- Yesterday afternoon the foreign ministers and other ranking
officials of the United States, the European community, the governments
of Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, and Kofi Annan of the United Nations,
agreed to disagree on how to shut down the war in Lebanon. All present,
except the United States, wanted an immediate ceasefire. The United States
refused. In the normal course of such endeavors, representatives of all
the belligerents would somehow have been present, or represented by designated
envoys. In this meeting, however, only the United States, as real time
supplier of weapons and equipment to the Israelis, qualified as a belligerent.
And the US argument in the meeting was basically we have not pounded the
enemy, Hezbollah, into the dirt, and until we do there can be no end to
- That put the United States in the anomalous positions
of acting as a party directly interested in assuring a specific result
of the fracas, while using its powerful, nominal third party position,
to prevent any action to terminate the fracas before the desired results
were achieved. On that basis, the Rome meeting simply had to be a failure
for the United States to achieve its objective.
- This outcome reflects, one would hope, the nadir of a
diplomatic approach that the United States has now driven completely into
the ground: Shame, accuse, castigate, and maneuver by every possible means
around the country you have a problem with, but never, repeat never, talk
to them. There are now three countries in this "nonentity" category--Syria,
Iran, and North Korea--and two groups--Hezbollah and Hamas--with whom the
United States chooses to have little or nothing to do.
- But those "nonentities" are at the heart of
America's three most distracting international relations issues: Preventing
nuclear proliferation, eliminating terrorism, and ending the Israeli/Palestinian
standoff. Therefore, positioning those "entities" behind, as
it were, an invisible barrier that prevents any sort of discourse seems
a genuinely perverse order of self-abnegation.
- How did our country get into this astounding diplomatic
quandary after more than two centuries of more or less successful diplomatic
discourse with both friends and enemies? In the worst moments of the Cold
War, we were sometimes truculent, but never tongue-tied. We may from time
to time have succumbed to using the media to deliver a message, but we
did get ourselves understood. Ronald Reagan's "evil empire"
epithet comes to mind, but even then we had an embassy that was in constant
operational touch with our main adversary, and thus we combined variously
open and indirect moves with direct and more or less constant diplomatic
- Around the current identified set of "nonentities"
however, we are attempting only media words and third party maneuver.
We have an embassy in Damascus, Syria, but remarks of Secretary of State
Condoleezza Rice on her present Middle East journey suggest that we are
not using it to talk to Syrian leadership about a set of issues in Lebanon
that are obviously important to Syria. Moreover, it is obvious to all
that Syria has an interest and could play potentially a decisive role in
dealing with the Israeli/Hezbollah confrontation.
- Why not be completely open and forthright with all these
parties? It is obvious from the outset that the normally devious approaches
of the present administration are not going to work. It is equally obvious
that an approach to the non-state actors involved, Hezbollah and Hamas,
that says you are terrorists and we will not talk to you has not and is
not going anywhere.
- With Hamas, for starters, why not indicate to the leadership
that we recognize that the effort to turn an insurgent group into a successful
political party is not easy, but it is appreciated. Then go on to suggest
that if Hamas and its supporters actually set out to execute the formula
that Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails have proposed for the future
of Palestine--basically the Arab League formula for a two state solution,
the United States will do its best to get that concept accepted and acted
upon by the Israelis? How about saying to Hamas, Fatah and the splinter
groups of Palestine that the United States actually supports the idea of
an independent and fully self-governing Palestinian state and will act
as an honest broker to get it established? In such circumstances, there
seems little doubt that the Palestinian people would work on this until
it either succeeded or turned into something else, but the insurgency would
- With Hezbollah, why not start by assuring Sheikh Hassan
Nasrallah that the desire of the Shi'a of south Lebanon to have secure
and unmolested living space is well understood and that the United States
will do whatever possible to assure their safety and prosperity? Then
somehow assure him that the United States is working diligently to terminate
Israeli incursions into south Lebanon as well as the Israeli occupation
of Palestine, thus reaching an agreement with Hezbollah to stand down while
the international community actually works at solving the Palestine problems,
inducing Israel to stay within its borders and leave the neighbors alone.
With security and assurances that the Palestinian people will not continue
to be repressed, harassed, imprisoned and killed, Hezbollah would surely
be inclined to cooperate, and as its name--Party of God--implies, to become
fully engaged in the political processes of running the Lebanese democracy.
