Just Above Sunset
July 30, 2006 - We Want Change, Not Peace, and No One Is Helping













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Last week opened with "a surprise" on Monday, July 24, as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice started her brief visit to the Middle East to see what she could do with the situation in southern Lebanon, where Israel and the Hezbollah had been at it for eleven days, with a stop in somewhat disassembled Beirut. She couldn't fly in as the Israeli Air Force had taken out the runways, and fuel depots, at the international airport - so it was buzzing in, in a helicopter in from Cyprus to the American embassy in the hills above the city, in the Christian section - a northern approach pattern - then a convoy down to the city to chat with Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, and Lebanese Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, an ally of Hezbollah. The following day with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in Jerusalem would be easier. The following day's meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah would be just strange, as Abbas is not the head of the Palestinian government, the Prime Minister, only a minority figurehead as Hamas runs things now, thanks to the election we insisted upon where they elected to wrong people, according to us - the people we won't talk to.

But the Beirut thing was pretty strange in and of itself. This was probably because the message she carried to Beirut was a downer - she told them the United States government was opposed to an immediate ceasefire. We take the position that just stopping everyone from fighting was pointless. Yes, much of Beirut was rubble and nearly four hundred civilians were dead and all that, and the weak government there in trouble, but what was the point in stopping this fighting if nothing changed? This was a chance to "transform" things. Reuters quotes her as explaining things this way - "Any peace is going to have to be based on enduring principles and not on temporary solutions."

Hezbollah captured two Israeli soldiers on July 12, and all hell broke loose, but if everyone just stopped fighting now, nothing would be resolved, really. Sure, many people would live and all that, but what would change, really?

The message was that Washington was "thinking big" - we want things to change, and lots of folks would just have to die for the big concept. We'd send aid - food and medicine and all that, but that was it. We're all for the idea of a humanitarian corridor to get help to "the needy," and Israel says it could support that idea. It's just that stopping the fighting right now solves nothing, four hundred dead civilians, and climbing, notwithstanding. David Welch, Rice's point man on the Middle East put nicely - "We did feel that Lebanon has been dealt a severe blow; there's a lot of concern about that." But not enough concern to stop any of this.

It's not like we don't want a ceasefire at all. We just think Israel has the best plan - Hezbollah pulls back from the border to allow an international force to deploy, Hezbollah is disarmed, and Israel gets the two guys back, without conditions. And then this hypothetical international force stops Hezbollah from doing bad things, fighting them in whatever sort of combat comes up - instead of the Israelis fighting them, or the half-assed Lebanese army. You see, then things would be different.

Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, who had pleaded for an immediate ceasefire, knew he was going to get nowhere with that idea. And the Reuters item notes they talked about how Rice's plan would work, and the sequence of events for any deal - and Nabih Berri, the ally of Hezbollah and close to Syria, told her a ceasefire should come first, followed by an exchange of prisoners and then discussion of other issues. She was not impressed. The ceasefire had to follow all the terms being met. He gave it up. Hezbollah has long fought Israeli attempts to drive it from the south, and they'd just fight this hypothetical "international force" of course. This was all pretty pointless.

Throughout, watching the news, you could sense her frustration - small minds with their petty concerns just don't understand just what America is up to, transforming the world through neoconservative will to make everything the way it should be. It's that "Triumph of Will" thing. Surely people are willing to die for the prospect of a brave new world. But it seems they'd rather not. One suspects she was seething that the Lebanese and Palestinian people just didn't get it. Nor did the rest of the world, but what are you going to do? What can you do with these folks? It's enough to make Bill Kristol cry, and all the other founders of the Project for the New American Century mutter about all the little minds who just don't understand them.

As for assembling an "international force" to smack down Hezbollah, the American Jewish magazine Forward was reporting that we're working on how that would look, as we see here -

During a briefing with senior officials at several major Jewish organizations, Deputy National Security Advisor Elliot Abrams reportedly said that a multinational force in Lebanon would have to be "combat ready," authorized and appropriately equipped to engage Hezbollah militarily if needed. Such a force, he said, would also have to patrol not only Lebanon's border with Israel but also Lebanon's border with Syria, to prevent smuggling of weapons to Hezbollah. In addition, such a force would have to observe Lebanon's sea and air ports to make sure that Iran is not rearming Hezbollah, Abrams reportedly said.

 

That's a tall order for a proxy army in this war on terror. But we know just what we want, and what the task orders would be.

Kevin Drum here points out the obvious -

 

This is fascinating. At a guess, something this ambitious would take a minimum of seven or eight combat brigades plus associated support and logistics. Call it 40,000 troops in round numbers.

