Friday, August 04, 2006

Take a Krauthammer, Simmer off the Vitriol, Add a Dash of Chomsky....

And you have a recipe for a very unusual Krauthammer column, in that it's worth reading. As it turns out, when he stops telling us how much he hates everybody he perceives as an enemy of Israel and why we should share his sentiments, space appears in which sapience can emerge.

That dash of Chomsky.... One of Norm Chomsky's consistent points about U.S. Middle Eastern policy is that it is about what is in the perceived best interest of the United States, and to the extent that it is U.S. policy to support a strong Israel it is because fundamentally the U.S. views that as being in its best interest. Krauthammer seems to share that opinion:
Israel's war with Hezbollah is a war to secure its northern border, to defeat a terrorist militia bent on Israel's destruction, to restore Israeli deterrence in the age of the missile. But even more is at stake. Israel's leaders do not seem to understand how ruinous a military failure in Lebanon would be to its relationship with America, Israel's most vital lifeline. ... [In U.S. foreign policy] The question, as always, is: What have you done for me lately? There is fierce debate in the United States about whether, in the post-Sept. 11 world, Israel is a net asset or liability. Hezbollah's unprovoked attack on July 12 provided Israel the extraordinary opportunity to demonstrate its utility by making a major contribution to America's war on terrorism.
Like Chomsky, Krauthammer perceives that self-interest drives U.S. policy toward Israel. Like Chomsky, he overstates his case - I don't think you can look at the recent sense of Congress resolution, passing with a 410:8 vote, and not recognize that Israel's position is far from precarious. But I think they both sense what can happen, and what likely will happen, if in fact the consensus becomes that U.S. support for Israel is contrary to U.S. interests. Even if manifested only through the substitution of absentions for vetoes in U.N. Security Council votes pertaining to Israel.

I should note also that I agree with Krauthammer that Hezbollah is a threat to Israel and to the region, and that it would be a good thing if Hezbollah's military capacities were eliminated. I do differ from Krauthammer in that he apparently believes that Hezbollah could be defeated through a short-term ground war, but very much agree that Israel's air war represents an atrocious choice of tactics.
The United States has gone far out on a limb to allow Israel to win and for all this to happen. It has counted on Israel's ability to do the job. It has been disappointed. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has provided unsteady and uncertain leadership. Foolishly relying on air power alone, he denied his generals the ground offensive they wanted, only to reverse himself later. ...

His search for victory on the cheap has jeopardized not just the Lebanon operation but America's confidence in Israel as well.
I think Krauthammer recognizes but intentionally sidesteps the implications of his position. It certainly isn't the case that Israel cannot roll in the tanks and troops and have its ground war, even after its exceptionally destructive but tactically ineffectual air campaign. To the extent that a military victory can be won on the ground, nothing in the air campaign has limited Israel's opportunity for success, and arguably the destruction of Lebanese infrastructure would help Israel in a ground war. So the defeat Krauthammer perceives as being plucked from the jaws of victory would apparently be one of public perceptions and sentiment. It's not just a loss in the war by proxy against Iran ("The defeat of Hezbollah would be a huge loss for Iran, both psychologically and strategically.") It's that the tactics used have caused a lot of people in the West to question whether Israel holds the moral high ground, and have caused a significant backlash within Lebanon which could lead to a quick resurgence (temporary or long-term) of Hezbollah once the war ends.

A loss to Hezbollah may not mean much militarily for Israel or the West, but it means a lot psychologically. Hezbollah is already being perceived (yet again) on the Arab street as a heroic entity defeating a much more powerful adversary. It would exemplify the attitude we are (supposedly) working hard to change - that fundamentalist, militant Islam can bring pride and victory, even in the face of (decadent) Western imperialism. It of course doesn't help a bit that the Bush Administration eschews diplomacy, and thus rules out any resolution to this type of conflict which might illustrate a better way.

I may be more cynical than Krauthammer, who puts the blame for the poor choice of an air campaign on Israel's political leaders. I don't believe for a second that the U.S., in giving what Krauthammer desribes as "the green light -- indeed, the encouragement" to Israel to embark on this war, was not aware of Israel's intended tactics. Nobody said, "Hey - wait a second, that's not a good plan." Nobody stepped in when it became obvious that Israel intended to defeat Hezbollah primarily through air power and said, "We need to get them to bring in ground troops", or even "We should force a quick ceasefire to give Israel its 'victory' before it becomes obvious that this isn't working." Why? In my estimation, because the U.S. knew what Israel planned, and deemed it an appropriate manner in which to wage war against Hezbollah - perhaps even the preferred manner. After all, wouldn't a victory primarily through air power stand as vindication for Rumsfeld's vision of how wars should be fought?

[Updated to fix broken link.]

1 comment:

  1. I still hold to my interpretations of Krauthammer from my original post, but some might suggest I'm being charitable.


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