Friday, July 21, 2006

Paris (of the Middle East) Is Burning

Beirut's Southern Suburbs, a Hezbollah stronghold, after Israeli airstrikes. Courtesy the Washington Post.

As I see and hear of the devastation going on in Lebabnon these days, I am reminded of the late summer and early fall of 1982 when I was about 12. I was recuperating from a tonsilectomy and basically spent the day watching TV, especially CNN (yes, I was a news junkie way back then). The civil war in Lebanon filled the TV screens, especially the Israeli invasion. I remember seeing damaged buildings everywhere as this once beautiful seaside city was being pummulled from within and without.

Of course, the civil war ended in 1990 and Lebanon slowly tried to rebuild itself. Beirut once again became the "Paris of the Middle East" a cosmopolitian city, trying to put its past behind it.

And now it's all blown to hell. Literally.

As I've listened to the news and read all the blogs, several things have come to mind regarding the situation.

Criticism of Israel doesn't always equate anti-Semitism. Every time a dustup occurs in the Middle East someone somewhere, most likely in Europe, criticizes Israel and predictably, someone somewhere, most likely in the United States, accuses the critics of either aiding and abetting anti-Semitism or calling them bigots outright.

I find such name calling silly to say the least. One can criticize the government of Israel for an action and yet not be bigoted toward Jews. No government, especially a democracy like Israel, is above reproach. In the recent case, I think Israel was right in hitting Hezbollah after the group took two Israeli soliders, but it overstepped its bounds by then attacking civilian centers like Beirut and destroying Lebanon's civic infastructure. That shouldn't make me an appeaser to anti-Semitism. There is a lot I disagree with on the other side as well, that doesn't mean I'm anti-Arab or anti-Islamic.

Yes, there are some people who are downright haters of Jews and Israel and they should be condemned. But those who are cheerleaders for Israel (and to a lesser extent the Palestinians) need to stop painting all who have a contrary view with such a broad brush.

Israel's Unilateral Peace Process didn't work. Very seldom do bloggers say they made a mistake, but this one will. I tended to think that Israel's plan of pulling from Lebanon in 2000 and pulling out of Gaza last year was the best way to ensure peace in the current context. Many supporters who side with Israel are indignant that Hamas and Hezbollah still mess with Israel after they made these moves of peace. But the problem here is that these tactics were made just by one side. The Palenstinians were ignored in the process over Gaza which gave Hamas an opening. One news source I was reading noted that Israel pulled out of the Sinai two decades ago, and the baorder between Egypt and Israel remains secure. The reason? Because the two nations came to the table and hashed things out. In 2000 and 2005, Israel just pulled out expecting the other side to just be quiet. The only way peace can be achieved here is through hard fought diplomacy, not by just going it alone. The past week has taught me that Israel has to get back to the negotiating table with the Palestinians as well as other regional actors to make peace. Taking your marbles and refusing to play doesn't ensure that the rockets hitting Israeli cities like Haifa will stop. Which relates to the next thing I've learned:

The United States needs to go back to being an "honest broker" and acutally use diplomacy. This President seems to think that the way to solve things in the Middle East is through the barrel of a gun. Also, you don't talk to evil actors like Syria or even groups like Hamas. Can the military bring about peaceful solutions? Sometimes. I mean utterly defeating Germany and Japan in World War II did bring about a lasting peace. But the Middle East of 2006 isn't Europe and Aisa circa 1942. Diplomacy means that sometimes you have talk to people that you can't stand. Because the US has this "moralistic" foreign policy where we don't have anything to do with bad people, we have boxed ourselves in a corner and basically have nothing better to do than to watch. In the past, someone like a Herny KIssinger or James Baker would be flying to Damascus or Jerusalem and meet with leaders to get the two warring parties to stop. Now, I don't think James Baker had some kind of lovefest with the late Syrian President Hafez al-Assad, but Baker knew that al-Assad the elder was a power broker and you had to sometimes deal with a devil for the greater good.

We all know that Syria has pull with Hezbollah. So why isn't President Bush sending Condi Rice to Damascus and talking to Bashar al-Assad?

Elections alone don't make a democracy. The Bush Administration has made democracy promotion a main part of his Middle East policy. So, we have seen elections and Iraq and the Palestinian terroritories and to a lesser extent Lebanon. In all cases, the result have been relatively weak governments unable to perform basic services. When governments are weak, the you have terrorists like Hezbollah coming in and filling the void.

Maybe this is further proof that Bush isn't much of a conservative, but shouldn't he be trying to bolster institutions that make a democracy strong? What good does it do to see people vote for governments that can't secure people or get rid of terrorist organizations?

I need to make clear that I don't have a dog in this fight. While I am criticizing Israel, none of the actors have clean hands. The Palestinians and other Arab states also share the blame and that's why the United States need to be a broker and not taking one side.

I hope the warring can stop and I hope peace can surely come to the region. I don't have much hope with the current actors, but I do have a little hope.


Kevin said...

Got linked here from Donklephant. Nice summary of events. I'm curious though what you think Isreal should have done differently? or is it more a matter of degrees?

My own thinking on this is that Isreals current course of action is likely the best way to get all parties to the table. The civilian casualties are a tragity but a tragity caused in large part by Hezbollah's use of civilian areas as cover.

I'm willing to accept that I might be wrong here but I keep thinking of how I'd want the US to respond if some terrorist group was hiding in N. Mexico and launching rockets into San Diego.

Sphinx said...

GREAT blog guy !!

From anuther "independant minded" Republican.

Keep the faith !!

Sphinx said...

Great blog guy ...

From another independent mind