Until the second term of George W. Bush is over,
the neoconservatives would do their best to kick up a storm of criticism and
controversy every time the United States decides to give diplomacy a chance.
However, as long as Vice President Dick Cheney is mentoring Bush on issues of
foreign policy, the neocons have nothing to worry about. Even with Secretary
of State Condoleezza Rice at the helm of the State Department, Cheney is still
largely making America’s foreign policy. The neocons know that, but they still
prefer to make enough noise for the continuation of the "cowboy diplomacy."
Two items of the past weekend deserve attention regarding the capabilities
of the neocons to push the Bush administration in a particular direction. The
issue of debate was Israel’s "war" with Hezbollah. The advocates of
what they call "proactive diplomacy" (which might be a euphemism for
"cowboy diplomacy") were former Speaker Newt Gingrich and the editor
of the Weekly Standard, Bill Kristol.
Gingrich, appearing on the Sunday program, Meet the Press, said,
"We’re in the early stages of what I would describe as the
third World War and, frankly, our bureaucracy’s not responding fast
enough and we don’t have the right attitude. And this is the 58th year
of the war to destroy Israel and, frankly, the Israelis have every right
to insist that every single missile leave south Lebanon, and the United
States ought to be helping the Lebanese government have the strength
to eliminate Hezbollah as a military force – not as a political force
in the parliament – but as a military force in south Lebanon."
In the resolutely phrase-making environment of Washington, D.C., it seems that
the neocons are running out of scary phraseology. The use of the phrase "Third
World War" sounds like a desperate attempt to add a few decibels to a rhetoric
that lacks substance. Alternately, they might be running out of ideas to imminently
revive the ostensibly natural instinct of the Bush administration to be unilateralist.
Bill Kristol is also on a similar crusade. While Gingrich is busy phrasemaking
and insisting that Israel has every right to cleanse Southern Lebanon from the
presence of Hezbollah, Kristol has simplistically defined the "problem"
related to Iran and his version of a "solution" to it. He writes:
"No Islamic Republic of Iran, no Hezbollah. No Islamic Republic of
Iran, no one to prop up the Assad regime in Syria. No Iranian support for Syria
(a secular government that has its own reasons for needing Iranian help and
for supporting Hezbollah and Hamas), little state sponsorship of Hamas and Hezbollah.
And no Shi'ite Iranian revolution, far less of an impetus for the Saudis to finance
the export of the Wahhabi version of Sunni Islam as a competitor to Khomeini's
claim for leadership of militant Islam – and thus no Taliban rule in Afghanistan,
and perhaps no Hamas either."
While it is hard to find a clear evidence of Iran’s "ordering" or
"instructing" Hezbollah to start the crisis with Israel, it is reasonable
to expect that such a linkage exists. It is also possible that Hezbollah did
not anticipate the severity of Israeli response to its kidnapping and killing
of Israeli soldiers. On these issues whatever intelligence Hezbollah had at
its disposal failed it miserably.
Israel got tired of hearing that its decision of May 2000 to pull out of southern
Lebanon was a "victory" of Hezbollah’s guerrilla war. A general suggestion
has been that the Palestinian militant groups also adopted guerrilla war tactics
to extract political concessions from the Jewish state. So, it is possible that
Israel was looking for opportunity to reassert its instinct of disproportionate
reaction to put Hezbollah in its proper place.
It is also possible that Hezbollah’s timing of actions against Israel might
have some connections with the fact that the United States is seriously bogged
down in Iraq, and the Taliban
is making a comeback in Afghanistan.
No matter what motivated Hezbollah, the imminent necessity for the United States is to intervene in the crisis diplomatically, instead of telling the Israelis to go ahead and punish Lebanon, but make sure that the civilian losses ("collateral damage" in the heartless language used by the military all over the world) are minimal.
Needless to say, by taking that explicit position, the Bush administration
has established a vindictive precedent. The "crime" of the Lebanese
government is that it is weak and cannot control Hezbollah. The "offense"
of the Lebanese is that they are the citizens of a weak state. However, new
rules are being established in crisis control, as Lebanon is being bombed into
Still the neocons are not satisfied. Not that they are cheering over the destruction
of Lebanon; however, they are so focused in their cold-blooded advocacy of military
action against Iran that they are not supporting with the same zealotry that
the bombing of Lebanese infrastructure should be stopped as urgently as the
firing of Hezbollah’s rockets on the innocent civilian Israeli population.
Regarding Iran and Syria, Kristol
writes, "For while Syria and Iran are enemies of Israel, they are also
enemies of the United States. We have done a poor job of standing up to them
and weakening them." That is a fictitious proposition in terms of its linkage.
Iran and Syria might be enemies of Israel; however, no categorical fact-based
observation can be made that they are enemies of the United States. Indeed,
it can be argued that both those countries seek a rapprochement with the lone
superpower for different reasons.
Since "radical Islamism" is at "war" with the United States, in Kristol’s judgment, the "right response is renewed strength – in supporting the governments of Iraq and Afghanistan, in standing with Israel, and in pursuing regime change in Syria and Iran." He adds, "For that matter, we might consider countering this act of Iranian aggression with a military strike against Iranian nuclear facilities. Why wait?"
There is little doubt that President Bush has opted to give diplomacy a chance
in the case of North Korea and Iran. However, there is little reason to expect
that such a course of action would be pursued for a long time, especially involving
Iran. In the case of North Korea, Kim Jong Il seems to have reestablished the
import of nuclear deterrence, even though there have been suggestions that it
lost its primacy under the new untamed vagaries of the post-9/11 era.
The alleged presence of nuclear weapons in North Korea creates sufficient ambiguities
in Washington about the rationality of using military strikes against that country.
The presence of certainty that Iran does not have nuclear weapons emboldens
the neocons to advocate a military strike against it. The neocons are saying
what a whole lot of US government officials might be thinking.