What should the United States Do?

(I have also posted the article below at my space at Newsvine). The topic for debate this week on the Creative Syria Think Tank is, so far, only Murhaf Joueijati and I have sent contributions, but there should be more to come soon. My contribution is posted below, and can also be accessed here, for those interested in voting.

What should the United States and the other relevant regional powers do to stop the bloodshed in Lebanon.

Before we answer this question, I think it is relevant to ask ourselves how we got to where we are in the first place. So,…

While Israeli actions in Lebanon are outrageous, and while, for the sake of national unity, many Lebanese are tempted to avoid assigning blame, in reality, it is in no one’s best interest, neither Lebanon’s nor Syria’s nor the Arab world’s, to forget or ignore how we got embroiled into this conflict in the first place, and what the hallmarks of the overall geopolitical context in which the war is taking place are.

In other words, we cannot afford to forget about Hezbollah’s and Hamas’ provocation, although and in the latter case, the Israelis have done their fair share of provocation as well. Still, clearly, the popular mandate that Hamas had received, judging by the various polls conducted at the time, was not meant to help it conduct war again Israel but one that focused on improving the living conditions of the Palestinian people. Radical elements within Hamas, led by Khaled Meshaal from his headquarter in Damascus and in direct coordination with the Assads regime, worked diligently over the last few weeks to push a more confrontational agenda, and managed to score a major “hit” when their supporters managed to nap an Israeli soldier a couple of weeks ago, setting the scene for Hezbollah’s own operation and the current crisis.

We should also bear in mind here not only the ongoing probe into the assassination of former Lebanese PM, Rafic Hariri, but the alliance that was formed not too long ago, in Damascus during the visit of the Iranian President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, between Syria, Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas and other radical Palestinian groups. Each of these regimes and movements has a group of internal and external problems that it seeks to evade through generating a crisis that can allow it to appeal to national sentiments and mobilize the people behind it.

In Iran, there is an ongoing conflict between the reformers and the conservatives, and a dispute with the international community over the nuclear issue, with the international community, for all its internecine disagreements, being deadest against allowing Iran to develop its nuclear potential.

In Syria, there seems to be a power struggle within the ranks of the ruling family, as well as a growing pressure for internal reforms. But the more serious threat to the regime is posed by the ongoing probe into the Hariri assassination, among other assassinations in Lebanon, and where Syrian duplicity is all but assured. Investigators are only trying to determine how high up the ladder does Syrian involvement go.

For Hezbollah, the issue seems to relate to Shia concerns and Nasrallah’s personal ambitions and the struggle for imposing a new political arrangement on the other communities in the country.

As for Hamas, and we have noted, there is an ongoing battle within Hamas between those who want to focus on internal issues, and those who are pushing for a more direct confrontation with Israel. Moreover, the competition with Fatah is also something that needs to be factored into our calculations.

Each side, then, had its own reasons and had its own agitators for picking a fight with Israel. The only problem is that they seem to have gotten more than they have bargained for.

For countries like the United States and Israel plan for all possibilities and have all different sorts of contingency plans, both diplomatic and militaristic. Having to implement your policies with an eye on your approval ratings, and with an ear to the various debates taking place in the parliament, in the various think tanks and in the media, creates much pressure on the politicians on these countries. This state of affairs serves primarily as a check on the ability of these countries’ leaders to just do what they want and what they think is right. But it also affords them a certain amount of flexibility, as they always tend to have contingency plans, or such plans can quickly be prepared by a new administration.

Because they are not democratic institutions, and because they are not operating in a democratic setting, and because of the private interests and corruption schemes of many of the figures involved, policies envisioned by the leaders of Syria, Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas are anything but flexible and anything but representative of the wider interests of the peoples involved. Only the interests of the ruling elite and their narrow interpretations of the situation tend to figure here. This limits their ability to act and all but drive them into lapsing back on confrontational policies. Their leadership style is more about gambling than planning, and when their gambles fail, the people lose.

