Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Why Bush Really Needs to Negotiate with Evil

The war in Lebanon continues to cause great damage to Lebanon and do not a thing to stop the Katyusha attacks on Israel. The reason for this is obvious to all but the willfully dense. Hezbollah is deeply entrenched in southern Lebanon, interspersed and supported by the local population. Its Katyushas are small, mobile, and easily hidden. Massive airstrikes are not going to stop the attacks. Attacking Lebanon to force the Lebanese army to crack down on Hezbollah will not work because the Lebanese army lacks the might to do so. Expelling the entire population from the border will be somewhat more effective. If most Hezbollah rockets have a range of only a few miles, then driving the entire population back for a few miles will prevent most attacks. If the only options were military, this might be the best not-very-satisfactory compromise available. Israel uproots a relatively small number of people, and rocket attacks diminish but do not altogether cease.

But if the goal is to stop rocket attacks altogether, then things get very nasty fast. If, as has been reported, Hezbollah has rockets with ranges up to 72 kilometers, then pushing all the Shiites of Lebanon that far away will be a much larger, longer, more brutal operation. And this begs the question of who will move in to ensure that Hezbollah does not come back. And it certainly seems a safe bet that such upheaval and displacement will necessarily reignite Lebanon's civil war, with who knows what effect.

So, what are our other options. George Bush proposed an obvious one; Syria needs to get Hezbollah to stop that shit. We do not actually know whether Syria or Iran ordered Hezbollah to start the attacks, but given the extent to which Hezbollah relies on Iranian guns and money, via Syria, either country could certainly rein in its obstreperous ally and make them stop that shit. Of course, similar logic appies to us. Given Israel's dependence on U.S. money and arms, we could easily rein in our obstreperous ally and make them stop their shit. So it would seem logical for us to sit down with Syria and Iran and cut some sort of deal -- you rein in our ally and we'll rein in ours.

Of course, the Bush administration refused to do that. "We don't negotiate with evil; we defeat it." This administration lives in mortal terror of "appeasement," defined as anything less than getting 100% of what we want. Diplomacy, negotiations, compromises, treaties, all are nothing but appeasement. Indeed, tolerating the existence of any goverment we dislike is appeasement. By this standard, the Cold War was one long exercise in appeasement -- not only did we make no attempt to overthrow the Soviet government, we actually had diplomatic relations, engaged in face-to-face negotiations, established treaties and attended summits. If neoconservative fears of appeasement were accurate, the Soviets would long since have conquered the world, being faced with such wimps.

By refusing to enter into any negotiations with the governments of Syria or Iran and by making clear that he considers them illegitimate and will settle for nothing less than their overthrow, Bush removes all incentive either government could have to behave better. When one party's policy is, "If you don't drop dead, we'll kill you," is it any surprise that the other party is not interested? Conservative hawks often criticize liberals as naive for wanting to conduct foreign policy with the carrot only; don't they realize carrots are only effective if backed by sticks? But the reverse also applies. Sticks are far more effective if supplemented with carrots. If a government gains nothing by behaving well, why bother? More than that, if the Bush administration refused to react positively to any positive behavior by a rival, he creates a positive incentive for that rival to act badly. We try to force concessions by being tough; is it any wonder that other countries do the same. Bush wants Iran to give up nuclear weapons, but refuses to offer any security guaranties. Is it any wonder that the Iranians conclude that nuclear weapons are the best security guarantee?

I suppose that the Bushies might argue that every stick implies a carrot. Our stick is the threat of military force; our carrot is refraining from using military force. But right now our stick is not very credible. Given the mess we have gotten into in Iraq, invading Iran would be such madness that (so far as I can tell) even neoconservatives are not advocating it. Airstrikes are at least doable, but if the U.S. attackes Iran by air, the Iranian government is likely to tell its Shiite allies in Iraq to take off the gloves in dealing with the American forces. So if Bush refuses to use the carrot and has no credible stick, where does that leave him? Mouthing empty platitudes.

There is one other reason why Bush needs to swallow his pride and start talking to Syria and Iran so we can all pressure our allies to stop that shit. Contrary to what Bush and some of his followers believe, good and evil are not immutable labels that stick to us no matter what. Or to put it differently, evil is not what we are, but what we do. When Al Qaeda terrorists flew jetliners into the World Trade Center, that was evil. When Sunni extremists in Iraq set of bombs in public places to blow up as many civilians as possible that is evil. When Shiite death squads murder men for having Sunni names, that is evil. When Hezbollah kidnapped Israeli soldiers and shoots aimless rockets and Israeli cities that, too, is evil. But when Israel expels the people of southern Lebanon en masse and destroys whole villages, the bare fact that it is Israel acting does not make those actions good. Just how much carnage does Israel have to inflict on Lebanon before Bush recognizes that we, too, are capable of evil?



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