Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Bush and Olmert Not on Same Page

I came across this AP story by Deb Riechmann on the US News website:
President Bush said Monday that Israel defeated Hezbollah's guerrillas in the monthlong Mideast war and that the Islamic militants were to blame for the deaths of hundreds of Lebanese civilians.

Bush admonished Iran and Syria for backing Hezbollah, which captured two Israeli soldiers on July 12 igniting the conflict. Both sides claimed victory Monday, hours after a U.N.-brokered cease-fire took effect, while Bush said Israel prevailed.

"Hezbollah attacked Israel. Hezbollah started the crisis, and Hezbollah suffered a defeat in this crisis," the president said at the State Department after a day of meetings with his top defense, diplomatic and national security advisers.

The United States backed Israel in the war, and Bush made clear he was determined to help the Israelis in the post-fighting struggle of words about who wound up on top.

And yet, The Washington Post has this story by Molly Moore from Israel:
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Monday acknowledged mistakes in the war against Hezbollah as the Israeli government confronted widespread criticism and political recriminations over the conflict.

"There have been failings and shortcomings," Olmert, with deep circles under his eyes and a haggard look on his face, told a special session of the Israeli parliament. "We need to examine ourselves in all aspects and all areas. We will not sweep anything under the table, we will not hide anything. We must ensure that next time things will be done better."

Defense Minister Amir Peretz announced he would "conduct a deep and wide investigation on all that occurred before the war erupted and through its duration."

The statements came as Binyamin Netanyahu, an opposition leader and former prime minister, described a "national soul-searching" over risks "threatening our very existence."

Olmert and other political and military leaders have been criticized in the news media and by political analysts as Israelis attempt to grapple with the perception that their military, the most advanced in the Middle East, has been losing a war to guerrilla fighters.

I am unable to reconcile these two versions of reality. The operative phrase in the first story is "struggle of words." Ah, our president the spinner, fabricator of imaginary WMDs and Clear Skies initiatives, and longterm resident of his own special bubble is unable to accept another of his foreign policy blunders. The Israelis, being closer to events, seem to have a different view. Since they have their own version of right wingers, it's not certain, however, that they're learning much. We'll see.

Israel has a right to defend itself but Bush should have stopped the fighting as soon as Israel made it clear it was doing a great deal more than fighting Hezbollah; alienating those who were not even in the fight by bombing extensive non-Hezbollah areas of Lebanon is the kind of lame manuever that right wingers dream up these days. Hopefully, Israel has enough pragmatists that perhaps at long last they'll step forward and find a solution to their future. In the meantime, America's own pragmatists need to find a way to confront Bush's fantasies and get our nation's policies back on a course where if we need to use military force, we have a clear-cut plan with a clear-cut exit and not three or four hodge podge plans rolled up into one big ball that's still rolling down the Grand Canyon of foreign policy blunders as we managed to do in Iraq.

And it would be useful to get back to America's greatest strength: our soft power, our ability to create alliances, to get things done, to work out peaceful solutions and to minimize war in the first place. Maybe our leaders will discover that while it is not pleasant to talk to our enemies, it is extraordinarily cost-effective and can save not just thousands but perhaps millions of lives on all sides. And if our leaders are effective (which Bush has not been so far), people will thank them for it. And maybe we'll return to catching terrorists through international police networks as the British are doing so effectively. And, who knows, perhaps in time we'll return to a policy when we really mean it when we talk about democracy and human rights and perhaps eventually (I hope so) we'll restore our nation's credibility. But we need to stop the sliding backwards.

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