a cockroach. (See also Shakespeare’s Sister.)

White House Press Secretary Tony Snow accused Helen Thomas of representing “the Hezbollah view.”

Taylor Marsh writes that, at the G8 Summit, President Bush groped German Chancellor Andrea Merkel. She’s got the photos to prove it. See also Steve M. Gross.

9 thoughts on “The Spigot of Diplomacy

  1. Seems that “cowboy diplomacy” is still alive and well. I haven’t watched t.v. in about 3 years–too much that I didn’t want to see and hardly anything that I did want to see–so I appreciate the transcript. I still think these commentators are mostly legends in their own minds, but it seems they’re having an “Anderson Cooper moment” (during Katrina, when he couldn’t contain his outrage). It will be interesting to see how their quotes play out several months from now. I do like the reference to how only the names of the players have changed (PLO to Hezbollah).
    On other items:
    –Bolton is a lame excuse for a human being;
    –Helen Thomas is an American hero;
    –Bush isn’t just an embarassment. He’s disgusting.

  2. Bolton would have excelled as a Kommadant of a death camp. I don’t think he’d have any problems ordering mass executions or pushing children into the gas chamber. When a person can so easily and clearly determine whose life has value and whose doesn’t,that person has lost their humanity( if they ever had it). Bolton is a sick, sick man. You’d think that anybody with even an iota of common sense on how to conduct themselves socially would know to keep the sickness of their heart hidden.

  3. Bush’s little episode with Merkel was totally inappropriate. An incident like that in the workplace would be considered sexual harassment. Bush doesn’t have the discretion to know that taking that kind of liberty with a women is unacceptable and a wrong behavior unless you’re trying to put the make on her.. Merkel’s reaction showed that Bush’s fratboy act wasn’t well recieved.

  4. Condi Rice is quoted as saying that a possible cease-fire should not be attempted unless it can be done to assure ‘permanent results’. Trouble is that allowing the bloodbath to continue means that more and more people caught in this nightmare will be PERMANENTLY DEAD. But wait, maybe that is the plan!

    To translate Condi Rice’s [and Bolton’s] position: ‘We are going to stall by uttering nonsense for awhile yet, in order to allow the combatants more time to continue their killing and destruction. Our brilliant stall strategy will provide greater satisfaction [perhaps even a full-meal-deal satiation] for the one element we consider important in any of our political deliberations, i.e., the BBB. [Bush Base Bloodlust]’

  5. You know, calling Helen Thomas a Hezbolla supporter is particularly low because Ms. Thomas is a Lebanese Arab woman. This is the second time in a week that someone has surreptitiously attacked her in this way. Some moronic congressman made a crack that the “73 virgins” waiting for martyrs “all looked like Helen Thomas”.

  6. So Bush kisses and rubs bald heads and give women back rubs- what an insecure man trying to physically intimidate everyone

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