Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Stuck on Stupid

Since returning to the CNN airwaves, Lou Dobbs has reinvented himself as something of an all-purpose pundit. No longer confining himself to only business matters, Mr. Dobbs now tackles all matters of subjects, offering opinions that range from conservative (he was one of the first to call for real border security) to liberal (check out this 2004 commentary on "outsourcing jobs) and sometimes, just plain stupid.

Unfortunately, Dobbs's latest effort falls in that latter category. He questions U.S. policies in the current crisis in the Middle East, resurrecting the tired talking point that the U.S. gives too much aid and support to Israel, while ignoring other countries in the region. The implication of course, is that anti-American sentiments in the Middle East are exacerbated by our alliance with Tel Aviv.

While the United States provides about $2.5 billion in military and economic aid to Israel each year, U.S. aid to Lebanon amounts to no more than $40 million. This despite the fact that the per capita GDP of Israel is among the highest in the world at $24,600, nearly four times as high as Lebanon's GDP per capita of $6,200.

Lebanon's lack of wealth is matched by the Palestinians -- three out of every four Palestinians live below the poverty line. Yet the vast majority of our giving in the region flows to Israel. This kind of geopolitical inconsistency and shortsightedness has contributed to the Arab-Israeli conflict that the Western world seems content to allow to perpetuate endlessly.


Let me get this straight. Following Dobbs's logic (or lack thereof), the U.S. could improve its posture in the area--and possibly, decrease the violence--by simply giving more aid to other Middle Eastern countries, and being more even-handed in our dealings across that troubled region.

It sounds nice, but there are more holes in Lou's argument that the proverbial block of Swiss cheese. Let's begin with his figures on foreign aid. True, Israel receives more U.S. aid dollars than any other country (roughly $2.7 billion a year), but he ignores the fact that the #2 ,#3 and #4 recipients of our foreign aid largesse are Muslim nations, Egypt, Afghanistan and Pakistan. In fact, 6 of the top 10 countries on the aid list are Muslim, or have a significant Muslim population. Add the combined receipts for these countries, and you'll find the aid total more than matches our annual allocation to Israel. Not that anyone should object; Egpyt, Afghanistan and Pakistan are key allies in the War on Terror, and the U.S. has important partnerships with other Muslim nations on the top 10 list.

Dobbs also ignores the fact that much of our aid to Israel is used for defense programs. He would probably argue that such aid is irresponsible, since Israeli weapons are being used to kill Lebanese and Palestinian civilians, thus perpetuating the constant cycle of violence. But he fails to mention that the U.S. has a vested interest in Israel's ability to defend itself. Some of the programs funded with American dollars are devoted to joint projects (namely missile defense) that can save American lives as well.

But most glaringly, Dobbs seems to believe that a more balanced approach will win friends and influence people in an always-voliatle region. Once again, the numbers disprove his claim. In the late 1990s, the Heritage Foundation compared the voting records of countries that received the most foreign aid from the U.S. Their study revealed that 74% of U.S. aid recipients voted against us a majority of the time in the U.N. Among the ten nations that received the most aid, six of those voted against the U.S. more than half the time. So much for buying friends.

Finally, there's the question of what exactly we would get for increased aid to Lebanon. The nation was dominated by Syria (a candidate member of the Axis of Evil) for more than 30 years, until the "Cedar Revolution" of 2005. Even today, Damascus exerts an inordinate influence on Lebanese affairs, so it's a good bet that increased aid for Lebanon would wind up in the hands of Syrian proxies, or (worse yet) factions aligned with their terrorist friends from Hizballah.

Dobbs also notes the suffering of the Palestinian people, most of whom live in poverty. Gee, Lou, do you think 40 years of corrupt leadership under Yasser Arafat had anything to do with that. His "widow" resides in opulence in Paris--wonder how many U.S. aid dollars were used to feather her nest? And, do you think that the "new" Hamas-led government would be a better steward of U.S. aid dollars?

Mr. Dobbs believes we're not very smart when it comes to our dealings in the Middle East. I disagree--in fact, when it comes to Mideast policy, it looks like CNN's general-purpose pundit is stuck on stupid.

***
If you want similar words of wisdom, hold your nose, and check out the latest offering from that closet anti-Semite, Patrick J. Buchanan.


7 comments:

cynical joe said...

