Listening to Newt Gingrich bloviate on Meet the Press, advocating U.S. intervention on Israel’s behalf against Syria and Iran and the pathetic Joe "Me Too" Biden effectively agreeing with him one can only wonder how or why anybody listens to these crazies. As Newt, the megalomaniacal has-been, gleefully declares that "World War III" is in progress, and weaves a conspiracy theory linking Iran, Syria, North Korea, Hezbollah, and believe it or not! Venezuela, old Joe just sits there nodding out. Given a chance to reply, his only objection to Gingrich’s vision of war on all fronts is that, yes, we need to go to war, but we have to do it with the support of our allies. "Fighting Joe" Biden is no weenie: his voice hardens as he avers we should tell the North Koreans that we have the capacity to "annihilate" them. Gingrich smiles.
He has good reason to smile. Aside from his fondness for the concept of annihilation, he knows that the War Party’s "liberal" Democratic wing is falling into line. The Israeli invasion of Lebanon which many predict will include the de facto annexation of a southern "buffer zone" has the fulsome support of both parties. When the Israelis tell the Americans to jump, the only question Biden and the Democratic party leadership have is: How high?
What Israel wants is what they have always wanted: to use American power, American tax dollars, and American lives to advance their own expansionist agenda. Twenty-five thousand Americans are in Lebanon at the present moment, all of them at risk from Israeli bombs but that didn’t factor into Tel Aviv’s calculations, any more than Lebanese or Palestinian lives matter one whit to them. The Israelis put Israel first and so does Washington. If all 25,000 American tourists and others have to perish in the flames of Israeli air strikes, then so be it. No sacrifice is too great just as long as our Israel-centric foreign policy remains firmly in place.
Unleashed by the U.S. invasion of Iraq and the presence of a substantial American force in the midst of Mesopotamia, the Israelis are the tip of an American spear aimed at Syria and Iran. And Israel’s amen corner in Washington and the media are doggedly pushing the talking point that these two spokes on the "axis of evil" are churning the Lebanese waters. MSNBC assures us that Iran "created" Hezbollah: knowledgeable analysts can only laugh at this agitprop but then they aren’t cited in this piece. Only a former Israeli general is.
Hezbollah, of course, was "created," not by Iran, but by the Israeli invasion of 1982. The group gained prestige and adherents as it drove the invading Israelis back over the border and set up an elaborate network of social service organizations, standing candidates for office and entering the Lebanese Parliament. The mere sight of an Arab entity successfully defying Israel, and not only living to tell the tale but also prospering, is impermissible: Russian President Vladimir Putin was not alone in saying that there was more to the Israeli agenda than merely getting back their captured um, I mean "kidnapped" soldiers.
Another war, a silent war, is going on in the corridors of power, and the fighting in the Middle East, in an important sense, is merely a reflection of a long, bitter internecine struggle in Washington. Those Republican "realists" we hear so much about holdovers from the Bush I regime, "realist" policy wonks, and those Republicans who look at the polls have their champion (or best hope, at any rate) in Condoleezza Rice. Her personal relationship with the president and her elevation to head of the State Department have led several commentators to equate this as a victory for the "realists."
The neoconservative ideologues, who have been the radical vanguard of the War Party all along, certainly believe this, which is why Richard Perle recently took her on in the Washington Post. The Condi faction temporarily gained the upper hand when they came out with a policy on Iran that had been worked on in secret and took the road of negotiation rather than outright military confrontation and "regime change."
The Israeli answer: invade Lebanon, force the issue, and go for the throat. With the Israel lobby going full-bore and the propaganda mills churning, the invasion undermines the Rice faction and puts the issue of regime-change back on the administration’s agenda. While that change of regime will, initially, be limited to southern Lebanon, where Hezbollah operates a de facto independent state, it will eventually the neocons hope extend to the whole of the country, topple Bashar al-Assad in Syria and, eventually, spill over into Iran.
Dan Rather said on Chris Matthews’ Sunday show that the road is littered with the corpses of those who underestimated Dick Cheney, and the reassertion of the neoconservative voice within this administration a voice that many thought had been nearly stilled by the grotesque failure of our Iraqi disaster is a testament to the validity of his thesis.
