America Held Hostage

The Israelis are dropping leaflets, as well as bombs, over Beirut. Aside from warnings to stay away from Hezbollah facilities, this little missive stands out:

“We all know from the experience of the past few days the massive strength of Israel and its readiness to use this power against the terrorist elements.

“The saying goes: those who sleep in graveyards have nightmares.”

With all of Lebanon becoming one big killing field, the Israelis should be the last ones talking about graveyards and who sleeps in them. As of Wednesday, “at least 300 people, mostly Lebanese civilians, and including 29 Israelis, had died in the fighting.” One thousand Lebanese wounded, and half a million refugees.

What’s interesting about this screed, however, is the preening, bullying tone. Note the “massive power” trope and the taunting reminder that the assault has only gone on for a “few days” – the clear implication being that it could go on much longer. Wednesday the story was that the Bush administration would give the Israelis a week to degrade Hezbollah’s military capability, and then they’d send Condi in to patch things up.

Thursday morning, however, as the bird sings outside my window, I awake to the news that the IDF is insisting on two weeks. In two weeks, they’ll be saying a month more – and the Americans will start to get antsy. The Arab killer regimes that back the bashing of Hezbollah are fidgeting nervously as pictures of the slaughter are beamed around the world: the Egyptians, for one, are reportedly furious that Bush refuses to endorse calls for a cease-fire. Any other American president would have long ago made such a pronouncement and fulfilled America’s mediating role, in line with our status as the predominant power in the region.

But not this president. This is all about Israel, and not the U.S., as the dominating power in the Middle East. Bush’s indifference to American interests and craven appeasement of the Israelis has led him to stand helplessly by as Israeli fighter jets paid for by American taxpayers drop U.S.-made ordnance on American citizens. There are 25,000 U.S. nationals in Lebanon, for all intents and purposes held hostage by the IDF. Instead of taking the Israelis to task for putting Americans at risk – without warning, and without apology – George W. Bush gave them the green light to keep up the bombing and the blockade for as long as they can get away with it.

The scandal over the reimbursement demanded by the State Department for rescuing U.S. citizens trapped in Lebanon will pale as Americans realize why it took so long to even begin the difficult task of getting our people out of there safely. Garance Franke-Ruta reports the outrageous truth on the American Prospect‘s weblog:

“A reliable source tells me that the reason the United States has been so slow in evacuating its citizens from Lebanon is that the public diplomacy (i.e., P.R.) issues raised by evacuating under Israeli assault are so complicated. Individuals within the State Department, I am told, have been reluctant to create an impression that the Israeli assault on Lebanon is as bad as it is or that civilian U.S. citizens are being threatened by U.S. ally Israel. If a conflict this severe had broken out in, say, Indonesia, the American embassy would have been shut down the next day and its personnel and families rapidly brought to safety. That’s how things normally work. (See Laura Rozen on the evacuation from Albania here.) In this case, however, the diplomatic message sent by shutting down the U.S. embassy in the face of Israeli bombing would have contradicted the U.S. government message of support for the Israeli mission against Hezbollah terrorists, which, when added to the general concern within lower-level diplomatic circles about ever creating a Fall of Saigon-style visual for the news media, have led the Americans to be slower than they could have been about getting U.S. citizens out of harm’s way.”

In my last column, I likened the slowness of the American response to the federal government’s hapless efforts to deal with the effects of Hurricane Katrina, a comparison made by many others. However, the Lebanese disaster is much worse than what happened in New Orleans and environs. This isn’t incompetence: the U.S. government made a conscious decision to delay the rescue mission to avoid embarrassing the Israelis. The Bush administration can always be counted on to put Israel first – ahead even of the welfare and very lives of American citizens.

When it comes to kowtowing before the Israel lobby, however, Congress outdoes the executive branch by several degrees of servility. Pat Buchanan was exactly right when he described Congress as “Israeli-occupied territory.” A resolution giving unconditional support to Israel passed the Senate unanimously: and, in the House, a similar measure passed overwhelmingly. Not that everyone who voted for it is proud of his or her vote: in the negotiations leading to the introduction of the resolution by the Republicans, Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) pledged to vote for the resolution and speak on its behalf, but refused to be a co-sponsor. Or, as Roll Call put it, she refused to “attach her name to it.” Does she really imagine this kind of obfuscation is going to provide adequate cover on her left flank? The antiwar faction of her party, large and growing, is already on to her brand of warmongering, and she knows it. In any case, it takes a special kind of cowardice to slither around the issue with such snake-like alacrity.

