Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Where have all the flowers gone?

In 70 C.E., in order to put down a rebellion in Palestine, Roman soldiers killed every living thing found in the confines of Jerusalem. The Jewish historian Josephus, in a wild exaggeration, said the streets of the city ran knee-deep with blood. However, the scene was undoubtedly horrific, and the Roman soldiers were certainly inhumane, even by Roman standards: men, women, children, babes in arms, all were slaughtered indiscriminately.

NPR reports this morning that over 200 Lebanese have been killed so far in Israeli airstrikes. BBC World Service reports that Israel is bombing the roads, so even if heavy equipment were available to clear rubble, it couldn't get to the bombed neighborhoods. The BBC reporter said a UN official and his wife were known to be victims of one bombing run, but the UN could not begin to attempt to recover the bodies. Even as I type, an Israeli official insists the international community backs Israel's action, and that its actions are justified. I imagine Rome used much the same arguments when it destroyed Jerusalem and began the last great Jewish disapora.

The UN, by the way, says the assault has already created over half a million refugees.

And two separate reports say the US has given Israel a time-table for action. According to the Guardian:

The Bush administration, backed by Britain, has blocked efforts for an immediate halt to the fighting initiated at the UN security council, the G8 summit in St Petersburg and the European foreign ministers' meeting in Brussels.
The New York Times confirms this:

The outlines of an American-Israeli consensus began to emerge on Tuesday, in which Israel would continue to bombard Lebanon for another week or so to degrade the capabilities of the Hezbollah militia, officials of the two countries said.

American officials signaled that Ms. Rice was waiting at least a few more days before wading into the conflict, in part to give Israel more time to weaken Hezbollah.
So I'd say by now it's pretty much an open secret, if it wasn't already. Think back just to last Friday. Lebanon was asking Bush to pressure Israel to stop bombing Lebanon; Bush refused that request. His reason? "Israel has a right to defend itself." The very line Israel is using today. Coincidence? I think not.

On July 13, a day earlier, the US had vetoed a UN Security Council resolution demanding that Israel stop attacking Gaza. (This puts the lie to what Tony Snow said yesterday; but we'll come back to that.) Which shows the US has at least pursued a consistent diplomatic course in this matter:

Israel may need to prolong its offensive in Lebanon to further reduce the threat from Hezbollah, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said today, as some Democrats called on her to travel to the region immediately to help defuse the crisis.

Ms. Rice appeared to support a longer-term Israeli effort to inflict decisive damage to Hezbollah’s presence in Lebanon. She also said she was considering a trip to the region.

“A cessation of violence is crucial, but if that cessation of violence is hostage to Hezbollah’s next decision to launch missiles into Israel or Hamas’s next decision to abduct an Israeli citizen, then we will have gotten nowhere,” she said on “Fox News Sunday.”
That was reported on July 16th. Bush, meanwhile, was busy groping the Chancellor of Germany.

Former Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright — speaking with unusual candor considering the traditional injunction in American politics against speaking ill of United States foreign policy while the president is abroad — said of the Bush administration, “I’m stunned, I’m frankly stunned that they have not been involved” more in the region.

“I wish that the secretary had announce that she was leaving St. Petersburg and going with other foreign ministers to the region to begin shuttle diplomacy,” she said on the ABC News program “This Week,” referring to Ms. Rice. “We can’t wait for the violence to stop.”

Senator Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut, a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, agreed that Ms. Rice should head to the region immediately. “We’re late into this game,” he told Fox News. “This could spin out of control to such a degree that we could have a major, major war in the Middle East.”
Obviously he had other things on his mind. That, or he was leaving this up to the Israelis, with an understanding that he would step in only when the job was finished. Small wonder he told Blair he almost wanted to call Kofi Annan in to settle things. He had no intention of doing anything until the time was right.

It isn't, of course, unusual for a US Secretary of State to want to enter a situation where they can walk out with a solution; and that always takes preparation before the Secretary leaves the country. But the call here has been for "shuttle diplomacy" of the kind Kissinger engaged in once upon a time; or perhaps the high level arm-twisting Jimmy Carter engaged in at Camp David. That is clearly not in the offing. Just as clearly, it should be:

The British are confirming what many have suspected. The United States is afraid to engage in Middle East diplomacy without a guarantee of success. That is a pretty high standard in this volatile region. The truth is everybody knows how hard it is to make progress in the Middle East. One of the sources of anti-Americanism is that Washington won’t even accept its responsibility to try. And what Blair’s comments show is that nobody even expects the U.S. to show leadership anymore.
In the words of British superspy Austin Powers: Ouch, baby. Very ouch.

In the meantime, 500,000 Lebanese are refugees. 200 are dead. The strategy carries risk, partly because it remains unclear just how long the rest of the world, particularly America’s Arab allies, will remain silent as the toll on Lebanese civilians rises. Bush did promise the Prime Minister of Lebanon that he would ask Israel to limit civilian casualties. Guess he didn't ask very forcefully.

More civilians were killed in Israeli air strikes today — at least 19, according to The Associated Press, while the BBC put the total at 40, and Reuters at 50. Israeli ground troops briefly crossed the Lebanese border and clashed with Hezbollah forces, news services said, while Americans in Beirut began boarding a cruise liner for evacuation to Cyprus.