The United States has previously said that it won't be able to participate in this because our troops are tied down in Iraq and Afghanistan. The UN can't help since it deals only in peacekeeping missions, not combat missions. None of the troops can come from Middle Eastern countries, of course. NATO troops are largely committed to Afghanistan, and Europe has in any case been notably reluctant to commit combat troops to either the Middle East or Africa.

What's needed here are (a) large numbers of (b) quickly deployable (c) combat troops. Offhand, I can't think of anyplace this could come from. Am I missing something?

 

No, he's not, and running classified ads in Soldier of Fortune magazine wouldn't work either - all the mercenaries are now happily employed. We've found jobs for them in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Elliot Abrams may have a detailed deployment plan with specific tasks and rules of engagement and all the rest - he just doesn't have an army. That's no small detail. Surely people are willing to die for the prospect of a brave new world. But it seems they'd rather not.

Elaine Sciolino and Steven Erlanger in The New York Times review how there are just no volunteers -

 

Support is growing for the creation of an international military force to stabilize the Lebanese border with Israel and to bring an end to the fighting. But there is no agreement on the size, mandate or mission of such a force and little enthusiasm around the world for sending troops.

The United States has ruled out its participation, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization says that it is already stretched thin, France is calling the mission premature and Germany said it was willing to participate only if both Israel and Hezbollah called for it.

"All the politicians are saying, 'Great, great' to the idea of a force, but no one is saying whose soldiers will be on the ground," said a senior European official. "Everyone will volunteer to be in charge of the logistics in Cyprus."

 

Of course France and the United States have been burnt before, with that multinational force in Lebanon in 1982 after an Israeli invasion. You get all messed up in a civil war. Then there was Hezbollah's suicide bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut in October 1983 - 241 US Marines and 56 French soldiers dead. And then the Arab League sent in Syria to calm things down, which they did, and they were forced to leave only last year. People remember such things.

But maybe Israel can twist arms -

 

Olmert and his foreign minister, Tzipi Livni, played it tough with some of Europe's foreign ministers on Sunday, European and Israeli officials said. Olmert rejected an immediate cease-fire and said that the Israelis could keep up its fight with Hezbollah for a year if needed, European officials said.

"The Europeans want us to stop, and we wonder how badly they want us to stop," an Israeli official said. "It's unacceptable for them to say cease-fire and then wash their hands of the consequences. If you're not part of the solution, then don't complain."

 

So send your troops or stop bitching. Israel will keep smashing south Lebanon in the meanwhile. Hezbollah had to go. Either the Israeli Army or this "international force" would have to do it. It had to be done. So put up or shut up.

And there is some movement, but not much -

 

On Monday, the German defense minister, Franz Josef Jung, said that Berlin would be willing to participate if both sides requested German participation and if certain tough, and potentially insurmountable, conditions were met, including a cease-fire and the release of the kidnapped Israeli soldiers.

"We could not refuse a peace mission of this nature if these conditions were met and if requests were directed to us," Jung said on German television.

In London, Prime Minister Tony Blair said that he hoped a plan, including an international force, a mutual cease-fire and the release of the captured soldiers, could be negotiated and announced in the next few days.

"If someone's got a better plan I'd like to hear it," he said. "It's the only one I've got and I'm trying to make it happen."

As for France, Douste-Blazy left his meetings with Israeli leaders on Sunday convinced that the idea of an international force for Lebanon was "premature," French officials said.

The European Union foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, said on Monday in Brussels that an international force would not be "an easy force to deploy," but added that talks were under way to deploy such a force under a UN Security Council mandate.

"I think several member states of the European Union will be ready to provide all necessary assistance," he said, but did not name the countries or what they might be prepared to do.

At NATO headquarters in Brussels, meanwhile, officials said that they were taken by surprise by comments of Israeli officials that they would welcome a NATO-led force to secure their border.

"No request has been made to NATO," James Appathurai, the NATO spokesman, said by telephone. "The possibility, the shape, the structure of any international force - none of them have been seriously addressed. We have had no political discussions and don't intend to have any political discussions of NATO's role."

 

Surely people are willing to die for the prospect of a brave new world. But it seems they'd rather not. Or maybe they just don't want to get involved if it means being the enforcement arm of the United States and Israel. Being seen as America's "muscle" may not be in any nation's national interest these days. Jackie Ashley put it succinctly in The Guardian (UK) here - "So why would a progressive European government want to have anything to do with the one-sided diplomacy of a fading president, driven by extreme theology?"

Good question, and besides, these guys are not what we've been told, a bunch of religious flakes who just bumble around.

See Hezbollah A Tough Foe for Israeli Military (Steven Gutkin, Associated Press) -

 

Fearing a prolonged quagmire and heavy casualties among its troops, Israel says it has no intention of launching a massive land invasion to defeat Hezbollah. But the past several days' small-scale pinpoint operations to root out guerrilla positions along the border are proving far more daunting than expected, according to soldiers returning from battle.

