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July 21, 2006

Middle East Violence: Policy for Progressives

-- by Patrick O'Heffernan

cross posted as a dailykos diary

Where should Progressives stand on the question of "has Isreal gone too far?"

Republicans refused to sign on to Nancy Pelosi's language in a sense of the Congress that urged taking steps to stop civilian deaths in Lebanon. President Bush defies the UN and waits t give Israel time to force Hezbollah to "stop this shit". But, Israel has been attacked and the attack is serious - a real war is going on and real Israelis are being killed. What should Progressives do?

First, understand what is going on. There are multiple agendas and many interests and game plans being played out. At the immediate level, Hezbollah is fighting to be top dog in the dog-eat-dog environment of the Middle east - it is becoming the new hero of the Shia community. It is also cementing its position as the real power in Lebanon. At another level, Syria is recouping the influence and face it lost when it was driven out of Lebanon - this is revenge and politics as usual. At the most important level, this is Iran filling the power vacuum left by the invasion of Iraq and the fall of Saddam. This war is blowback from Bush’s war. The Israelis saw it coming; they began planning for this a year ago.

Second, understand the stakes. At a strategic level, especially for Israel, this is a new war. The Intifadas were essentially violence being used to set the stage for eventual agreement on a land for peace deal. The fact that the protagonists – Arafat and Sharon – had hated each other for 25 years complicated it, but in the end, there were reasonable Arabs who could talk to reasonable Israelis over the shape of the two-state solution. This war is not about land for peace, it is about destroying Israel. Whether or not Hezbollah is “defanged” as the President hopes is irrelevant; it is now top dog in a very dog-eat-dog world and it will quickly be “refanged” by Iran. It cannot keep up with the volunteers pouring into its various locations, offering themselves as cannon fodder and suicide bombers just to be part of the new Islamic winners. For Israel, Hezbollah and Iran, this is for keeps.

So, where should Progressives stand? I think we should stand for Progressive Realism, described my diary two days ago. By doing so, we will further demonstrate to the American people that we do have answers and in this case, our answers can help restore order in the short term and prevent a disaster – possibly nuclear – in the long term.

First. killing innocent people is never justified. We make the case that there is no evidence that the continued bombing by Israel is degrading Hezbollah, nor is there any scenario that shows why a degraded Hezbollah would not simply go underground until it was rebuilt and resuppplied to reattack. However, there is plenty of evidence that even moderate Lebanese are turning against Israel, and plenty of scenarios in which Israel’s bombing is only creating more Hezbollah recruits, and risks turning the entire population of a border nation against it. The President is wrong; the UN, Europe, and the President of Lebanon are right. Make Israel stop. This is progressive

Second, self defense always is justified. Hezbollah is a threat to American interests that must be eliminated. The Lebanese government and army have no control over Hezbollah. As long as Iran supplies it with money and weapons and the Lebanese government is too weak to provide services, security, and economic growth, Hezbollah will continue to foment war. It will not change, so the US should give its precision weapons to Israel to use to destroy Hezbollah’s TV and radio stations (if it needs better weapons, which it may not.) and continue to destroy them. Next, the US should work to bring Russia around to letting Iran know that if it continues to supply weapons to Hezbollah, there will be diplomatic, economic and possibly even military prices to be paid. This is realism

Third, the short term saber-rattling must be paired with long term strategic progressive thinking. Hezbollah cannot be stopped with violence; it can only stopped if its ideas falter. The US has to work with the Lebanese government to rebuild and retrain its army, and pump money and jobs into the economy so that every young man solicited by Hezbollah will prefer to keep his paycheck than fight a losing war.

This will take money (not paid to US contractors!) but by working to return Lebanon to its status as a middle class democracy, we discredit Iran, Syria and Hezbollah. And we should pressure Israel into joining us, at least as a contributor. By recognizing that building a strong middle class society in Lebanon is the best defense against Hezbollah, we can rebuild our image in the region, rebuild our values, and prevent this from happening again, and again and again – at some time with nukes.


Posted by Patrick O'Heffernan at July 21, 2006 7:51 AM

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Comments

The problem with this is that Iran is now in the catbird seat, and guess who put it there? Bush and his bunch of crazies, of course, who had no idea what they were doing. Now there's a duly elected essentially Shia government in Iraq, and Iran is a Shia country, the natural allies of the new Iraqi government. Bush's "spreading democracy to the Middle East" also assured that Hamas and Hezbollah would be legitimized as political parties rather than as mere stateless terrorists. Hamas now IS the state, isn't it? And the Lebanese government says it will fight on the side of Hezbollah, so they're not exactly our friendly pawns, either.

I think we're up Shit Creek on this one, and Progressives are going to have to realize that. No wishy-washy cease fires are going to get this one under control. We're going to have to come up with some real, genuine, international support, armed to the teeth, to police this area, possibly forever. And Bush set this up.

Posted by: MJ [TypeKey Profile Page] at July 21, 2006 10:05 AM

You are right, this is a direct result of Bush's war in Iraq. And it is likely only part of the blowback. If progressives don't solve (the Republicans are incapable of solving it) we could be facing WWIII in the near future. We must keep Iran from getting nukes, we must rebuild the economy and democracy of Lebanon; we must stop the Saudi funding of Wahabi schools; and we must rebuild the Palestinain state into a stable economy and healthy democracy.

