Nicholas Kristof has an Op-Ed today called, “In Lebanon, Echoes of Iraq?” (subscriber only). I certainly disagree with Kristof’s conclusions, but I think he’s right to point to the deep analogies between Israel’s struggle with Hamas-Hezbellah and America’s venture in Iraq. Kristof claims the Lebanese war reveals the superiority of a dovish, muddle-through, Clintonian policy of negotiations to a hawkish policy of striking back at terrorists and their hosts.
It’s true that the hawkish approach has more than its share of problems. As Kristof points out, terrorists are tough to control by force, and military action can radicalize the public and feed recruitment to terrorists. The difficulty is that the do-nothing or actively dovish approaches favored by Kristof are also proven failures. Clinton’s refusal to strike at North Korea got us into our current insoluble dilemma there. Unilateral Israeli withdrawal from Gaza and Lebanon has resulted in more terrorist strikes, not less.
Kristof argues that the do-nothing doves at least cause less harm than the hell-raisin’
hawks. I think the nuclear problem challenges that calculation. Kristof calls for a stoic acceptance of terrorist strikes, rather than a foolish retaliation that only makes things worse. But we can’t stoically accept 9/11′s, much less the nuclear terrorism of the future (and it does look like it’s coming, doesn’t it?).
So here’s the problem: Nothing works. Or at least, nothing works well. We are at war with terrorists who are difficult to stop with whatever application of force, and impossible to ignore, given the horrific power that technology can put in their hands. A Clintonian do-nothing dovishness in a post-9/11 environment will generate at least as many problems and tough object-lessons as the hawks are throwing off now–or in my view, many more. In fact, as noted, unilateral Israeli withdrawals have already shown the failures of the dovish approach. At the same time, even Israel was unable to sustain an indefinite occupation of south Lebanon. In short, the Israeli experience proves that both hawkish and dovish anti-terror policies are, shall we say, less than perfect.
Sadly, I think that leaves us about where Derb was in his “Mideast Fatigue,” with no good answers and every prospect that the conflict will go on indefinitely. I certainly prefer a more hawkish approach than Kristof. But I think we all have to recognize that there are no magic policy answers here, and that the real enemy is in the Middle East. Any solution to the Middle East problem will take effect only in the very long term, through cultural change. We may be able to push that change along (or not), but in the near term, the problem of technologically empowered terrorists means that every foreign-policy approach faces fundamental obstacles.