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"America has two great dominant strands of political thought - conservatism, which, at its very best, draws lines that should not be crossed; and progressivism, which, at its very best, breaks down barriers that should never have been erected." -- Bill Clinton, Dedication of the Clinton Presidential Library, November 2004

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Tuesday, August 01, 2006


game over

posted by Aziz P. at Tuesday, August 01, 2006 permalink View blog reactions
What is clear is that Hizbollah is not going to be defeated by airpower alone. Barring the political will in Israel to mount a full-scale invasion of Lebanon up to the Litani river, the presence of Hizbollah in southern Lebanon is unlikely to be dislodged; continued air campaign by Israel will only serve to strengthen Hizbollah's appeal to the ordinary citizens of Lebanon caught in the middle and who are in no position to understand the subtleties of the situation aside from their immediate perceptions: that their homes, their children, their propserity, so fragile and hard-won after long years of civil war and Syrian occupation, are being systematically destroyed.

What is also clear is that any suggestion that an international peacekeeping force go into southern Lebanon, without at least a week of cease-fire in advance, is a non-starter. If Israel is desirous of the Blue Helmet excuse to save face for its failure to dislodge Hizbollah, they will have to take the first step.

With new revelations that there were not even any Hizbollah targets in Qana at the time of the deadly and tragic strike that so shattered Israel's moral momentum, at best Israel stands to return to the pre-hostility status quo; at worst, Lebanon's collapse and the vastly increased threat of a formative fundamentalist state at its northern doorstep. A stable and democratic Lebanon was Israel's best guarantor of security, had she had the patience to let its fragile roots take hold.

That Israel has lost, and Hizbollah has won, is the immutable conclusion of all but the most uninformed or ideological of observers. And this newfound realism is evident in all corners of Israel's sphere of sympathy. Examples abound:

No winning strategy, writes the National Review:

The administration hopes to forge a meaningful international force to help the Lebanese army police southern Lebanon. We hope it can. But it may be an unachievable goal, given that countries are unlikely to contribute troops unless the environment is more “permissive” than it will ever be as long as Hezbollah exists in any form. The desire of the sovereign government of Lebanon to take southern Lebanon from Hezbollah, meanwhile, could also be in doubt now that the guerrilla group is experiencing a surge of support in the country (there’s no denying that the Israeli offensive has come at a humanitarian and political price). In the end, Israel might be forced to settle for another long war of attrition with Hezbollah, coupling air attacks and occasional thrusts on the ground aimed at keeping it from again building up significant rocket capabilities with ongoing attempts to kill top Hezbollah leaders.

This would be far from an ideal result, but it beats what the “international community” wants — a ceasefire that would end with Hezbollah right back on the border — and it might be the best that can be hoped for as long as the United States and Israel are fundamentally in a defensive posture in the region.

Meanwhile, Ralph Peters (hardly noted for his softness on terror or sympathy for Arab culture) offers a bleak post-mortem on the folly of "easy" victory - a temptation that Israel gave in to all too readily:

All efforts to make war easy, cheap or bloodless fail. If Israel's government - or our own - goes to war, our leaders must accept the price of winning. You can't measure out military force by teaspoons. Such naive efforts led to the morass in Iraq - and to the corpses of Qana.

Despite one failure after another, the myth of antiseptic techno-war, of immaculate victories through airpower, persists. The defense industry fosters it for profit, and the notion is seductive to politicians: a quick win without friendly casualties.

The problem is that it never works. Never.

Even the Kosovo conflict - frequently cited as an airpower victory - only climaxed after we threatened to send in ground troops. Prior to that, we'd spent billions bombing charcoal grills the Serbs used as decoy tank engines. (Our sensors read hot metal, and bombs away!)

Without boots - and eyes - on the ground, you just blast holes in the dirt. Or hit the targets your enemy wants you to strike. That's what happened in Qana.

Anyone who's ever served on a military staff or at the upper echelons of government during a crisis can tell you what happened: The pressure to obtain results grew ever heavier as it "rolled downhill." The prime minister and his Cabinet pressured the generals. The generals pressured the staffs. Staff principals pressured the intelligence officers and targeting analysts.

