Chamberlain’s Ghost

On last night’s Countdown, Keith Olbermann compared President Bush to the eternally maligned Neville Chamberlain:

On August 4, 1939, the prime minister of Great Britain, Neville Chamberlain, adjourned the British parliament and ordered it reconvened on October 1st. He went on vacation. Eighteen days later, the Russians and Germans signed a non-aggression pact removing the last obstacle to the Nazis rolling through Europe. When Chamberlain was located by his secretary, he was knee-deep in a river fishing. When the secretary told him that Hitler and Stalin had just cut a deal, Chamberlain told him, ‘You must have gotten that wrong somehow.’ Chamberlain was on vacation. World War II started nine days later.

Our fifth story on the Countdown, depending on how you parse it, there barely is or barely isn’t a civil war in Iraq, and the intensity of the conflict between Israel and Hezbollah continues to spiral upwards. But President Bush, right on time, started his vacation today. His close ally, Tony Blair, avoided the direct Chamberlain comparison and cancelled his own time off because of the events in the Middle East. But the President went to Crawford, Texas today anyway. There he announced two new United Nations resolutions to end the conflict perhaps while making it clear he is not actually involved with a lot of the diplomatic legwork that is needed to make either resolution stick, like actually talking to the leaders of Lebanon and Israel about it.

Later in the program, Olbermann brought in Howard Fineman:

Olbermann: “Is it more than a cheap shot to say the President’s on vacation? Is it even possible to stop Israel and Hezbollah without the President at least giving the appearance of being involved in the process?”

Howard Fineman, Newsweek: “Well, I don’t think it’s a cheap shot, although the White House is trying to tell everybody that this is a much shorter vacation than ones he’s taken in the past, more like a campaign year. It’s that much of an emergency. But the key thing is not how many days he spends in Crawford, it’s what he does or doesn’t do when he’s there. Unfortunately for him, his Crawford record of vigilance is not that terrific politically or substantively. Don’t forget in 2001 he got that famous warning about the possible attack of al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden’s interest in attacking the United States just a month before 9/11. And then last year, during Katrina, there was evidence that he wasn’t really on his game and really vigilant the way he should have been, as early as he should have been, and he paid a lot politically for it. Now you got the combination of him being down in Crawford while at the same time saying that he’s not talking to the two most important leaders in the Middle East conflict right now, the leaders of Israel and Lebanon.”

Olbermann: “In the context of the PDB from 2001 and Katrina from 2005, we know that every few weeks the White House tries to change the delivery of the message or how the message is received or to blame reporters about the message. Does anybody there believe in history? Would somebody say to Mr. Bush, ‘Hey, you know, it would mean something, at least symbolically, if you delayed this trip even by a couple of days if there was some sense that it was not business as usual’?”

Fineman: “There may be some people who might say that to him. They’re not in his inner circle. Some measure of August vacation in Crawford is sacrosanct with George W. Bush. They think they’ve made a big sacrifice. He thinks he’s made a big sacrifice by having it only be about 10 to 11 days and not the nearly month that he sometimes takes and would prefer to take. They’re not going to say it to him. This is a guy who operates sometimes stubbornly by delegation, who operates on a rhythm, who cares very much about routine, and he’s not going to change, and I daresay most of the American people have already come to a conclusion about the character and public persona of George W. Bush. They either like him loathe him, and that’s really not going to be changed by the number of days he spends in Crawford.”

The MSNBC transcript of last night’s program isn’t available yet, so I want to thank Brad Wilmouth of NewsBusters for providing it. I take it Mr. Wilmouth disagrees with this analysis, but he doesn’t say why. It seems the comparison of Bush to Chamberlain was so intrinsically outrageous to Mr. Wilmouth that he believed no counterargument was necessary. Perhaps Mr. Olbermann violated the Right’s copyright on Chamberlain, whose corpse they wave incessantly to frighten spineless leftist appeasers. However, as Attaturk says,

Oh, and another thing if one more person uses poor old Neville Chamberlain one more time in justifying a war, let him or her have to enter the front ranks as a penance. The Right, most of whose intellectual ancestors were in “America First” at the time Chamberlain was earning the appeasement moniker, have more than used up their right to the approbation. Being for more war doesn’t make you tough, it doesn’t make you a man — it distracts you from the activity you never matured out of, taking a magnifying glass to ants.

