Monday, July 24, 2006

Who's Fiddling While the Middle East Burns?

"...the conflagration both broke out and instantly became so fierce and so rapid from the wind that it seized in its grasp the entire length of the circus.."

Tacitus, Annals XV, 38

Who's Fiddling While the Middle East Burns?
Any chance for success in seeing a pro-Western Iraq government is lost each and every moment that the U.S. delays in playing a major part in stabilizing the region.

Watching Josh Bolten so easily eviscerated by Tim Russert on Meet the Press yesterday, the man Anonymoses has so craftily named "Mini-Dick" sounded more like a fiddler than a man who represents a leader with a plan.

Iraq's prime minister Nouri al-Maliki is in Washington DC to "expose" Iran's leaning upon him to say those nasty things about America and Israel.

Those big bad Iranians are doing just what you'd expect them to do. They're pressing their advantage because the Shia street is ablaze with anger toward the U.S. and Israel. Just like the U.S., who has offered up thousands of American lives and hundreds of thousands of American casulaties, Iraq is hoping for as much influence in Iraq's politics as they can muster - off the backs of America's failure to win the political struggle once they'd removed Saddam Hussein from Iraq's helm.

From an op-ed by Charles A. Kupchan, a professor of international affairs at Georgetown University, is a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars:
[..]an American administration thought it could transform the Middle East overnight, using regime change in Iraq to jump start rapid democratization throughout the region. Instead, Washington's ideological hubris and practical incompetence have succeeded only in setting the region ablaze, awakening extremist and militant voices.[..]The toppling of Saddam Hussein was intended to send shock waves across the Arab world, intimidating the region's brittle tyrannies while encouraging the spontaneous civic movements that have brought democracy to much of post-Communist Europe. In Iraq itself, democrats were to replace a brutal autocrat, providing a model for the region.[..]Precisely the opposite has happened.

Of course, you cannot stabilize a region unless you know what you're doing there in the first place - and unless you fully understand the attitudes of the people and governments of the region. After hearing the evasive and cunning Dick-Cheney-like White House chief of staff Joshua Bolten on Meet the Press yesterday, I am not at all convinced that the Bush administration knows what they are getting themselves into. [Echoes of "we'll be greeted as liberators" still ring through our minds.]

I was concerned after reading Juan Cole's posting yesterday,
The chief outcome of the "war on terror" has been the proliferation of asymmetrical challengers. Israel's assault on the very fabric of the Lebanese state seems likely to weaken or collapse it and further that proliferation. Since asymmetrical challengers often turn to terrorism as a tactic, the "war on terror" has been, at the level of political society below that of high politics and the state, the most efficient engine for the production of terrorism in history.

To any moral human being, this is DREADFUL news - especially given the fact that Jan Egeland, the United Nations undersecretary general for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, said Sunday after touring South Beirut that most of the victims of Israel's attacks on Lebanon have been innocent civilians, and that children are dying.

We should be concerned about Professor Cole's comments regarding what was overheard as Bush chewed on his lunch and talked (with his mouth full) with UK PM Tony Blair last week. Bush clearly thinks that the war broke out because Syria used Hezbollah to create a provocation. It's far more complicated than that, as I'm sure you all already know. Professor Cole says it's "scary" to hear Bush say such things because the Israeli planning had to have been done in conjunction with Donald Rumsfeld at the US Department of Defense.

Let's heed Lawrence Kaplan's warning at TNR:
" lines have been drawn, whether the White House chooses to acknowledge them or not. With its own timetable for contesting Iran's nuclear ambitions--not to mention 130,000 U.S. troops fighting next door in Iraq--the administration has no appetite for a wider war. "If this escalates into open conflict between Iran and Israel," says Ray Takeyh, an Iran expert at the Council on Foreign Relations, "America's goals in Iraq and its nuclear diplomacy at the U.N. will both go up in flames."
Bush cannot rely upon Israeli aggression alone for any form of success in Iraq. Kaplan suggests that the common American and Israeli goal seems to be the neutralization of Hezbollah (..although Joshua Bolten wouldn't admit it on Meet The Press on Sunday. Then again, he avoided admitting to just about everything with which he was confronted.)