The troops complain of difficult terrain and being surprised by Hezbollah guerrillas who pop out from behind bushes firing automatic weapons or rocket-propelled grenades. Two Israeli soldiers were killed and 20 were wounded Monday as they tried to take the southern Lebanese town of Bint Jbail amid a heavy exchange of gunfire, missiles and mortars.

The pinpoint incursions are supposed to accomplish what the 4,000 Israeli air sorties have been unable to achieve. But the twin strategy of airstrikes and limited ground offensives will not be enough to force Hezbollah to refrain from launching attacks, said Israeli counter terrorism expert Boaz Ganor.

 

Asymmetrical warfare is a bitch. Overwhelm force and superior technology aren't working that well. It's not fair. They were supposed to be amateurish clowns - murderous clowns, but clowns nonetheless.

But we've always got that wrong, as James Wolcott notes here.  Wolcott had been watching Shepard Smith of Fox News, stationed on the Lebanese-Israeli border, saying the Israeli soldiers looked "stunned" at the ferocity of the Hezbollah fighters, and how deadly and sophisticated their tactics were. And that leads to -

 

... one of the arch paradoxes of the War on Terror - that nearly five years after 9/11 we persist in both overestimating and underestimating our enemies. The hawks warn about a clash of civilizations, nuclear clouds as smoking guns, the global network of sleeper cells, an octopus with a thousand tentacles: a foe that kills without pity or remorse or discrimination, and ranks with Nazi Germany as a juggernaut of evil. Yet at the same time the politicians and pundits (particularly on the right) persist in deprecating the strength, agility, and ingenuity of the very foes they claim could bring down Western society, mocking Bin Laden in his cave (the greatest mass murder in American history, and the Bush administration treats his non-capture as a neglible detail), sluffing off the Iraqi insurgents as embittered Baathists and "dead-enders," and deluding ourselves that massive air power will bug-squash guerrilla fighters and shock and awe the remnants into submission. We still regard them as savage primitives of low cunning who sporadically lash out. Our commentators and military strategists suffer from a catastrophic failure of imagination, unable or unwilling to see the world through our enemies' eye and to think like them, assuming that our thought processes are superior, sufficient, and will prevail.

... It doesn't help that nearly every Retired Military Expert on cable news spouts the same Rumsfeldian faith in technopower and the supremacy of Western intel (through spy satellites, unmanned drones, etc) and fighting capability, pointing at terrain maps as if grabbing landscape had much relevance in the era of Fourth Generation warfare. They still talk confidently about air strikes "softening up" pockets of resistance, with "mopping up" operations later to clear out the remaining riffraff.

The early coverage of the Israeli-Hezbollah fight reflected this standard Pentagonthink. On MSNBC one of their resident talking warheads - retired Lt Col Rick Francona - was also smug as he related how excellent Israeli intel was in Lebanon. This was before Israel dropped 23 tons of explosions on a bunker to take out the Hezbollah high command. They took out the bunker, but the Hezbollah inner circle was otherwise disposed. Similarly, Israel has struck civilian convoys and ambulances, which means either their vaunted intel is scantier than advertised.

 

So who are the clowns here?

There's this - "Famed for its penetration, Israeli intelligence failed this time. It didn't detect the new weapons Iran and Syria had provided to Hezbollah, from anti-ship missiles to longer-range rockets. And, after years of spying, it couldn't find Hezbollah"

There's this - "Nine days ago, the Israeli army ordered the inhabitants of a neighboring village, Marwaheen, to leave their homes and then fired rockets into one of their evacuation trucks, blasting the women and children inside to their deaths. And this is the same Israeli air force which was praised last week by one of Israel's greatest defenders - Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz - because it 'takes extraordinary steps to minimize civilian casualties.'"

Israel has PR problem, at best. Hezbollah doesn't -

 

The Hezbollah soldiers on camera look normal, no masks, no keffiyahs, just jeans. They speak English. They are courteous, even helpful to the reporters.

Despite its capacity for violence, Hezbollah is being treated with a level of respect no Arab state fighting Israel has ever gotten. You are hearing normal people testify to the good works of the Hezbollah quasi-state.

I mean, this isn't two seconds of news, but detailed interviews with women and children, English speaking kids, testifying to their good works.

The Western public is getting a new view of Israel and the Arabs, and if the Israelis had a clue beyond bombing TV towers, they wouldn't drop another bomb in Beirut and stop shooting up convoys and gas stations. Because you have American reporters running from Israel bombs and American citizens trapped there and Hezbollah is getting a hearing.

