Tuesday, August 15, 2006
A Dummy Run
Stolen from Asia Times by Ehsan Ahrari
"The Bush administration ... was closely involved in the planning of Israel's retaliatory attacks" against Hezbollah. That is the conclusion of American journalist Seymour Hersh in his latest essay in The New Yorker.
If that, indeed, is true, then America's image as a military power, along with the image of the Israeli military, has been severely tarnished. This is not the end of the negative spillover effect from Israel's palpable failure to damage severely the fighting capabilities of Hezbollah. The United States might be in for more damaging fallout emanating from this fiasco.
According to Hersh, President George W Bush - who joined the Texas Air Guard to avoid being drafted for Vietnam, and has limited experience and little knowledge of the potential capability air power in warfare - and Vice President Dick Cheney - who used a variety of legal loopholes to avoid being drafted and being shipped to South Vietnam in the 1960s - believed that "a successful Israeli Air Force bombing campaign against Hezbollah's heavily fortified underground missile and command and control complexes in Lebanon could ease Israel's security concerns and also serve as a prelude to a potential American preemptive attack to destroy Iran's nuclear installations, some of which are also buried deep underground."
White House sources have "vigorously denied" the veracity of Hersh's report. Press Secretary Anthony Snow said, "The piece abounds in fictions," and "assailed" Hersh's use of "unnamed sources". However, the editors of The New Yorker stand by the story.
US Department of State officials envisaged Israel's bombing campaigns "as a way to strengthen the Lebanese government". One wonders about the basic wisdom of this rationale. How can one destroy parts of Lebanon, kill hundreds and displace thousands of civilians, and expect the Lebanese government to emerge as a strong entity from that disaster?
No amount of air campaigns - no matter how limited the resulting damage - could have had a positive effect on the governing capabilities of the Lebanese government. By the same token, any Israeli ground campaign would have united the Lebanese behind Hezbollah. The uncanny unifying power of a war on a polity under siege was something both the Americans and Israelis totally ignored while they were planning or carrying out the military campaign against the country of Lebanon.
No one in the Bush administration bothered to revisit the historical annals to educate themselves about the carnage that the Israeli invasion and occupation created in Lebanon in the early 1980s. The very creation of Hezbollah is associated with that invasion and the ensuing occupation of that country.
US president John F Kennedy described many decades ago how success and failure, related to major political events, are handled in Washington. He observed, "Success has many fathers; failure is always an orphan." In that context, no one in the Bush administration now admits even having known about the Israeli air campaign, much less having any part in it. Hersh does not believe those statements.
In fact, Robert Novak, another Washington-based columnist with excellent political connections, wrote on August 6: "The Israeli government's effort to clean Hezbollah out of southern Lebanon was carefully planned by the IDF [Israel Defense Forces]. US officials informed me 24 days ago they would give the IDF a week to liquidate the terrorists before Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice could pursue a ceasefire. But the long-planned Israeli operation in southern Lebanon found no quick success as Hezbollah proved itself a formidable fighting machine."
Hersh's report, though in harmony with Novak's analysis, also talks about the Bush administration's lead role in preparing an air-campaign plan to bomb Iranian nuclear facilities and then approaching the Israelis to share intelligence on Iran and Lebanon - since Iran is reported to have played a crucial role in advising Hezbollah in constructing elaborate and complex tunnel systems to store its missiles and other military wherewithal.
The intended plan was to coordinate an air campaign with Israel. An anonymous source close to the US Air Force told Hersh, "The big question for our air force was how to hit a series of hard targets in Iran successfully." Hersh states, "And so the air force went to the Israelis with some new tactics and said to them, 'Let's concentrate on the bombing and share what we have on Iran and what you have on Lebanon.' The discussions reached the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld."
Hersh's essay supports what has become part of intuitive thinking - if not conventional wisdom - among Iran specialists in Washington about the real intentions of the Bush administration. There is little doubt that the neo-cons, both within and outside the government - are champing at the bit about attacking Iran - the last major confrontational state, after North Korea perhaps. Syria has never been regarded as a challenge of the same caliber as Iran to the US or to Israel. That was one reason the template for an air attack on Iran was handed over to Israel by the Bush administration. The thinking in Cheney's office, according to Hersh, was, "We can learn what to do in Iran by watching what the Israelis do in Lebanon."
The Sunni Arab states were expected to do the dirty work for the Bush administration after Israel successfully destroyed the fighting capabilities of Hezbollah. Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan were to put pressure on Iran. That plan would have worked without much pressure from the United States. The three sycophant Sunni states were suffering from the growing paranoia from what they envisaged as the rising Shi'ite power in their region.
However, the powerful resistance of Hezbollah and its enormous popularity in the Arab street also caught the dictators of those states off guard. They originally criticized Hezbollah, but "shifted their position in the wake of public protests in their countries about the Israeli bombings", in the words of Hersh.
Hersh's observations about a number of Bush officials in this episode are also interesting. Rumsfeld was ambivalent ("jaded") about the Lebanon war. Rice, once again, distinguished herself by her traditional characteristic of being bowled over by Cheney and by demonstrating an absence of independent thinking that was an attribute of her predecessor, Colin Powell.
A National Security Council functionary with strong Israeli ties, Elliott Abrams, "supported the Israeli plan", even though his spokesman denied it. The Joint Chiefs of Staff, once again, lived up to their reputation of having no backbone in terms of giving strong advice to the administration that was contrary to the thinking of Cheney and other neo-cons.
Now that there is ceasefire, there are ample discussions of who won and who emerged as a loser in this war. From the Arab perspectives, there are still two clear winners and three equally apparent losers. The chief winner is Hezbollah and its execution of asymmetric war against the high-tech Israeli military. As much as he is berated in the US and in Israel, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has created a niche for himself as an Arab hero of this war.
The second major winner is Iran and its low-tech missiles and training of Hezbollah. It is worth noting, however, that Iran still faces the long shot of becoming a target of the Bush doctrine of regime change that continues to lurk in the background.
The most troublesome aspect of the general foreign-policy approach of the current US administration is that it refuses to learn from its past failures and almost seems eager to repeat them, regardless of the ensuing catastrophic consequences. Hersh discusses how "intelligence about Hezbollah and Iran is [still] being mishandled by the White House the same way intelligence had been ... [when] the administration was making the case that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction".
The three major losers of this war are Israel, the United States and Lebanese democracy. When the ceasefire was implemented, Hezbollah, though it was bruised as a fighting force, was still defiant and full of its combat spirit. The Israeli government, on the contrary, is already undergoing the post-conflict acrimonious blame game that might end up costing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert his job.
The Bush administration, if it was really using Israel's air-attack plan as a "dry run" against Iran, will have to think long and hard about its next approach toward the Islamic Republic. The very future of democracy in Lebanon is in jeopardy for now.
Once all is said and done, the most welcome development from this fiasco might be the possibility of a diplomatic engagement between Iran and the United States, once Washington finally realizes that giving war a chance in Lebanon did not lead to any lasting or peaceful solution to the Hezbollah-Israeli conflict.
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