So let’s put Mr. Chamberlain to rest and move on — Juan Cole writes,

Bush is on vacation, his favorite place to be during a major crisis. The August retreat is the only open admission he makes that Cheney and Rumsfeld are actually running the country, and he just doesn’t need to be in his office. The only difference between his stonewalling of Lebanon and the way he let New Orleans drown is that he has put away the banjo this summer, at least in public view. He had someone tie a necktie on him and stopped manically clearing brush for long enough to come out with Condi and hold a press conference. He lied, saying that no one wants to see the violence continue. He wants to see the violence continue. Otherwise he would insist on a ceasefire. You see, if you don’t have a ceasefire, the violence continues. If you oppose a ceasefire, you are saying you want the violence to continue. He does.

I suppose it’s possible he just plain doesn’t give a shit either way. But the man’s actions speak loudly and clearly that he isn’t particularly interested in stopping the violence, don’t they? Bush defends Israel by saying the war is against jihadists. But Professor Cole points out,

… the Israelis are not confining themselves to bombing Muslim radicals. They dropped 3000 bombs on Aitaroun in a single day. They are leveling the towns of the south altogether. They are hitting people who are not Muslim fascists.

In fact, they are hitting Christian areas such as Jounieh.

The Professor links to a Gulfnews article titled “Christian support to Israel dies under hail of bombs.” I really would like the righties to explain why Israel is bombing Christians, since Christians are way unlikely to be jihadists. The righties, however, are in their fourth day of a feeding frenzy over a couple of “doctored” photographs. Some other time, maybe.

Dan Froomkin writes,

As President Bush’s foreign policy oscillates between “cowboy diplomacy” and “post-cowboy diplomacy” and back again, it’s worth pointing out that it’s not really correct to call it diplomacy if he invariably refuses to talk to people who disagree with him.

The U.N. resolution Bush was pushing this morning from his vacation home in Texas bears the hallmarks of non-diplomacy: It’s a supposed cease-fire resolution that the parties most desperate for a cease fire are condemning as unworkable, unsatisfactory and doomed.

Perhaps that’s because the Bush administration is only engaging in direct talks with one party to the hostilities: Israel. The United States refuses to conduct negotiations with Hezbollah or its sponsors, Syria and Iran.

And the views of the democratically-elected government of Lebanon — where the continuing Israeli air strikes have killed more than 550 people, mostly civilians — are being dismissed by the White House as the overly emotional arguments of people who don’t know what’s best for them.

According to the quotations provided by Froomkin, it’s Condi who refuses to countenance “emotional arguments”:

Asked about Lebanese objections, Rice responded dismissively: “I understand how emotional this is for the Lebanese.”

But this is actually my favorite part:

Both Bush and Rice were dispassionate about the carnage in the region, savoring instead what they insist are important geopolitical gains. An unconditional cease-fire three weeks ago, Rice said, “would not have addressed any of these items that both sides know are going to have to be addressed if we’re going to have a sustainable cease-fire in the future.

So this has been time that’s been well-spent over the last couple of weeks.”

I ‘spect there are a lot of Lebanese and also many Israelis who disagree, but they’re just being emotional. Then Condi goes on to talk about those “root causes” again, oblivious to the fact that, with every bomb dropped and every rocket launched, the roots are growing deeper. One could argue the wars in Lebanon and Iraq are jihadist fertilizer.

The Guardian
reports it was a “bloody night” in Beirut last night,

Israel inflicted one of its deadliest attacks on Beirut last night when an air strike on a southern district killed at least 15 people, just hours after the departure of a delegation from the Arab League.

At least 30 were injured in the strike, which capped another day of violence in Lebanon in which more than 50 people died, including three Israeli soldiers.

The Guardian also reports that Israel refuses to cooperate with the UN or international aid groups trying to deliver humanitarian supplies to Lebanon.

