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William E. Jackson Jr. Headshot

Dialogue with a Jewish Friend over Israel in Lebanon

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My liberal academic colleague and I have been debating our government's policies in the Middle East since our graduate school days at Columbia. The current round began back in the spring with the appearance of the Mearsheimer-Walt draft paper on the influence of the Israeli lobby over American foreign policy--"The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy." However, it was the summer war between Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon and northern Israel that caused the intensity and frequency of our e-mail exchanges to reach new heights.

Those exchanges, occurring at all hours of the day and night in this "wired" age, for the most part have been re-produced in chronological fashion--with editing for clarity and brevity. Largely excluded are the weapons of choice: documents, journal and newspaper articles, forwarded back and forth, not always intended to bolster one's respective position.

The dialogue should be understood as two American patriots, with quite different backgrounds, spontaneously striving to (imperfectly) come to grips with the conflicting interests and raw tensions that overshadow U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East.

I

At the beginning of July, I sent my Jewish friend a copy of "The War Over Israel's Influence" in the summer issue of Foreign Policy magazine, in which two sets of protagonists argue the case for and against evidence of inordinate influence by the Israeli lobby over U.S. foreign policy. My interlocutor, secular but from the Reform tradition, responded:

"I hope you appreciate the irony of Brzezinski writing about special access and tilting on a co-ethnic basis . . .I only wish Foreign Policy had assembled a stronger group of critics. My opinion of the Walt and Mearsheimer piece has only gone down further as events develop since, if their thesis was correct, I cannot imagine that the U.S. would be involved in serious "pre-negotiation" with Iran, or would have cautioned Israel over the Hamas arrests. But then that's just me; I still have a fatal attraction for actual facts, rather than grand theories or conspiracies and cabals."

Influenced by my past Washington experience, I responded:

"It is almost impossible, I suppose, for you and me to see this issue in the same light. In my mind, the value of the Mearsheimer-Walt piece has increased, because of the serious re-examination of the American-Israel tie to which it has contributed. (Even some in Israel are making this point.) But, speaking of facts, of far greater influence than their research paper are the vivid pictures of IDF brutality that people see on the TV screen and the front pages of newspapers. There is no conspiracy hiding that reality, now; whereas we have long been informed about PLO et.al. terrorist tactics and destructive policy goals.

"However, I think AIPAC's influence in Washington began to slide some years ago. So, the thrust of Mearsheimer-Walt's argument is time-delayed; and has not caught up with the balance in lobbying power today. In an earlier exchange, you almost convinced me that the pro-Israel lobby and the government of Israel were marginal factors in the decision of the Bush White House to invade Iraq.

"Since you feel so strongly about these issues, why don't you respond in writing to Foreign Policy? Is it because you are conflicted over the White House decision to attack Iraq and the consequences? Is it because you worry about the appearance of linkage of America's role in the ME and relations with Israel to the influence of the lobby? Why remain on the sidelines?"

On the same day, I heard back from my correspondent:

"The chronology on latest IDF 'brutality' is that a cell crossed the Gaza border, went into pre-1967 Israel and attacked an IDF post and took a prisoner. Prior to that there had been about 200 rockets (admittedly primitive)launched into a civilian town several miles from the border, also in pre-1967 Israel. Just as a thought experiment, what would you think the U.S. would do if a similar occurrence happened, say along the Nuevo Laredo Mexican/US border? I think we already know the answer: full scale military incursion (Pershing). What is the difference?

"On AIPAC we agree. I've never thought it was as powerful as it made itself out to be, and as you know I've always thought the U.S. and Israeli coordination activities represented military to military and intelligence to intelligence cooperation, as well as sometimes President to PM--in each instance when the principals on each side had parallel aims. When they diverged, the U.S. would put pressure on Israel or withdraw support (something I often agree with, by the way).

