American Political Wars and Israel's War with Hezbollah

The Sunday talk shows and the evening cables news show have devoted much of their time this week to the Israel/Hezbollah conflict. As if required by law to demonstrate perfect balance, the talk shows always find a Republican and a Democrat to discuss the war. What we are hearing from the two sides reflects some consensus, but also two very different views on the meaning of the conflict in this theatre, and more broadly, between the West and radical Islam.

Both Democrats and Republicans have defended Israel's actions in protecting its borders against cross border attacks and stopping rockets fired by the terrorist group Hezbollah from southern Lebanon.  Politicians can read the polls. Americans are not terribly fond of Iran, Hezbollah's financial sugar daddy and its supplier of armaments. As Michael Ledeen has correctly stated, Iran has been at war with the United States since they made hostages of American embassy workers in 1979. Their war against America has continued for 27 years, mainly through proxies, such as Hezbollah, even as some American presidents have ignored Iran's threats or assumed their hostility to us didn't really matter.

The support for Israel in America has always disturbed those who care little for Israel, such as Professors John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, who blame a powerful Zionist lobby for twisting the Congress to back Israel. But Congressional support for Israel has always reflected the will of the people who elected their representatives. The professors don't understand why the masses don't think like the elites in Cambridge or Hyde Park. But most Americans see the current conflict not just as  Israel versus Hezbollah, but also the US versus Iran, and and understand that Israel is fighting for our side in this one.

While American support for Israel in its conflict with the Palestinians has been very strong in the US for many years, it is now overwhelming. The Palestinian cause and its already thin support level in America has suffered since the recent election victory for the terrorist group Hamas and the firing of a 1,000 Katushyas into Israel from Gaza, despite Israel's complete withdrawal from Gaza a year ago.

When Arafat died, Mahmoud Abbas was hailed by the peace camp crowd as the Palestinian leader who would walk the road to peace with Israel. But Abbas' party was soundly rejected in favor of Hamas by Palestinian voters in their parliamentary elections in January. That vote cannot be interpreted merely as a vote against the Fatah leadership's long history of corruption and lack of accomplishment in advancing the Palestinian cause (there were real reformers on the ballot), but as support for Hamas and their ideology.

Christopher Hitchens has lamely attempted to describe the recent Palestinian prisoners document as a repudiation of Hamas' rejection of Israel and a chance for Palestinians to vote for a two state solution and  recognition of Israel. Hitchens goes even further to argue that the recent kidnappings of Israeli soldiers by Hamas and Hezbollah, which led to the current fighting, were designed to stop a referendum on the prisoners document. Hitchens, at times, seems smart enough to know better. A careful reading of the prisoners document makes it clear that it is a continuation of the long Palestinian rejection of Israel (Arafat's phased approach to destroying Israel), and its real siren call is for a united Fatah—Hamas Palestinian resistance.  But Hitchens has been hitched to the Palestinian grievance for so long, it has become too difficult to climb out of their rat cellar.

Even in Europe, where many more have long sided with the Palestinian side, support for their cause  has dropped sharply, particularly in France and Germany, according to recent surveys. The European distaste for Israel, and long love affair with Arafat and the Palestinians has broad roots, as best described in Bruce Bawer's new book, While Europe Slept: cowardice, reflected in avoiding confrontation with the radical Islamists in their midst,  a cheap way to let rampant anti—American resentment  bubble to the surface (slap America for its  support of Israel), and of course Europe's longstanding disease of anti—Semitism (masked as anti—Zionism). Since the Hamas victory in January, more Europeans seem to be questioning why their governments should be sending hundreds of millions of dollars a year to a terrorist group like Hamas.

