This blog has been a long-time supporter of the Bush Administration, and its efforts to fight terrorism around the globe. We've defended Mr. Bush and his national security team on numerous occasions, recognizing their willingness to tackle the hard jobs of defeating global terrorism and promoting democracy in the Middle East. Accomplishing those goals takes time and considerable patience, and we've been willng to give the White House the benefit of the doubt in pursuing those necessary aims.
But even our support has its limits, and we've been deeply disturbed by the administration's recent handling of the Lebanon crisis, and its analysis of the conflict between Israel and Hizballah. On Monday, for example, Mr. Bush announced that the Israelis had "defeated" the terrorists, without qualifying his remarks. The President's remarks suggested that the IDF had achieved a decisive victory over Hizballah, despite ample evidence to the contrary. What Mr. Bush should have said is that Israel met many of its operational and tactical goals, inflicting severe losses on terrorist forces in south Lebanon. That may sound like Clintonian parsing--and it probably is--but it would be a more accurate assessment than the President's "blanket" victory statement. In reality, Hizballah gained a strategic victory simply by going toe-to-toe with the region's most powerful military for more than a month, and will emerge from the conflict with greater influence than ever in Lebanon and beyond.
If that weren't bad enough, Secretary of State Condolezza Rice followed Mr. Bush's remarks with a rather astounding statement of her own. In an interview with USA Today, the secretary stated that it is "not the job" of the U.N. peacekeeping force to disarm Hizballah guerillas in south Lebanon. Dr. Rice also opined that the 15,000-member U.N. force "will keep the peace" and enforce an international arms embargo against the terrorists."
Say what? Secretary Rice has clearly been spending too much time with our European partners, because such inane comments are worthy of the French foreign minister, or perhaps, his German counterpart. In the span of less than two weeks, the U.S. Secretary of State has signed on to a "cease fire" that jeopardizes Israeli security, and endorsed a peace-keeping plan that ignores the fundamental requirement of disarming Hizballah.
Attempting to explain her position, Dr. Rice noted the difficulty of "disarming" a militia. If Hizballah resists calls to disarm, the secretary suggested that the arms embargo and international pressure could produce the desired effect. She even suggested that the terrorist group would find itself "increasingly isolated" from European and other nations, if it fails to lay down its arms.
Excuse me for a moment.
This is a joke, right? Does Secretary Rice actually believe that a more "robust" peacekeeping force will be any more successful at keeping the peace than its predecessor, which allowed Hizballah to camp next to U.N. positions in south Lebanon? Does she really believe that a terrorist group will voluntarily give up its arms, just to make the Europeans happy? Does she think the presence of Lebanese Army will make a difference? Never mind the fact that Lebanon's vaunted fighting force hasn't been in the area in more than a decade, and it represents a government that includes Hizballah ministers and is heavily influenced by the group. And finally, just for grins, does our Secretary of State believe that anything short of military action can actually stop the flow of arms from Iran and Syria, to the terrorists in Lebanon?
Obviously, the U.S. had hoped that Israel could defeat Hizballah quickly and decisively. That didn't happen, forcing Mr. Bush and Dr. Rice to put the best face on a bad situation. But if the United States government views the current cease fire and "disarmament" plan as an effective policy to deal with a major crises, then the smart boys and girls at the White House and Foggy Bottom are sadly mistaken. Admittedly, the Bush Administration couldn't support indefinite Israeli military operations in Lebanon, but forcing Israel into an ill-conceived "cease fire" and endorsing a fatally flawed security plan suggests that the Bush Administration may be losing its mettle, at the very time that courage and determination are needed in international policy, perhaps more than ever before.