"On taking on Mearsheimer and Walt: One reason is that I'm not high up enough in the [professional] universe to find an immediate audience for a public assault. Another reason is that I don't have any special expertise in foreign policy decisionmaking in the area they write about. Neither do they, but that's another story. My criticism of them is that they argue a 'cabal' makes policy and puts Israeli interests first, but they offer no evidence other than clip and paste newspaper articles and inferences. Where's the beef? In order to go into print against them, however, it would be important not simply to criticize their lack of scholarship and shoddy reasoning, but to substitute an alternative version and (this is the key point) provide the evidence for it.

"I am ambivalent about the US dealings in Iraq. Not so much the invasion itself; getting rid of Saddam was good, and determining that there were no WMDs at the time seemed like a good idea. The two things I find problematic are the occupation, which is a disaster. (Why did we have to 'own it' after we 'broke it'?). And, perhaps more important, the WMD issue itself. I now think that 'hoodwinked' is the word for the Administration approach on WMDs. In which case (if they never believed their own case and falsified it), the rationale for going in does collapse.

"But I don't think a critique of Mearsheimer and Walt rests on one's position about Iraq. Even absent the invasion, their critique and the reasoning behind it would still be something they would argue, and to me it would still be grotesque. Again, I have no problem with a critique of Israel, or Israeli policy toward the Palestinians, or U.S. policy toward either. That isn't what makes their article so fundamentally wrongheaded and malevolent."

Later, in the summer, he argued:

"If Mearsheimer and Walt were at all correct in their analysis, wouldn't the U.S. now be tilting away from Israel, because all those neo-cons have finally been removed from either government positions or influence? How can their analysis make any sense, given the leadership roles now played by non-Jews in forging a clearly pro-Israel policy? To me it remains clear that U.S. policy has always been guided (as it should be) by national self-interest, and the U.S. interest is to degrade Hezbollah and thus send a 'signal' to Iran. That the signaling doesn't work is beside the point for the purpose of figuring out why the U.S. has not tried to rein in the Israelis. It provides a much more robust analysis than Mearsheimer-Walt's nonsensical approach."

II

Several days after the war between Israel and Hezbollah began on July 12, we picked up where we had left off:

WEJJR:

"To focus on one sliver in time in the ME is hardly to capture reality. You must be feeding lines to Hillary with a facile comparison of the Levant face-off between Israel and Hezbollah to a Mexican attack on the U.S. The Israelis have acted out more than their share of 'provocations' over time. Nevertheless, I favor getting rid of Hezbollah's rockets; but NOT destroying Lebanon in the process.

"You hold that U.S. and Israeli coordination activities represent military to military and intelligence to intelligence cooperation, as well as sometimes President to PM--when the principals on each side have parallel aims. When they diverge, the U.S. will put pressure on Israel or withdraw support.

"But this is not an accurate analysis under George W. Bush, unless one assumes that the interests of the White House have been synonymous with American interests from the time Sharon became PM. (Bush is a wimp.) You admit that you need to spend about a year or so 'actually learning something about US/Israeli policymaking in key areas.' In actuality, I think you understand the history and dimensions of the relationship rather well; we just read it differently--at times.

"As to your ambivalence about the U.S. actions in Iraq: Two things you find problematic: a) the occupation, which is a disaster; b) perhaps more important, the WMD issue itself. 'Hoodwinked' as used by Prados is the word for the Administration's game on WMDs. If they never believed their own case and falsified it, the rationale for going in collapses.

"This is a position I simply cannot endorse, because it was a most unfortunate, even tragic, war of choice--when there were other options--and I said so at the time on my political talk show in a Bush red state. There were other expert views extant on WMD evidence, back then, if one read widely. I am surprised that there is any doubt in your mind that they were willing and ready to 'hoodwink' others; the evidence is now abundant. The neo-cons et.al. were going after Saddam, regardless.

"You say you have no problem with a critique of Israel, or Israeli policy toward the Palestinians, or U.S. policy. But you do have a problem with such critiques, when they focus on Israel, in all honesty. I have a problem with the national interest being subordinate to that of another state."

