The United States is increasingly out of sync with key allies, however, because it remains content to allow Israel to pound Hezbollah, both to remove it as a threat and to undermine the region's extremist movements and hard-line regimes.
European allies are particularly alarmed about the disproportionately high civilian death toll in Lebanon. They are also concerned that the U.S. position will increase tensions between the Islamic world and the West by fueling militants, playing into the rhetoric of Osama bin Laden and adding to the problems of the U.S.-led coalition force in Iraq.
The one thing that is guaranteed to send the Arab world and the Persian world over the edge is for the U.S. to be seen ultimately to be doing what they always believed -- to be fully in cahoots with Israel," said a European official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of diplomatic relations. "The danger of allowing it to continue is that the United States is more and more despised. It's not like the U.S. had a good reputation within the region to start with."
The Bush administration is not exactly sure what Secretary Rice will do when she arrives:
Rice is now expected to travel to the Middle East as soon as this weekend, but with a limited listening mission in Israel and Egypt. The United States is still struggling to define the timing and purpose of her mission. She is tentatively expected to leave a team behind in Israel, head on to Malaysia for a conference of Southeast Asian nations, and possibly return to the Middle East for further negotiations if her team can put the right "building blocks" in place, a U.S. official said.
As the NY Times reported yesterday and the Washington Post reports today, this delay is deliberate strategy on the part of the Bush administration:
The outlines of an American-Israeli consensus began to emerge on Tuesday in which Israel would continue to bombard Lebanon for about
another week to degrade the capabilities of the Hezbollah militia, officials of the two countries said.
Then, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice would go to the region and seek to establish a buffer zone in southern Lebanon and perhaps an international force to monitor Lebanon’s borders to prevent Hezbollah from obtaining more rockets with which to bombard Israel.
The strategy carries risk, partly because it remains unclear just how long the rest of the world, particularly America’s Arab allies, will continue to stay silent as the toll on Lebanese civilians rises.
It appears that the Israelis are deliberately putting pressure on on the civilians populace by bombing Lebanon's infrastructure. Strikes on roads, carried out primarily to intercept the traffic of missiles from Syria and/or Iran to southern Lebanon where they can be fired at Israel, are also having the effect of making it difficult for civilians to get away from the bombing and the fighting. Israel has also warned residents of southern Lebanon to evacuate, forcing a mass exodus, and Israeli generals refuse to rule out the possiblity of a ground invasion of southern Lebanon. There is now speculation that Israel is even deliberately targeting areas of Lebanon that do not favor Hezbollah, in an effort to stir up anger and resentment with the terrorist organization.
The Bush administration has given Israel the green light to bleed Hezbollah until it no longer poses a viable threat. Unfortunately, Israel's air campaign seems deliberately designed to coerce the civilian population of Lebanon whether they are Hezbollah supporters or not, and this is beginning to rile not only the "Arab street" but key allies of ours. Everyone readily admits that Israel has the right to eliminate a threat on it's northern border, and most accept that Hezbollah is to blame for touching off this latest crisis. But Israel's disproportionate response, and our tacit acceptance of it, is winning us no friends in the Arab world at a time when we need them more than ever. Purely out of our own self-interest, we should be questioning how much free reign we're going to give Israel to bomb a country to destroy a terrorist organization that isn't even a threat to us, when it is damaging our standing and credibility in the world. I for one think we've let it go on too long already.