When Israel's version of "shock and awe" failed, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert froze like the proverbial deer in the headlights. Committed to a model of war that couldn't work, the stunned Israeli government insisted on "making" it work. Day after day, the pressure increased - until a desperate system dropped its safeguards.

Hezbollah sized up the situation perfectly.

Part of the problem is indeed the sheer incompetence of Israel's political leadership, as Peters touches on in his piece. The scale of that incompetence is elaborated upon by Bret Stephens, writing in the Opinion Journal (again, hardly a forum known for its liberal slant) :

...if it keeps going as it is, Israel is headed for the greatest military humiliation in its history. During the Yom Kippur War of 1973, Israelis were stunned by their early reversals against Egypt and Syria, yet they eked out a victory over these two powerfully armed, Soviet-backed adversaries in 20 days. The conflict with Hezbollah--a 15,000-man militia chiefly armed with World War II-era Katyusha rockets--is now in its 21st day. So far, Israel has nothing to show for its efforts: no enemy territory gained, no enemy leaders killed, no abatement in the missile barrage that has sent a million Israelis from their homes and workplaces.

Generally speaking, wars are lost either militarily or politically. Israel is losing both ways. Two weeks ago, Israeli officials boasted they had destroyed 50% of Hezbollah's military capabilities and needed just 10 to 14 days to finish the job. Two days ago, after a record 140 Katyushas landed on Israel, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told visiting Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice he needed another 10 to 14 days. When the war began, Israeli officials spoke of "breaking" Hezbollah; next of evicting Hezbollah from the border area; then of "degrading" Hezbollah's capabilities; now of establishing an effective multinational force that can police the border. Israel's goals are becoming less ambitious while the time it needs to accomplish them is growing longer.

It is amazing how much can be squandered in the space of three weeks. On July 12, Israel sat behind an internationally recognized frontier, where it enjoyed a preponderance of military force. It had deterrence and legitimacy. Hezbollah's cross-border raid that day was widely condemned within Lebanon and among Arab leaders as heedless and provocative. Mr. Olmert's decision to respond with massive force enjoyed left-to-right political support. He also had a green light from the Bush administration, which has reasons of its own to want Hezbollah defanged and which assumed the Israelis were up to the job.

But it seems they are not up to the job.

Michael Totten, no friend of Hizbollah and no foe of Israel, once pleaded to leave Beirut alone. All of Israel will look back at the summer of 2006 and wish they had taken heed. After all, Hizbollah itself arose from the last time Israel thought it could influence events in the Levant. What bitter fruits will the present campaign bear down the line? Qana III, most likely... and the cycle continues.

And what of our own national interest? Given that the United States is wedded to the idea of making democracy bloom in the middle east as the ultimate answer to the appeal of fanatical Islam, one can only conclude that our own security has been undermined by Israel's failure of will and our own Administration's failure of leadership. With Lebanese democracy, hinges the fate of Arab democracy. Iraq has noticed, and that's going to bear the biggest bitter fruit of all.


Hi. I have posted a PDF that says simply: "Cease Fire in Lebanon Now."

I am hoping that people will print it out and put it up in their windows.

Just spreading the word. Thanks!
Cease Fire in Lebanon Now


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About Nation-Building

Nation-Building was founded by Aziz Poonawalla in August 2002 under the name Dean Nation. Dean Nation was the very first weblog devoted to a presidential candidate, Howard Dean, and became the vanguard of the Dean netroot phenomenon, raising over $40,000 for the Dean campaign, pioneering the use of Meetup, and enjoying the attention of the campaign itself, with Joe Trippi a regular reader (and sometime commentor). Howard Dean himself even left a comment once. Dean Nation was a group weblog effort and counts among its alumni many of the progressive blogsphere's leading talent including Jerome Armstrong, Matthew Yglesias, and Ezra Klein. After the election in 2004, the blog refocused onto the theme of "purple politics", formally changing its name to Nation-Building in June 2006. The primary focus of the blog is on articulating purple-state policy at home and pragmatic liberal interventionism abroad.