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Namad Beidoun of Bint Jbail in Lebanon, tarumatized by 20 days of Israeli shelling, shows the face of Bush's freedom's march in the Middle East .

Connecting the Dots Back to Bush
A Premeditated War—Planned in 2005

On July 10, two days before the latest Lebanon war began, the Wall Street Journal ran a front-page story about “Hezbollah’s Democratic Success.” The story sums up Hezbollah’s evolution from a militant organization in South Lebanon and the Bekaa Valley to a political party working inside the Lebanese government with, essentially, veto power over any decision it didn’t like. It’s a solid article that summarizes well how calculated, sometimes cynical, but ultimately successful Hezbollah’s maneuvering had been, how tense Lebanon’s internal affairs were, and how pieces were falling in place for Michel Aoun, the Christian army general, who abandoned his virulent hatred for Hezbollah in exchange for an alliance with it-- and Hezbollah’s support for an Aoun presidency. Nothing new there. But what struck me as I read the article today (it had sat under a pile of papers all these weeks) was this small detail about Israel’s then-nascent attacks on Gaza against Hamas in response to the soldier-kidnapping situation there: “[W]orried that Hezbollah’s armed wing might attack too, the Israeli military has issued a high-level alert along its northern border with Lebanon.”

Now, this is being reported two days before the kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers by Hezbollah. Remember, too, that Israel and Hezbollah have been playing provocative cat-and-mouse games for years without resulting in such alerts. As Shmuel Rosner, Haaretz’s chief U.S. correspondent, recently wrote, “ Ariel Sharon chose to ignore Hezbollah's provocations and abductions for more than five years.” Why the sudden alert on July 10? Because there may be more credence than conspiracy to the theory that Israel’s attack on Lebanon was not only long in the works and looking for a fuse to light, but also politically tailored after the attacks of 1982. The end-game here is an Aoun presidency, the way the end game in 1982 had been a Bachir Gemeyel presidency. As we well know, the end game in 1982 turned to disaster, first with the invasion itself, which was bloodier than Israel could bear, then with Gemeyel’s assassination, then with the massacre of Palestinians at Sabra and Shatila, which Israel had choreographed, produced and stage-managed, then with Israel’s occupation of south Lebanon turning into its Vietnam, and giving rise to Hezbollah. Which leads us backwards, to the situation today. The detail in the Wall Street Journal wasn’t the only indicator of something not only premeditated, but repetitive. On Tuesday, the New York Times ran a story on the front page of the business section about Ziad Abdelnour and other Lebanese-American financiers with “sharply differing perspectives” about the war in Lebanon. Ziad Abdelnour: a very familiar name, not only because of his rabid take about Hezbollah:

“Let’s get rid of this cancer,” Mr. Abdelnour said one day last week, referring to Hezbollah’s entrenched position in southern Lebanon. Over coffee, he referred to the recent carnage as a sort of medical operation. “Let’s finish the job,’’ he said, using his hands to simulate the opening up of his chest. Mr. Abdelnour, who now runs a series of funds that make private-equity investments in security and technology companies, calls himself a neoconservative. In 2000, he was an author of a policy paper advocating the removal of the Syrians from Lebanon that was endorsed by a number of people with close ties to Bush advisers, including Richard N. Perle, a Reagan administration assistant secretary of defense; Douglas J. Feith, one of the architects of the plan to invade Iraq; and David Wurmser, adviser to Vice President Dick Cheney on the Middle East.

Last November, writing in Counterpunch, Trish Schuh cited at length from her interview with Abdelnour: “Both the Syrian and Lebanese regimes will be changed- whether they like it or not- whether it's going to be a military coup or something else... and we are working on it," Abdelnour is quoted as saying. "We know already exactly who's going to be the replacements. We're working on it with the Bush administration. This is a Nazi regime of 30 years, killing ministers, presidents and stuff like that. They must be removed. These guys who came to power, who rule by power, can only be removed by power. This is Machiavelli's power game. That's how it is. This is how geopolitics -- the war games, power games -- work. I know inside out how it works, because I come from a family of politicians for the last 60 years. Look, I have access to the top classified information from the CIA from all over the world. They call me, I advise them. I know exactly what's going on. And this will happen.”