The neocons’ comeback is made possible by the Democrats’ complete prostration before the Israeli offensive. Biden’s babbling that our lack of allies has crippled our ability to mediate the Middle East conflict is completely wrong and beside the point, in any case. To begin with, all the Arab killer regimes the Saudis, the Egyptians, the Jordanians, the dictators, the kings, the petty tyrants and emirs are taking the line that Hezbollah, and not Israel, is to blame. The Lebanese, they say, have brought this on themselves and now have to bear the consequences of Hassan Nasrallah‘s actions.
Yet a state of war still exists between Israel and Lebanon no peace treaty was ever signed. And the border is closely watched by both parties: it’s hard to imagine the Israelis failed to realize that sending in a few unguarded troops so close to Hezbollah positions would likely result in their capture. Hezbollah took the bait, and the trap snapped shut.
The question boils down to this: can the Israelis win a war with Hezbollah without American intervention? The answer, clearly, is no: look what happened last time. The Americans, lured into Beirut, suffered 241 casualties after bombing Beirut’s suburbs and Reagan wisely withdrew. Israel, in the end, was driven out. The neocons are determined that, this time, the Americans will not only stay they’ll go for Damascus.
The call for American military intervention is bound to come up, rather shortly, and get louder as the long "precision" bombing of the Lebanese continues. The Israelis will pound Lebanon in a display of U.S.-backed military power, and the only debate in Washington will be over to what extent we ought to intervene, rather than whether we ought to get involved at all.
In the end, some combination of UN-NATO-American military intervention will do for the Israelis what they could never accomplish on their own: neutralize all opposition to their conquest of Palestine coming from the Levant. The "debate" in Washington is only over how to achieve that goal: the Democrats say we have to do it "multilaterally," and the Republicans, with Jacksonian disdain, say we don’t have to answer to anybody (except the Israelis, of course).
There is no "solution" to the Middle East’s many conflicts, and American attempts to formulate one are doomed to failure. Some problems are just not solvable by human efforts, and this is one of them. Our intervention only serves to exacerbate the situation and spread the conflict with blowback that can and did have deadly consequences as far as our own interests are concerned.
American interests play little or no role in the formulation of U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East, and we all know why. What scholars John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt said in their now famous study [.pdf] of "the Lobby," as they call it, is being confirmed in spades by this latest episode:
"For the past several decades, and especially since the Six-Day War in 1967, the centerpiece of U.S. Middle Eastern policy has been its relationship with Israel. The combination of unwavering support for Israel and the related effort to spread ‘democracy’ throughout the region has inflamed Arab and Islamic opinion and jeopardized not only U.S. security but that of much of the rest of the world. This situation has no equal in American political history. Why has the U.S. been willing to set aside its own security and that of many of its allies in order to advance the interests of another state?"
Their answer: "The unmatched power of the Israel Lobby."
That Lobby is now furiously demanding and getting unconditional support for the violation of Lebanon’s sovereignty not only from the president, but from the leaders of both political parties and the major mandarins of the commentariat. The Mearsheimer-Walt thesis has now been confirmed. The question is: what do we do about it?
America’s real interests in the Middle East are in securing two primary goals: (1) Making sure that war and political factors don’t obstruct the free flow of commerce and oil to American markets, and (2) neutralizing the Osama bin Ladens of the Middle East ideologically, not necessarily in that order. Regarding the first goal, I merely refer you to current oil prices. On the second matter, our unconditional support for Israel’s brazen invasion is now the chief recruiting tool for bin Laden and his gang.
While the War Party runs roughshod over authentic American interests, the U.S. political landscape, at this point, lacks anything remotely resembling a Peace Party. Don’t look to the Democrats, as a party, to come to our rescue. They won’t. "The Lobby" works both sides of the partisan fence, and, as we all know, "politics ends at the water’s edge" which is how we’ve been dragged into every war of modern times, despite popular opposition.
Perhaps, some day, an administration and a Congress that puts America first will regain control of Washington. That prospect, however, appears dim at the moment. As Americans wake up to World War IV on the horizon, however, it is not completely out of the question. War teases out new trends and creates new patterns in the politics of a nation, and it does so rather rapidly. In any case, we have to hope because the alternative is so unappealing.
NOTES IN THE MARGIN
I apologize for sounding a note of weariness, and even despair, in the above paragraph. It is provoked, I fear, by the sheer repetition involved in writing a column such as this. In pointing out the dangers inherent in our foreign policy, and underscoring the probable consequences of our reckless arrogance, I sometimes think I am writing the same column, over and over again, and that the real trick is in introducing some variation of language. So, rather than simply saying "I told you so!", I have compiled a few quotes from previous columns on the subject of Israel, Lebanon, and the prospect of a gathering regional war.
