Sunday, July 30, 2006

They Made Us Do It

Israeli Vice Prime Minister Shimon Peres knows who is responsible for the deaths of many children, women, and elderly in the town of Qana in southern Lebanon. Hizbullah is the party that killed all of those people.
When asked who was responsible for the civilian deaths in Qana, Peres -- a former Israeli prime minister -- said, "Totally, totally it's (Hizbollah's) fault."

This line of reasoning is astonishing to say the least.

Imagine an armed bank robber who flees the scene of the crime only to be followed by the authorities. The thief breaks into a house and closes the door behind him. The police follow in and after rushing through the door, they see a figure duck into a dark room; they open fire. The victims are a mother and child who were running away from where the criminal had just escaped via the back door.

The police chief comes out and excuses the officers of wrong doing since it was the bank robber's fault that those two innocents were killed. This type of argument would not stand, as the officers have a responsibilty to aprehend the criminal while not harming the rest of the law-abiding public. They are first to identify the subject before using lethal force.

Certainly the authorities would not have been in the house with guns drawn had the criminal in this scenario not created the condition first, but his actions do not absolve the authorities of their duty to the public. "Shoot first and ask questions later," is meant to highlight the dubious ethical and moral nature of such an action - there is no second chance to revoke the decision.

Retuning to the Qana incident, Isreal conducted a severe bombing campaign on the village and in pursuing Hizbullah forces, the Israeli Defense Forces destroyed a building which was being used as a makeshift bomb shelter by residents. By dropping bombs on a village Israel was accepting a risk of civilian casualties in a cavalier manner. When such an event happens, they are no longer responsible for their actions since Hizbullah has tied their hands.

If this is the rationale, then no one in Lebanon is safe. Israel will have a free hand to take intelligence of where they sense Hizbullah is operating from and launch an assault on a populated area without regard to repercussions. If the people of Lebanon do not like this policy, then they can make Hizbullah stop. How they would make them stop is not explained by Peres since it seems readily apparent that a much-vaunted military such as the IDF cannot stop Hizbullah very well either.

It is inexcusable for Israeli officials to switch the onus onto those they fight for their missteps and poor execution of battle operations. Hizbullah has its myriad faults in their attacks against towns in Israel, yet this should give Israel less room, not more, in excusing wanton destruction and loss of civilian life.

What To Hope For

Over the recent two to three weeks, it has been mentioned on current event talk shows that Baghdad will be receiving additional reinforcements via an American supplement of approximately 4,000 troops along with 4,000 Iraqi security forces. The hope is to repress the sectarian civil war and keep the unity government stable.

The question posed more often though is, "What is the next milestone?" The past markers that the Adminstration would point to as signs of success have all come and gone. Elections here, the constitutional process in terms of drafting and a vote, and then the formation of a final government were all followed by press announcements of how the citizens of Iraq were choosing democracy and freedom over terror and killing.

Yet now, there is nothing on the horizon that becomes the next marker in terms of progress. The United States will continue its occupation of the country and the American government has no immediate plans for a draw down in force structure on the table. The costs of operating in the arid land is close to 1.5 billion U.S. dollars per week. The cost in terms of injured and killed to American forces is a constant flow of a casualties daily, lately averaging two deaths per day, and several more wounded. A tally of Iraqi deaths is hard to gauge, but multi-execution reports are too numerous to list here, and often come in totals of the 50 to 80 variety.

So what can an American hope for in Iraq in the coming months? What is the United States' responsibility if the Maliki government in Baghdad collapses and a real power struggle breaks out? What happens if everything suddenly reverses itself and things become positively stable in every province of Iraq? What will the Bush Administration do to change course?

Monday, July 17, 2006

When One War Is Not Enough

Over the course of the past week, events have made a precipitous slide within and without the borders of Israel. It began with the capture of Cpl. Gilad Shalit on June 25th, 2006. Militants within the borders of the Gaza strip were able to capture the corporal after slipping through the border via an underground tunnel. Almost immediately, Israel put the group responsible and Hamas as a whole on notice that it was not going to negotiate an exchange. Not only were the Israelis not going to negotiate, they moved militarily back into the Gaza strip where the kidnappers were understood to be hiding the soldier.

A mess quite serious in itself.

Adding the events of July 12th and things are moving quite quickly with very few prognosticators guessing where things end.