Meanwhile, the justifications for the bombs and rockets continue to be debated on the nation’s op ed pages. Daniel Jonah Goldhagen presents Israel’s side in today’s Los Angeles Times:

Hezbollah — in choosing not to return the two soldiers it seized on July 12, and in its bombardment of Israel — has declared that it does not care if its war-making leads Israel to attack Lebanon’s cities, ruin that country’s economy and kill its people. What matters most is inflicting damage on Israel, weakening its morale and goading it to a level of destruction that will incite the world’s wrath. The Palestinians said as much with their second intifada and their suicide bombings. But this is different because Hezbollah’s daily rainfall of rockets in Israel portends an intolerable military assault without end.

What can Israel do — what could any country do? — with such an enemy?

After checking off some options and explaining why they wouldn’t work, Professor Goldhagen continues,

So Israel has adopted the fourth strategic possibility: to devastate its dangerous foe, which also would restore deterrence. Yet Israel has discovered that against combatants who look like civilians and whose rockets are hidden everywhere, it must fight longer and occupy and destroy much more of Lebanon than it may deem moral, wise or feasible. Even a future international force in southern Lebanon — the possibility of which is highly uncertain — may be incapable of thwarting Hezbollah and would still leave northern Israel in Hezbollah’s rocket range.

Professor Goldhagen concludes that Israel’s only viable option is to escalate the war and take it to Iran and Syria.

I’m not even going to comment on this. Make of it what you will (and I know you will).

George Monbiot also looks at the question asked by Professor Goldhagen, “What can Israel do?” But Monbiot’s answer differs.

Whatever we think of Israel’s assault on Lebanon, all of us seem to agree about one fact: that it was a response, however disproportionate, to an unprovoked attack by Hizbullah. I repeated this “fact” in my last column, when I wrote that “Hizbullah fired the first shots”. This being so, the Israeli government’s supporters ask peaceniks like me, what would you have done? It’s an important question. But its premise, I have now discovered, is flawed.

After listing some Hezbollah-Israeli aggressions over the past few years, Monbiot continues,

On July 12, in other words, Hizbullah fired the first shots. But that act of aggression was simply one instance in a long sequence of small incursions and attacks over the past six years by both sides. So why was the Israeli response so different from all that preceded it? The answer is that it was not a reaction to the events of that day. The assault had been planned for months.

The San Francisco Chronicle reports that “more than a year ago, a senior Israeli army officer began giving PowerPoint presentations, on an off-the-record basis, to US and other diplomats, journalists and thinktanks, setting out the plan for the current operation in revealing detail”. The attack, he said, would last for three weeks. It would begin with bombing and culminate in a ground invasion. Gerald Steinberg, professor of political science at Bar-Ilan University, told the paper that “of all of Israel’s wars since 1948, this was the one for which Israel was most prepared … By 2004, the military campaign scheduled to last about three weeks that we’re seeing now had already been blocked out and, in the last year or two, it’s been simulated and rehearsed across the board”.

A “senior Israeli official” told the Washington Post that the raid by Hizbullah provided Israel with a “unique moment” for wiping out the organisation. The New Statesman’s editor, John Kampfner, says he was told by more than one official source that the US government knew in advance of Israel’s intention to take military action in Lebanon. The Bush administration told the British government.

At the Boston Globe, H.D.S. Greenway points out the flaws in Israel’s position:

… Israel’s assault has not just been upon the Shi’ite militia group, but upon Lebanon itself.

For it is hard to reconcile bombing of Beirut’s international airport, petroleum supplies, power plants, fishing fleets, and even attacks upon the Lebanese military, with combating guerrillas. The attacks of Lebanon’s military are especially odd when Israel keeps calling upon Lebanon to take charge and disarm Hezbollah. …

… Israel seems to have two strategies at play in addition to reducing Hezbollah’s ability to rain down rockets upon terrified civilians. The first is that if Lebanon can be made to feel enough pain, then it will finally rein in Hezbollah of its own accord. The choice given Lebanon is: Either you disarm Hezbollah, as the UN has demanded, or we will make life impossible for you.