WEJJR continuing:

"At the G-8 conference [July 15-17], I thought Bush looked like a wisecracking frat boy type, not taking very seriously the gravity of the ME situation. He came across as feckless. As for 'ally' Israel, after embracing Sharon from the get-go, GWB has given the Israelis another "green light" (or wink) to go ahead with what they wish to do in Lebanon without worrying about any pressure from the U.S. government. Who takes him seriously in Tel Aviv--or anywhere else?

"What was that about American interests v. Israeli interests? The IDF's visible disproportionate response will cost us in higher gas prices, the reinforcement of perceptions of no distinction between U.S. and Israeli policies in the ME, the further inflammation of Shiite anger at America in Iraq that could cost more GI's lives, and the strengthening of Iran on the way to a wider war. A big price to pay for indulging Tel Aviv."

My worthy opponent rejoined:

"There may be costs, though I doubt they'll be as great as in the 1973 or 1978-79 oil embargoes. . . Rising oil prices have a lot more to do with futures speculation and the lowered refinery capacity than with anything going in the Middle East.

"I don't think the U.S. will pay much in the Arab world--other than on the much overrated Arab 'street'--in part because this is seen as a comeuppance for a radical Shia movement, and in part because it is seen as a move against Syria and Iran. Ask yourself why you haven't heard much from Egypt, Jordan, states of the Maghreb, Libya, states in the Gulf, or the Saudis.

"I do agree Bush didn't come off well at the G-8. Then again, who did? The worst thing didn't have to do with its declaration about the Middle East (which I thought was pretty good), but failure to get Russia into the WTO."

III

WEJJR again:

"By the way, I never assumed that the 'Israeli lobby' was made up just of Jews and neo-cons. How about Christian fundamentalists? Of course, you now have unified opposition to Hezbollah in the halls of Washington power. Count me among them. But to destroy the infrastructure (and kill hundreds, if not thousands, of civilians over the next several weeks) of Lebanon is to abort the comeback of Beirut and Lebanon's reconstruction, where I have Christian friends (they are for getting rid of Hezbollah but not for destroying their country in the process).

"Don't you think that Israel is using the pretext of the captured soldiers to enact a military plan long in place?

"Where do you think this is going to end? I don't have to ask why we have not yet heard much from Egypt, Jordan, states of the Maghreb, Libya, states in the Gulf, or the Saudis. What concerns me is the danger of a wider war involving the Syrians and the Iranians, unless the U.S. (and UN) intervene by forcefully pushing the diplomatic track. In the meantime, it seems to me indisputable that we pay in Iraq for the advance of Israel into Lebanon.

"I would not spare one American soldier for the protection of Israel from Iran. Of course, Tel Aviv would like to make us think that they will strike Tehran, if we do not. Incidentally, 'futures' speculation is influenced by the prospect of Iran's oil exports being interrupted.

"In regard to the G-8, to focus on trade talks in evaluating the results of the meeting in St. Pete is to miss the mountain--great power impotence over 'the third world war' (Israeli ambassador to the UN)--for the molehill.

"The very fact that you keep returning to Mearsheimer-Walt tells me that their essay struck home, even though I found their assessment of the lobby's influence dated. You state that it remains clear U.S. policy has always been guided by national self-interest! And that the U.S. interest in Lebanon is to degrade Hezbollah and thus send a 'signal' to Iran. Moreover, if the signaling doesn't work is beside the point for the purpose of figuring out why the U.S. has not tried to rein in the Israelis. So much for robust analysis. You speak frankly. So will I."

From my durable and faithful correspondent one week after the war began:

"You see the U.S. subordinating its national interest to that of Israel. This is a critique of foreign policy as old as the Republic: in the 1790s we were either in thrall to France or Britain, depending on whether you were a Fed or Jeffersonian; in 1915 we were pawns of the Brits according to opponents of possible American involvement; in the isolationist period Lindbergh and others in the America First camp blamed the UK and the Jews (strange bedfellows) for FDR's destroyer deal; and postwar the hard right saw U.S. policy as controlled by communist fellow travelers, while the left overemphasized the power of the 'China Lobby,' and on and on.