Posted by: dr o [TypeKey Profile Page] at July 21, 2006 12:59 PM

The advantage the Repubs have on this issue is that it's too complicated for people to understand in 30 seconds, so they don't bother in this ADD country. The neo-con jackals learned that America could be fooled for a little while when it's a simplistic notion like WMD. But we won't fall for it again. So this conflict, I believe, has been scripted out and is very complicated by design.

Still, not a single Dem is standing up to say Israel is going too far. The other weapon they're using is the fact that this issue will divide liberals, even anti-war activists. Simply because the truth stays hidden.

It'd be nice if somebody somewhere with any kind of an audience would point out that the "kidnapped" Israeli soldiers were arrested across the border in Lebanon. I believe this was a set-up from the start, designed to give Israel an excuse to go apeshit. Remember the fighter jets buzzing the Syrian PM's home a few weeks back? This has been in the works for a long time.

Yes, Saddam was evil, blah blah blah. Yes, Hezbollah is evil, blah blah blah. But this is just a smoke screen to get at larger goals: WW3, bankrupting the US and devaluing the dollar, creating a North American Union, and further consolidating money and power to a few fascist hands.

Posted by: Jenius [TypeKey Profile Page] at July 22, 2006 6:23 PM

Please explain why you think this is a progressive site? As far as I can see the views expressed here are the same as all right wing American pro Israeli sites.

Posted by: Spinoza750 [TypeKey Profile Page] at July 22, 2006 8:02 PM

It is Progressive because it recognizes the reality tht Israel will do what it feels it takes to stop the rocket attacks, and that Hezbullah will keep them up, but then goes from there to prescribe a long term solution based on aid, trade and alliances to help build a middle class in Lebanon that will marginalize Hezbullah so that it withers. It also places the blame where it belongs, on Bush and the neocons whose illegal invasion of Iraq created the power vacuum that Iran is now filling.

Neocons who preach unconditional support for Israel forget the last half of that presciption--they are only interested in military force - the "nuke em" theory of foreign policy. The live in an unreal world of superpowerful American military might getting everything it wants. That has never been true and is incredibly dangerous now in the Middle East. Only by rewriting trade laws, providing AID and techincal assistance,investment capital and diplomatic suppor and treating athe Lebanese - and the Paletinians - with dignity and respect - can the fundamentalists ever be defeated. The neocons don't get that, just like they did not get it in Iraq - where we should have never been in the first place.

I realize that it is an article of faith among many Progressives that Israel has become a terrorist state that is conducting genocide on the Palestinians. I don't believe it is an article of Progressive faith that Israel should be overrun and destroyed by fundamentalis Islamist militias - or anybody else for that matter. It is true that some neocon-Orthodox settlers are just as keen to drive the Palestinians into the sea as Hamas is to do the same to the Israelis. But this is not a universal Israeli attitude - most Israelis want what most Palestinans want, to have a country in which they can be left alone to raise their families. Until Hamas was elected, the fighting was over the shape of the lands for both peoples (and I agree, the Israelis were brutal in the fighting and disengenous in the negotiations). But now, the fight is about destroying Israel.

Isreal is not going to let that happen, now mater what the US policy is. It is there and it is nucelar-armed and it is not going away. Until the fundamentalists Islamist hijacked the Palestinaian issue, most Palestinans and the PLO were fighting for land for peace; the Islamists are fighting a war to destroy Israel. When Hamas was elected, they could have used their new legitimacy to build schools and roads and sewer systems and the economy of the Palestinians. Instead, they let Gaza slip into a living hell of chaos, fundamentalists,sectarian violence and gangs while they fired rockets into Israel, resulting in predictable over-reaction by the IDF. With friends like that ....

So what should the US do? I think the Progressive strategy should be:
- Pressue Israel to do only what is necessary to stop the rocket attacks and drive Hezbullah back out of range with few or no more civilian casualties. (they will continue over reacting with dispropoartionate force if we don't)
- Put together a Sunni/Arab and US/uropean coalition that lets Iran and Syria know that further supply of Hezbulla will lead to serious consequences.

- As soon as Hezbullah is netralized to the point where they can no longer attack Israel, replace the IDF with a serious international force (possibley NATO, if they will do it) with authority and the firepower to prevent any Hezbullah movement of heavy equipment into rocket range of Israel, but leave citizens alone.
- Accompany the international militayr with an international humanitarian force with reconstruction crews, medical personal, materials and equipment to repair roads and power plants and rebuild homes.
- Pressure Israel into paying real compensation to the Lebanese government and families - and to express public contrition for the death and injury they caused (symbols mean a lot in the Middle East)
- Grant Lebanon special access to US and European markets (which will require some offset payments to domestic farms and businesses), set up capital funds to invest in rebuidling.
- Provide funds and technical assistance to the Lebanese government to rebuild to the point that is (a) can control Hezbullah, adnd (b) offer a alternative to the young men who Hezbullah recruits.

This will cost a hell of a lot of money 10% of what it will cost to fight another war in few months or a year. That is not only Progressive, it is smart. Of course, it is far to complex for the current Administration to understand.

Posted by: dr o [TypeKey Profile Page] at July 23, 2006 9:20 PM

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