Taking Casualties

Posted by Cutler on August 22, 2006
Isolationism, Lebanon, Right Zionists

An editorial in today’s Financial Times–entilted “Stepping Up to the Plate in Lebanon“–discusses the French reticence to lead a “robust” Multinational Force in Lebanon.

Just last Thursday, Jacques Chirac, the French president, told Kofi Annan, United Nations secretary-general, that France was ready to assume command of the bolstered UN force in Lebanon. But he has so far promised to increase the French presence in the country by a paltry 200 troops. Paris, whichrevelled in seizing a leading role in negotiations at the UN SecurityCouncil, seems to be having second thoughts about putting troops where its mouth is…

At bottom, the dilemma over sending in troops bears on an unwillingness to take casualties. Providing manpower for Unifil has long been a deadly assignment. France is also all too aware that its frequent calls for Syria to be brought to account could make it vulnerable to attack by Damascus’ supporters in Hizbollah.

This has only exacerbated anti-French sentiment in the US, with Kevin Drum over at the Washington Monthly calling Chirac a Wanker.

But if the French are having second thoughts, I continue to wonder why the US seems to not have even had “first thoughts” of sending US troops to Lebanon.

Back in the otherwise eerily similar case of the 1982 Israeli campagin in Lebanon, there were big factional fights in the Reagan administration over the issue with Secretary of State George Shultz and much of the NSC staff strongly in favor of projecting US influence in Lebanon through active military participation in a Multinational Force.

Today, there appear to be no public advocates for US troops in Lebanon.

John Bolton–US Ambassador to the UN, and a figure who might have been expected to champion US participation–shut down the discussion very quickly at the start of the current crisis.

The Washington Post ran a story on July 22, 2006 that quoted Bolton:

As far as boots on the ground, that doesn’t seem to be in the cards,” said John R. Bolton, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, a sentiment also expressed by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice yesterday.

“I do not think that it is anticipated that U.S. ground forces . . . are expected for that force,” she said.

So, what is the story here?

Have Right Zionists simply become more “pragmatic” now than they were back in the early 1980s? Are they implicitly acknowledging that Iraq has become such a quagmire than US troops are now overstretched?

[On the overstrethced issue: is that notion endorsed by all the “critics” who have insisted all along that Rumsfeld could have an should have sent 500,000 troops to Iraq in order to do it right? Now, with something less than 150,000 troops in Iraq, the US is unable to send, say, 50,000 troops to Lebanon?]

Or, perhaps Right Zionists would have argued for US troops in Lebanon if Bolton had not signaled early on that they need not waste any breath since a factional battle had already been quietly fought and lost within the administration.

Hence Bolton’s posture as a mere observer or fortune teller: it simply isn’t “in the cards”–regardless of the merits of the idea, from his perspective.

But if Right Zionists faced a quiet defeat within the Bush administration, who did them in? Was it the work of Right Arabists unwilling to risk a direct confrontation with Syria and/or Iran? Perhaps, although I think there may be good reason to doubt that.

Is it possible that Right Zionists were dealt a defeat at the hands of… Karl Rove?

There were rumors that Rove’s “in-house” slogan during the last Presidential election was “No War in 2004″–meaning no serious counter-insurgency activity that might produce US casualties. Such a rumor seems to have been given some support by the timing of the US assault on Fallujah which seemed to have been on hold for much of 2004, until Bush’s election was secured.

Is it possible that with mid-term elections on the horizon in the US, Rove is reluctant to risk US casualties in Lebanon–especially with the memory of the October 23, 1983 bombing of US Marine Barracks in Beirut that killed 241 US soldiers? A new “in-house” slogan: “No Barracks in 2006″?

All of this is speculation, of course.

But is it possible that all along Right Zionists have faced resistance, not only from Right Arabists, but from “political professionals” like Rove who detect–and “pander” to–an emergent, growing “isolationism” within the US and an indifference to the old motif of wartime sacrifice?

2 Comments to Taking Casualties

  • An interesting take–I’ll have to look into the Reagan debates. The problem with it as far as the current situation goes is that over the past months there has been increasing criticism of Bush’s foreign policy from various right wing circles. Rove may very well be correctly concerned about the effect of shifting national sentiments on Republican electoral fortunes. Outside of the administration, however, Neocons have been pushing the White House on foreign policy. If this were another “triumph of politics” over ideology, would we not be able to track it through the Administration/Neocon rift that has developed?

  • A “triumph of politics” over ideology. Well said.

    Can we track it? That is a great question. My post is entirely speculative. Needlessly so?

    On the one hand, I think it is quite possible to track a long-running rift between Neocons and the Administration on the Administration’s “happy talk” about normalcy and their refusal to call the nation to sacrifice for the Global War on Terror. A writer named Ben Shestakofsky has written an extraordinary undergraduate thesis tracing Neoconservative criticism, in general terms, of the “triumph of politics” since 9/11. I wish it were already published. Well worth reading! As a general point, I think such a “rift” is not difficult to discern if one reads Neocon writing carefully, as Shestakofsky does.

    On the other hand, I have found no specific Neocon criticism (or, really, any criticism) suggesting that the decision to withhold US participation in the Lebanon MNF was a triumph of politics. The entire question seems to have been “taken for granted” by everyone.  I find this quite peculiar.

    Finally, on the Reagan-era debates: I wrote a long post this morning, discussing several memoirs, before the power went out and I lost the not-yet-saved post. Lesson learned.  I may re-write it.

    For now, I would call attention to Caspar Weinberger’s 1990 memoir, Fighting for Peace, especially pages 135-174. Weinberger describes his factional battles with Shultz and NSC staffers. There is also a 1993 Shultz memoir, Turmoil and Triumph, and an NSC staffer memoir–Howard Teicher’s 1993 Twin Pillars to Desert Storm–both of which describe the same factional battles from the perspective of those who favored a strong US military presence in the MNF of those years.

    I would not argue, however, that Weinberger’s opposition to US participation at that time was necessarily based on a “triumph of politics” or a concern for “force protection.”  Instead, it seems like the difference was that, unlike his factional opponents, Weinberger had no appetite for a confrontation with Syria.

    Shultz, meanwhile, offers this irresistible quote regarding the battle for Lebanon (p.230): “W’ere in a low-grade war with Iranian and Syrian terrorists.”

    Sound familiar?

Leave a Reply