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July 19, 2006
Is This War Bush's Fault?

One of the stranger memes to arise in the last week is the notion that the Hezbollah-Israeli conflict is somehow the fault of George Bush. Howard Kurtz covers this in today's Media Notes, along with links to plenty of people willing to cast blame at the White House. The Post also has a separate report asserting that conservatives have erupted in anger against Bush's foreign policy, asserting that Bush has not taken the fight to America's enemies, or at least not enthusiastically enough, and that this has led Iran and Syria to test our responses via their Hezbollah proxies.

Both of these points have no merit.

How can one argue that George Bush has any responsibility for the outbreak of fighting between Hezbollah and Israel -- or Hamas and Israel, for that matter -- when the fighting between the groups has gone on continuously for decades? Hezbollah and Hamas have long made it clear that they want Israel destroyed and the Jews pushed into the Mediterranean. George Bush didn't convince them of that goal, and he certainly didn't give them any indication that he would support the terrorists if they started kidnapping IDF soldiers.

In fact, if one looks at the Arab reaction to both provocations, one can see the value in Bush's aggressive stance against Islamist terrorists and Saddam Hussein. Egypt backed Israel in the Gilad Shalit kidnapping, even publicly blaming Syria for their support of Hamas. The entire Arab League blamed Hezbollah for their attack on Israel and called on them to return the two IDF soldiers they abducted. Bush also blocked the resupply lines for Hezbollah by removing Saddam Hussein and using Iraq as a roadblock between Iran and Syria.

Hezbollah proved too stupid to realize that, but that's hardly Bush's fault.

Conservatives may have stronger ground on North Korea and Iran, but it's hardly the meltdown that Michael Abramowitz paints:

Conservative intellectuals and commentators who once lauded Bush for what they saw as a willingness to aggressively confront threats and advance U.S. interests said in interviews that they perceive timidity and confusion about long-standing problems including Iran and North Korea, as well as urgent new ones such as the latest crisis between Israel and Hezbollah.

"It is Topic A of every single conversation," said Danielle Pletka, vice president for foreign and defense policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, a think tank that has had strong influence in staffing the administration and shaping its ideas. "I don't have a friend in the administration, on Capitol Hill or any part of the conservative foreign policy establishment who is not beside themselves with fury at the administration."

Conservatives complain that the United States is hunkered down in Iraq without enough troops or a strategy to crush the insurgency. They see autocrats in Egypt and Russia cracking down on dissenters with scant comment from Washington, North Korea firing missiles without consequence, and Iran playing for time to develop nuclear weapons while the Bush administration engages in fruitless diplomacy with European allies. They believe that a perception that the administration is weak and without options is emboldening Syria and Iran and the Hezbollah radicals they help sponsor in Lebanon.

Most of this comes from a short attention span. This effort will take decades, not months, and Bush knows it. One cannot hope to transform all tyrannies into democracies overnight. It takes time to build up the momentum, and it will ebb and flow as world events unfold. The crisis in North Korea has been years in coming, and Bush started off with a lousy hand, as the Jimmy Carter-imposed Agreed Framework allowed Pyongyang to do as it pleased for eight years. Unless we want to start another ground war in Asia, we cannot simply bomb the Kim regime into non-existence. The Kim regime is committing slow suicide as it is, and the Bush policy of multilateral engagement is the correct one to contain Kim and to contain the damage from the ultimate collapse that will inevitably come.

On Iran, Bush allowed the Europeans to take the lead for a number of good reasons. Primarily, the White House wanted to focus on consolidating the Iraqi victory, and the mere presence of Americans on Iraq's Western border made it clear that we had a big stake in the outcome. It also made sense to have the EU-3 handle the negotiations, since neither Iran or the US wanted diplomatic relations with each other. Europe, which had convinced itself of the folly of American unilateralism, wanted the chance to strike a deal with Iran, and since they had more at risk with a nuclear Teheran, it made sense to allow them to do so. After all, we do not run the world.

Now we know that the EU failed, and the EU knows that it failed. We still have the big military in place in the region, and the Iranians know that we will not stand idly by while Iran threatens our position. If they had not realized it by now, they certainly understand it in our refusal to rein in Israel in Lebanon. We cannot simply start attacking Iran simply because their leader makes nutty statements about the Holocaust and has abrogated a treaty on non-proliferation. We need to build up as much of a consensus as possible to take action -- just as we did with Iraq -- and then strike if necessary.

I believe in a strong defense and pre-emption when necessary. I don't see the necessity at the moment, and in fact I see Israel's action as putting off that day for a while longer. If Israel crushes Iran's proxy and chases the Islamists out of Lebanon, Iran will find itself isolated even further -- and then they will want to cut a deal that makes sense.

Conservatives need to learn some patience and prioritization. Not everything gets solved in a week, not even for the world's most powerful nation.

Addendum: I disagree with Newt Gingrich's World War III nomenclature. If anything qualified as WWIII, it would be the Cold War, a truly global struggle between two superpowers that touched nearly every nation on the planet. The GWOT still has more of the tinge of the conflict with the Barbary Pirates in the early 19th century. It has the capability of becoming a regional war in southwest Asia, but I think the WWIII tag is rather hyperbolic.

Addendum II: I also don't believe that conservatives have become anywhere near as disaffected over foreign policy as Abramowitz indicates through his strictly anecdotal analysis. Rasmussen shows the President gaining strength in the approval ratings even as these issues become acute. As Joe Gandelman noted yesterday, that gain isn't coming from moderate and liberal converts to Bushism -- it's the conservative base returning to Bush's side.

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at July 19, 2006 8:38 AM

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