"A doesn't control B because A and B favor the same thing. A only controls B when B always follows the A line, and one can clearly point to a divergence of interest even in such cases. To argue by inference that because a series of administrations has backed Israel at various times in confrontations with state and non-state actors in the Arab world, Israel must control U.S. policymaking, or the U.S. is subordinating its own national interest to that of Israel, isn't good logic as a hypothesis, and of course begs the empirical question, which is very simple: where's the documentary or testamentary evidence that this is the case?

A week later:

"We do agree on one thing: destroying Lebanon isn't going to help matters. I think that under the surface there is a lot of concern in Israel about the overreaction factor viz. civilians, particularly in Beirut, and even more concern about the slow tempo of operations and the IDF casualties in the border area. Any look at the maps and topography of the area shows it to be tactically a deathtrap for IDF when troops advance. So they have limited their advance. . .

"I don't think that signals a Vietnam style political convulsion in Israel over this war, but within a week or so the Israeli left will probably break with the national consensus. At that point I think both sides may have had enough, and peacemaking will start to gain momentum."

IV

WEJJR on July 26, when the war had reached the two-week point:

"I do appreciate the sharing of perspectives. However, the BBC-TV newscast tonight (as was that of CNN today) is extremely damaging to the 'advance, with restraint' song-and-dance of Olmert/Rice in Jerusalem on July 25. At their joint news conference, the world observed the spectacle of P.M. Olmert stating Israel's firm position on pressing the military offensive into Lebanon--while Secretary of State Rice stood frozen in acquiescence, if not compliant adoration. When she spoke, he nodded after every sentence as if to acknowledge her enunciation of the lines he had approved. Her 'flying Dutchman' role, fantasizing about the creation of 'a new Middle East'--combined with the 'missionary position' of the United States--is humiliating; and nakedly reveals how feckless is the president of the United States in world affairs, following the invasion and occupation of Iraq over three years ago. Israeli and American national interests are most definitely not the same, not this time.

In a "dogs of war" exchange a few days later, when Rice returned to Jerusalem:

WEJJR thrust: "What was that about an IDF 'code of ethics' [he had sent me a document on same]? Condi, while shaking hands with the Israeli defense minister this very morning, is informed of the latest bombing of a Lebanese town and piles of dead civilians. I know it is not fair to make cute points like this--especially to you--but the IDF has never impressed me with their 'restraint' once the greenlight is on. Rice is compromised--big time."

Parry: "True, Washington cannot rein in Jerusalem. But neither does Jerusalem (or its so-called US "amen corner" as Buchanan would say), have as much influence on Washington as some would argue . . .I get the feeling that another week of this and Israel will be willing to call off the dogs of war.

"I was horrified about the women and children, as I believe most Americans, most American Jews, and most Israelis were. [On the suffering of the Lebanese people, numerous Anthony Shadid stories from The Washington Post were sent to him.] But I neither believe the IDF deliberately attacked these civilians, nor that Condi was complicit in any way with such an attack.

"The IDF code is strained in places like Bint J'Bail, when they bombard the town even though it no longer has any value (they could bypass it for what they intend to do) and there are still civilians there. But not Qana, no matter how horrific the results of bombing turned out to have been.

Yet, "I am still hopeful that the extreme voices written about in this article--'Days of Darkness' by Gideon Levy in July 30 Haaretz--no more represent Israel than we would want to think that Fox news and its harpies represent us."

WEJJR:

"This excerpt rings true:

'In international public opinion, Israel has been turned into a monster, and that still hasn't been calculated into the debit column of this war. Israel is badly stained, a moral stain that can't be easily and quickly removed. And only we don't want to see it.'

