The “new Middle East,” the “birth pangs” of which we supposedly are witnessing, reflects the region’s oldest tradition, the tribalism that preceded nations. The faux and disintegrating nation of Iraq, from which the middle class, the hope of stability, is fleeing, has experienced in these five weeks many more violent deaths than have occurred in Lebanon and Israel. U.S. Gen. George Casey says 60 percent of Iraqis recently killed are victims of Shiite death squads. Some are associated with the Shiite-controlled Interior Ministry, which resembles a terrorist organization.
“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.”
President Bush’s startling assertion yesterday — that at the end of 33 days of warfare between Israel and the Hezbollah militia, Hezbollah had been defeated — once again raises questions about his ability to acknowledge reality when things don’t turn out the way he intended.
Here, from the transcript of his appearance at the State Department, are his exact words: “Hezbollah started the crisis, and Hezbollah suffered a defeat in this crisis. And the reason why is, is that first, there is a new — there’s going to be a new power in the south of Lebanon, and that’s going to be a Lebanese force with a robust international force to help them seize control of the country, that part of the country.”
My first question: Did he really mean to say that?
Bush clearly intended to blame every bit of the terrible carnage on Hezbollah, even though most of it was inflicted by Israel. That point, he made over and over again. And his central point — also controversial, but not new — was this: “The conflict in Lebanon is part of a broader struggle between freedom and terror that is unfolding across the region.”
But the conclusion that Hezbollah had been defeated was a rare, possibly unscripted moment of news-making amid a public appearance heavy on timeworn talking points about the march to freedom.
The “birth pangs” are over. This was the term used by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to describe the war between Israel (supported by the United States) and Hezbollah (supported by Iran). If she is right, let us see what has come out: a defeat for the good guys, a victory for the bad guys (the “Islamic fascists” of President Bush’s formulation) and some clear lessons. This has been a very hard birth.
It has been particularly hard for the Lebanese, of course, but no fun for Israel, either. Although Hezbollah has, as they say, been downgraded, it has nonetheless emerged as the fighting force with the best reputation in the Middle East. Not only did it stand up to the supposedly invincible Israeli army but those two kidnapped Israeli soldiers — the proximate cause of the war — remain unreturned, either still captive or dead.
From the start, it seemed that Israel had failed to take due note of the mistakes of Donald Rumsfeld. The longtime and (inexplicably) current U.S. secretary of defense propounded the bright idea that Iraq could be conquered and pacified with about 150,000 American troops. Military men of sound mind and vast experience thought that maybe 350,000 to 500,000 troops would be more like it, but Rumsfeld, fearing a quagmire and eschewing nation-building, got his way. The United States is still in Iraq, mired there for some time to come.
The AP (courtesy the Local Rag):
The leaders of Iran and Syria crowed yesterday that Hezbollah had defeated Israel, with the Iranian president telling a cheering crowd that “God’s promises have come true” and his Syrian counterpart saying that U.S. plans for reshaping the Middle East had been ruined.
Iran and Syria may be the biggest winners from the 34 days of fighting in Lebanon – buoyed by the ability of their ally, Hezbollah, to stand up to Israel’s punishing assaults and by the new popularity of the guerrillas across the Middle East.
Hezbollah did not emerge from the conflict unscathed as a fighting force, and its domination of southern Lebanon and attacks on Israel are likely to be hampered by the deployment of the Lebanese army and international troops in that territory.
It was such a stupid war. It was thick-as-two-blocks-of-wood strategy on all sides. It was moronic for the Israelis to plan it out last year. It was idiotic for Hizbullah to cross over into Israel, kill soldiers, and take two captive. It was brain dead for the Israeli officer corps and politicians to think they could get anything positive out of bombing Lebanon back to the stone age and making a million people homeless. It was dim-witted for Hasan Nasrallah to threaten Israelis with releasing poison gases from Haifa chemical plants on them. It was obtuse for the Israelis to confront a dug-in guerrilla movement with green conventional troops marching in straight lines. It was dull of Hizbullah to fire thousands of katyushas into open fields where they mainly damaged wild grass. The few times when the rockets managed to kill someone, it was often an Arab Israeli civilian. Stupid.
Hasn’t anyone at the White House noticed that the U.S. Army is changing its doctrine on guerrilla warfare? Instead of all-out military assault, the new doctrine calls for waging a political battle for “hearts and minds” while exercising military restraint so as not to drive civilians into the arms of the terrorists.
One key army text is Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife by Lt. Col. John Nagl, which focuses on counterinsurgency lessons from the 1950s war in Malaya and from the Vietnam War. The title phrase was used by Lawrence of Arabia in describing the messy and time-consuming nature of defeating insurgents. Nagl focuses on the ability of armies to learn from mistakes and adapt their strategy and tactics – skills in which he finds U.S. forces lacking. He shows how the British in Malaya were nimble enough to defeat a communist insurgency, while the U.S. military in Vietnam clung to a failing doctrine of force.
Sadly, the Pentagon had not absorbed such insights before invading Iraq. Nagl himself says he learned a lot more during a one-year tour in Iraq. His ideas, if applied back in mid-2003, might have checked the growth of the Sunni insurgency in Iraq and prevented Sunni Islamists from provoking a civil war with Iraqi Shiites. It may be too late for the Army’s new doctrine to stop Iraq from falling apart.
Had the White House paid any attention to its own Army’s doctrine, it would have given Israel very different advice on how to confront Hezbollah. It would have stressed the need for Israel to pursue a political as well as a military strategy. Lebanon’s government, while weak, was the poster child for President Bush’s campaign to advance democracy in the region. Its gutsy Prime Minister Fuad Saniora, and several of its political parties, want a democratic state, and might have faced Hezbollah down had Bush and Israel given them some backing.
It’s past time to make Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife required reading at the White House.
In the face of these natttering nabobs of negatavism, it’s essential that we join forces with Phillybits to support our president, without whom none of this would have been possible.