The fault in this approach is that the Lebanese military hasn’t the ability to disarm Hezbollah, and will be even less able to do so if Israel continues to attack it. More important, the attacks on Lebanon’s civilian infrastructure are convincing Lebanese of all confessions that Israel is a bigger enemy and threat than Hezbollah.

As for the question “What can Israel do?” Greenway says,

The key to disarming Hezbollah has always been, first, convincing Lebanon’s Shi’ites that they no longer need a militia and would be better off without one, and second, building up the institutions of the Lebanese state to the point where the Lebanese government can exert its authority. Unfortunately for Israel, bombing apartment buildings and whole Shi’ite sections of Beirut have strengthened Hezbollah’s prestige among Shi’ites. And the destruction of Lebanon’s economy, which was just getting back to normal, will give terrorists a stronger foothold in that unhappy land than they might otherwise have had.

I haven’t seen anyone arguing that Israel doesn’t have a right, even a duty, to defend itself and do whatever is necessary to provide security for Israeli citizens. Our argument all along has been that Israel’s actions are illogical and counterproductive. I have yet to see a rightie address this.

The second strategy, beyond the reduction of Hezbollah itself, seems to have been borrowed from the old Palestine Liberation Organization playbook: Behave in such a wild manner, causing so much trouble, that the world will have to take notice and do something about it. It also sends a warning to Damascus and Tehran not to count on Israeli restraint. That strategy seems to have been partly successful as the United Nations struggles to find an international force to secure Israel’s northern border.

President Jimmy Carter writes (emphasis added),

… even if the UN Security Council adopts and implements a resolution that would lead to such an eventual solution, it will provide just another band-aid and temporary relief. Tragically, the current conflict is part of the inevitably repetitive cycle of violence that results from the absence of a comprehensive settlement in the Middle East, exacerbated by the almost unprecedented six-year absence of any real effort to achieve such a goal.

Jeez, I wonder what six-year absence he is talking about.

Leaders on both sides ignore strong majorities that crave peace, allowing extremist-led violence to preempt all opportunities for building a political consensus. Traumatized Israelis cling to the false hope that their lives will be made safer by incremental unilateral withdrawals from occupied areas, while Palestinians see their remnant territories reduced to little more than human dumping grounds surrounded by a provocative “security barrier” that embarrasses Israel’s friends and fails to bring safety or stability.

And this is because political solutions are the same thing as “appeasement” to the hawks. They are so terrified of Neville Chamberlain’s ghost that all other lessons of history have been flushed down the toilet. War is the only solution they recognize.

Did I mention President Bush is on vacation?

See also:

Larry Johnson, “Israel’s Looming Defeat

SusanUnPC, “Bush’s Middle East Strategery: For Toddlers”

Billmon, “Whose Line Is It Anyway?

Glenn Greenwald, “Neoconservatives can’t dig their way out of this hole

Update: More Billmon.

17 thoughts on “Chamberlain’s Ghost

  1. Call me cynical, but I see a direct relationship between Israeli premeditated attack & Bush’s ostrich burrowing about a cease-fire with the upcoming 06 midterms. Bush’s Rovian philosophy is always about war, being in one, power through might, mission accomplished, battle-macho bravado, testosterone induced insanity to masculate their inept record and cowardice. Though it seems that Bush is playing very “hands-off” until the “root causes” are addressed, the truth is that he is very involved in this mess.
    His involvement is clear to me: MORE. WAR. FOREVER.

  2. “The August retreat is the only open admission he makes that Cheney and Rumsfeld are actually running the country, and he just doesn’t need to be in his office. ”

    You know last week there was a new book about 9/11 and reports of the FAA and NORAD transcripts– in the explanation to all this was the statement never explained: that it was too difficult to contact Bush, that he couldn’t be reached. As if Air Force One has no phones, as if his aides have no phones, as if Condi , the NSA had no phone. There was no explanation or attempt to explain this premise about why the “confusion” that day. No mention that Boy George was out of it as usual and left Dick and Don in charge.