Mr. Kaplan said:
the administration has given Israel the green light to "hit Hezbollah hard," in the words of a senior Israeli official. But, with one eye to the aftermath, the Bush team fears civilian casualties will amplify the chorus of international criticism, forcing a premature halt to the campaign and poisoning a post-conflict settlement. "Israel knows it can't dismantle Hezbollah from the air, and it knows the [Lebanese] government can't rein [Hezbollah] in," says a Pentagon official. "Everything you're seeing is about leverage for the end game." That end game, both the United States and Israel hope, will include European--and particularly French--political support for an effort to neutralize Hezbollah.
Hezbollah will not likely be neutralized anytime soon, but their violent tendencies may serve to cause the international community to marginalize them with the right showing of international force. If we are truly allies to Israel, the U.S. had best not unilaterally act like co-hooligans with them, but instead like a civilized nation of thinking gentlemen (and women).

Billmon speaks of the the flucht nach vorne --
the flight forward into even bigger follies.

Billmon says:

I'm disappointed to see that even Martin van Creveld, whose work I admire, has fallen prey to the comforting delusion that the situation can be salvaged with ever more destructive applications of firepower:
The problem in Lebanon is not Israel’s "excessive" use of violence. Quite the opposite, the real problem could be Israel’s extreme reluctance to use a sufficiently high level of force to solve this problem once and for all..
Dr. van Creveld, more than most, should understand where that logic ends in this kind of war: defeat or genocide. For some time now, one of my biggest fears has been that the neocons and their helpmates will finally drag America into a situation in the Midlde East where those are the only choices. The last twelve days seem to have taken us -- or at least our Middle East proxy -- another step in that direction.

In the Arab world, another major player in the worsening Middle East instability comes into play, and that is Syria. Here's a statement from Juan Cole on why the Bush administration's hopes of using the Israeli attempt to destroy Hezbollah as a wedge to convince Syria to give up rejectionism and detach itself from Iran are crazy. (my emphasis):
Syria is not going to give up its stance toward Israel unless it at the very least gets back the occupied Golan Heights. That is non-negotiable for Damascus. Since the Israeli Right is diehard opposed to making that deal, Israel will go on occupying part of Syrian soil. Syria cannot accept that outcome. Likewise, the Alawi regime in Syria faces a powerful challenge from the Sunni Muslim Brotherhood. The high Baath officials would be afraid that if they made peace with Israel and got nothing out of it for Syria, there would be a mass popular Islamist uprising. A separate peace that leaves the Palestinians to the Israelis' tender mercies would also stick in the craw of the Syrian public. The administration plan will fail.

In Joseph Braude's latest TNR piece on Syria, he warns against a misreading (a la Michael Rubin/WSJ) of the feeling on the Arab street and in inter-Arab politics, making the point that Syria's refusal to comply with UN resolution 1559 has "long irked other Arab states":
I've been glued to Al Jazeera the past few days, and let me tell you, a large contingent of Arab nationalists and Sunni Islamists alike have no particular beef with Shiism lately. On the contrary, they fault Arab governments for shirking their duty to join Shia Hezbollah and Iran in fighting Israel. As the Lebanese death toll increases, this sentiment stands only to be solidified by the mass broadcast images of Arab blood. To insist that a bias against Shia power drives Arab leaders tacitly to support Israel is to impute a higher degree of sectarian chauvinism to Arab autocrats than one finds in their societies.

Note: I'm sure "the Arab street" won't be any happier to learn that Amnesty International is reporting that there've been "dozens of cases of individuals subjected to torture and ill-treatment in Jordan, ten of whom appear to be victims of the United States' renditions program."

Harold Myerson on what must be done to head off more needless death and destruction:
The remarks of Sharon's successor, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, scaling back Israel's goals from Hezbollah's destruction to the return of prisoners, the end of rocket attacks and the placement of Lebanese troops on the border, may signal a welcome descent from fantasy to reality in Israeli policy.[..]Real border security is going to require the kind of force that didn't exist as World War I loomed.[..]With the Lebanese army no match for Hezbollah, a genuine international army such as that proposed by Kofi Annan and Tony Blair (and bigger and more assertive than the Boy Scout troops that the United Nations periodically deploys) is needed to restore the peace. It offers no decisive outcome to the Arab-Israeli conflict, but no decisive outcome is remotely in the offing. [..] In a region rapidly succumbing to blood-drenched fantasies of victory or of martyrdom, however, an international holding action may be the only thing to spare us from another 1914.