Bragging is in the Lebanese blood. Abdelnour could have simply been blowing alto cumulus fumes out his gibbous moons. But Schuh also cites a Haaretz story from May 2005 that described the Israeli military as having prepared plans to attack Hezbollah back then (pending, of course, the necessary “incident”). Except that the “Cedar Revolution” intervened. The feeling among Israelis and Abdelnour-type Lebanese at the time was that the popular movement against Syria would sweep Hezbollah out of there as well. It didn’t. Hezbollah played the Lebanese the way it had played Israel all those years, with sadly effective efficiency. Putting the pieces together, it returned Abdelnour types, and the Israeli plan of 2005, back to the fore.

This is all conjecture, to be sure. To some extent it’s also pointless speculation: what difference does it make if the invasion was planned yesterday or last year, when the end result is the same flattening demolition—and the strengthening of the very militia that the invasion is designed to eradicate? But beyond the here and now, it explains why President Bush is sitting on the sidelines, and what that portends for Lebanon and the region as Israel flattens on. The assault is what Bush wanted to see all along, what he may have been briefed about a long time ago, what fits in his remaking the Middle East—the “new Middle East” Condoleezza Rice spoke about during one of her body-pumps of futility through the region last week. Installing Michel Aoun as president would be the first political step after the invasion and occupation of South Lebanon, the way installing Bachir Gemeyel (then Amin gemeyel, his brother,m when Bashir was assassinated) had been in 1982. The obvious step after that is Michel Aoun’s double-cross. He’ll break with Hezbollah, force a confrontation, hope for Israeli and American support, but more likely drag the country back into a civil war that could also drag Syria back in on behalf of Hezbollah.

However this goes, it re-legitimizes an Israeli occupation of South Lebanon. Israel is not about to accept an international force under the mandate of the existing United Nations contingent already in Lebanon. And the appetite for a NATO-like force or a multinational force like the one sent to Lebanon in 1982 and 83 is simply not there. However this goes, it cannot—as long as Israel maintains its shoot-first, talk-never approach—lead to the kind of diplomatic solution, let alone lasting peace, that the likes of Rice and Bush and Olmert are chattering about. Today’s rain of rockets on Israel (about 200 of them) proves the obvious: it doesn’t matter how far Israel goes into Lebanon. It doesn’t matter how many villages it destroys. It doesn’t matter how many times it sends its air force intimidating Damascus and demolishing the southern suburbs of Beirut. Israel is fighting a guerilla war in Lebanon the way the United States is fighting a guerilla war in Iraq. Neither can win. Neither can ensure peace or democracy or stability through those means. What both are doing is exacerbating the problem they claim they wanted to solve. They’re strengthening the hand of the militants, further radicalizing the region, certainly dooming prospects for democratic reforms.

The alternative wasn't to "do nothing," as jingoes and conservatives immediately and snidely claim war opponents would rather do. The alternative was to use diplomatic means, including patience, pressure, smarts and consistency (something James Baker would understand and pull off, something Condoleezza Rice cannot). The altertnative was to do what American foreign policy has strived to do since Woodrow Wilson, admittedly not always with success, and with dismal failures along the way, but the failures were failures of vision and diplomacy, and surrenders to unilateral military means, which have not worked anywhere since 1945 (Korea's half-hearted success was not a unilateral engagement).

Now my standard disclaimer: This is not to defend Hezbollah, nor to diminish the desire for Hezbollah’s demise. But at the moment the Israeli assault is making Hezbollah look like the martyr, like the “resistor” it should never have been. But Israel, and Israel alone, enabled it as such. The invasion is making matters worse. And with Bush as the leader of nothing, and Olmert working out his Freudian inferiorities on Lebanon’s back, and Nasrallah reveling in the bloodletting that only irrigates his popularity, no one appears either capable or willing to put an end to it all—to take even the miserable little step necessary to say: Enough.

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