President Bush vowed Monday to work for a cease-fire to stop the bloodshed in the Middle East as long as several broad conditions are met, but deliberations at the United Nations quickly became tangled in a dispute between the United States and France over the right approach.
Bush insisted that any cease-fire plan establish Lebanese control over its territory, dispatch a multinational force to create a buffer zone, and require Iran and Syria to stop backing the Hezbollah militia, which is firing rockets at Israeli territory. He made no demands on Israel a day after Israeli bombs killed at least 57 people in a Lebanese village, mostly women and children, and he again rejected calls for an immediate, unconditional cease-fire.
Note: these are the conditions that must be met before a cease-fire. Not a permament end to hostilities or a flowering of peace and an end to hatred throughout the Middle East, but conditions for just stopping the shooting so people can catch their breaths. When you think about it though, this approach is pretty clever. If we actually manage to get all of those requirements met, we'd have more than a cease-fire on our hands wouldn't we? We'd have a peace likely to last for the indefinite future. But by conflating that with an immediate, unconditional cease-fire, the Bush administration admits to no possibility of a cessation of hostilities before the conditions of any agreement are met. What they call a cease-fire isn't really just a cease-fire, and they don't want us to think too hard about that. If we did, we'd realize that you can actually put an end to the shooting before you meet any of the requirements. At least, that's my theory. The other theory is they're too dumb to know the difference.
Whether we call it a cease-fire, a peace-plan or just taking a breath, the Bush administration is no hurry to get to it. The biggest sticking point is the multi-national force that will patrol southern Lebanon; as we continue to give Israel our tacit permission to bomb the snot out of Hezbollah and Lebanese civilians, we're less likely to get any of the other major powers to agree to commit troops, especially with the French calling for a cease-fire before they'll agree to any political settlement. But again, that seems to be the point for the Bush administration. Israel has certain objectives they want to meet before any cease-fire is implemented, and our only goal seems to be to stall the peace process long enough to let them do it (though there does seem to be some divergence between us and Israel as to how much longer they should have to do that.) That Israel cannot hope for a military victory over Hezbollah at this point, or that allowing the bombing to continue has inflamed the Middle East against us, is of course beside the point.
Update: Check out Hilzoy over at Obsidian Wings for a very detailed explanation of every thing that's wrong with policy on Lebanon and Israel. I can't really say it any better myself.