Saturday, August 05, 2006

Honestly, what is the alternative?

I would hope that by now I don’t need to point out that I abhor violence. It is absolutely the worst way to solve a conflict. Armed conflict to resolve that which cannot be negotiated to settlement should only be used as the absolute last resort. I believe we are getting there now. Unfortunately we have been fighting in Iraq for over three years and in Afghanistan for almost four years. That is what I would call and world class case of jumping the gun. Perhaps if we had engaged in the war on terror and our response to September 11th “correctly” we would not be where we are now. But that is not where we are. Neoconservative idealists, in all there wisdom, or lack thereof, decided that we could force American style democracy on the world. They believed na├»vely that a people would appreciate and respect freedom and liberty even if they did not have to struggle for it. Well it hasn’t happened and it appears they are struggling now, but not for democracy. They are struggling for power and for money.

The problem in Iraq is that the Shia feel that they are owed for “time served”. The Kurds feel the same way. And the Sunni are petrified that part of what these two other groups feel they are owed is the lives of a bunch of Sunnis. That is not a totally irrational fear. If the situation deteriorates into a free for all, I would not trade places with the Sunnis for all the Humus in Lebanon.

As Thomas Friedman pointed out in the New York Times this week; it is time for Plan B. Our “plan” in the Middle East is not working. As the Big Lebowski would say: “The goddamn plan has flown into the goddamn mountain!!!” That can hardly be considered a surprise since there was no clear plan that anyone could point to, aside from the gut feeling of President Bush. The level of ineptitude is mind boggling. Can I just point out that Presidents have been impeached for less severe crimes (not that I am advocating that, yet).

The chaos in Iraq and the quagmire that we have found ourselves in has made it so that the United States is completely unable to adequately address other issues in the Middle East and elsewhere. The reason we can’t get serious about Iran and their threat is because we are bogged down. Likewise with Lebanon, Afghanistan and North Korea, we are stuck in reverse watching the situation in these volatile countries deteriorate. Then let us not forget genocide in Darfur and unrest in Somalia. Want to talk about two countries which are definitely harboring Al Qaeda… The Sudan and Somalia have to be right up near the top.

The problem is that we had no real friends in the Middle East before Israel started blowing Lebanon back into the stone ages (not a long journey in the Middle East). Critics cry out that this is weakening the U.S.’s standing in the region. Honestly, could it have gotten any weaker? I patently reject the notion that the violence is creating more anti-Israeli sentiment. Perhaps the governments in Egypt, Jordan and the Kingdom of Saud would be willing to tolerate a Jewish State in the region, but the people have not come around to that viewpoint. Nothing that Israel has done in the past four weeks has exacerbated that situation, the anti-Israeli and anti-Western sentiment has been there and it isn’t going away any time soon. If tomorrow we let the Islamic world wipe Israel off the map they would still hate us. That is because they don’t truly hate us. They just hate. They hate there lack of economic opportunity. They hate their lack of freedom. They hate their authoritarian governments. We are just the easiest target for that hate. Don’t think for a moment that before the west got to the Arabian Peninsula that the tribes loved each other. To disprove that you need only open the Quran to realize that the tribes have been warring over all manner of things for centuries. To declare that this is an age old religious conflict misses half the story. The best explanation is that this region of the world is very, very hot and there is very little water.

The Islamic Middle East hates Israel for many, many reasons and the “oppression” of the Palestinians isn’t any of them. They hate that Israel is a functional country with a healthy economy. They hate Israel because they have a functional agriculture industry. They hate Israel. Saudi Arabia gives between $80 and $100 million per year in economic aid to the Palestinians. In 2005 alone the United States pledged $274 million in aid to the Palestinians. That number went down and rightfully so, in 2006 after the Palestinian people elected Hamas into power. Even with that setback, the U.S. still pledged $150 million. If the Saudi’s care about the Palestinian people, why not give more? It’s not because they are not short on cash. No, the Saudi’s give money to the families of Palestinian suicide bombers as well as funneling money to groups like Al Qaeda and Hezbollah.

Now all these numbers don’t mean that much. The U.S. gives billions of dollars in aid to Israel, including selling them weapons on the cheap. There is no doubt that the United States has taken sides in the Arab-Israeli conflict. We’ve made our bed. Now we have to lie in it.

The Israeli response does appear to be an overreaction, but Hezbollah is spurred on by the Muslim “street”. The people of the Islamic world want this conflict. No Islamic government is willing to champion it. In steps Hezbollah to fill that void. David Brooks (and I truly hate to agree with him) said in a column last weekend: “Many of those calling for this immediate cease-fire are people of good will whose anguish over the wartime suffering overrides long-term considerations. Some are European leaders who want Hezbollah destroyed but who don’t want anybody to actually do it. Some are professional diplomats, acolytes of the first-class-cabin fundamentalism that holds that “talks” and “engagement” can iron out any problem, regardless of the interests and beliefs and fanaticisms that make up the underlying reality.

“The best of them have a serious case to make. It’s true, they say, that Israel may degrade Hezbollah if it keeps fighting, but it may also sow so much instability that it ends up toppling the same Lebanese government that it is trying to strengthen.

“They point to real risks, but if a cease-fire is imposed now, there won’t be only risks. There will be dead certainties. If Hezbollah emerges from this moment still strong, it will tower like a giant over the Lebanese government. Extremist groups around the world will be swamped with recruits. Iran’s prestige will surge. The defenders of nation states and the sponsors of Resolution 1559 will be humiliated. Israel’s deterrence power will be shattered.”

To the critics of Israeli policy regarding Hezbollah I ask simply: what is the alternative?