  3. I have to add: Go read Dreadnought. You will see that the Kaiser went on vacation to Norway in July 1914 on purpose( after Archduke Ferdinand had been shot June) to give the appearance that all was normal and Germany had no ‘designs’ to commit aggression on anyone, while making moves to insure a war. It had been planned of course all along. His military was ready to go.
    I have a feeling Olmert’s military and his defense minister in particular ,who is equal to Olmert politically, is running this show. When our secretary of state says the past weeks have been well spent you can bet it was all planned.

  4. I suppose it’s possible he just plain doesn’t give a shit either way.

    I watched a bit of Bush’s presser yesterday, and I got that distinct impression. A reporter asked him if he’d been in touch with, well, anybody, and he said brusquely that Condi was doing that. Condi, not the secretary of state. As if she were his office secretary, not his cabinet secretary.

    The more I watch him lately, the more I think he’s just lost interest. He doesn’t understand what’s going on, and he doesn’t care. He’s bored, I think. Talk about plausible deniability.

  5. The Israelis taking advantage of an ‘incident’ to justify a war action they had already fully planned sure reminds me of the 9/11 ‘justification’ being used to carry out the neocons’ PNAC plan.

    The proof will be in the pudding, as they say. I am waiting to see what happens to the riparian rights of Lebanese whose river waters are so coveted by Israel that, in 2002, Israel threatened war when the southern Lebanese piped drinking water in a bid to use just a small percent of their water allotment from a river [Wazzani] that Israel also uses downstream. At that time, Huzbollah stood guard while the pipeline was installed, and the United States send mediators in to calm the conflict.

    Let’s remember that in the fall of 2002, the war drums about Iraq were getting pounded and the spinners were in full form to convince the world of Saddam WMD threats; probably the neo-cons persuaded Israel to hold off and not interfere with Iraq war plans by starting a war with Lebanon at that time. Was there a coordinating scheme that promised Israel that it could ‘wage war’ on Lebanon with impunity a later date…… which later time the USA would run interference by helping delay a ‘ceasefire’?

  6. Tragically, the current conflict is part of the inevitably repetitive cycle of violence that results from the absence of a comprehensive settlement in the Middle East, exacerbated by the almost unprecedented six-year absence of any real effort to achieve such a goal.

    I wish Jimmy Carter and others would realize that the neocons have been very busy during this six year “hiatus” to indeed reach a comprehensive settlement, using armies instead of diplomacy.

    He and others just don’t see that the game has changed. Dramatically.

  7. You are doing a great service by collecting the various discussions about WHY Israel has acted as it has in destroying Lebanon. If you have not read or quoted from Prof. Cole’s August 6 post, “One Ring To Rule Them,” concerning Iran and Peak Oil, and the destruction of Lebanon as an opening gambit in a war against Iran, please do. It is a theory worth knowing about and thinking about.

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  9. Without knowing that Israel had been planning to attack for a while, it seemed to me that Israel fell into the trap: Hezbollah put rockets in civilian areas so that Israel would look bad for attacking civilians and, lo, more sympathy for Hezbollah… which is exactly what’s happening. Did no one in Israel look at Iraq and say, “Gee, the natives don’t seem to like it when you invade their country and kill civilians.”

  10. The August retreat time only means one thing folks, for those keeping score at home you know what time it is!!!!!Its time to play “whats the new product line?”What mess of shit will they be selling us THIS year?Yet another lemon we CAN’T live without no doubt. Oh we all know what they are selling, and we will be forced to buy it whether we like it or not,but it is always fun(snark) to see how they plan to package it to make it more buyer friendly to the stupid sheep like masses.So make the popcorn folks and pull up a spot on the rug .. cause when ever it is “new product line” time you are going to want your ass firmly planted to the floor where it is safe….

  11. Anyone doing his job this way in the real world would have been fired long ago. Why are our representatives such wimps? (Retorical).

  12. Asked about Lebanese objections, Rice responded dismissively: “I understand how emotional this is for the Lebanese.”

    Good grief! I always knew the woman wasn’t human – she is a Klingon.

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