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Friday, July 28, 2006

Not a time to act yet

Warren Christopher, Secretary of State in the first Clinton administration, takes current Secretary of State Condaleeza Rice to task for not insisting on an immediate cease fire and for not enlisting the Syrians' in reigning in Hezbullah:
My own experience in the region underlies my belief that in the short term we should focus our efforts on stopping the killing. Twice during my four years as secretary of state we faced situations similar to the one that confronts us today. Twice, at the request of the Israelis, we helped bring the bloodshed to an end.


Finally, Syria may well be a critical participant in any cease-fire arrangement, just as it was in 1993 and 1996. Although Syria no longer has troops in Lebanon, Hezbollah's supply routes pass through the heart of Syria, and some Hezbollah leaders may reside in Damascus, giving the Syrians more leverage over Hezbollah's actions than any other country save Iran. Syria has invited a direct dialogue with the United States, and although our relations with Syria have seriously deteriorated in recent years (we have not had an ambassador in Damascus for more than a year), we do not have the luxury of continuing to treat it with diplomatic disdain. As the situations with North Korea and Iran confirm, refusing to speak with those we dislike is a recipe for frustration and failure.
Christopher seems not to understand that this is not 1993, nor is it 1996. Let's look at his two assertions. First, Christopher himself admits - but ignores the significance - of the fact that in both 1993 and 1996, "at the request of the Israelis, we helped bring the bloodshed to an end." In 1993 and 1996, Israel had troops stationed in Lebanon and it was going to continue to have troops stationed in Lebanon after the cease fire. The only government in Lebanon in the 90's , with all its imperfections, was the Lebanese government. Hezbullah was not functioning as a state within a state. And because of that, Israel's interest in shoring up its 'international image' was more important to it than dealing Hezbullah a heavy blow, particularly after the Cana bombing in 1996 (which Christopher mentions in the article).

Today, Israel no longer has troops stationed in Lebanon, nor does it wish to do so in the long term. Hezbullah has built up a state within a state with thousands of rocket launchers based in houses throughout southern Lebanon. Israel's interest now is therefore different than it was ten years ago, and because of that, it has not asked the United States to negotiate a cease fire. The United States has agreed to play along with Israel, because the United States recognizes that Hezbullah is acting as a proxy for Iran and the United States has an interest in hurting Iran's image in the region.

Christopher also tries to bring Syria into the picture. Here too, things have changed since 1996. The President of Syria is no longer strongman Hafez al-Assad, but his son Bashar, who is a much weaker character. Syria, as I have noted at least twice this week, has nothing to offer. It has no influence over Hezbullah, which has become an Iranian client (along with Syria itself). Moreover, in 1996, Syria controlled Lebanon. But as a result of the Cedar Revolution four months ago, the Syrians no longer have influence in Lebanon either. After Rafik Hariri's assassination, they were sent packing. Syria is nothing but a weigh station between Tehran and Beirut. Damascus is irrelevant. Syria would not bring influence to the bargaining table - only demands.

Christopher goes on to argue:
Because Hezbollah has positioned itself as the "David" in this war, every day that the killing continues burnishes its reputation within the Arab world. Every day that more of the Lebanese infrastructure is turned to dust, Beirut's fragile democracy becomes weaker, both in its ability to function and in the eyes of its people.
This is not the case either. Arab countries have just started to call for an end to the war as a result of all the civilian casualties, casualties which are mostly caused by Hezbullah hiding among civilians. But the Arab countries all recognize who started this war. Egypt said yesterday that it will not fight for Hezbullah. The Saudis are so angry with Hezbullah that a Wahhabi cleric issued a fatwa against them earlier this week. Hezbullah is a cancer in Lebanon's democracy, and must be uprooted. When a person, God forbid, has cancer, often we break down their entire immune system in order to do a bone marrow transplant that can save their life. That is essentially what is happening to Lebanese democracy today. It needs a bone marrow transplant without Hezbullah in the new marrow.

As to Christopher's final argument, that "Every day America gives the green light to further Israeli violence, our already tattered reputation sinks even lower," all I can say is thank God George Bush is President and not John Kerry. Bush recognizes what Christopher's former boss and Kerry would not recognize: that anytime the United States shows support for Israel, most or all (and I say most because Tony Blair has been mostly decent in this crisis) of America's 'closest allies' are critical. When the allies need America again, the 'reputation' will be irrelevant. The United States is and for the foreseeable future will remain the leading power of the Western World. Support for Israel shows a moral decency that many of America's 'allies' are lacking. It should be praised, not criticized.


At 4:04 PM, Blogger Attila said...

Among Clinton secretaries of state, Christopher was even more incompetent than Albright, and we should give his views all the attention they deserve.


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