I must say I don’t quite understand the Powerline guys’ rather harsh criticism of the Bush/Rice policy on the Israeli/Hezbollah conflict (see here). They go so far as to say that “It's almost as if Kerry, not Bush, won the 2004 election.” Powerline's concern is over what they think was US pressure in stopping Israel from the ground forces invasion of southern Lebanon.
I think the Bush/Rice policy has actually been quite good – maybe even strategically genius.
A few points to support my position.
1. I usually hate to recognize the middle ground, but in this case it is necessary. There is certainly a continuum with a lot of real estate between two extremes: appeasement, or “protect(ing) Hezbollah from the Israelis” on the one end, and outright war in southern Lebanon on the other. I would certainly not characterize the Bush/Rice policy as anything close to the appeasement policy of Chamberlain in 1938. Indeed, if the British had done to the German Army when it marched across the Rhein, or when Hitler demanded Czechoslovakia in 1938, what the Israelis have done to Hezbollah, the 20th century would certainly have turned out quite different. I would put the Bush/Rice/Israeli policy closer to the outright war end of the spectrum than to the appeasement end.
2. The main question pertains to what Israel’s objectives were and should have been. Powerline seems to think that the only objective was to destroy Hezbollah’s capability. I think this is one valid goal, but only one, and a short term one at that. Hezbollah can easily rebuild military capability once Israel leaves Lebanon, maybe even while it is still there. As I pointed out in my earlier posts, another critical objective of Israel was to create a belief in its opponents’ minds that Israeli reactions to provocations would be unpredictable generally but that there would be a reasonable likelihood that the reaction would be rather irrational and quite aggressive. As one of my Israeli students puts it, the goal is to create the impression of a “mad dog.” I don’t think there is much doubt that Hezbollah, Iran, Syria, and the rest of the world were surprised by Israel’s reaction, and a pause in the attack does not change that calculus. The third goal was to get a true multinational force into southern Lebanon to monitor Hezbollah for the longer term and give the Lebanese government a chance at governing. Now I know there is reason to doubt any UN force, but this will be a large force, supplemented with the regular Lebanese army, and it will have more leeway in action than the previous UN force. If this force does not manage to control Hezbollah in the south, it may end up serving a useful role as hostage. Perhaps the Israelis are thinking like the French General Foch, who was asked before World War I by the British General Wilson what the smallest British force would be that would be of any purpose. Foch replied: One single British soldier – and we will see that he is promptly killed.
3. One has to recognize that at the time of the Israeli delay, world opinion had turned extremely negative, fueled of course by lopsided media coverage. How much further could Israel and the US go militarily, with unavoidable collateral damage to Lebanon, and still achieve the goal of having Lebanon be in a position to control its own destiny? The sympathy for Hezbollah and Lebanon was building to the point where the world's goal would be to simply get Israel out of Lebanon, never mind what was left in place, Hezbollah or other. But look at the masterful ploy that the US and Israel came up with: The invasion is delayed, due to pressure from the US on Israel. Israel ends up still looking strong (a mad dog restrained), and its continued build-up on the border lends credence to that view. The US takes the hit as being "soft", and even gets criticized by people like Powerline. But we gain some goodwill (being "reasonable") at the UN. The combination of the goodwill and the continued and real threat of massive Israeli action gets a UN resolution that is decent for Israel and rather hard on Hezbollah. Plus, Israel still gets three days to move to the Litani River. Who thinks that this outcome is what Hezbollah expected when they captured those Israeli soldiers?
I am extremely impressed by the courageous and strategic policy developed by Bush and Rice. What other US leader would have held as much ground as Bush did in the last month, with the rest of the world simply ganging up against the US and Israel? Does Powerline really think that a Kerry administration would have done the same? Come on, they would have capitulated long ago.
I am not saying that this UN resolution guarantees “peace in our time.” Far from it. But it is a reasonable amount of progress. The test will come in the future months and year as we see if the Lebanese government can exercise authority throughout Lebanon, so that Hezbollah gets marginalized in that it loses its military capability. That will be the real key.