The quartet made up of Ahmadinejad, Assad, Nasrallah and Meshaal are leading us into another defeat at the hands of Israel, by enacting a very old scenario. Israeli losses might be greater than they used to, but our losses, both in human and material senses, will be much higher. Faced with these realities, we cannot but wonder, is it all worth it? And what are we exactly fighting for?

So, what should the US do about all this?

No one in the Arab Street is going to think straight about any of the issues raised above, which, I believe, are quite critical to the future of the region, to the tunes of Israeli bomb strikes on Lebanese soil, hopes, sovereignty and children. So, stopping the violence is something that needs to be done and soon. Had the US combined a strong condemnation of the current Israeli action with a condemnation of Hezbollah’s provocation, Syrian facilitation and Iranian encouragement, the Arab Street, not to mention the Iranian one, might have been in somewhat more receptive to the need of containing the rogues actors and players in the region.

Still, it is not too late for that. The US can still assume such a tone now. The very expensive Israel message has been delivered. Considering the nature of Lebanese society, Hezbollah’s appeal, all talk of resistance aside for now, will be drastically reduced, as people begin to face the awesome task of having to rebuild everything again, with no figure like Hariri insight. Saad simply lacks the experience and the aura, and Nasarllah has always been too much of a sectarian character to have the necessary cross-sectarian appeal, and now, his credentials have been severely undermined and his reputation tarnished forever. The justification for this act of mayhem has, therefore, been nullified. The violence can and should stop.

25 thoughts on “What should the United States Do?

  1. I almost always agree with Ammar…this time well about 80%.Part of Iran’s policy has always been violent opposition to any peace process. Funny…of all the Moslem countries…Israel had never had a hassel with Persia and Cyrus is even a hero in the Old Testement. Why does Iran want this fight. Oh yeah..because they LOVE their Muslim brothers…esp. Sunni’s, Sufi’s, Saudi’s, Iraqis, Baharinians and Bahai’s oh..and Darfurians. In fact, they just, in general, love Arabs. So..oh geez…what a surprise..Lebanon is being used again. Israel’s reponse. I know I will catch hell here, but it has been measured. Rockets are RAINING down by the hundreds almost all directed at purely civilian targets. People are being killed and wounded. By Lebanon’s own count, about 335 people there have died, some civilians. However, unlike Hizbuallah…civilians are NOT the target, if they were, with Israel’s might, the damage to civilian life would already be incomprehensible. Israel’s goal…stop shooting rockets randomly into our towns, stop blowing yourselves up in our ice cream palors and schools and busses and stop supporting the people that do these things and quite with the threats that you are going to destroy us. Is Israel without fault? No! Especially extending 1982 beyond pushing the murderous PLO back past the Latani. STUPID and arrogant. But nope…folks in these places cannot randomly be murdering and threatening without a response. Has Israel attacked Jordan? Nope.Egypt? Nope. Peace treaties have been respected. But try to kill us and yes…we do get a bit upset.

  2. I’ve never met or heard from any individual Syrians on the issue so this was interesting to read. Our media-and President-pretty much write off Syria (and Iran) when the reality is we know nothing truly about one another. I wish someone would come to our rescue here in the US. All this focus with Israel is detracting from the reality that we have an American President who needs to be tried for war crimes against humanity. Praying for peace in your region of the world. I lived in Israel and will never give up the belief that peace can be achieved if we don’t allow the fundamentalists on ALL sides to run everything. All of Israel and Hez’s actions are based in fear and the unwillingness to truly move towards peace.

  3. To stop the pain by applying a band aid when the wound is left to fester and inflame again is not a rational solution. Reason dictates that the root cause of any situation must be addressed if we are to expect permanent relief. In this case taking the appropriate action to deal with HA and Hamas are well overdue.

