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August 12, 2006
A Response To Paul

Paul Mirengoff, a true gentleman and a friend, responds to my criticism that he unfairly criticized George Bush for agreeing to the Security Council resolution, rightly noting that I did not explain myself in much detail. Paul politely restates his case and attempts to interpret my thin line of argument. In fairness, I'll provide a better explanation and hope that makes for a better argument.

The overriding question of how to end the Israeli-Hezbollah conflict is to understand Israel's goals and realistic expectations of military action in Lebanon. Many argue that Israel should destroy Hezbollah and kill all the terrorists in Lebanon, and that the military effort should not cease short of this goal.. Anything less would be a defeat for Israel and a victory for the terrorists, who will use this to celebrate a triumph over the IDF. That argument serves as a satifactory emotional position, but it ignores reality, and it's this unrealistic expectation that leads people to blame Bush for the American efforts at the UN.

Could Israel actually have destroyed Hezbollah? The answer is almost certainly no. Hezbollah enjoys some limited popular support among the Shi'ite minority in Lebanon, which gives it support and recruits. They are not limited to just the sub-Litani area of Lebanon, however, and they can travel and live anywhere within Lebanon they wish. In fact, all anyone has to recall to recognize the futulity of such a goal is that Israel occupied half of Lebanon for eighteen years, and Hezbollah followed them all the way to the border when Israel finally withdrew. Even with a generational occupation, Israel could not dislodge or destroy Hezbollah.

Hezbollah gets support from other sources, much more critical support which Israel's military offensive only tangentially touched. If one wants to destroy Hezbollah or at least render them toothless, attacking Lebanon is a waste of time. The real target for that mission would be Damascus, not Beirut. Syria runs Hezbollah in partnership with Iran, and Syria provides all their lines of communication for resupply and political support, and after the end of the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq, provide the only direct land link to Arab aid. Israel did not want to engage Syria, for a variety of reasons, and so the idea that they intended to destroy Hezbollah from the outset seems suspect at best.

In fact, Israel made clear what they wanted from their war from its beginning. It wanted their soldiers returned and the Lebanese government to disarm Hezbollah and move them out of the sub-Litani region. The Israelis want an end to Hezbollah's capability to shower rockets down on their cities. Those goals fit within Israeli political reality, which will abolutely reject another long occupation of Lebanon, considered by many as their Viet Nam. These limited goals may have made some of their international supporters despair, but the Olmert government does not want to fight the combined armies of Arabia again unless absolutely necessary, and that time has not yet come.

In this context, George Bush delivered the best deal he could to meet those goals. He fought the UN to a stalemate while allowing Israel a free hand to conduct military missions against Hezbollah positions and leadership, creating some diplomatic backlash against the US as a result. When France tried to weasel its way into the good graces of the Arab states supporting Hezbollah, Bush made sure they did so by themselves, and then forced them back. In the end, the resolution calls for the solution that Israel wanted all along, and it commits the UN to provide enough forces to at least have a chance of successful implementation. Bush also made sure that the Israelis did not have to leave Lebanon until that force replaced them despite loud calls for immediate withdrawal, allowing Israel to protect its retreat.

My point, therefore, was that George Bush could hardly be blamed for delivering almost everything Israel wanted out of this war, and doing so with unanimous UN Security Council approval. In fact, the result should be seen as something of a diplomatic accomplishment. Israel set the goals, and we delivered. If the result is unsatisfactory, then I believe it is unfair to blame George Bush for demanding a war that Israel did not want to wage.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at August 12, 2006 8:39 AM

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