Friday, July 21, 2006

Israel and Hizbullah Miscalculate

Sometimes I think there's something in the world's water supply that making everybody a little crazy these days. On the other hand, recent events are probably nothing more than the consequences of five and a half years of Bush Administration anti-diplomacy. Remember the theory awhile back that Bush junior was trying to do the opposite of whatever his father did? Bush senior took diplomacy seriously. Bush junior therefore is the anti-diplomat and so instead of some degree of dialogue in the Middle East Bush spends fives years largely ignoring the Israeli/Palestinian issue. Besides, George W. Bush never had the attention span to devote to such a thankless job and in any case he needs his daily dose of self congratulation. We're seeing the consequences.

So far, it's looks like Israel and Hizbullah are making a number of their own miscalculations. Christopher Dickey of Newsweek discusses some of the issues:
So the ground war is beginning in earnest. Israeli troops began pushing into southern Lebanon yesterday, driving to create a “buffer zone,” they said, to protect their northern cities from rocket attacks. As they ordered the local people out of their homes onto horribly dangerous roads, the Israelis risked beginning, again, the long and painful occupation of South Lebanon that lasted from 1982 to 2000.

Hizbullah said it wanted just this kind of fight. Yes, it could lob missiles into Israel, but it couldn’t wage the kind of “heroic” battles its would-be martyrs crave if Israel responded only with “bombs from remote areas in the sky,” Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah complained last Sunday, so “any land advancement will be good news for the resistance.”

In fact, the original strategies of both sides have failed. And while there may be many more “surprises,” as Nasrallah likes to keep saying, Israel and Hizbullah are falling back into old, familiar, deadly and destructive patterns with no clear end in sight.

At one point in his article, Dickey goes on to mention the analogy apparently being put forward by the Israelis that bombing Beirut is equivalent to NATO bombing Belgrade during the ethnic cleansing in Kosovo. That's a hard analogy to buy since Hizbullah is not in charge of Lebanon; and yet I can't help wondering if the new Israeli government pulled something off the shelf that was designed to be implemented in case Hizbullah somehow took over the Lebanese government or, more likely, Syria returned to Lebanon.

It used to be that wars took time to get going. In fact, there was time for real diplomacy rather than the public relations stunts we've been seeing lately whether those stunts come from Bush, North Korea or elsewhere. During the Renaissance, the Italians had a system of negotiation so well perfected that peace treaties were sometimes completed before the fighting actually got underway. We're in an era where the killing can accelerate very rapidly even without nuclear weapons if cooler heads cannot prevail. In the 1980s, the war between Iraq and Iran provided a painful example.

It's true that sometimes deaths can be kept low through calibrated warfare but calibration is currently a concept that I suspect is in danger of breaking down; calibration only works if everybody plays their part and knows what the rules are; since Bush took office, the rules have clearly been breaking down with nothing effective to replace them. There are still neocons floating around who insist that just the right amount of force, not too little, not too much, can win the day. But the Goldilocks doctrine has us bogged down in a quagmire in Iraq. And a calibrated bombing campaign in Iran will do much the same. The 21st century is still young. Even without war, there are a number of problems that may make the 21st century difficult unless we begin to address them. If it is to be a century of relative peace and reasonable prosperity, it's time for everyone to turn away from fantasies and begin talking. And listening.

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