  4. Israel’s response is “measured”? …What does it matter if “only” 335 people are actually killed ….if thousands upon thousands are displaced while their homes and towns are destroyed. Is how you measure the damage only equivalent to deaths?… death is bad enough, but take a look at those pictures…. of total devastation.And as for the “root cause”… how far back do you want to go….just to say that Hezbollah fired the opening shot?….Hezbollah wouldn’t exist if Israel hadn’t been occupying for 18 years. And Hezbollah is also a result of the resentment of the impoverished and marginized Shiite of Lebanon, a social reality that can also be traced to oppression and domination internally.Neither would Hamas exist but for occupation. In fact, Israel helped bring about the emergence of Hamas. How’s that for irony.This began with issues of land and occupation, and it will only ever end with a recognition and restitution based on occupation and land.It doesn’t matter how punishing the great military powers behave in endless trying to avoid this reality.The fact that the arab leadership everywhere has exploited these realities for their own benefit, ….harnessing all the resulting rage to serve their self interests and leverage more power… STILL DOESN’T CHANGE THE REALITY. And the reason you didn’t answer the question, Ammar, is because there is no answer except for the US to go courting Syria… something that will make your stomach turn. But the question is: doesn’t the destruction and devastation taking place make your stomach turn too?

  5. Zen-Yep…Israel’s response is very measured. I agree…Hezbuallah..partially is there because of Israel. They are also there because they did not like the Lebanon gov. nor did they like the Palestinians.Arab rage…yeah no shortage there…plenty of Arab rage. Arabs killed about 200,000 people in Darfur…Moslems by the way…is that too part of Arab rage. Restitution…OK…I will agree to restitution…fair enough. Let’s start with the Iraqi Jews shall we? My wife’s family lost everything and several relatives were murdered in cold blood. Crime? Ah…being Jewish. And I still don’t agree about there having been a Palestinian people. Before, say, 1840, can you name me a Palestinian writerj, poet, scientist, ah..famous major ah? Look were there people there when Jews started to return…yes there were…Christians, Moslems and Jews. Were the Jews then considered Palestinians? Round and round we go…and what is the bottom line?There is a problem and it is primarily caused and sustained by ARABS. A small problem became a huge problem…nobody had to be displaced, nobody had to go to war…but this was the ARABS choice. And the Arabs have taken this path again and again. And not only in Israel. And once again…Israel’s counterattack has been very measured. Oh and displaced….how about thousands of Israeli’s, including Arabs that have been forced from THEIR homes by these slaves of Iran launching their random rockets into civilian areas? You used the word racist. You are the racist…because Jewish blood and Jewish loss and Jewish displacement is a good thing.Arab rage my ass.

  6. Zenobia, You are free to absolve HA from the direct responsibility of this tragic and painful conflict by going back 18 years to argue that there were conditions that led to the creation of HA. So. There were reasons that led to the creation of Nazis, Fascists, Stalin, Pol pot … It is not productive to either deny or even minimize the responsibility of the direct spark that ignites a maelstorm. The fact of the matter is that the current devastation in Lebanon was ignited by Nasrallah in coordination with his Iranian masters and the Syrian Bs’sth. HA would not have dared to embark on this “adventure” without the full knowledge of those that have funded and trained HA and without the knowledge of the Syrian regime. I would not be surprised in the least to learn at some time in the future that the Israelis have actually fallen into the trap set up for them by Tehran, Damascus and HA. This is a war that HA wanted and that only the Lebanese can end by reigning in HA once and for all. An imposed cease fire by the US and others will stop the killings momentarily but will not be effective if it does not take measures that will at least prevent the sparks to emminate from the same cause that started them 12 days ago.

  7. hmm… you are starting to show a little rage yourself, Howie….and about your ass,,,,well, it is leaking…..round and round we go….yes, indeed. I have no problem with Jewish people, Howie. I am an american from New England. I grew up with jewish people. (see, I can play that “some of my best friends are X “- fill in whatever group of choice)My complaint is with Israel’s actions, as is it also the complaint of many american jews. so let us not discuss it anymore, because as we go on….your colors are starting to show, and you just keep doing yourself in with some choice statements…. such as:There is a problem and it is primarily caused and sustained by ARABS. A small problem became a huge problem…nobody had to be displaced, nobody had to go to war…but this was the ARABS choice. And the Arabs have taken this path again and again.I mean what exactly is your explanation for this… PROBLEM? since the only defining designator is “ARABS”…. the essentialist nature of arabs???? Maybe you need to have a few more dinners with those egyptians, lebanese, better make Syrian – ARABS, and perhaps you will hear the way you sound……..

