HIstory Unfolding: The Lebanon War
My friend Mike Levitin had an amazing intellectual experience his first semester at Harvard because he found himself in a freshman seminar on the origins of World War I taught by David Kaiser.
Here David Kaiser discusses the war in Lebanon:
HIstory Unfolding: The Lebanon War: Friday, August 18, 2006: Last week I decided not to discuss the newly agreed cease-fire in Lebanon because I really didn’t know what to think about it. Now certain things have become extremely clear. The cease-fire represented an almost complete cave-in on the part of the United States and, as it turns out, an admission that we had no means of reaching our objectives of breaking Hezbollah’s power. During the week both President Bush and Secretary Rice tried to put a positive spin on matters... it is very hard to tell whether they are once again fooling themselves or whether they have something more up their sleeve.
There are two possible explanations of what happened. Either State Department officials got through to their boss, who in turn got through to the White House, that the American position in the Arab world would collapse completely if the fighting continued much longer, or else the Israelis decided that further indecisive conflict with 100 rockets falling in Israel every day would not be worth its cost. And thus, last Friday and Saturday, Americans at the UN agreed to a cease-fire that did not include the return of the captured Israeli soldiers, did not demand Hezbollah’s disarmament, and did not provide for an international force with coercive powers. Things have become much clearer this week, as the Lebanese Army has made clear it has no intention of disarming Hezbollah and France has proposed to send nothing more than a token international force....
Rice began her interview by claiming that the international force was a crucial element of the agreement and claiming that it had the right to defend itself if Hezbollah stood in its way, but she quickly had to backtrack and admit that no one expected the international force physically to disarm Hezbollah. Instead, she postponed the day of reckoning.... In other words, although not enough of the world agreed with the United States to give us what we wanted, give them time, and they will.
The Post op-ed... concluded by addressing a troubling point. “Already, we hear Hezbollah trying to claim victory. But others, in Lebanon and across the region, are asking themselves what Hezbollah's extremism has really achieved: hundreds of thousands of people displaced from their homes. Houses and infrastructure destroyed. Hundreds of innocent lives lost. The blame of the world for causing this war.”
The problem, of course, is that virtually every report out of Lebanon says that that is not how the Lebanese people (much less the rest of the Arab world) see the situation at all. Hezbollah’s stature has grown because it fought the mighty Israeli Army to a standstill, and it will grow further as it takes the lead, with the help of Iranian money, in reconstruction....
The President’s statement, like so many of his statements on Iraq, insists that eventually the population of the Middle East will see things our way. He apparently believes this despite the lack of any evidence that they do, or that his policies are doing anything but making them more anti-American. More serious is his statement that the international force could help seal the Syrian-Lebanese border, which it has no intention, according to published reports, of doing.
Ironically, these statements begin to recognize, in a backhanded fashion, that the United States cannot accomplish all that much in the world without an international consensus behind it. That is why the foreign policy establishment has opposed the thrust of Bush Administration foreign policy from the beginning, and events are proving them right....
What does all this mean for the future? I see two possibilities. In the first, the United States government will continue to mouth the same platitudes for two more years while the situation in Iraq, Lebanon, and very likely elsewhere continues to deteriorate.... [T]he second possibility is that the President and Secretary of State take seriously the implication of their statements (and the President’s accidentally recorded remarks to Tony Blair) that the real problem is not Hezbollah, but Syria and Iran. That is an oversimplification. Hezbollah is an authentic popular movement that has won thousands of hearts and minds by meeting the needs of Shi’ite Muslims in various parts of the world, including in Lebanon. Syria’s presence in Lebanon, which we insisted on ending several years ago, probably kept a lid on Hezbollah—-the kind of subtlety that the present Administration simply cannot grasp. But the crisis has worked to Iran’s benefit, and a new crisis looms over its uranium enrichment program. Perhaps Seymour Hersh, who last week reported that the Administration viewed the Israeli invasion of Lebanon as a dry run for an American attack on Iran, is right, and the Administration regards an attempt to topple Iran from the air as the only real solution to the problems of the Middle East.
In an earlier report Hersh claimed that some Administration figures actually believe that bombing Iran would sour the people on their rulers—-a fantasy parallel to the one trumpeted by the President and Secretary of State last week, that the Lebanese people will realize that it was Hezbollah that brought so much destruction upon them.... [T]he logic of the Administration’s position is driving it inexorably towards another war, and so far, it has been quite consistent about how it sees the problems of the Middle East and what should be done about them—to eliminate those regimes that supposedly stand in the way of the spread of democracy.