President Bush’s Middle East policy, including the promotion of democracy as the long-term antidote to terrorism, is today looking like another fatal casualty in the ruins of southern Lebanon. To understand why, here is a realistic and thoroughly cold-blooded analysis of how the current war was started, by whom, and for what purpose:
The current war in Lebanon is not a war by the Arab world against Israel; rather, it is a war orchestrated by the region’s radical forces — Hamas and Islamic Jihad among the Palestinians, Hezbollah in Lebanon , Syria and Iran — which fundamentally reject any settlement with Israel.
Conflict was sought for three reasons: first to ease pressure on Hamas from within the Palestinian community to recognize Israel; second to undermine democratization in Lebanon, which was marginalizing Syria; and third to lift attention from the emerging dispute over the Iranian nuclear program and demonstrate to the West the “tools” at its disposal in the case of a conflict.”
This analysis comes not from an Israeli spokesman, nor from some wild-eyed neoconservative, nor even from “someone close to the U.S. secretary of State.” It is an extract from an op-ed written last week by Joschka Fischer, who until last year was foreign minister and the leading Green-party representative in the SPD-Green coalition government then governing Germany, in the Israeli newspaper, Haaretz. Fischer has always been a friend to Israel, but he is also a fully-paid-up member of the European political establishment. And his argument would be quietly — no, make that “covertly” — accepted by most foreign-policy buffs in that establishment.
Two weeks ago, European governments were even prepared to go on the record endorsing such arguments. The G8 statement issued in Moscow, though short on practical proposals, was the most pro-Israel analysis of any multilateral communiqué since the Six Day War.
That reflected the realization on the part of European governments that the radical axis of Iran-Syria-Hezbollah-Hamas-and-Islamic-Jihad was increasingly a threat to their own sub-continent which is both nearer to the Middle East than the U.S. and which contains more radical Muslims who are less assimilated than in the U.S. They did not want to see such forces gain a victory in Lebanon and greater prestige throughout the Muslim world.
Similar calculations explained the willingness of the Egyptian, Saudi, Gulf and other Middle Eastern governments to sit quietly in the early stages of the Israeli attack. No Middle Eastern government wants to see non-state terrorist groups become as powerful as Hezbollah has become in Lebanon where it overpowers the government. That kind of thing sets a bad example. Also, most Arab governments are Sunni Muslims while Hezbollah (and its main patron, Iran) are Shia. So the Sunni Arab establishment was quietly hoping for a decisive Hezbollah defeat.
Both European and Arab approval of the Israeli attack, however, depended on its quick and complete success. Neither could sustain their favorable inaction over a long and bloody campaign; and neither could benefit from a campaign that ended in a draw. At present — unless the Israeli campaign suddenly begins the obtain the decisive success that has so far eluded it — they look like getting something that falls short even of a draw.
The Israeli war aim — backed explicitly by the U.S. and covertly supported by Europe and Sunni Arab governments — was the destruction of Hezbollah and its replacement in southern Lebanon by a regular Army owing allegiance to the “Post-Cedar Revolution” democratic Lebanese government. Hezbollah has not been destroyed but strengthened and the Lebanese government and Army are now its allies. A cease-fire that freezes this outcome will be hard to distinguish from a defeat for Israel and the West.
If this sounds unduly harsh, consider the point made by the distinguished Iranian commentator, Amir Taheri: This crisis began because Iran interpreted America’s offer of negotiations as a sign of weakness and because Hezbollah interpreted Israel’s withdrawal from southern Lebanon as a sign of weakness. Then, ask yourself this question: How will Iran and Hezbollah interpret a ceasefire that leaves them in possession of southern Lebanon? Exactly.
What would flow from such a defeat? To grasp its dimensions, go back to Fischer’s outline of the three radical aims in this conflict:
To ease pressure on Ham as from within the Palestinian community to recognize Israel? Today the Arab street, Sunni and Shia, is cheering on Hizbollah’s defeat of Israel. Who will urge recognition against this success?
To undermine democratization in Lebanon, which was marginalizing Syria? Today the Lebanese government is weaker in relation to Hizbollah than ever — and rushing to curry favor with it.
To lift attention from the emerging dispute over the Iranian nuclear program and demonstrate to the West the “tools” at its disposal in the case of a conflict? Well, the UN yesterday passed a resolution condemning Iran. But it contains no provision for sanctions and none is really expected if the Iranians continue to ignore “the international community.”
To Fischer’s three radical aims, I would add a fourth: To encourage the Sunni terrorists in Iraq and to sow hostility to the U.S. among Iraqi Shiites. That too has probably been accomplished. And if all four aims have been met, then the attempt to plant democracy in the Middle East has been dealt four heavy blows in Lebanon, the Palestinian territory, Syria, and Iraq.
Yesterday, Bush refused to retreat from his previous policy stance. He repeated that various things “must” happen — Hezbollah “must” be disarmed, the Lebanese government “must” be able to govern its own territory, and so on. But how are these “musts” to be achieved?
Will Israel send a massive ground force into southern Lebanon to root out Hezbollah? If it does, will the U.S. support it against the hostile world media? If it doesn’t, will the U.S. take some action of its own to prevent Hezbollah and the radical Muslim axis gaining a major victory?
On the answers to these questions rests the president’s entire Middle Eastern policy and perhaps his strategy in the war on terror too. Does he have them?
– John O’Sullivan is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute in Washington and editor-at-large of National Review. He is currently writing a book on Reagan, Thatcher and Pope John Paul II.