  8. Zenobia Said: “And the reason you didn’t answer the question, Ammar, is because there is no answer except for the US to go courting Syria… something that will make your stomach turn. But the question is: doesn’t the destruction and devastation taking place make your stomach turn too?” Indeed it does Zenobia but as Ghassan pointed out, this is exactly why we have this mayhem, so the US can go and talk to the Assads and the mullahs. We are fodder to these people, we are just pawns, and nothing more. That is the sum total of our value. The oppression that the Arab people are suffering from is multilayered, and our first line of oppression is our rulers, in both, the patriarchal and political sense. We have to rebel.

  9. Ghassan,I in no way absolve Hezbollah for the situation. They did something terrifically stupid and awful. They deserve a lot of blame for what has happened.That said, my only complaint is with the statement by so many that the “root causes” must be addressed…..and then the idea that this is simply limited to Hezbollah’s arms. And they just have to be “reigned in”. Fine, if you could just do that,,,,but that is impossible. And nothing will be different until the dynamics of the Lebanese society are addressed.to quote PhilipI from the comments on the prior post: “What Lebanon NEEDS (rather than wants) is social justice. The Shia were oppressed and marginilised for centuries. So they have managed to get some redress with the help of the Iranians in the last 25 years. Never mind that the Syrians are using them as proxy fighters. They are now fighting for their own survival, as did the Maronites and Druzes and palestinians before them.And yes, of course, Nasrallah, and HA leaders are also out for maintaining their own stature. Granted, but this does not mean there is no legitimate complaint for which they claim to be an answer(as i keep emphasizing).So the matter is not so simple as bringing the military to suppress them. Hezbollah is not just a militia dwelling in a civilian area. They are also civilians of Lebanon. And 40% of the population support them.. therefore….a social solution must be found. That is why i stated before the the beginning and the end of all struggle will always be about RIGHTS , AND LAND, AND IDENTITY, AND OPPRESSION, AND ASSERTION. And any solution has to take these things into account.

  10. Ammar:I think that the US should begin diplomatic talks with Syria and Iran, even though Condi Rice is claiming she will not negotiate with terrorists.I also think that leaving the job half done in Lebanon is worse than doing nothing. Also, Alan Dershowitz wrote a great column questioning the concept of the “civilian.”Must read.http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/la-oe-dershowitz22jul22,0,7685210.story?coll=la-opinion-rightrailOverall: great blog! This is why I link to you on my blog. 🙂

  11. Great blog!But: what’s the exact goal for the current actions, Israeli & American? And from the other side: What’s the alternative you’re proposing to Israel?

  12. thanks for turning off the music, it crashed several browsers.the solution is easy for the usa:do nothing.allow israel to be the bad guy and destroy the military wing of hezbollahwhile this is happening, rebels in syria should be starting to blow up power transformers, start shooting at baathist group leaders and all around mayheim.while this is happening in iran, ethnic arabs should start blowing up iranian oil platforms

  13. oh i forgot, it’s time for the arab masses to choose…either support their nazi-like leaders or kill themdont let assad off the hook…it is time to fight from within

  14. One fundamental issue that I have with the whole discussion of these events is the concept that if Israel just released some prisoners or got out of Sheeba farms, Hezbollah would stop attacking Israel.I think only someone who is either extreemly naive or disengenous would make such a claim. Hezbollah wants to continue fighting and will find or create any pretexts to do so. Sheeba farms is clearly such a pretext.I also think that the Arab street also in it’s heart of hearts wants to keep fighting Israel for the sake of dignity and Arab honor. The same might be said of the Iranian mullahs.We can talk all we want to but the above realities are not going to go away anytime soon.

  15. “The very expensive Israel message has been delivered.”___I think you are completely misunderstanding what Israel is doing. This is not about “sending messages” (nobody is listening), nor about “punishing” Lebanon. The operation is to destroy the bunkers and tunnels under the Israel-Lebanon border, the rocket launching sites and the rockets, and to prevent any reconstruction or replacement of either tunnels or rockets.____Those aims are nowhere near to being accomplished. I think fighting their way into Hizbollah territory to destroy the tunnels will prove to be very difficult.