The Democrats are competing with the GOP to see who can praise the Israeli blitzkrieg in the most obsequiously extravagant terms. Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid made a fire-breathing speech in favor the resolution, Hillary Clinton declared her “unreserved support” for the invasion, and even Russ Feingold, ostensibly the antiwar candidate among the Democratic presidential wannabes, averred:

“I stand firmly with the people of Israel and their government as they defend themselves against these outrageous attacks. What we have done by becoming mired in Iraq, and by deciding to change the balance of power in that region, is enable Iran and Syria to be much more open in tormenting Israel, the United States, and our allies.”

That is gibberish. The “defense” of Israel hardly requires the bombing of northern Lebanon, including the Christian areas and the civilian infrastructure. The Israelis are even hitting the barracks of the Lebanese army – the very army the Israelis are demanding must police southern Lebanon and prevent Hezbollah attacks. Israel’s goal has nothing to do with getting any soldiers back: it’s all about the dissolution of a Parliament where Hezbollah’s representatives sit, and the division of the country. Forget the “Cedar Revolution” – touted by Bush and the neocons as indisputable evidence of a “democratic wave” supposedly sweeping the region as the direct result of Iraq’s “liberation.” The Israelis have decided that the government brought to power in the “Beirut spring” must fall, and that is the end of that.

As for Syria, it has never been weaker, which is precisely why the Israelis are now engineering a provocation. It is also hard to believe the presence of 130,000 U.S. troops nearby emboldens either Syria or Iran to “torment” anybody, except, perhaps, their own people.

If anyone is being tormented, it is the Syrians, who have bent over backwards to cooperate with the Americans in the war on al-Qaeda and assiduously tried to avoid any conflict with Washington. To no avail: Israel’s enemies are our enemies. President Assad was recently given a sign of things to come when Israeli jets buzzed his summer palace. The Iranians, too, have signaled their willingness to negotiate, yet the U.S. is openly embarking on a campaign to fund a Chalabi-like “democratic” opposition, consisting of monarchists, Communist cultists, and job-seekers.

Baghdad – Beirut – Damascus – Tehran: get on board the “regime change” train and fasten your seat belt. Because it doesn’t matter how sick unto death the American public is of the neocons’ wars. They will get one after the other anyway, in rapid succession. This is due to the unprecedented power of “the Lobby” – as Professors John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt term it in their now-famous Harvard University study of Israel’s fifth column in the U.S.

This is Israel’s war, for the moment, but already the outline of a scheme to drag us in is taking shape, with calls for an “international force” to supplant the Israeli invaders, to be stationed in a buffer zone on the Lebanese-Israeli border. Not a UN force, however, but a “multinational” one, presumably made up mostly of Americans, Brits, and probably the French. It’s possible they could recruit from among the motley crew of Sunni Arab autocrats who have turned on their Lebanese “brothers” and left them to twist slowly in the wind: the Saudis, the Egyptians, and the Jordanians, who have all joined Israel in assigning the blame for this war on Hezbollah.

This would gather all the elements of a broad anti-Shia alliance in one place, and lay the foundations for future action – in Syria, perhaps, where a confrontation is looming, and ultimately in Iran, the real target of the regime-changers.

The narrative of this war is being carefully articulated: it is, we are told, a “proxy war” being waged by Hezbollah, which the conspiracy theorists insist is merely an Iranian instrument. According to this view, Hassan Nasrallah is merely Mahmoud Ahmadinejad writ small.

To begin with, Hezbollah is a nationalist organization, with the requisite Islamist veneer. It was created not by Iran but by the Israelis themselves, in 1982, when they foolishly invaded the first time – and provoked a reaction that eventually drove the IDF out of southern Lebanon. This fantasy that Hezbollah consists of remote-controlled robots operated by the mullahs of Tehran is convenient for the purposes of war propaganda, but the reality is a bit more complex.

Yet even if we accept the simplistic Israeli-neocon view of Hezbollah as merely Iranian-run automatons, their proposed course of action still fails to make much sense. The logic of the neocon argument, applied to Iraq, would require us to turn our guns on the very government we are pledged to defend against the insurgency. The principal elements of Iraq’s democratically elected Shi’ite coalition –including the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), the Badr Corps (SCIRI’s militia), and the Da’wa party – were funded by Tehran and given sanctuary on Iranian soil during the years of Ba’athist rule. Are they, too, cat’s-paws of Tehran?

