Yesterday in Rome, meeting with diplomats from the United Nations, the European Union, and the governments of several Middle Eastern nations, Secretary of State Condaleezza Rice blocked all attempts to stop the current violence in Lebanon and Israel. "We have to have a plan that will actually create conditions in which we can have a cease-fire that will be sustainable," she said. Rice's disingenuous stance of refusing to negotiate a ceasefire because we cannot "return to the status quo ante" and "we need a lasting peace" is nothing but a stalling tactic to give the Israeli Defense Forces more time to "degrade" Lebanon. The Decider, during a joint appearance with the United States' puppet du jour in Iraq, Nouri Al Maliki, also said he's against a cease-fire claiming he wants a more permanent arrangement.
All of the talk about creating a "robust international force" in southern Lebanon to enforce security, the Lebanese government asserting its sovereignty over Hezbollah controlled areas, and the disarming of Lebanon's anti-Israel militias, is hopelessly premature, even presumptuous, while entire populations in Lebanon and Israel are cowering inside bunkers. There is no way that Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora can assert control over his nation while the IDF rips it apart. The world seems to understand two things the Bush Administration does not: 1). No diplomatic progress can be made so long as the war rages on; and 2). This thing needs to be wrapped up now before it engulfs larger nations in a regional war. The longer the US allows this war to continue to escalate, the greater likelihood of it sparking an even bigger war.
Hezbollah shows no signs of giving in to the maximalist US-Israeli demands. Hezbollah and Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, whose stature as a folk hero in the Arab world has been cemented by the current war, are not being asked to negotiate, but to surrender. Bush and Rice won't even talk to Syria and Iran. Conventional wisdom states that the US will give Israel another week or two to lay waste to the infrastructure, institutions, and the militia that serve the poorest people in Lebanon, most of whom happen to be Shia, and then some form of a cease-fire will be imposed. But while the skies over Lebanon are abuzz with Israeli airplanes and helicopters, and the rockets continue to fall on Haifa and other Israeli towns and cities, the current conflict has the potential to explode into something much bigger.
On July 18th, when I last wrote about the crisis in Lebanon, there had been 230 Lebanese and 24 Israelis killed, and $1 billion worth of destruction in Lebanon; nine days later, there is now over 433 killed in Lebanon, fifty-one dead in Israel, and $2 billion in damage to Lebanon. The key question for American citizens is this: How many corpses on both sides are we willing to accept for the Bush Administration to obtain its objectives in the Middle East? Blocking an immediate cease-fire and refusing to engage the parties of the current conflict in peace talks is just another neo-con wet dream like pursuing "democracy" in Iraq. As the violence intensifies, Condi should realize, as the rest of the civilized world seems to understand, that this war is different than previous Arab-Israeli conflicts, and it is fraught with danger given the current bloodshed in Iraq and in the Palestinian territories, and the emboldening of Iran in the region. The longer this war goes on with escalations on both sides, the more unstable and out of control the situation becomes.
The American occupation of Iraq has inflamed the Iraqis and destabilized Baghdad, one of the most important cities in the Arab world. The IDF's demolishing of the Palestinian Authority in the Gaza Strip, which has claimed the lives of over 120 Palestinians in recent weeks, has inflamed the Sunni Arabs in the Palestinian territories and elsewhere. The IDF attacks in Lebanon on the infrastructure and institutions that are tied to Hezbollah have inflamed the Shia of Lebanon, Iraq, and Iran. For the first time, a non-state agent is lobbing hundreds of rockets into Israel's northern cities. As this barrage continues, the IDF is guaranteed to intensify the violence, and will be tempted to dip into its vast arsenal of anti-personnel munitions such "fuel-air weapons," cluster bombs, napalm, and white phosphorous. The world demands a cease-fire now, and our nation's chief diplomat, following the instructions of our illustrious Commander-in-Chief, is blocking the international community's efforts to contain this war before it spreads.
When Israel and the United States were militarily chewing up the PLO and Saddam Hussein they were at least combating mostly secularists; now they threaten to spark exactly what Samuel Huntington in The Clash of Civilizations warned against: a "fault line war." The current conflict has taken on the coloration of a religious war. To millions of people the conflict looks like Christians and Jews using their superior technology to destroy and oppress Muslims, both Shiite and Sunni.
Right-wing ideologues make poor diplomats. They are blind to the social, cultural, political, and religious nuances of the Middle East, and they are far too dedicated to the use of force. (William Kristol and other nut-bags are openly advocating US military action against Iran.) When the only tool you have is a hammer, everything starts to look like a nail. Bush and Condi's "transformational diplomacy," and the glorification of war to solve complex human problems, can only lead to more bloodshed, as it has in Iraq.
Jimmy Carter's former National Security Adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, said on July 20th that the United States must engage Syria and Iran. He sees Iran as a "serious threat" but not an "imminent" threat, meaning the United States has time to work out a deal with Iran at a later date. Brzezinski believes "Iran is a serious country, it's not Iraq. It's going to be a player," and therefore must be handled carefully and prudently. If the Bush Administration continues to isolate Iran, he said: "I fear that the region will explode, and for that matter, Israel will be in the long run in great jeopardy." Brzezinski offered the wise suggestion for a regional conference that would include Muslim states that are more distant from the current conflict such as Algeria, Morocco, and Pakistan, to bring them into the process of stabilizing the region. But George W. Bush appears to have something different in mind for the Middle East.
Follow Joseph A. Palermo on Twitter: www.twitter.com/N/A