  16. Howie,You want to know the root cause of most problems?Racism + RevengeIf you do not value human life for non jews, and if you are driven by need for revenge, then all it takes is one attack from the other side to ensure violence and counter violence goes on for ever.Sadly, I dont see today in Israel the likes of this leader, or this leaderIf you did not kill Prime minister Rabin, we would have had peace with you.Instead, since then you elected this type of racist foolish agressive “leaders” … and when the Syrian president last year told the NY Times that he wants to start peace talks with Israel without any conditions, reaction from Israel (leaders and people) was: “Syria is too weak, why should we bother talking to them”Well … now it is your chance to enjoy the infinite destructive power of the Israeli killing machine.Then what?

  17. While finishing the “job” with regard to Hezbollah might make some tactical and strategic sense, the cost of that for Lebanon and its people, in both human and material terms, is simply too great. I cannot in all honesty advocate going all the way knowing what and h much is at stake. But then, if Hezbollah should emerge intact, perhaps the situation will be even worse. What the lesser of the two evils is in this situation is hard to tell. Imagine my dilemma when Syria itself should come under fire, which may not be long now. These things tend to spiral our of control.

  18. Alex-You could not be further from the truth.Racism? Racism is a belief that race dictates behavoir. I have never met a Jew that believes somehow, say Arabs, are born with an inherent tendency to do anything. Is there something really screwy about many of their values and the culure…yes. But that has nothing to do with inborn racial characterists. People through out the racism word, typcially, when they have no arguement. Like Zeno…who called me names…but NEVER answered my questions.Revenge…yes that is partially true…but revenge as a deterent.Look at just one thing here if you can open your mind a touch. Hizbuallah admits to having 12-15 thousand Katushyas. These rockets have NO military value. Why have they put such a huge emphasis on collecting them? Well…you can easily see that. Revenge and terror…it is the ONLY thing they can be used for.Yes…a right winger killed Rabin and no…he would have never brought peace because all he had to work with was a terrorist named Yasser Arafat…another marvelous Arab leader…the Egyptian that pretended to be a Palestinian…Nobel Peace winner. Anyhow…sacrasm aside…there is not peace…because there is nobody to make peace with. Arafat himself threatened to murder the mayor of Bethlehem for suggesting the idea of peace. I believe many Arabs want peace…thing is…y’all tend to murder those that try.Where is Anwar Sadat these days?

  19. dear Howie: what name did i call you in my last comment…or even the one before????truly… i don’t see it? i question your attitudes…. so what…. but obviously you have some image of yourself…that you are desperate to defend. As well, you can’t even admit that there are also Israelis who are racist or at least bigoted (which is what i said your statements conveyed).BTW, People also use the word “terrorist” when they have no argument.Frankly, you are the one who feels it is ok…to mess with my name (Zen, Zeno etc) My name is ZENOBIA. So, why don’t you stop referring to me at all…I am not interested in your “questions”…and i am not here..to answer them.

  20. Ammar,Interesting argument, indeed: the nature of the regimes in Syria and Iran, HA action not representing the people, lack of planning on these fronts….I won’t go into detailed discussion of all the points, even though I have major reservations on many of them. My question would concentrate on the issue of the regimes reflecting their people’s interests. IF the Arab world was an oasis of democracy at which the desire of the people are cared for by the rulers; where would the Arab Israeli conflict head? I would stand with the argument that Arabs should have a ‘truce’ with Israel – which can be through a peace deal- until these countries have the intellectual and economical capability to fight Israel. How many people in the Arab would you believe will share my view? How many of them are supportive of the need to go into war against Israel? Where would the increasingly religious –not fundamentalist- young people in some of these countries stand from war or peace question? How many Egyptians would request the peace agreement to be abolished?The reactions to this crisis brought to surface a lot of criticism on many intellectual fronts about the “naivety” of the common people in the Arab countries. Well, isn’t democracy our goal for the region? What do you do if these “naïve” people are in power?Please don’t this as an argumentative comment; maybe we can call it: exploratory.Regards,Mazen

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