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I was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator and am now a journalist. I am the author of three New York Times bestselling books -- "How Would a Patriot Act" (a critique of Bush executive power theories), "Tragic Legacy" (documenting the Bush legacy), and With Liberty and Justice for Some (critiquing America's two-tiered justice system and the collapse of the rule of law for its political and financial elites). My fifth book - No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA and the US Surveillance State - will be released on April 29, 2014 by Holt/Metropolitan.

Friday, August 11, 2006

A bizarre end to a bizarre war in Lebanon

(updated below)

The unfolding events in the Middle East seem rather odd. Current reports suggest that the U.S. and France have agreed to a U.N. Resolution -- which Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has accepted -- and it will be imminently adopted (tonight) by the Security Council, probably unanimously.

The Resolution calls for an immediate "cessation of hostilities." Hezbollah would be required to withdraw from Southern Lebanon and an expanded U.N force (led by French soldiers) would be deployed along with Lebanese soldiers to ensure that Hezbollah does not operate there. But that force would not have the U.N. charter authority the Israelis wanted -- which provide for rules of engagement where that U.N. force would actually militarily engage Hezbollah if it operated in the forbidden region (though it would be a "robust" force, say the Resolution's advocates).

Hezbollah would not be disbanded nor disarmed, and its re-supply route from Syria would neither be destroyed nor impeded. Given the grand pronouncements with which this war began -- that Hezbollah would be destroyed, that it was the start of the epic war of civilizations -- any honest person (and even many who are not honest) would acknowledge that this is a defeat for Israel and for neoconservative dreams of a wider war. As a result, many in Israel are predicting, and vigorously calling for, the resignation of Israel's Prime Minister.

The disappointment and anger of neoconservatives over this ignominious end must be severe, and it is almost certain to be a source of very intense conflict between them and the Bush administration. Already, Paul at Powerline -- one of the most loyal Bush supporters on the planet -- said:

The JPost says there's a good chance that the wobbly Olmert government will accept this resolution. Over at NRO's corner, John Podhoretz contends that this would mean the end of the Olmert government. I'm tempted to suggest that our government, having seemingly lost its will to oppose (or even to let others oppose) our deadliest enemies, deserves the same fate. But let's wait until the facts are in.

Once he read the resolution, Paul said that "there is no excuse for bringing this matter to an end until the IDF has made much more progress than it has to date" and that the U.N. force would be a "joke." Rich Lowry (who, whatever else one might want to say about him, has excellent sources in the Bush administration and the Israeli government) quotes an Israeli source as saying that this is the "worst defeat for Israel since 1948," and adds:

when it comes to U.N. resolutions in the Middle East is that they either simply reflect the facts on the ground, or make the victor give away a little bit of his victory; they never let someone pull victory out of a hat from defeat. So Israel will utlimately (sic) get from this resoltuon (sic)what they won on the ground, which is to say not much.

In another post, Lowry passes on the Bush administration's best propaganda as to why this is a good Resolution for Israel and the U.S., but I think Powerline Paul's reaction will be quite typical - neoconservatives are not going to be remotely convinced.

In fact, John Podhoertz is flopping around over in the Corner in a way that reflects the distress and trauma neoconservatives will suffer from this result. Podhoretz first declared that the U.N. Resolution will mean that "Israel and the United States will be handing Hezbollah a victory. And Israel will have lost a war for the first time. And probably not the last." He then tried to keep his chin up and rationalized that "it's not a disaster," but then immediately thereafter posted again to say:

Olmert is still toast. My nephew, who is a veteran of the Israeli army but has not been called up because he's here in the States for a few months, writes:

"I can't believe he's doing this. I cannot believe we are once again running from Lebanon with our tails between our legs. Olmert's picture will now appear in the dictionary next to the word 'coward.'"

This will be a very common opinion across the political spectrum.

When this all started, neoconservatives were in full bloodthirsty glory, salivating over the complete obliteration of Hezbollah and much of Southern Lebanon, as the start of the "great opportunity" -- "our war" -- in which we would do the same to Syria and Iran. Instead, they got a joint U.S.-French U.N. resolution engineering a cease-fire dependent upon French troops protecting Israel from the Hezbollah militia, and even Israeli hawks lamenting the humiliation suffered at the hands of Hezbollah (assuming Hezbollah, which clearly has the strongest hand here, agrees to all of this).

Watching Fox News right now discussing this is like being at a wake. Paul at Powerline is calling for the downfall of the Bush administration. The neoconservative dream for broader war, at least for the moment, has collapsed on its shattered foundations. Nobody should consider a Hezbollah victory to be anything remotely a cause for celebration; that should go without saying. But the plan the neoconservatives harbor - and thought they were finally able to execute - is as dangerous a threat as anything else in the world, and anything which puts a stop to it, and which drives a wedge between them and their enablers in the Bush administration, is something which, independent of all else, is a constructive development.

UPDATE: An e-mail correspondent, well-versed in Middle East affairs, suggests that an Israeli defeat does not necessarily mean a win for Hezbollah -- that is, while Israel plainly won nothing if the war ends pursuant to this resolution, Hezbollah was hardly in a good position itself, and needed an end just as badly as Israel did. His reasoning:

But I think the impression that things have gone badly for Israel is based on the Israeli perspective, which is saturated with the daily death tolls and unfulfilled (unrealistic) expectations. But from the Lebanese perspective, this has been nothing short of a catastrophe. And that can't be good for Hezbollah. So, my point is that notwithstanding Nasrallah's rantings, he may very well want this to be over because it's been a nightmare and the continuation of this war is a losing proposition for him.

I view this war and the end of it as "bizarre" because the war's ambitions were so grand and sweeping from the start-- the amount of brutality and slaughter required to accomplish them were far in excess of what could be tolerated -- that it was almost designed to fail from the start. One could say exactly that of the general neoconservative view on all matters (Iraq, transforming the Middle East, regime change in Iran, etc.)

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