Friday, July 14, 2006

Another historical analogy: 1973 Mideast War/2006 Mideast War

Billmon advances it:
Punching Above Its Weight

Three days in, and it looks like Israel is losing the war.

Not militarily, of course -- The IDF could turn Lebanon into a parking lot if it wanted to, and if it's willing to take enough casualties it can probably push Hezbollah away from the Israeli border and suppress the rocket attacks (or at least most of them.)

No, Israel is losing this war the same way it "lost" the October 1973 War -- by not crushing its enemies swiftly and completely, and then rubbing their faces in their own impotence and humilation.

Just the opposite: Today it was Israel that suffered the humilation of nearly losing one of its missile frigates to a warhead-carrying Hezbollah drone -- a threat the IDF apparently didn't even know existed.

An explosives-laden drone, apparently launched by Hezbollah, hit an Israel Navy warship off the coast of Beirut, causing serious damage to its steering capability . . . Several hours after the vessel was hit, an Israel Defense Forces spokeswoman said the damage was worse than originally thought. She added that the ship, still burning, was being towed back to Israel.
Ragtag guerrilla forces aren't supposed to be able to sink ships of the line -- just as they aren't supposed to be able to penetrate a fortified border, ambush an Israeli Army patrol and kill or capture the lot. Nor should they be able to launch ballistic missiles with a range of 40 miles or better. But the IDF now thinks they can:

Until recently, Hezbollah rockets were believed to have limited range and effectiveness. But after Haifa was hit on Wednesday, Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Dan Halutz said the group's more advanced missiles could fly more than 40 miles, a range that could endanger more Israelis.
Forty miles gets you to Hadera -- about half way to Tel Aviv. "(read the rest)

I think that it's a bit too early to make such sweeping generalizations and forecasts. In any case, the Nixon Administration ended up taking advantage of what amounted to an Israeli military victory (including crossing the Suez) in 1973 to press for Egyptian-American detente, and eventually for a series of Israeli-Egyptian agreements. I see the recent events as another outcome of Bush's revolutionary agenda in the Middle East -- the toppling of Saddam and the victory of the pro-Iran Shiites in Baghdad, the election of Hamas in Palestine, the strengthening of Hizbollah in Lebanon in the aftermath of the Cedar Revolution -- which is probably going to produce more political changes and regional realignments in the Middle East. At this stage I see Iran concluding that it can shift the balance of power in the region by using its proxy in Lebanon to deliver a blow to America's proxy, Israel. To regain the upper-end a la 1973 crossing of Suez, Israel needs to deliver a major blow to Hamas by destorying all its bases and infrastructure in southern Lebanon and killing its top leaders. I agree with Billmom that that could be very costly operations (Israel seems to have lost its advantage in intelligence gathering). U.S. backing for a long and bloody campaign in Lebanon could create splits with the Europeans and endanger the strategy towards Iran. But Bush brought all of this on himself. He helped Iran to enhance its position in the Middle East and if he doesn't counter-balance Iran in one way of another, U.S. status in the Middle East will be weakened in a very dramatic way.

