Hundreds of thousands of displaced Lebanese families streamed homeward toward their devastated villages as soon as the shooting stopped Monday, navigating around destroyed bridges, fording the Litani River and creating monster traffic jams on bomb-pocked roads leading south along the Mediterranean.
After 33 days of warfare between Israel and the Hezbollah militia, the trip home to southern Lebanon confronted many with a trail of destruction, village after village wrecked by Israeli warplanes hunting the Hezbollah fighters who had fired rockets into Israel until the last minute before a U.N. cease-fire took hold at 8 a.m.
Hezbollah claims that they are the victors after a month of fighting Israeli forces:
In Beirut, Hezbollah leader Hasan Nasrallah, in a televised speech, declared, "On this day, we find ourselves looking at a historic and strategic victory for Lebanon, the resistance and the nation, the entire nation." Celebratory gunfire broke out and fireworks rose into the sky over Beirut, where Hezbollah staged a noisy victory parade through the center of the city.
In Khiam, Lebanon:
There was no gunfire in the air, no chants, no jubilant displays of celebration. There were, rather, the satisfied expressions of survival. Men embraced, kissing each other's cheeks, some emerging into sunlight for the first time in weeks. Cellphones, in almost everyone's hand, rang with queries of others' whereabouts, the fate of houses and the reality of a cease-fire that still seemed fragile. They smiled. "Thank God for your safety" was the refrain.
And Hussein Kalash, burly, hard and confident, offered three words that defined the war for Khiam's defenders, the Hezbollah fighters.
"We're still here," he said.
Far from claiming victory, Israelis-though relieved that rockets are no longer falling from the skies-are nonetheless frustrated with the outcome:
"There have been failings and shortcomings," Olmert, with deep circles under his eyes and a haggard look on his face, told a special session of the Israeli parliament. "We need to examine ourselves in all aspects and all areas. We will not sweep anything under the table, we will not hide anything. We must ensure that next time things will be done better."
...The statements came as Binyamin Netanyahu, an opposition leader and former prime minister, described a "national soul-searching" over risks "threatening our very existence."
On Monday, Yaron Ezrahi, a Hebrew University professor and one of the country's leading political analysts, echoed Netanyahu's assessment, saying, "There's a collective soul-searching in the army, in the government and in other parts of society."
Israel's sober assessment of the outcome is of course not preventing President Bush from proclaiming victory over Hezbollah, grossly over-simplifying the situation, conflating the struggle with our own "war on terror", and once again using the "war on terror" for political gain:
President Bush asserted yesterday that Hezbollah was defeated in its month-long conflict with Israel, casting the fighting that killed hundreds of Lebanese and Israeli civilians as part of a wider struggle "between freedom and terrorism."
Speaking to reporters at the State Department, Bush brushed aside suggestions that the United States was slow to respond to the crisis in Lebanon or that the war had resulted in anything less than a clear defeat for Hezbollah.
..."Forces of terror see the changes that are taking place in their midst. They understand that the advance of liberty, the freedom to worship, the freedom to dissent, and the protection of human rights would be a defeat for their hateful ideology," Bush said. "But they also know that young democracies are fragile and that this may be their last and best opportunity to stop freedom's advance and steer newly free nations to the path of radical extremism."
Such a ridiculous assessment, which makes no distinction between Hezbollah and the unique circumstances that created the conflict in Lebanon and our own struggle with Al-Qaeda affiliated groups, indicates that our own White House continues to buy into such a worldview. And there are no doubt many on the right who buy into it as well, but George Will proves in his column today that to be a conservatives doesn't mean one has to be lacking in common sense, and his column is worth quoting at length:
Cooperation between Pakistani and British law enforcement (the British draw upon useful experience combating IRA terrorism) has validated John Kerry's belief (as paraphrased by the New York Times Magazine of Oct. 10, 2004) that "many of the interdiction tactics that cripple drug lords, including governments working jointly to share intelligence, patrol borders and force banks to identify suspicious customers, can also be some of the most useful tools in the war on terror." In a candidates' debate in South Carolina (Jan. 29, 2004), Kerry said that although the war on terror will be "occasionally military," it is "primarily an intelligence and law enforcement operation that requires cooperation around the world."
Immediately after the London plot was disrupted, a "senior administration official," insisting on anonymity for his or her splenetic words, denied the obvious, that Kerry had a point. The official told The Weekly Standard:
"The idea that the jihadists would all be peaceful, warm, lovable, God-fearing people if it weren't for U.S. policies strikes me as not a valid idea. [Democrats] do not have the understanding or the commitment to take on these forces. It's like John Kerry. The law enforcement approach doesn't work."
This farrago of caricature and non sequitur makes the administration seem eager to repel all but the delusional. But perhaps such rhetoric reflects the intellectual contortions required to sustain the illusion that the war in Iraq is central to the war on terrorism, and that the war, unlike "the law enforcement approach," does "work."
The official is correct that it is wrong "to think that somehow we are responsible -- that the actions of the jihadists are justified by U.S. policies." But few outside the fog of paranoia that is the blogosphere think like that. It is more dismaying that someone at the center of government considers it clever to talk like that. It is the language of foreign policy -- and domestic politics -- unrealism.
Foreign policy "realists" considered Middle East stability the goal. The realists' critics, who regard realism as reprehensibly unambitious, considered stability the problem. That problem has been solved.
Of course Kerry was right, because what he said, and what Will repeats, is obviously true. Battling terrorism is without a doubt primarily a law enforcement function, and the military should step in when the task is beyond the ability of law enforcement (such as the removal of a hostile regime that tolerates or aids terrorists that threaten us, such as the Taliban.) Only in the Bush administration, with it's rhetoric of "freedom", it's conflating the "war on terror" with a life or death struggle against Islamic fundamentalism, the neo-cons love of the use of force to solve foreign policy dilemmas, it's unwillingness to admit to error, and a constant eye on what will get Republicans re-elected, would such an obvious truth be rejected out of hand.
In the sphere of foreign policy there is room for debate between conservatives and liberals, between "realists", "interventionists" and "isolationists", etc., etc. But there is precious little room for debate about what does and does not work at advancing the interests of our country. Our actions either do or do not better our position in the world. Supporting and aiding a ground offensive and bombing campaign against Hezbollah that killed hundreds of civilians, left Hezbollah degraded but in a position to claim victory, left the Israelis frustrated and dissatisfied, and angered the Arab world against us, all as part of some sort of proxy war with Iran or as part of the larger "struggle" against terrorism, unquestionably did not work. This tried-and-true rhetoric about freedom and the unbelievable claiming of a victory over Hezbollah, is all merely an effort to disguise the obvious from American voters thinking about how they're going to vote in November, proving yet again that the foreign policy approach of this administration is a convenient mixture of the neo-cons beyond unrealistic hawkishness and a desire to do whatever it takes to get a vote.