Is the protection of Israelis worth the destruction of liberal proto-democratic Lebanon? I'm not saying thats the equation, I'm asking, if it comes down to that, are we ready to sign off on it. Its clear that Israel's attacks on infrastructure, in Beirut alone, will have Lebanon teetering on sliding back into the 80s and civil war. Ironically, Lebanon was supposed to be an example of the Administration's success in bringing democracy to the middle east and steering away from supporting corrupt compliant dictators. If the campaign to crush Hizzbollah, in fact unites Lebanese around Nasrallah, in defying the Israelis, what have Israel and America gained?

crosspatch said...

Dobbs works for CNN. He knows on which side his bread is buttered.

Wanderlust said...

cynical joe, your argument above forgets the fact that we are not "protecting" Israelis. Unless, of course, you mean "protecting" Israelis in the sense that John Bolton stood up to the recent silliness put forward by Kofi Annan regarding his "stop the violence" resolution, and vetoed it.

Israel is a sovereign nation, that has been attacked by forces that another sovereign nation - Lebanon - have allowed to operate in their midst, unchecked. One side may argue that the Lebanese government is so "proto-democratic" that it cannot root out a cancer in its midst (Hezbollah); and another side may argue that because the Lebanese government didn't attack Israel, why has Israel attacked Lebanon? Still others point to the civilians that have lost their lives in the fighting. Yet all those arguments, in their various flavors, are merely straw men.

You and others like you forget that Lebanese people have been active on the blogosphere lately, begging Israel to stay the course and finish what it started: the eradication of the cancer of Hezbollah from their country. The indiscriminate use of Lebanese civilians as human shields by Hezbollah has not stopped this word getting out.

Israel is not "[destroying the] liberal proto-democratic [nation of] Lebanon". Instead, Israel has been methodically closing a trap around Hezbollah, so that the cancer that wages war on Israel from within Lebanon can be eradicated. And it's about time.

We are not "signing off" on Lebanon's destruction. Israel was attacked on numerous occasions from forces within Lebanon, and Israel, as a member of the United Nations, has a right to defend its borders with all means at its disposal. I believe the resolutions by the UN to that effect even apply to Israel, despite the overwhelmingly obvious bias against Israel in that cockroach-infested building on Turtle Bay.

cynical joe said...

wanderlust:

I'm not unsympathetic to Israel's strategic situation. My concern is whether its possible to calibrate the destruction of infrastructure so finely that Hezbollah is destroyed but Lebanon lives. I'm confused as to why Israel is hammering Beirut so hard (including Lebanese army barracks) if the plan is for the Lebanese army is to eventually replace Hezbollah in the south. My worry is that this war will cause the moderates in Lebanon to flee, the remaining ones to radicalize and move towards Nasrallah and to be left with not just a failed state with a Hezbollah region, but rather a full-blown Hezbollah controlled Lebanon with a whole country that they then can use to attack Israel. Then, it'll be Hezbollah with strategic depth, Syria will be back controlling Lebanon and America's interests in the region will be negatively impacted.

kitty said...

It's CNN. Need I say more?

eatyourbeans said...

Israel is our North Korea; if, say, they were to go nuts and nuke Tehran, we should act just like China does: tut-tut-naughty-naughty...(psssst! good going, jews!)

Down the road, I can't think there can be peace and quiet in the middle east until the oil-needy nations, which comprise several billion people, decide enough is enough, and form a condominium to firmly administer and equitably share the region's energy deposits.

baddog46 said...

A lot of this is how far back you peel the onion.

Lebanon as a nation-state was created in 1943. Before that it was part of Greater Syria. So, Syria has always considered Lebanon to be part of Syria and not a nation-state.

In 1982, when Israel invaded Lebanon the largely Shiite Lebanese population initially welcomed the Israelis for liberating them from the PLO oppression. It was only after occupation became onerous that the cycle of terrorist attack beggeting the bulldozing of houses began.

At the time, Amal was the dominant Shiite party/militia. The other dominant representative elements included the Progressive Socialist Party (PSP) led by Walid Jumblatt (Druze), Al Morabitoun (Sunni), and the Phalangist (Marounite Christian led by the Gemayel family). Disatisfaction with the direction of Amal led to the formation of Hezbollah.

American response to the embassy bommbings, the Marine Barracks, kidnapping of William Buckly, encouraged Hezbollah to grow. (Peel it back further to 1980 and the Iranian revolution and hosistage crisis). IGRC and MOIS set up training camps in the Bekaa valley (where you will still see Hezbollah flags and pictures of Iranian clerics, not Lebanese flags or pictures of Lebanese politicians (other than Nisrallah.)

I could go on and on. I spent some time there in 1984 as an SF guy.