- Grant Syria the courtesy of recognizing the complex demands
of its surroundings. To its north and east, is the devastating situation
of Iraq at war, with itself and with an invading coalition. To the south
it has a warlike and land-hungry neighbor that already holds a recognized
piece of Syrian territory, the Golan Heights. To its west is Lebanon, a
small politically confused country that has spent most of the past two
decades in civil war. And in southern Lebanon it has an ally in Hezbollah
that is both a political and religious factor of some importance to Syria's
Shi'a Alawite leadership. In the very air it faces a constant hostile and
accusative US and Israeli posture. Show them that a serious effort is
finally being made to resolve the Palestine problem and assure them that
their nuclear-armed neighbor, Israel has stopped threatening them with
political or actual extinction. Those steps should be a sufficient basis
for damping down, if not eliminating, Syrian support for the Palestinian
insurgency and for Hezbollah.
- How about shedding the ideological baggage that keeps
the United States from dealing squarely with Iran? Is it actually sane
to argue that Iran is a threat to the United States? Iran is a terrorism
problem mainly because of support for the Palestinian insurgency. If that
problem is solved, Iranian support for terrorism will diminish and virtually
disappear, that is, if at the same time the United States stops threatening
the country with invasion or annihilation. Is it really America's business
that the Iranian government is strongly influenced by Islamic clergy?
Should Iran and other countries thereby be concerned about the extent to
which current US leadership is influenced by hard right Christianity and
significantly dominated by Zionist supporters of Israel? Can we honestly
look the Iranians in the eye on nuclear policies and say they have no right
to process fuel as provided in the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, while
we tolerate and even facilitate Israel's growing stockpile of nuclear weapons?
Can we categorically say that the Iranians should get over the fact that
we overthrew their duly elected government half a century ago, especially
when we daily threaten them with invasion, subversion and political interference?
- Putting the situation of North Korea aside for another
time, all of the above problems converge on the terrain of south Lebanon
and the problem of what to do about Israel's effort to decimate Hezbollah.
In the asserted logic of the United States, Hezbollah is tied in linear
fashion to Syria and to Iran. Like several other current Bush administration
and neo-con judgments about the Middle East, the idea of linear linkage
of Hezbollah to Syria and Iran is simply mistaken. Hezbollah, first and
foremost, is a Lebanese Shi'a political movement that grew out of the threat
posed by Israel's last invasion of Lebanon. The first aim of Sheikh Hassan
Nasrallah is to assure the security and safety of his people and to give
them spiritual leadership. He has been better at fulfilling those tasks
than the Lebanese government. Nasrallah needs outside help to do those
things, and he is religiously bound to a connection to Iran, but Hezbollah
is very much its own organization on the ground. Which is better: (a)
force into further terrorism, or (b) nudge it further into responsible
political participation in Lebanon's democracy?
- Assured of its own safety and reasonable progress on
solving the problems in Palestine, Hezbollah can be neutralized as an insurgent
group. The Israeli solution, to decimate Hezbollah, would involve death
and destruction to at least a quarter of the Lebanese population and the
creation of mortal enemies of at least half that population, the Lebanese
- The bottom line is that the US refusal to support a ceasefire
in Rome yesterday was a tragic mistake. It was based on an assumption
that Hezbollah can be eliminated, when practically speaking that is an
impossibility, while, if undertaken, morally it would be the most horrendous
war crime of the century. The US action was also based on an assumption
that Israel's security problem would be solved by eliminating Hezbollah.
That simply will not happen. The same constraints apply to Hamas and
to the other insurgent groups in Palestine. Israel simply must not have
it that the rest of the world will go along with Israeli efforts to solve
its insurgency problems by eliminating the people it is systematically
persecuting. The only real solution is to recognize the rights of those
people and begin to behave as if they matter.
- The solution at this point is to recognize that a ceasefire
in Lebanon and in Gaza is vital for humanitarian and regional stability
reasons. Waiting while Israel tries to finesse its security problems by
increasingly repressive moves against the people of south Lebanon and Palestine
is not going to solve anything; it will result in far more deaths and destruction
to the tiny state of Lebanon and yet further torture of the people of Palestine.
The core problem, as it has been for decades, is still Israeli repression
of the Palestinian people.
- The hard part of arriving at a ceasefire in south Lebanon
is that the United States must connect the dots. Iran and Syria are not
the problem. The connections among Iran and Syria and Hezbollah are not
the problem. Any stand down of the Palestinian insurgents and Hezbollah
will yield only a momentary quiet, unless the real effort is to stop the
repression of the Palestinian people. The ceasefire in Lebanon is vital
on humanitarian merit and it should be initiated immediately. It is no
time to pretend the War on Terrorism can be won in Lebanon while the generators
of regional terrorism are constantly refurbished by Israel in Palestine.
- The writer is the author of the recently published work,
_A World Less Safe_, now available on Amazon, and he is a regular columnist
on rense.com. He is a retired Senior Foreign Service Officer of the US
Department of State whose immediate pre-retirement positions were as Deputy
Director of the State Office of Counterterrorism, and as Chairman of the
Department of International Studies of the National War College. He will
welcome comment at email@example.com.