In this climate, it is not surprising that even a few of the usual American Israel bashers have become a bit gun—shy. But beyond the basic support for Israel's acting in self defense, there is some substantive disagreement reflected in the approaches of the two parties and their leadership in this country. Almost as if supplied by talking points by the DNC (as I am sure they were) Democrats on the various talk shows have quickly tried to change the subject from defending Israel (which may carry some risks with Muslim and Arab voters) to the 'failed war in Iraq' and how the current conflicts in the Middle East are a result of the President's failure to engage in diplomacy in the Israeli—Palestinian conflict. Both Senators Chris Dodd and Joe Biden took this approach in their appearances on the talk shows.

President Clinton did a lot of engaging with Yassar Arafat during his two terms in office, more in fact than with any other world leader. Daniel Pipes thinks the results of that engagement, both for the US and Israel, were disastrous, and encouraged the audacious attacks by Hamas and Hezbollah in recent weeks. 

Continuing to talk with somebody who is lying to you and working to undermine everything you are doing, is not a sensible long—term strategy.  It conveys weakness, and too much eagerness to artificially paper over profound differences, and in Israel's case, has damaged its deterrent capability.  

In the case of Hamas and Hezbollah, the word "engagement" has little meaning. Any engagement or resolution of an issue between Israel and one of these parties (e.g. prisoner exchanges) has tended be on their terms, and they have always moved on to fight another day with the same goal of destroying Israel.

Democrats, more than Republicans, believe in engagement — in  diplomacy, in multilateralism, and in the UN, and often seem uncomfortable with wars that are not over in a few days, or which are fought to a resolution, with somebody winning, and somebody losing. The Democratic Party's house organ, the New York Times, reflects this weakness in an editorial calling for a ceasefire in place between Israel and Hezbollah.

Some Democrats have joined in the call for a new larger UN Peacekeeping Force in southern Lebanon. That approach did not work very well over the last 20 years in south Lebanon. In fairness, it did work slightly better than it did in Srebenica, where the peacekeepers read the newspapers while 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men were led away to slaughter.  UN Peacekeepers in Bosnia, Lebanon and Rwanda served mainly to get out of the way, and allowed the bad guys to push ahead with their wars and murderous campaigns. Only when the fighting stopped in Bosnia, and a political separation occurred that all parties were forced to accept by NATO, did the peacekeepers begin to play a useful role.

President Bush seems to have decided that this time, Israel needs to complete the job and win: to significantly reduce or eliminate Hezbollah's stockpile of rockets, and to remove them from the border area.  Stopping the fighting now, with Hezbollah still holding most of its rockets, would allow them to continue to intimidate the Lebanese government  and occupy Southern Lebanon. This would be far too dangerous for Israel.

If Hezbollah survives as an independent militia, then Lebanon will not be a functioning independent country. Part of the job of restoring Lebanese sovereignty was the pressure applied by Western nations that led to the departure of most Syrian forces from the country (the uniformed military, though not the undercover and intelligence operatives). But Hezbollah only got stronger during this period. And it was itching for a fight, seeing Israeli weakness in Israel's never confronting their vastly enhanced military capability since Israel left southern Lebanon in 2000. 

Andrea Mitchell stated on one talk show that Israel had long been looking for an excuse to go in and pulverize Hezbollah. This is entirely wrong, but reflects the twin diseases of historical ignorance and latching onto the conventional wisdom, which are so common among the inside the beltway media elite.  Israel, as Pipes has argued convincingly, ignored Hezbollah for years, as if the threat were not real, or alternatively, too great to combat.

President Bush has apparently told Israel that it has some time to complete its mission, and that the US will prevent the generally weak—kneed Europeans and other big powers, Russia and China, from pushing too hard to achieve a ceasefire. That would only freeze the current situation in place, without resolution.

Fighting sometimes serves a real purpose. Peace is not the primary short term goal for Israel at the moment, not when terrorists still lurk on its borders, ready to fire the next salvo of rockets at its cities. That is not a real peace. For the crowd unhappy with Israel's supposedly 'disproportionate' response, what exactly does disproportionate mean when almost a thousand rockets have been fired at Israeli civilian targets in less than a week. Even Human Rights Watch has called the Hezbollah rocket attacks a war crime, so it must be a very bad thing.

