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An immediate cease fire is needed in Lebanon

Wed, Aug 2nd, 2006
Posted in Commentary

"You see the irony is what they need to do is get Syria to get Hezbollah to stop doing this s--t and it's all over."

George Bush to Tony Blair at the St. Petersburg G8 Summit, referring to the conflict in Lebanon.

According to President George Bush the fighting in Lebanon is linked to the War on Terrorism. Hezbollah provoked Israel when it captured two Israeli soldiers; Israel responded, as it usually does, with force.

From the U.S. standpoint, Israel is justified in protecting itself against Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hammas in Palestine; the U.S identifies both as terrorist groups. And so, the logic goes, the U.S. is right in letting Israel have its way in Lebanon and in the West Bank.

It wasn't that long ago that Bush was pushing for democracy in the Middle East as a means to bring about a political chemical reaction of sorts, the so-called Roadmap for Peace. The thinking was that the ballot box would enable moderate voices to rise to the top. But, alas, Hammas was voted into power in Palestine and Hezbollah got a share of the Lebanese parliament. The only ones who seemed surprised by this democratic conundrum was Bush and the neo-conservatives.

As Forrest Gump says, "Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what your going to get." So it is with ballot boxes and democracies.

It appears that the Bush administration's goal is to shore up Lebanon's democracy sans Hezbollah. So, consider the Israel initiative as a surgical maneuver, a proxy war if you will, to remove the radical elements from what would otherwise be a new colony. The only problem is that the further Israel pushes into Lebanon, and the more innocent lives are lost (there are also 700,000 refugees), the more world opinion turns against Israel, and in turn the United States. Too big a surgical knife and you risk losing the patient.

There is also the risk that moderate Arab states, including Egypt and Saudi Arabia, will be forced to keep their distance as more radical leaders are made credible. Remember that during extreme times, moderate voices often give way to radical leadership.

Rather than seeking an immediate cease fire in Lebanon, the Bush adminstration sees the present conflict as a rare opportunity to change the balance of power in the Middle East. Given their lack of success in Iraq and elsewhere, and given the difficult prospects for peace the Middle East presents, that's pretty scary stuff, as foreign affairs is not the Bush administration's strong suit.

The risk is of course that the turmoil in Lebanon and the war in Iraq could merge into a broader conflict, Sunnis and Shiites married into a "your enemy is my enemy" relationship. After all, those are American planes, tanks, and bombs the Israelis are using; those are U.S. greenbacks being spent in southern Lebanon.

America wants Lebanon to control Hezbollah; Arab states want America to control Israel. The U.S. is no longer in a position to broker an "enduring" cease fire (to quote Condoleza Rice), but it is in a position to make one happen.

As the Arabs know very well, to paraphrase George Bush talking to Tony Blair in Russia a few weeks ago, "All George Bush has to do is to get Israel to stop doing this s--t and it's all over." One would think that there is a point where it is in the best interests of everyone, and in particular the innocent ones on both sides of the border, that hostilities cease. That time has come.

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