Wolcott -

 

Conversely, you have images of Condi Rice flying into the region today with a big Pepsodent smile and a jaunty manner. What's she got to smile about? I've never seen a fireman grin as he entered a burning building. It's a bit late for a charm offensive.

 

The international force that Deputy National Security Advisor Elliot Abrams envisions would not be on the side of charm. You're asking these nations to align themselves with the neoconservative transformational theorists and the dismantling of Lebanon and all the death, for the concept.

But a simple ceasefire the talks and terms and prisoner releases and all the rest following isn't in the cards. We want change, not peace. No one is helping.

Of course it would help if we got the concept of what changes we want straightened out. More and more our explicit policy in the Middle East is that we are now the ally of the Sunnis on a mission to crush the Shi'a crescent - we will line up Sunni Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan and the rest to fight the Shi'a madman in Iraq and Syria and the stateless Hezbollah and al Qaeda. Except before we were out to get that madman Saddam Hussein who suppressed and killed all the Shi'a he could find in his Iraq, as he was sure those Shi'a fanatics would bring him down, which would make him on our side now. Huh? Keeping the good guys and bad guys straight gets harder all the time.

Bill Montgomery finds this in the Daily Telegraph (UK) -

 

White House aides have said they consider the Lebanon crisis to be a "leadership moment" for Mr Bush and an opportunity to proceed with his post-September 11 plan to reshape the Middle East by building Sunni Arab opposition to Shi'a terrorism. Yesterday Mr Bush cited the role of Iran and Syria in providing help to Hezbollah.

 

Now wait just one second. The plan all along was to help the Sunnis fight Shi'a terrorism? No one mentioned it before. That would have been nice to know. It's was WMD stuff, or that Saddam was behind the September 11 stuff, or even bringing democracy to Iraq. The grand plan was helping the Sunnis? Oh. Missed that.

Montgomery says this -

 

The question is whether this astonishing statement is the product of bad writing, the slack-jawed stupidity of the Telegraph's Washington correspondent, or a deliberate Eastasia/Eurasia switch by our fun-loving Orwellians in the Cheney administration.

If it's just bad writing or stupidity - if the phrase "building Sunni Arab opposition to Shi'a terrorism" doesn't actually modify "post-September 11 plan," but instead is just another way of pretending that Shrub is capable of the kind of leadership that has its "moments" - then the sentence is only unintentionally hysterical. However, given the current situation on the ground (all 18 zillion square miles of it) it may well be precisely the lie it appears to be, to wit: that fighting "Shi'a terrorism" was the point of Shrub's post-9/11 master plan all along.

 

But that's what Saddam Hussein was doing, on a local level. Damn, it's confusing.

And the Israelis are on board -

 

An adviser to Israeli Defence Minister Amir Peretz told The Observer: "We are finally going to fight Hizbollah on the ground. The Israeli people are ready for this, and the Sunni Muslim world also expects us to fight Shi'a fundamentalism. We are going to deliver."

 

Israel will fight for the Sunnis? Of course. Things shift a lot, don't they?

Digby has a good take on this here -

 

The truth is, I don't think it matters a damn anymore which "terrorists" we are fighting today or what the goals allegedly are. This is the GWOT and the enemies of "non-terror" are whoever is deemed "terrible" today. It's irrelevant that the terrorists we were supposed to be fighting yesterday are now our allies against the terrorist we are fighting today. It's all good.

... The US managed somehow, against the best efforts of Karl Rove, to separate the Iraq war from the broader "War on Terror." It looks as though they are taking another crack at it and are now trying to conflate every problem in the Middle East with its alleged fight against terrorism. This, I believe, is purely for domestic political consideration. It must be, because it is completely incoherent on the substance: we simply cannot be "fightin' terrorism" as allies of the Israelis and Sunni Muslims against the Shiites while we occupy Iraq and say we are promoting democracy. The mind reels at the cognitive dissonance embodied in that statement.

Unfortunately, while the nutty rhetoric must have the rest of the world wondering who put the acid in the sweet mint tea, here in the US it makes perfect sense. We're fightin' 'em over there - whoever those Ayrab/Jews/terrorists are - so we don't have to fight 'em over here. Don't worry your pretty little heads about the details -- here's a tax cut, go out and buy one of those big screen Teevees and watch you some American idol. Republicans will keep you safe from all of 'em.

 

The mind reels at the cognitive dissonance of it all. No wonder most of the adult population throws up its hands and says, whatever, and decides its best just to let those in power do what they will, and explain it any way they want. It's not supposed to make sense. The neoconservative transformational theory is too tricky for mere mortals. And no wonder the rest of the world is not helping.

 

It's a wonder they're not laughing.































 
 
 
 
Copyright 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
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