Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Charles Krauthammer Gears Up For Round Two

It's amazing. The guns have scarcely fallen silent in Lebanon, the blood has scarcely had time to dry and Charles Krauthammer is already gearing up for Round Two. Israel, he complains, failed to disarm Hezbollah on the first attempt by trying to do it mostly by air power. Neither the Lebanese army nor the U.N. force that will supposedly arrive in southern Lebanon, has any prospects of doing so. We have merely restored the status quo ante that was so intolerable, setting the stage for the inevitable round two. The only way to avoid it is for the U.N. force to disarm Hezbollah and fast. Otherwise Israel will have no choice but to initiate Round Two and do it right.

Krauthammer is certainly right about a few things. Hezbollah is not going to voluntarily disarm, and no serious person ever expected them to. When a war ends more or less in a tie, expecting one party to mark the peace by disarming is completely unrealistic. What are the prospects of either the Lebanese army or the U.N. peacekeepers disarming Hezbollah by force? I would say zero.

That leaves Israel. Krauthammer says that once Israel began the ground offensive in earnest, they would eventually have destroyed Hezbollah, "albeit at great cost to itself, Lebanon, and Israel's patron, the United States." That is why Israel agreed to a cease-fire. For Round Two, Israel will show no "hesitency" and not try to win by air power, but will fight the messy, bloody ground war necessary to root out Hezbollah. Krauthammer skips over just how messy and bloody that will be. Hezbollah is formidable, at least on its own soil. It has an impressive network of underground bunkers, high-tech modern weaponry, and a dedicated and disciplined force with a lot of experience resisting Israeli invaders. Krauthammer says that Hezbollah has been weakened by the war, but it will rearm fast. What makes him think that the next war will be any easier than this one?

And then there are those pesky rockets. The usual estimate is that Hezbollah had some 13,000 of them and fired less than half at Israel. Particularly, they withheld the longest range of rockets. This means that even defeating Hezbollah south of the Litani, and perhaps even further, will not make Israel safe, so long as Hezbollah retains its rockets anywhere in Lebanon. Perhaps tolerating rocket attacks during the war may seem like an acceptable trade-off in exchange for complete safety afterward, given the minimal damage Hezbollah's rocket caused. This makes the analysis of CIA analyst Ray Close truly frightening -- that the limited damage caused by Hezbollah's rockets was not because of their limited fire power, but their lack of aim. Close believes that with better aim, the rockets could have killed thousands. He also anticipates that Hezbollah will now make improving its guidance system a top priority. In Round Two the air power may not be all on one side.

All of which leaves an important question unanswered. Why was the status quo ante so intolerable as to make all-out war worthwhile? It is pointless to say that Hezbollah's evil intentions were a mortal threat to Israel. Evil intentions are deadly only when backed by the force to carry them out. Hezbollah's prospects of actually invading Israel were nil. Hezbollah's rockets so far were singularly unimpressive. Nor was Hezbollah terrorizing Israel with suicide bombings, as were the Palestinians. What Hezbollah and Israel had was an ongoing, low-grade border war. This was not pleasant, but it was a manageable threat, considerably less than the threat of terrorism from the West Bank. Nor does Hezbollah seem as crazy as some people believe. After all, it has been pointed out, Hezbollah did not begin firing rockets on Israel until after the war began, and generally observed the 48 hour aeriel cease-fire in mid-war. In short, the status quo ante did not amount to much more than an annoying border war. Perhaps I am a rash optimist here, but the presence of the Lebanese army in southern Lebanon just might serve as a restraining influence and and prevent even border clashes.

But to Krauthammer, the threat to Israel is only one reason to want to destroy Hezbollah's military structure. The other reason is the grand plan for freedom and democracy, which Syria, Iran and Hezbollah were trying to derail. Naturally to Krauthammer, democracy means the right to elect the candidate of our choice. He is greatly displeased that Hezbollah "insinuated" itself into Lebanon's democratic government. Hot news flash, any government that is truly democratic has to take into account the wishes of some 40% of its population. Trampling on Lebanon's Shiites is not "democratic." Either acknowledge that democratic elections will lead to some results we do not like, or stop pretending to support democracy altogether.

Of course, Krauthammer is right that Lebanon was always in trouble having a private army outside the control of its government that was more powerful and the official army and had the support of a large portion of the population. But he is dead wrong if he thinks that resolving the problem by brute force and war will do Lebanon's fragile democracy any good. So maybe he should come right out and admit the truth. We don't care about either Lebanon or democracy. What we really care about is our own power and influence.

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