"If the 'center' in Israel has embraced the pressing of the military campaign in Lebanon, rejecting a ceasefire as out of the question, and endorses as 'just' what happened in Qana (see the children in body bags), then this is the center that is 'holding' and no major Israeli leaders are keeping their heads. The United States, certainly not George Bush, can or will save Israel from its latest face to the world.

"Where are American Jewish religious leaders, let alone social scientists, who call for the negotiated cessation of hostilities--NOW--so that no more war crimes can be chalked up to the IDF? In the name of protecting the shreds of an image of a 'moral' people! At times, it looks to me as if the Israeli war machine must be 'fed,' ever so often. I have had it with the constant regurgitation of all the old excuses.

"It's late and I am tired."

My interlocutor: "You might take a look at Tikkun. The old saying, where there are three Jews there are four opinions, does hold true when it comes to the scope of the Lebanon reprisals."

V

In the same time frame, he commented critically upon "Rice's Fallacy: What If Israel Can't Win Militarily?" [Slate, July 28]:

"The argument about peacekeepers now rather than in one or two weeks is not convincing to me. I think Hezbollah must get to the point where its leaders badly need a ceasefire. Lebanon taken as a whole certainly needs this...I don't believe any Arab faction, government, party, or even guerilla movement is beyond the pale. Nor do I think they won't act rationally and in their self-interest. But the calculus has to change before agreements come into being. I don't think Israel has ever 'won' militarily except in 1948-49, and that is probably going to continue to be the case. But I would reverse the conventional pundit wisdom, which is just plain silly. It isn't Hezbollah that wins if it is still standing -- it is Israel that wins on each occasion that it doesn't lose."

WEJJR countered:

"Do you think the IDF can force Hezbollah to that point any time soon? I beg to differ with your line: 'It isn't Hezbollah that wins if it is still standing--it is Israel that wins on each occasion that it doesn't lose.' Israel has already lost; and in the process helped to further weaken the moral authority of the United States by aiding and abetting the appearance of impotence on the part of Bush (and Rice). I ask again: How are U.S. national interests advanced by the Israeli advance? No administration in my memory has so completely tied its apron strings to Jerusalem. Long since there has been an air of 'the captain going down with the ship' about the Bush White House.

Separately, on the same day:

"You are a scholar, and a gentleman. There are just too many different experiences--political, social, ethnic, genetic --for this Scots-Irish WASP (whose ancestors were butchered, or suffered impoverished servitude, in the Lowlands before 'moving' to Ireland) and you (with your Jewish family background in New York and Eastern Europe) to see unfolding events in the same way. My ancestors date from the middle of the 18th century in this country. So I am a WASP; and a rather secular (Judeo-Christian) Presbyterian married to a Southern Baptist. However, my natural instincts are not to initially think of human beings in these terms.

"I do wish we, as social scientists and wannabe policymakers, could come closer to agreeing on where America's national interests lie in the Levant. Of course, I appreciate the give and take."

My colleague responded in kind:

"I too appreciate the give and take. And do remember that I never define the interests of the U.S. in terms of Israel, or for that matter vice versa. I think they often run parallel, sometimes converge, and at key points diverge. I suspect the divergence point comes soon, once the Israeli military movements in southern Lebanon provoke Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt to insist that the dogs of war be called off. If Hezbollah fights well enough by that time, the Israeli public will be willing to follow the PM into a UN-mediated ceasefire."

WEJJR:

"You have certainly been suggesting 'convergence' in your previous comments."

My protagonist's train of thought continued:

"I think they run parallel in terms of doing significant damage to Hezbollah. For Israel it is both a border issue and, in terms of the rockets, an issue of national security. They don't want the threat of rockets there, and looking ahead, they want to establish new rules of the game about rockets both for Gaza and for the West Bank. For the U.S. it is signaling to Iran, and is part of the original Carter Doctrine (no Zionist he!) about influence in the Gulf. It is also
about some payback for the American Embassy, the Marine bombings, and other nasty business.