Most Americans don’t want U.S. troops to return to Lebanon – perhaps they remember what happened the last time. If the question is put as Israel versus Hezbollah, then, according to this CNN poll, 57 percent are more sympathetic to Israel, while 20 percent disdain taking sides and 4 percent are pro-Hezbollah. One suspects, however, if asked to choose between Israel and Lebanon, quite a different result would be forthcoming. In any event, 47 percent disapprove of the way President Bush is handling the crisis, with 43 percent approving – and 31 percent saying Israel’s military response to the kidnapping of its soldiers went too far. As pictures of the devastation wrought by the IDF capture the brutal reality of Israel’s exercise in “self-defense,” this number is bound to go higher.

Yet the momentum of the burgeoning conflict may sideline public opinion and give impetus to the War Party’s ambitious plans. As the rescue mission got belatedly underway, and American troops set foot on Lebanese soil for the first time since the ill-fated 1980s incursion, the chances of the U.S. getting roped into this snake-pit were quadrupled. Those Marines will be a magnet for every nutball “militia” and provocateur – a tripwire just waiting to be triggered.

Which leads us to wonder if this, perhaps, wasn’t built into the calculations that went into the making of this war.

No one believes the official pretext for the invasion – the capture of two Israeli soldiers by Hezbollah – and it is well-known that plans for the operation were ready to be taken off the shelf well before the incident. On Meet the Press the other day, Tim Russert asked NBC’s Martin Fletcher if the Israelis had been looking for an opportunity to attack Hezbollah and took the first one that came along. Fletcher’s answer was illuminating:

“I think so very strongly. I mean, they’ve never – they’ll never say that publicly, but don’t forget that when Israel left – ended their occupation of south Lebanon in the year 2000, the deal was that the Lebanese army would go in and police the border. Well, they never did that. Instead, Hezbollah moved in with all those rockets, and ever since then, about – for that last five years, Israel’s been planning what to do, how to fight Hezbollah, how to destroy them. So this is, this is not a quick reaction to a kidnapping, it’s the implementation of a plan Israel’s been working on for five years with very specific targets. They call it a work plan. They’re going step by step.”

Step 1 – Seize a pretext, any pretext, to goose-step into Lebanon.

Step 2 – Simultaneously denounce Syrian influence and a hidden “spy network” supposedly still remaining in Lebanon – this in spite of the recent bust-up of a Mossad cell by Lebanese intelligence, which had been responsible for several assassinations.

Step 3 – Restart the Lebanese civil war – and drag Syria into it.

Step 4 – Engage the enemy on two fronts:

A. Diplomatically, in the United Nations, by imposing sanctions on Iran and demanding inspections of its nuclear facilities. This long drawn-out ritual is meant largely for American and European consumption – to convince world opinion that every possible avenue for a peaceful settlement has been explored, before the second front is opened up.

B. Militarily, in Lebanon, and beyond. Bashar al-Assad is a pincer movement away from being deposed. A right hook from U.S.-occupied Iraq and a left from the Israelis would knock out the last remaining Ba’athists and open up a veritable Pandora’s box of ethnic and religious conflicts long masked by the dictatorship of the Assads.

Step 5On to Tehran!

The hijacking of American foreign policy by a small but influential cadre of neoconservatives is no secret, nor is it a deep mystery that they have the president’s ear. Whether the sound of their whispered advice will drown out the plaintive cries of ordinary Americans, who are hardly in the mood for yet another “cakewalk,” is not yet known. In the case of George W. Bush, however, it is always best to count on him living up to one’s worst expectations.

NOTES IN THE MARGIN

I am really excited by the Antiwar.com student essay contest: Antiwar.com is always looking to cultivate aspiring journalists and others who see themselves as activists, and an essay contest, I believe, is an ideal way to do it. This is the time for antiwar writers to find their voice and take advantage of the very large audience we can offer for their work. And there are cash prizes! Go here for details.

Read more by Justin Raimondo

Author: Justin Raimondo

Justin Raimondo is the editorial director of Antiwar.com, and a senior fellow at the Randolph Bourne Institute. He is a contributing editor at The American Conservative, and writes a monthly column for Chronicles. He is the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement [Center for Libertarian Studies, 1993; Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2000], and An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard [Prometheus Books, 2000].