Saturday, July 29, 2006

The Risk of Escalation Ahead

Huffington Post
Tom Hayden
The Risk of Escalation Ahead

What is at stake in Lebanon is the realignment of global power. The United States and Israel, having proclaimed themselves as "superpowers", are finding it difficult to deliver against a militia of a few thousand fighters. They may not be facing the fate of Gulliver among the Lilliputians, but they are trapped by the necessity to accomodate a multi-polar world.

A self-defined superpower involves a racism, or sense of superiority, that absolutely interferes with the capacity to make accurate assessments. It also creates an impossibility of backing down to anything less than "superpower" status.

Examples abound. Israel claims it will break the will, crush, and destroy Hezbollah, but after fifteen days Hezbollah can strike Israel with one hundred rockets per day. Israel claims it has seized a town in southern Lebanon, only to admit the following day that eight Israelis were killed, twenty injured, and the site is far from secure. Etcetera and etcetera.

As Israel keeps bombing and as Democrats and Republicans fall over themselves to endorse and subsidize the Israel army, approximately one million Israelis are sweltering in underground shelters. The American people are living nonchalantly on borrowed time, as al-Qaeda, the Madhi Army and other militias swear revenge.

The brief superpower dream, enunciated by Sen. Joe Biden, that America might lead a Sunni revolt against the Shiites across the Middle East, has been punctured in a matter of days. No one can unite the confessional factions across the Middle East better than Israel, the neo-conservatives and the prophets of Armageddon.

For the best interests of both Israelis and Americans, the peace movement must be demanding an immediate cease-fire, a negotiated prisoner release, the redefinition of a US role as honest broker, and concrete and immediate steps towards an independent Palestinian state. An international peace-keeping force is inconceivable except in a package including these elements.

But how can this be done? Even a modest peace movement can succeed, if it rides upon the dynamics of this war. As the quagmire only deepens, world opinion will turn harder against the US and Israel. Eventually, some Israelis will realize that a historic miscalculation has occurred. More and more Americans will turn away from what appears to be a lost cause.

It is possible, of course, that the US and Israel can snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. If they somehow are able to assassinate Hassan Nazrallah, for example, the US and Israel will experience a powerful rise in public enthusiasm, at least briefly. It also is possible that Hezbollah, which has far fewer resources than the West, can be exhausted over the course of weeks, months, years. The jihadists are limited, too, especially in Lebanon with its sectarian disunities.

But the more likely scenario, unfolding with each day, is a deepening quagmire. Like any of the superpowers described in Barbara Tuchman's book March to Folly, Israel is responding to its folly simply by intensifying the same flawed approaches. These can range from more ground troops in southern Lebanon to an even greater escalation.

The more deeply Israel enters Lebanon, the more Hezbollah will make good on its threats to escalate. Besides trapping the Israelis in ground ambushes, Hezbollah already has made good on its threat to stike "after Haifa". After waiting for any results of the Rome diplomatic conference, Nazrallah's forces struck thirty kilometers deeper than Haifa today.

Everyone must understand that the next target may be Tel Aviv.

And then what? If Hezbollah hits Tel Aviv with a missile made or shipped from Iran or Syria, Israel will have the pretext to bomb those countries. This would seem to be leading to a military catastrophe for the US and Israel, but some believe this is the desperate last gamble, the so-called one percent strategy, of the American neo-conservatives.

The irrationality of this approach is revealed by the wholly unexpected eruption of contradictions between the US and its client prime minister in Baghdad, who is a sworn ally of Hezbollah and of Iran. Democrats reacted as opportunists to al-Maliki's visit, since they too are partners in supporting his government, but they may have scored significantly with moderate voters who are frozen by their fear of withdrawal. Since little or nothing seems to affect these fence-sitting voters, an awareness that Bush has created a Hezbollah ally in Baghdad might finally persuade some some of them to favor withdrawal. That's a slender ray of hope in a very dangerous time.