The evacuation of foreigners that is being carried out from Lebanon is telling. All the countries removing their nationals are signaling that they know this fight will continue for a while, and that Lebanon will be a battlefield until it ends. A major reason why this is so is that many of the Arab nations are as anxious as Israel for Hezbollah to be wiped out as a fighting force and for Iran to be bloodied. So they are  not pressuring the US to achieve a premature ceasefire. 

The Sunni Arab nations, Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, are not eager to face off with an aggressive Shiite Iran, with Hezbollah riding high, and a nuclear program soon in place. Destabilizing Iraq and bloodying the Americans may have been both Iranian goals and also Saudi/Sunni goals (this democracy stuff is scary, don't go any further with it, please). But now, most of the Arab nations seem to believe that the  new regional bully, Iran, needs to be brought down.

Various Republicans on this week's talk shows, Newt Gingrich, John McCain, and George Allen among them, have provided the links among Israel's fight, our battles in Iraq and Afghanistan, India's fight with Islamic terrorists over Kashmir, and other Muslim—Western conflicts around the globe (find a conflict, and it's a good bet  that it fits this pattern). Seeing a bigger picture, and accepting that war is sometimes the answer, is different than a philosophy that follows the dictum that the best policy is to always turn down the temperature and stop the fighting.  Senator McCain said of the Iranian nuclear program that attempting to take out this program by military means would be a terrible thing, but not as bad as seeing Iran succeed in completing its program. This of course, is not a defense of bad wars, or unnecessary wars, or poorly conducted wars.

For Israel, continuing the current conflict insures more rocket attacks on its cities and more dead soldiers and civilians in the short run (and more civilian casualties from collateral damage in Lebanon, as well) . But seeking the false security of a ceasefire would be worse at this point. The Iranian commitment to destroy Israel remains. 

The Palestinians have had this goal for sixty years, which is why they still rattle old keys on their nakba day, keep hundreds of thousands of their people confined to refugee camps to promote an everlasting bitterness, vote for Hamas, and pass around sweets to celebrate the events of 9/11 or when some teenage Palestinian walks onto a bus and blows it up killing two dozen Israelis.

It is not really possible to negotiate or engage with that belief system. One either defeats it or succumbs. This eliminationist view towards Israel is broadly shared in the region, though small progress may have been made in a few Arab countries. It is why Israel's current battles cannot be negotiated away.

President Bush understands this, but the New York Times and many on the political left do not. It is why the "netroots" are trying to take down Joe Lieberman, a sensible Democrat with a very distinguished record, but one who refuses to soak in their Bush Derangement Syndrome hot tub. For many on the left, Hezbollah and Lebanon and Israel are distractions from the real war against George Bush, the one war worth fighting, and certainly not engaging. 

One of the reasons the left hates Bush is for taking the country to war in Iraq. Debating the wisdom of that conflict is certainly legitimate. But for many on the left, war, any war, is the ultimate evil, not tyranny, or Nazism, or Communism, or Islamic fascism. On that, their disagreement with the President and his party is profound.

Scarier still, is the more hard line anti—Israel sentiment now floating freely on the hard left websites, such as dailykos. Some of the site's writers seem to feel about Israel the way Iran's President does. At every anti—Iraq war rally the past few years, anti—Israel signs have always been prominent. The two movements (anti—Iraq war, and anti—Israel) are now firmly linked on the left. It will be a fundamentally different Democratic Party that emerges if the netroots and the hard left take over. And no one can say they couldn't see it coming.

For now, the leadership of both major parties is standing firmly with Israel in this fight. But if the fight goes on very long, this coalition may fray a bit as some Democrats feel pressure from the left and hear the cooing sounds of UN peacekeepers and "peace," and get more nervous about civilian casualties and "disproportionate" responses, and fall for the bromides of the war is never the answer crowd. 

Wars started by one side, are often finished by the other. This should be one of those cases.

Richard Baehr is the chief political correspondent of The American Thinker.