Back to Beirut

In a piece of radical reductionism, Charles Krauthammer writes in today’s Washington Post that a broad swath of world opinion agrees what must be done in the Middle East: “to see Hezbollah disarmed and defanged.” This premise (which strikes me as debatable in light of the ever growing chorus of denunciation aimed at Israel for its supposedly “disproportionate response” to Hezbollah’s provocation) is by way of Krauthammer arguing that only Israel has the capacity to do the job. Then, in the mere space of three short paragraphs, he solves the conundrum that is the Middle East. (I paraphrase)

It starts by preparing the ground with air power […] what must follow the air campaign is a land invasion to clear the ground and expel the occupier. Israel must retake south Lebanon and expel Hezbollah. It would then declare the obvious: that it has no claim to Lebanese territory and is prepared to withdraw and hand south Lebanon over to the Lebanese army (augmented perhaps by an international force), thus finally bringing about what the world has demanded — implementation of Resolution 1559 and restoration of south Lebanon to Lebanese sovereignty.

Temptingly decisive? No doubt. Staggeringly ludicrous on the face of it? Of course. It is as though Krauthammer is pontificating in a vacuum. As though it were not the case – as Andrew Sullivan poignantly wrote today – that Iraq is in a de facto civil war. Though it has been temporarily pushed to the back of the American news cycle, the situation in Iraq has deteriorated to an utterly incomprehensible bloodlust between ethnic factions. I have long been optimistic in the face of evidence that called for pessimism, but over the course of the month of July it is hard to pick out one nugget of positive news emanating from Baghdad.

I bring up Iraq because Krauthammer writes as though an Israeli ground invasion (lets call it what it is: occupation) into southern Lebanon would not be met with a similarly treacherous host of complexities. Would Hezbollah, faced with literal extinction, not take a page from the dastardly playbook of the Iraqi insurgency and sow ethnic discord in a deeply fractious Lebanese society? Is this not likely to kindle a resurgent civil war, with Israel caught somewhere in the middle?

Krauthammer seems to be approaching the current battle between Israel and Hezbollah much as Israel approached its battle with the Lebanese based PLO in the early 1980s. Both operate like a state within a state. But Krauthammer overlooks the fact that unlike the PLO, which was a foreign body and could therefore be expelled, Hezbollah is deeply interwoven with the fabric of Shiite identity in Lebanon. Shiites are the majority population of the country. In other words, expulsion is not an option.

Krauthammer blithely consigns the IDF to an impossible mission very much akin to that which is faced by all occupying forces: controlling an indigenous population that detests them.

The beginning of wisdom is to engage in the kind of artful diplomacy the Bush administration has proven itself utterly incapable of conducting. The big move, as Thomas Friedman floats in his column today, is to pull apart the burgeoning Syria-Lebanon alliance. There seems to be growing signs of angst in the Sunni world at the growing prospect of Shiite Iran as regional boss. This should be exploited by throwing Damascus a lifeline and bringing them back into the Sunni Arab fold. This would greatly diminish Iran’s ability to utilize Hezbollah as proxy-thugs.

As Friedman writes, “it would be the mother of all defeats for Iran and Nasrallah.”

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5 Comments on “Back to Beirut”

  1. Mike Harrison Says:

    I stopped listening to anything Krauthammer had to say after I read an article that accused the Democrats of politicizing the debate over Ballistic Missile Defense. He did so by describing the need for BMD in the starkest terms possible, as if without it, all of our children would surely die. It’s one of the only times I’ve actually written a letter to the editor.

    So it doesn’t shock me that he seems to know all the answers to such a non-complex situation in the Middle East.

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