Reuters reported that 12 Lebanese civilians, including several children, were killed and 30 people were wounded when Israeli jets bombed several houses in Srifa, a village in the country’s south. “There was a massacre in Srifa,’’ said Afif Najdi, the village’s mayor.

Israeli forces also made their biggest incursion into the Gaza Strip in days, sending tanks into a refugee camp, where fighting lead to the deaths of nine Palestinians, officials said.

On Tuesday, 11 members of the Lebanese Army died when bombs hit their barracks east of Beirut, while in southern Lebanon, nine members of a single family were killed and four were wounded in an Israeli air strike on their house in the village of Aitaroun, near the Israeli border.

Some 500,000 Lebanese have fled their homes to escape the violence, the United Nations estimated.
IN fact, it appears he may not have asked at all:

After Mr Blair spoke, British officials privately acknowledged the US had given Israel a green light to continue bombing Lebanon until it believes Hizbullah's infrastructure has been destroyed.
Wanna make an omelette, ya gott break a few eggs, ya know.

“Everybody abhors the loss of innocent life,” [Bush] said on Tuesday, speaking at the White House before a meeting with Congressional members. “On the other hand, what we recognize is that the root cause of the problem is Hezbollah.”
But some of us abhor it more than others. To the world leaders, however, it's all just part of the Great Game of Nations:

George Bush last night said that he suspected Syria was trying to reassert its influence in Lebanon. Speaking in Washington, he said: "It's in our interest for Syria to stay out of Lebanon and for this government in Lebanon to succeed and survive. The root cause of the problem is Hizbullah and that problem needs to be addressed."
A Game that, in the 19th century, was pursued more by violence than diplomacy. But today none dare call it imperial; right?

After all, isn't there some nagging issue out there about how democracies in the Middle East will bring peace in their wake? Seems I've read some argument that democracies don't attack democracies. Israel is a democracy. The current Palestine government was democratically elected, as was the government in Lebanon. I understand even Hezbollah has seats in the Lebanese Parliament.

I guess some democracies are more equal than others. Certainly democracy has not proven to be a magic wand for stability and good international relations.

There has been discussion about Blair being Bush's lapdog. Not to say the US doesn't think it's own interests are being served by Israel. As Condi Rice said, a cessation of violence without disarming Hezbollah (and whose goal is that, again?) would be unwise. Okay, so who is the lapdog now?

Israel had made clear that it does not want Ms. Rice to begin a peacemaking effort yet, and the Bush administration has, for the time being, gone along with an Israeli request for more latitude. President Bush and American officials have resisted joining other world leaders in calling for an immediate cease-fire, reflecting the Israeli view that reaching a truce before a significant number of Hezbollah’s missiles have been destroyed would leave Israel vulnerable to more attacks.

Sean McCormick, the State Department spokesman, said in a televised interview today that Ms. Rice would begin her trip “in the near future.’’ But he ruled out any visit to Damascus, saying that Syria was “isolated’’ along with Hezbollah and Iran. Instead, Ms. Rice will work with countries he described as being interested in a permanent solution, like Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia.
"Isolated," by the way, means the US has no diplomatic relationship with the parties so designated. That has proven to be a less than fruitful way to conduct foreign affairs (think North Korea), but that apparently won't be subject to change, soon, either.

The really interesting part of today's news, of course, is that we can have a cease-fire; it's just a matter of how we frame it:

SNOW: We didn’t stop a cease-fire. Let me continue — I’ll tell you what. We didn’t even veto — please get your facts right. What happened was that the G-8 countries made a pretty clear determination that the guilty party here was Hezbollah. You cannot have a cease- fire when you’ve got the leader of Hezbollah going on his television saying that he perceives total war, he’s declaring total war, when they are firing rockets indiscriminately…(CROSSTALK)

SNOW: Please let me finish. I know this is great entertainment, but I want to finish the answer. The point here is, they’re firing rockets indiscriminately into civilian areas. The Israelis are responding, as they see fit. You will note, the countries that disagree with the government of Israel in terms of its general approach on Palestine — many of our European allies agree that Israel has the right to defend itself, that the government of Lebanon has the right to control all its territory, that Hezbollah is responsible, and that those who support it also bear responsibility.

There is no daylight between the United States and all the allies on this. They all agree on it. This was not difficult…
Note, of course, that the allies did not agree on the cease-fire; just on Hezbollah's culpability. And the cease-fire will be possible; when the US and Israel are convinced Hezbollah can't fire any more rockets. Violence, not diplomacy, is still the key to this Administration's foreign policy.

When will they ever learn?

Addendum: Tony Snow lays the groundwork for the cease-fire that is to come:

MR. SNOW: Why would it be our war? I mean, it's not on our territory. This is a war in which the United States -- it's not even a war. What you have are hostilities, at this point, between Israel and Hezbollah. I would not characterize it as a war.
The more it diminishes in significance, the less important the reversal of policy appears. By the time Bush has to tell Israel to stop, they'll already be finished. At least, that's the plan. And we all know what happens to the best-laid plans....

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