Sunday, July 30, 2006

From Bad to Worse

An Israeli airstrike yesterday killed 57 civilians-including women and children-in the Lebanese town of Qana. Apparently the casualties are too egregious for even the Israelis to gloss over, and they have instituted a pause in the air campaign as a result:

The announcement of a pause in airstrikes was made after midnight by State Department spokesman J. Adam Ereli to reporters traveling with Rice. It fell short of the full cease-fire many world leaders had sought. The suspension will not apply to other parts of Lebanon, nor diminish ground operations underway along the Israeli-Lebanese border. And the two-day pause, which will include a 24-hour window for relief organizations to deliver supplies and allow residents to leave southern Lebanon, could be jeopardized if Hezbollah continues firing rockets or Israel detects an imminent launch, a U.S. official said.

The bombing also has had the side effect of completely derailing negotiations for an end to the conflict:

After the strike, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice canceled a planned trip to Beirut and decided to return to Washington on Monday to hammer out a resolution to the conflict that could be brought before the United Nations this week.

“I will continue to work and work and work, that is what we can do,” said a visibly shaken Ms. Rice. “If there is a way humanly to accelerate our efforts, I would do it.”

The Lebanese prime minister, Fouad Siniora, made it clear that in any case Ms. Rice would not be welcome in Beirut on Sunday and demanded an immediate cease-fire. “There is no place on this sad day for any discussion other than an immediate and unconditional cease-fire, as well as an international investigation into the Israeli massacres in Lebanon now,” Mr. Siniora said.

So it appears now that the only actual participant in the conflict that we'll be speaking to is Israel, to whom we've already given our blessings to continue bombing Lebanon for as long as it takes. Given our position, it's not surprise the Lebanese government has no desire to talk to us. What would they talk to us about?

Our policy of supporting the Israeli air campaign, whatever the cost, has-predictably-begun to cost us badly needed support in the Middle East:

“American-made bombs, dropped by Israeli planes, with Arab cover,” said one sign in Arabic. The last phrase referred to the initial criticism of Hezbollah by the leaders of Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan when the fighting erupted nearly three weeks ago. Already worried about the growing appeal of political Islam, those governments worried that Hezbollah’s success would only bolster the strength of Islamists.

Arab public opinion, already holding that Americans do not care about Arab lives, given the dozens killed daily in Iraq, will undoubtedly sour even more on the United States.

“There is a feeling right now that this war is not really an Israeli war against Hezbollah, but an American war to get rid of Hezbollah,” said Hussein Amin, the chairman of the journalism department at the American University in Cairo. “I think most of the coverage, in showing the dead children repeatedly, is something that is going to provoke rage and anger throughout the Arab world.”

No doubt the images of dead women and children will be used cynically as propoganda by our enemies in the Middle East. But regardless of how the Arab public comes to see them, it is a defeat for our credibility that-alone except with Britain among the world powers-we continue to support an air campaign that has resulted in the death of hundreds of Lebanese civilians. This from the Washington Post analysis:

Although the United States has urged Israel to use restraint, it has also strongly defended the military assaults as a reasonable response to Hezbollah rocket attacks, a position increasingly at odds with allies that see a deadly overreaction. Analysts think that if the war drags on, as appears likely, it could leave the United States more isolated than at any time since the Iraq invasion three years ago and hindered in its foreign policy goals such as shutting down Iran's nuclear program and spreading democracy around the world.

In other words, we've shot ourselves in the the foot. To establish credibility in his situation, we would have had to have acted as a truly honest broker, working for a cease-fire that would achieve the disarmament of Hezbollah politically, not simply green-lighting an Israeli bombing campaign that would fail to achieve just that militarily, and leave us looking like we're perfectly okay with civilian casualties no matter how dubious the aims of our approach. Which well, we are.

What exactly are our goals in the conflict?

The White House...thinks the missiles flying both ways across the Israel-Lebanon border carry with them a chance to finally break out of the stalemate of Middle East geopolitics. Bush and his advisers hope the conflict can destroy or at least cripple Hezbollah and in the process strike a blow against the militia's sponsor, Iran, while forcing the region to move toward final settlement of the decades-old conflict with Israel.

And yet, we seem to seeing the exact opposite result. The consensus is Iran either instigated or approved of the initial raid by Hezbollah, and though Israel's response-in my opinion largely an emotional response after the provocations by Hamas-was far beyond what anyone was expecting, Iran's position as a player in the Middle East seems only to have been increased after demonstrating it's ability to produce conflict. At the same time, the bombing campaign has failed to achieve even the limited goal of destroying Hezbollah's ability to launch rockets into Israel, let alone Israel's original, but now abandoned, goal of disarming Hezbollah entirely. Rather, Hezbollah has improved it's standing throughout the Middle East by being willing and able to stand up to Israel in a straight fight, and it clearly will be a victory for them to simply emerge from the conflict intact.

Clearly, this is why the foreign policy of the Bush administration is such a failure. It would be one thing if our foreign policy were merely dictated by the hawks in the administration. The hawks are almost certainly saying "Destroy Hezbollah, eliminate terrorists, above all else" and while such an approach might be counter-productive and fool-hardy, there'd at least be no hypocrisy in it. Instead, we get this muddled approach where we allow Israel to bomb women and children to achieve a dubious goal that isn't enough in our interest to be worth the cost, while at the same time talking about "opportunity" in the "new" Middle East. Not only do we look like we don't care about the cost, but we also look like hypocrites, and even worse, like fools for failing to understand the dynamics at play enough to realize that Israel cannot win this war by force alone, that we are isolating and hurting ourselves in the Middle East, and that our stupid and short-sighted foreign policy is only aiding our enemies and those who would undermine everything we've tried to accomplish. Quite simply, there's no understanding what the Bush administration is really trying to accomplish, or how they possibly think they can still get there at this point.


Nat-Wu said...

This administration has so screwed us, it's not even funny.

Xanthippas said...

Sadly, they haven't confined themselves to screwing us. They've also screwed the Afghans, the Iraqis, and now the Lebanese.

adam said...

What are the Israelis doing? Hezbollah got 11% in last year's elections, but now because of this offensive, 82% of the Lebanese people support Hezbollah. The Israeli ambassador keeps going on TV and saying they are liberating them. I guess that's the same way we liberated the Iraqis. It's hard to appreciate when their wives and children are dead.