I know it seems like Condi Rice has been stalling on the whole diplomatic search for an immediate ceasefire. And I’m sure it seems like the delays have been designed to give Israel time to score some military victories on the ground in Lebanon before introducing a UN resolution. As it turns out, Rice was simply being gracious, insuring that US or Israeli policy would be frozen in time during my two-week absence. Thanks Condi! Go right ahead, now…
The US and the French have hammered out a draft UN “ceasefire” resolution, but as currently written it won’t amount to much. As the Washington Post (“Rice Calls Plan at U.N. Crucial Step to Peace“) reports,
The resolution does not call for Israeli troops to immediately withdraw from Lebanon, a point that has drawn sharp opposition from key players in the conflict…
The United States and France agreed on the proposed Security Council resolution Saturday to end the fighting between Israel and the Islamic militant group. The resolution calls for a “full cessation of hostilities,” including the immediate end of Hezbollah attacks and “all offensive military operations” by Israel.
So, Israel can stay in Lebanon, Hezbollah must stop all attacks and Israel only has to stop “offensive” operations. What does a “defensive” operation look like under these circumstances?
An obscure footnote in Caspar Weinberger’s 1990 memoir, Fighting for Peace, recounts a similar ceasefire deal from an earlier Israeli invasion of Lebanon:
“One of the… more creative interpretations of the term “cease-fire” was [Israeli Prime Minister Menachem] Begin’s claim, after the Israeli Defense Forces invaded Lebanon in June 19982, that he did not believe a cease-fire was a “cease fire in place.” And so the Israelis felt they could advance as long as they did not fire, and if the other side fired to halt the Israeli advance it was a violation of the cease-fire” (FFP, p.141).
Rice herself was quick to point out that any deal at the UN would not necessarily lead to a halt in the fighting. Reuters reports,
If that resolution can be quickly voted on, Rice said, “I would hope that you would see very early on an end to large-scale violence…
That does not necessarily mean an end to all fighting in the short run because “these things take a while to wind down,” and there could be skirmishes for some time to come, she said.
“We’re trying to deal with a problem that has been festering and brewing in Lebanon now for years and years and years. So it’s not going to be solved by one resolution in the Security Council,” Rice said.
As Tony Karon has suggested over at Rootless Cosmopolitan
The purpose of the cease-fire deal, though, may not be to end the fighting — which Rice herself seems to admit is unlikely — but rather to make another attempt at winning diplomatic endorsement for Israel’s military campaign by isolating Hizballah as the obstacle to an internationally sanctioned peace.
No real signs of Bush administration retreat, here. Still, there are signs of disappointment. I have in mind Charles Krauthammer’s Washington Post column from Friday (“Israel’s Lost Moment“):
There is fierce debate in the United States about whether, in the post-Sept. 11 world, Israel is a net asset or liability. Hezbollah’s unprovoked attack on July 12 provided Israel the extraordinary opportunity to demonstrate its utility by making a major contribution to America’s war on terrorism…
The United States… has counted on Israel’s ability to do the job. It has been disappointed. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has provided unsteady and uncertain leadership. Foolishly relying on air power alone, he denied his generals the ground offensive they wanted, only to reverse himself later.
I gather things are not going so well (from a strategic, in addition to a humanitarian, perspective) on the ground in Lebanon. Krauthammer blames the Israeli political leadership. But Hezbollah resistance is probably the real story here, at least according to the New York Times article, “A Disciplined Hezbollah Suprises Israel with its Training, Tactics, and Weapons.”
All of which begs the question: What Were They Thinking?
I have tried to discern various elements of a Bush administration “strategy,” most recently in a ZNet article, “The Devil Wears Persian.”
Now, Matt over at Il Cattivo Soggetto/The Bad Subject has offered up a critique of this idea:
The Right-Zionist strategy always struck me as a massive gamble, and now it just seems like a stupid one…
While Hezbollah no doubt miscalculated the new Israeli government’s willingness to use it’s military might, they may yet have the last laugh. The US and Israeli plan, if indeed Cutler’s analysis is correct, is more and more imperiled with each day this conflict drags on. Israel has seriously miscalculated Hezbollah’s military capability…
At the outset, Saudi and Egyptian reaction to the Israeli offensive was measured, and many in the region were quick to lay the blame on Hezbollah’s adventurism. But with no end in sight, these same people are feeling the heat.
The first point seems quite right, although the battles continue.
On the consequences of “heat” on Arab leaders, the jury remains out. An Arab League delegation has promised to take Lebanon’s concerns about the current UN resolution language–especially its failure to demand an immediate Israeli ceasefire and withdrawal–to the UN. But I think a case could be made that Arabs are still holding their fire until the Israelis have been forced to hold theirs.
The idea of a strategic plan also comes under attack because there are signs–in the Financial Times–that the Bush administration is unwilling to back regime change in Iran:
And here’s another kink in the theory: the admnistration disappointed Iranian exile activists last week during a meeting focusing on Iran’s nuclear capability. Not only did Elliot Abrams, deputy national security adviser, and Nicholas Burns, a State Department official in charge of the Iran portfolio, tell the Iranian exiles that the US had no intention of broadening the conflic to Syria and Iran, they even “argued against regime change,” according to one of the attendees. And this at a “gathering of 30 Iranians, including analysts, academics and members of religious and ethnic minorities, was billed by the White House as a ‘historic first step in promoting personal freedom and liberty in Iran.'”
I think the report surely indicates that the Cheney administration isn’t yet ready to go public with an active campaign against Iran–especially with things going poorly against what is arguably something of an Iranian proxy army in Lebanon. Still, the meeting–and the sour comments from disappointed Iranian dissidents–is an important news story.
Finally, I note that the Right Arabist dissent remains pretty muted. I have in mind here Brent Scowcroft’s Washington Post Op-Ed “Beyond Lebanon.” Scowcroft doesn’t seem quite so upset with what is happening in Lebanon than what might happen “beyond” it once Israel has done the deed.
Of course, it is a Right Arabist plea for dealing with Israeli-Palestinian issue as the “root” of the crisis. I’ll grant that. So he leads with the language of dissent:
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has stated that a simple cease-fire in Lebanon is not the solution to the current violence. She says it is necessary to deal with the roots of the problem. She is right on both counts. But Hezbollah is not the source of the problem; it is a derivative of the cause, which is the tragic conflict over Palestine that began in 1948.
But after that, it becomes pretty clear that Scowcroft has no critique of the Israeli war against Iranian-backed Hezbollah.
The current crisis in Lebanon provides a historic opportunity to achieve what has seemed impossible…
A comprehensive peace settlement would not only defang the radicals in Lebanon and Palestine (and their supporters in other countries), it would also reduce the influence of Iran — the country that, under its current ideology, poses the greatest potential threat to stability in Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Egypt and Jordan.
Ironically, there is more Rigth Zionist disappointment than Right Arabist dissent. At least for now…