George Will On Middle East Instability genre: Just Jihad & Polispeak & Six Degrees of Speculation

George Will

George Will, an old guard conservative, has been a skeptic on the invasion of Iraq for some time. In a Newsweek opinion piece, he elaborates on the potential for further instability in the Middle East. Clearly, Will and other traditional conservatives have become more vocal in their criticism of the Bush administration's foray into nation building. The full article can be found here. Will points to the problem with the current proposal to insert a UN peacekeeping force in Southern Lebanon:

Hence Israel's insistence on a "robust" force—perhaps at least 15,000 soldiers, with armor—operating under rules of engagement that permit it to fight if attacked by Hizbullah, which has seen how attacks by Iraqi insurgents drove the U.N. and several nations' troop contingents out of Iraq. Such a force is unlikely to be deployed soon, if ever. The European plan—if a woozy wish can be called a plan—is that a force should be deployed between Israel and Hizbullah only after a political agreement between the two. Which is to say, the force should not be deployed until it is unimportant.

While I often disagree with Will, he has always been a student of history which can often provide key contextual information. Such is the case with the current crisis in Lebanon. Will is correct to point out that the type of presence needed to halt the hostilities in Lebanon isn't one that is typically associated with UN military forces. While it may be possible that a large presence can quell some of the provocations that have led to the conflict, it is hard to imagine that Hezbollah will simply abandon its objectives and suddenly comply with resolution UN 1559 and allow its own disarmament.

Meanwhile, it is profoundly dangerous that for four weeks the prestige of Hizbullah and of Israel's military have been moving inversely.

But because of the lethality of modern munitions and the ubiquity of graphic journalism, Israel must do whatever it does quickly. It has been noted that two of Israel's greatest military achievements—the Six Day War and the 1981 bombing of Saddam Hussein's nuclear reactor near Baghdad—were finished before world opinion could be brought to bear against Israel.

Brent Scowcroft, national-security adviser to the first President Bush and mentor of the next President Bush's national-security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, warned that an invasion "could turn the whole region into a cauldron." Perhaps Rice is right that today's boiling cauldron is evidence of the "birth pangs of a new Middle East." But the administration has a record of divining cheerful omens from ghastly events. In October 2003, President Bush said the Iraq insurgents were increasingly "desperate" because of "the progress we make," so the surging insurgency is a sign of progress. The Washington Post's Tom Ricks, departing for Iraq when writing his book "Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq"—now atop the best-seller list—was told by a droll U.S. officer: "Be careful, or you might become another sign of progress."

One is left to wonder what impact the current U.S. foreign policy mentality played in Olmert's decision to commence an effort to crush Hezbollah. One must assume that Olmert had indications that the Bush administration would not inhibit the effort...and quite possibly might enable and endorse the attempt. This clearly points out the problem with the current Bush administration's foreign policy. While the U.S. has always been a strong supporter of Israel, it has in the past also been a voice of reason and restraint. That is not to say Israel should have been prevented from exacting some retaliation following Hezbollah's aggression...but one must wonder if the effort would have been as bold.

Will makes an important point with regards to the Israeli effort and by inference offers a critique of the U.S. effort in Iraq when he states, "Hence it is heartening that Israel seems belatedly to have remembered Napoleon's axiom: "If you start to take Vienna, take Vienna." That is, when using force, do nothing tentatively."

Having listened to George Will discuss nation building and the Iraq invasion, it is clear that he believes the Bush administration has fully ignored history's lessons. I've always seen Will as a pragmatist and I suspect he would acknowledge that the Bush doctrine was doomed from the outset. In looking at the situation in Lebanon, he is simply exposing the cumulative impact of this flawed and failed strategy that has the potential to enable a far larger conflict for which no one has chosen to fully explore and understand the consequences.

Daniel DiRito | August 8, 2006 | 9:58 AM
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