"I don't think there is convergence of interests, especially on the bombings in Beirut and the Israeli tactical approach (bombing) and strategic approach (damage in Lebanon to provide incentives to distance from Hezbollah). That hurts Israel's standing in the world and, in a different way, hurts the U.S. as well--and is certainly not in the interest of the U.S. We are right to condemn these actions and the government could do more to pressure Israel on this score.

"I think the interests will diverge in a few more days. The EU and the Arab world, for separate reasons, don't want Hezbollah to suffer a defeat. In a few days the Israelis will be in a position to inflict damage directly on Hezbollah rather than on Lebanon in general, and at that point the U.S. I think is going to start serious signaling via Rice that the time has come to call a halt in the bombing.

"When this happens, to my mind it will be clear that Walt, Mearsheimer, and all others who think Israel drives U.S. policy will have to reconsider their positions. I see it more as the relationship any patron has with a junior partner; the patron always considers his own interests, relies on the junior and uses him, and then reins him in when interests diverge.

"Of course, if there is a cabal (they don't invite me to the meetings) I will be proven wrong.

"P.S. Re war crimes, questions arise: Has the U.S. committed war crimes in Iraq? In other conflicts? Does the U.S. handle these in some way that is superior to the way the IDF handles them? Should the entire U.S. as a government and nation and people be judged guilty? Why that standard applied to Israel? If you don't like Iraq or Vietnam history, there is always the village in Korea, or the strategic bombing in WWII."

VI

After a pause of two days, I picked up the gauntlet again on August 4:

"Gracious! I think you are whistling 'Dixie' past the graveyard. Every instinct in my psyche tells me that disaster looms; and that the White House is losing influence and moral standing by the hour from being so closely bound to, yes, a perceived CONVERGENCE of interests with Israel. GWB made his choice early on, with Sharon. You are preoccupied with Israel's strategic interests, and less with the absolute necessity for the United States to avoid a wider war. Viz: 'For the U.S. it is signaling to Iran.' Signaling what to Iran? We will sick Israel on you, if you go too far in playing proxy? OR we will pick up where our ally Israel leaves off, if you do not stop supplying Hezbollah? Oh, by the way, Tehran, don't consort with those Shiite politicos in Baghdad and Basra.

"You are splitting hairs, when separating out military actions in the south from hitting Beirut. Look at the horrors being visited on the hapless souls caught in the way in 'Lebanon in general,' with some one million displaced. I cannot countenance another spiel on IDF ethics.

"No, I fundamentally disagree; the tail is wagging the feckless dog. You say 'I see it more as the relationship any patron has with a junior partner.' Are you serious? Israel will decide when the bombing stops. Quote from Anthony Cordesman, a military analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, as reported in The New York Times: 'We have been driven into something we didn't want to do. Far from Israel being the American proxy in a war against Iran, we've become Israel's proxy in its war against Hezbollah'."

Finally, on August 6, I snapped:

"You lose me as to where you really come down? You have said: 'Israel always goes too far in these situations.' Gad! After catching up on two weeks of the print editions of the NYT, AMEN. I must say that I got the distinct impression several weeks back that you favored the IDF crushing Hezbollah, no matter what the human cost? I have the distinct impression that you continue to favor Jerusalem pressing the military campaign as far as possible before a ceasefire? I think it is an absolute moral outrage that my government stands so firmly by Israel in its chosen course. We will likely reap the whirlwind, serving as a sort of proxy for Israel in the battle against, yes, Lebanon. I think I understand the Israelis damn well enough; and I abhor such a close alliance with them--ever since Sharon last came to power.

"Our exchanges are getting too heated, at least from my end. Maybe we should hold our fire (good metaphor)."

My old friend graciously replied:

"Fine, I know how strongly you feel about this. Let me know when you want to resume a discussion." My apology was already en route: "I was ashamed of the tone of my last one to you. I greatly value our friendship; and especially enjoy the give and take on many political issues that involve our country's welfare at home and abroad. I'll be in touch."