On Mideast Mess and Invite to Book Forum

I was sitting down to write something about the topic (and it's starting to feel a bit undignified making once again the same point, that "I've told you so"). But then I read E. J. Dionne's Big Bang Theory In Ruins in the Washington Post who has basically written the commentary for me. So now I can go to the pool... Here is Dionne's item with some added comments by moi (in bold):
The most intellectually honest case for the war in Iraq was never about Saddam Hussein's alleged stockpiling of weapons of mass destruction. It was the Big Bang Theory. [why do social scientists like to compare themselves to real scientists?)
Not to be confused with theories about the origins of the universe, the Middle East Big Bang idea was simple and seductive. [simple, yes; not very seductive] Unlike other arguments for the war, it was based on some facts, though also [almost all] on some wishful thinking. The point was that the Middle East was a mess. A nest of authoritarian regimes bred opposition movements rebelling against the conditions under which too many people lived and energized by a radical Islamist ideology. Some of them turned to terror. In this bog of failure, moderate Muslims were powerless. They were frequently jailed or killed. [That's all true. But much of the mess was also the product of U.S. intervention in the Middle East, including Gulf War I, as well as the Arab-Israeli conflic]
The situation's hopelessness argued for a hard shove from the United States to create a new dynamic. [Yep, hard shove from the U.S., like installing the Shah in Iran, I suppose] Installing a democratic government in Iraq would force a new dawn. Newly empowered Muslim democrats would reform their societies, negotiate peace with Israel and get on with the business of building prosperous, middle-class societies. [and, yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus]
It was a beautiful dream,[I prefer the one with me and Scarlett Johansson] and even when the administration was asserting things that turned out not to be true, it held the dream out there for all to contemplate.
Consider Vice President Cheney's address before the Veterans of Foreign Wars on Aug. 26, 2002, one of the earliest major public arguments the administration made for war. The lead of the news stories was Cheney's claim that there was "no doubt" [I love when he does that thing with his neck turning] that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and was prepared to use them. "The risks of inaction are far greater than the risk of action," Cheney declared.
But then there was the delightful promise of what American success in Iraq could achieve. "Extremists in the region would have to rethink their strategy of jihad," Cheney said. "Moderates throughout the region would take heart, and our ability to advance the Israeli-Palestinian peace process would be enhanced." [The road from Baghdad leads to Jerusalem...]
Today, with Israeli troops battling on their northern and southern borders, with Iran ignoring calls for negotiations on nuclear weapons, with Baghdad in flames and with many of Iraq's moderates living in fear, those Cheney sentences stand as the most telling indictment of the administration's failures.
If Israelis and Palestinians were closer to peace, if Iraqi democracy showed signs of stability [If my grandmother had wheels, she would be a horse-carriage; old Russian proverb] -- these might justify a war fought in part on the basis of false premises.
But when the Big Bang happened, the wreckage left behind took the form of reduced American influence, American armed forces stretched to their limit and a Middle East more dangerously unstable than it was at the beginning of 2003. Whether one ascribes these troubles to the flawed implementation of the Big Bang Theory or to the theory itself, what matters now is how to limit and, if possible, undo some of the damage. [Add here that both the Ceder Revolution that helped strengthen the political power of the Shiites in Lebanon and the election in Palestine that brought Hamas to power have been products of Bush's democracy vision in the Mideast]
That is what the American debate should be about, but those in charge of Republican campaigns this year have another idea. They have hit upon the brilliant strategy of pushing any serious discussion of the failure of American foreign policy past Election Day. For the next 3 1/2 months, they want the choice before the voters to be binary: staying the course and being "tough," or breaking with President Bush's policy and being "soft." There are just two options on the ballot, they say: firmness or "cut and run."
If I were a Republican strategist, I'd probably do the same thing. But Democrats (and, yes, the media) risk playing into Republican hands if they fail to force a discussion of the administration's larger failures or let the debate focus narrowly on exactly what date we should set for getting out of Iraq.
The case for reducing our commitment to Iraq in the interest of other and larger foreign policy purposes -- has anyone noticed the growing mess in Afghanistan? -- is built on a compelling proposition: that the administration made a huge bet on Iraq and it lost. American voters can decide to keep the gamble going, to risk more lives and money, and hope that something turns up. Or they can decide that this gamble will never deliver the winnings that those who took it on our behalf promised.
By late November of this year, the United States will have been at war in Iraq for as long as we were involved in World War II. Under those circumstances, the burden of proof should not be on those who argue for changing what we're doing. It should be on those who set a failed policy in motion and keep promising, despite the evidence, that it will somehow pay off if only we "stay the course." [But it won't]
And for those of you who will be in Washington, DC, you're all invited:
Sandstorm: Policy Failure in the Middle East(Palgrave Macmillan, 2005BOOK FORUM
Thursday, July 27, 2006
12:00 PM (Luncheon to Follow)register here.

Featuring the author Leon Hadar, Research Fellow in Foreign Policy Studies, Cato Institute; with comments by Jim Pinkerton, Columnist, Newsday, and analyst, FOX News; and Geoffrey Kemp, Director of Regional Strategic Programs, the Nixon Center, and Senior Director for Near East and South Asian Affairs, National Security Council (1983–1985).

The Cato Institute
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Against the backdrop of the war in Iraq, the nuclear crisis with Iran, and the deadlocked Israeli-Palestinian peace process, there is a growing sense that U.S. policy in the Middle East has failed to advance American national interests. In his book, Sandstorm: Policy Failure in the Middle East, Cato Research Fellow Leon Hadar surveys the historical evolution of what he calls the U.S. “Middle East Paradigm” and concludes that its costs have outweighed its benefits. Hadar argues instead for a policy of "constructive disengagement" from the Middle East, whereby the United States would transfer greater responsibility for security in the area to other global players while encouraging the formation of regional security institutions.

Cato events, unless otherwise noted, are free of charge. To register for this event, please fill out the form below and click submit or email, fax (202) 371-0841, or call (202) 789-5229 by 12:00 noon, Wednesday, July 26, 2006. Please arrive early. Seating is limited and not guaranteed. News media inquiries only (no registrations), please call (202) 789-5200.

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Finally, in case you've missed my recent commentary, Israel's Failed Strategy: The Writing Is on the Wall: Without a political solution, expect more violence in the Holy Land.