Friday, July 28, 2006

Israel vs. Hezbollah

I really shouldn't blog about this. Other bloggers that are better read have warned me that the very topic leads to flame wars in the comment section and that none of us, at this point, have a real solution to the crisis in any event. Heck, if any of us did, or if any foreign policy wonk or politician did, in fact, have a fair answer to the issue of Israel and the Middle East (the kind of answer that would allow both sides to have enough to be satisfied in the practical sense and to have, more importantly, won enough in the symbolic sense that they can continue to claim to have balls) then the answer would have been put out there by now.

So... without advocating much of anything and certainly without claiming I can bring peace to a region that has refused peace for more than a century, here are my observations:

1) Both Hezbollah and Hamas know that they can attack Israel while not officially representing the governments (the Palestinian Authority or the government of Lebanon) who "control," the regions of the world they operate from. That makes them free to attack Israeli innocents while using the official governments of the countries they operate from and, worse, the innocent people of those countries, as shields.

2) Israel does have the right to defend itself against attacks from both Hezbollah and Hamas.

3) Israel is morally required to go to extraordinary lengths to protect innocents who live around Hamas or Hezbollah but who are not a party to either group. A bit of editorial interjection: I think Israel actually has been trying on this front, but not hard enough and not effectively enough.

4) Iran, moreso than Syria at this point, views Hezbollah as a proxy army. Iran really is using Hezbollah to distract attention from its own nuclear ambitions and to expand its own influence over the region. Remember, the Arab League nations are against Hezbollah at this time. That's because the Arab League nations rather fear Iran, and for good reason. The Arab countries in the Middle East are no monolith. They once opposed Iraq's invasion of Kuwait because they wondered which of them would be next, and now they oppose Iran's attempt to use Hezbollah as a pawn in a game that they suspect will end with Iran becoming the Soviet Union of the Middle East.

5) Ideally, a US-led, internationally recruited, peacekeeping force would pour into southern Lebanon right now with enough power and persuasion that it could force a ceasefire by its mere presence. But, no force in the world could do that unless both sides knew that US troops were the most prominent, and the US can't muster such a force because it decided that within five years, it could occupy Afghanistan and Iraq at the same time. Basically, the US military is both the most obvious route to peace and, sadly, the most over-extended force in the world.

6) Even if we had the troops to send to southern Lebanon to force a ceasfire... people like me would be worried that our soldiers would be put at unfair risk. In oh so many ways, this is not our war. It has to do, after all, with issues barely addressed by our constitution. While Hamas, Hezbollah and Israel fight over a future that all parties claim has been fortold in their religions, the US is a country that was founded on the idea that while all individuals should be (largely) free to pursue their own religious destinies, that the affairs of a government are separate from all that, and must be kept separate. Without casting judgment about what's right (okay, hint: I lean towards the secular) it's fair enough to say that a secular democracy like the US just exists on a foundation that's distinct from what motivates and validates all three parties in what we can now safely call "The Israeli War of 2006." As a US citizen, raised to believe in secular democracy, I have no real advice for parties who have gone into a war based on assumptions that I don't accept.

7) It isn't World War III. Some fear mongers, like Newt Gingrich, would have you believe that this is the start of the third world war that has been avoided for more than a century now. They want you to believe that because, by believing the entire globe is at war, you'll gladly trade little-used but still-highly-valued personal freedoms in exchange for the government's promise of security.

But this is NOT a world war. Right now, it's a regional conflict that a reasonable, uninvolved, person could watch and then rightly decide to condemn all sides.

It might be more than regional, though. Newt has that right. Heck, he gambled by naming it World War III and he has his reasons for accepting the gamble: First, if Iran uses this as a distraction that allows it to go nuclear, things could escalate. Second, if Hamas and Hezbollah supporters in Iraq aide attacks on Israel, then Israel might be forced to retaliate against Iraq (a country that's currently our obligation and that we have a moral obligation to defend) and so things might escalate. Third... Israel's actions in self defense might well not be measured enough that they sufficiently protect civilians in Lebanon and, over time, that could infuriate the Arab League to the point where the war grows larger.

This is not, as I type these somewhat trivial words, a World War Moment. It could become one, by at least the three paths I came up with, but it is not one now.

Some on the American right, like Gingrich, would like us to move into a global war posture right now. That means, quite simply, a point of view that sees the whole world as an enemy and that has individuals who will sacrifice their own comforts in order to prevail in a war.

It really could come to that.

But we're nowhere near close enough to that point that any of us should start thhinking along those lines.

I must be honest... though I deplore the Israeli killing of innocents in southern Lebanon, I also can't stand the view that Israel is so vitally important that we in the US should fully support the country's rather extreme and certainly not discriminate enough retaliation.

Walking home today, I saw a face off in Union Square. One young group of idealists demanded, quite loudly, that the US cut off aid to Israel because its government has committed attrocities against Arabs and Palestinians. Another group, as loudly, chanted "stop throwing rocks!" and tried to remind passersby that Israel, like any country, has the right to defend its own innocent civilians against the constant attacks mounted by its nongovernmental enemies abroad.

Both sides had good points. Liberals who side with Hezbollah and Hamas are siding with groups of people who would, had they their druthers, eliminate "liberal" society from the Earth and replace it with their own theocracy.

Liberals who blindly side with Israel would advocate a world where a once-oppressed people can become oppressors and where the victims of heinous crimes of nationality and race will become the nefarious demons who haunt their own nightmares.

Israel's attack on southern Lebanon makes me cry for the innocents who live there. Hezbollah's attacks (and Hamas' attacks) on Israel make me weep for the Israeli innocents.

I'm only writing this to point out how wrong you can be by taking either side. I believe that innocents must be protected. That Israel should exist in a lasting manner. That the Arabs and Palestinians who lived in Israel before the U.N. decided it was the right plot for a Jewish state should be either repatriated or paid reparations. That's all I know to believe at this point.

All this "World War III" talk strikes me as ridiculous. I see this as a regional conflict that might not be resolved soon but that will be either contained or curtailed.

Still... it COULD become World War III. It isn't likely, but it could happen. And that's too big a risk to take.

It must be either contained of curtailed, then. Only the US has the military power and economic sway to accomplish either. At this point, says uninformed I, all US diplomacy that's related to Israel, Lebanon or the Palestinian territories needs to follow this dictum: "It must be contained or curtailed, preferably curtailed." We should force that result. We really should.

Had we not wasted our own military in Iraq (having not anticipated the flair-up around Israel) we could enforce "Contain or curtail"n rather easily. But... we've weakened ourselves.

We should enforce "contain or curtail" anyway. It might not be World War III, but the idea has been floated. I say we nip it in the bud.


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