He reciprocated:

"Please, no apology needed. When things settle down we certainly should continue the discussion. Nothing wrong with your tone: you have strong views and you are angry about what is going on, as you see and analyze it. I can understand the need to take a break. I feel the strain as well."

[I later forwarded "U.S. Clout A Missing Ingredient in Mideast: Inexperienced and Mistrusted in Region, the Administration Faces a Hard Road," Los Angeles Times, August 8. He sent me Bernard Lewis, "At War:
Does Iran Have Something in Store?" a doomsday op-ed in The Wall Street Journal of August 8: "What is the significance of Aug. 22? This year, Aug. 22 corresponds, in the Islamic calendar, to the 27th day of the month of Rajab of the year 1427. This, by tradition, is the night when many Muslims commemorate the night flight of the prophet Muhammad on the winged horse Buraq, first to "the farthest mosque," usually identified with Jerusalem, and then to heaven and back (c.f., Koran XVII.1). This might well be deemed an appropriate date for the apocalyptic ending of Israel and if necessary of the world. It is far from certain that Mr. Ahmadinejad plans any such cataclysmic events precisely for Aug. 22. But it would be wise to bear the possibility in mind."]

VII

The ceasefire, such as it was, went into effect on August 14, 33 days after the war began. These are our exchanges from that day:

The Defender of Israel:

"A branch of my extended family is Lebanese (Maronite). Someday I'll share with you their perspective and feelings about Hezbollah--but not in an e-mail. It's too x-rated."

And:

"NYT today has an article puffing Condi as the great heroine. Factually, however, it seems clear that when Israel was serving a U.S. purpose, it got a greenlight. At the point at which the costs to the U.S. seemed greater than the gains, it got the yellow light and then the redlight. I don't think an analysis that focuses on neo-cons makes sense here, since the hypothesis would be that if they were so powerful bombs would be falling on Damascus."

On the other hand, Israel did rather well in the war, by comparison:

"Whose infrastructure suffered more? Whose civilian population? Which side took more military as well as civilian casualties? Which army took prisoners? Which could send forces pretty much anywhere in Lebanon they chose to go. How far do you think Hezbollah could advance into Israel? If you want to call it an army, then you have to evaluate it on the basis of what successful armies do. It didn't fight Israel to a draw. It fought well and staved off an inevitable defeat by raising the cost of victory for the IDF.

"It defies common sense to think that what Hezbollah fielded actually represents an existential threat to Israel."

The Critic of Israel:

"Although not related by blood or marriage, I have a deep sympathy for Lebanon, with several close (Eastern Orthodox Christian) friends there who have very mixed and sometimes unprintable views about not only Hezbollah, but also Israelis.

"I think it is an absolute failure of pluralism that our leaders write off hundreds of millions of Muslims simply by the way they talk about them--and thereby influence the American masses to think of them. The world is going mad; and the idiots in the White House are doing far more than their share."

AND:

"We just have different perspectives on what is reality, shaped by our views of national interest, allegiances, experience, and values. To quote you: 'Factually, however, it seems clear that when Israel was serving a U.S. purpose, it got a greenlight. At the point at which the costs to U.S. seemed greater than the gains, it got the yellow light and then the redlight.'

"I would suggest that Olmert and his cabinet decided that a point had come when the overall costs to Israel were too high; and that GWB was going by the Israeli light changes--not the other way around. (Sure, it is hard to separate out such a close relationship.) What a perverted sense of timing for Jerusalem to request more cluster bomb/shell shipments; and Washington to grant the request!!!

"Israel has paid a terrible political price--and suffered a public relations fiasco--for a miscalculated, disproportionate military gamble that, I dare say, Sharon would not have attempted. The Hezbollah 'deterrent' is still there, north of Israel, allied with Iran. And the White House has squandered more precious capital in the world by backing, co-rationalizing, Israel's blunder. Condi Rice as heroine? Ha!

"That is the way I see it."