Hizbullah militants set up and detonated an explosive against an Israeli tank beyond the border of Lebanon - i.e. an incursion into Israeli territory. Two Israeli soldiers were then taken hostage by the attackers back into Lebanon. The incursion was followed by an announcement by Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah of Hizbullah that a "prisoner" exchange would be in order for the safe return of Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev.

Israel again replied that under no circumstances were they going to negotiate a trade. The demands of Israel as it stands today are:
  1. Return of the two soldiers

  2. Pushing Hizbullah north of the Litani River (further away from the Israeli border)

  3. A halt to rocket attacks on Israel

While each of these particular events involves a smoldering fire from the past, the fear is that the escalation in military tit-for-tat fighting will embroil further nations in the Middle East to join in the fray. Syria and Iran head that list, but at the moment it looks less likely that this entrée will come to pass. This won't stop Iranian officials from expressing rhetorical statements that sympathize with Hizbullah and the Palestinians. It hasn't prevented the Iraqi Parliament from condemning Israel either for the invasion of southern Lebanon.

At some point there will be a cooling off period (just not very soon) and all sides will pick up the pieces.

It should go without saying that what is not needed now is another step by the United States to conduct a military operation in hopes of further securing a country that is not our own. Over the past weekend, many conservative voices on the far right concluded that to not strike back at Iran (and to a lesser extent Syria) with our military is to be seen as weak. William Kristol of the Weekly Standard led the charge on the weekend political talk show circuit, as well in his editorial titled, "It Is Our War".

Beyond the assertion that America is now tightly in the grasp of an imagined war with radical Islam, Kristol envisions a world bathed in conflagrations as far as the eye can see. Bombing Iran now is a must. Accepting the wrath of world condemnation a necessary price for "showing a strong America," will be a certainty. Siding strictly with Israel making things more difficult in Iraq (with a predominantly Shi'ia population), well, the U.S. was tiring of propping that place up anyway.

War, war, and more war. Some neoconservative principles are best left to the historical dustbin where they belong.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Voicing National Concerns

Texas Representative Ron Paul gave a speech in the House that entertains the subject, "Why Are Americans So Angry?" It is well worth reading.

Some insightful passages:
"No matter how noble the motivations of political leaders are, when they achieve positions of power the power itself inevitably becomes their driving force. Government officials too often yield to the temptations and corrupting influences of power.

But there are many others who are not bashful about using government power to do "good." They truly believe they can make the economy fair through a redistributive tax and spending system; make the people moral by regulating personal behavior and choices; and remake the world in our image using armies. They argue that the use of force to achieve good is legitimate and proper for government -- always speaking of the noble goals while ignoring the inevitable failures and evils caused by coercion.

Not only do they justify government force, they believe they have a moral obligation to do so."

"We are constantly told that the next terrorist attack could come at any moment. Rather than questioning why we might be attacked, this atmosphere of fear instead prompts giving up liberty and privacy. 9/11 has been conveniently used to generate the fear necessary to expand both our foreign intervention and domestic surveillance."

Emphasis added.

"Constitutional and moral restraints on war should be strictly followed. It is understandable when kings, dictators, and tyrants take their people into war, since it serves their selfish interests -- and those sent to fight have no say in the matter. It is more difficult to understand why democracies and democratic legislative bodies, which have a say over the issue of war, so readily submit to the executive branch of government. The determined effort of the authors of our Constitution to firmly place the power to declare war in the legislative branch has been ignored in the decades following WWII."

This and many more clear-headed observations are included in his remarks.

Monday, July 10, 2006

And The Band Plays On In The Green Zone

After the surprise visit last month by President Bush to Iraq's Green Zone, the news seemed to take on a positive note. The Iraqi cabinet and government was fully in place after many months of uncertainty, and Zarqawi was killed with the help of two 500-pound bombs.

Those were the good old days.

On the return trip home, the President said:
"I assured them that we'll keep our commitment," Bush said ... "I also made it clear to them that in order for us to keep our commitment and be successful, they themselves have to do some hard things. They themselves have to set an agenda. They themselves have to get some things accomplished."

One month later, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki is pleading with his country to avoid further bloodbaths like that which took place yesterday when 60 were murdered in and around Baghdad. From Reuters:
Maliki has vowed to disband militias, some tied to parties in his government, that are carving Baghdad into sectarian no-go areas. But he faces an uphill struggle as most, including the Mehdi Army, have powerful allies inside the ruling coalition.

Sectarian violence will not subside for quite a long while no matter the official pronouncements from the Executive's office.