Note: I have left the original links in, in spite of the maddening practice of many news organizations in deleting or moving their online content.
"Will this same gang of warmongers entrap us in a war with Syria, and drag us back into Lebanon, where we are sure to confront the ghosts of our past errors? The battle-cry has already been sounded: Stay tuned as we hear news of Syria’s ‘weapons of mass destruction” and the inevitable question: ‘Is Saddam in Syria?‘
"As Yogi Berra once said: ‘This is like deja-vu all over again!’"
"Wars don’t respect national borders, and it’s only a matter of time before the Americans’ ongoing battle against the Iraqi insurgency spills over into Syria. As I predicted in September 2003, ‘We are a border incident away from taking the war into Syria, and beyond,’ and that analysis seems borne out by events.
"All the elements of a regional conflagration are now in place, and the assassination of Hariri has set the fuse to burning. How long before the troops move out is anyone’s guess, but make no mistake about it: Syria is next on the War Party’s agenda.
"As I have said from the very beginning, the war in Iraq was and is just a means to the ends of finally securing Israel’s ‘security’ by making it the dominant power in the region. This is now being confirmed as the U.S. takes aim at Syria and moves against Hizbollah."
"Syria is now girding for the imposition of economic sanctions and trying to head off the campaign to destabilize the country on two fronts: by restarting talks with Israel, and by cooperating with the request to permit Syrian officials to be questioned in the Hariri investigation. I have the funny feeling, however, that this is not going to do them a lot of good, as far as their enemies in the West are concerned. As we have seen in the case of Iraq, when the U.S. wants to manufacture a case for war, it can be done pretty easily: Congress is not likely to ask inconvenient questions until it’s too late, and the American people can hardly be expected to keep up with arcane doings in faraway Lebanon, the scene of the intrigue and obscure religious-ethnic rivalries that could spark another Mideast war. Acting pretty much without either congressional or public scrutiny, this administration thinks it can get away with anything when it comes to Syria and in that, they are probably right."
"Two years after the invasion and conquest of Iraq, and what have we gained? An Islamic state in Iraq, a looming confrontation with Syria, and the increasingly likely prospect of Lebanon reverting to a state of civil war."
"We are in for a long buildup to direct intervention in Lebanon, and Syria. It’s all so predictable, and boring, that I can’t even write about it for another minute, except to say: They’ve only just begun "
"The escalation of the war against the Iraqi insurgencies yes, I mean that to be a plural into a regional conflict is a possibility that will increasingly present itself in 2006. The New Year had barely dawned when reports of U.S. planning for a military strike on Iran were coming from UPI and the Jerusalem Post. It is Syria, however, that represents a real opportunity for the War Party to effect some ‘regime change’ in the region: the process of setting up Bashar al-Assad as the latest edition of Ba’athist Evil in the Middle East is already well underway. Contrary to most of the evidence, including the most basic considerations of common sense, Syria has been tagged as the murderer of Lebanese entrepreneur-politician Rafik Hariri, who was killed in a Beirut car blast last year, and the UN ‘investigation‘ is taking on all the appearances of a propaganda campaign directed at Damascus.
"Hillary has already signed on to the campaign to provoke a conflict with Syria, and she won’t hear any argument from McCain on this matter. When the alleged Democratic ‘dove’ Nancy Pelosi touts her support of sanctions against Syria in spite of the very valuable cooperation proffered by Damascus in tracking down Islamist terrorist cells the chances of avoiding a military conflict with Damascus appear dim."
"The U.S. is ratcheting up its campaign against Syria, even as the principal proponents of confronting Damascus Libby, Hadley, Hannah, Wurmser, et al. find themselves in Fitzgerald’s sights. In effect, the prosecutor is running a race with the War Party: can they provoke a war with Syria before he brings charges? For the sake of the country, I dearly hope Fitzgerald’s staff has writer’s cramp by now from furiously tapping out indictments."
"The battle will not be joined all at once, however: don’t expect a full-scale frontal assault on Iran any time soon. The struggle will break out between Iranian proxies the Shi’ite party militias, Hezbollah in Lebanon, and Iranian-backed factions based in Syria and the U.S. and its allies in the region, including not only the Israelis but also the Kurds and the Christian Lebanese factions."