Hard News by Russell Brown

The Crazy People

Glenn Greenwald has a bunch of links to angry conservative proclamations about Israel's decision to take the UN peace deal. The universal theme is effectively that Israel has let down Team America by declining to throw itself into the meat grinder.

More particularly, Israel has deprived them of their war with Iran. Now, you certainly wouldn't want to weather a full-scale war with Iran if you were an Israeli, especially when your Big Friend is dangerously overcommitted elsewhere. For that matter, if you drive a car you wouldn't be too keen on a pan-regional conflagration either. But these people have an implacable faith in the projection of military force, whatever the evidence.

Amusingly, the commentators Greenwald points to are also turning their anger on Bush, forgetting their own pronouncements about never questioning the chief executive in time of war. He has committed "one of the biggest failures of leadership in Presidential history ... He is a dangerous failure, and America will be well rid of him." And then there's "Bush Administration Betrays Israel and America" and "Our war President has turned out to be a disgrace." Curiously, the fact that "his inability to speak effectively in public was a gigantic handicap" has only just become manifest in these circles.

And so on. It's not that the Middle East is in turmoil, it's that it's in not enough turmoil. When the US military is running out of men and money, they want a whole new, simultaneous war. These people really are nuts.

How nuts? Juan Cole extrapolates on Seymour Hersh's recent reporting:

Let me say this loud and clear, drawing on Pat Lang. Any US attack on Iran could well lead to the US and British troops in Iraq being cut off from fuel and massacred by enraged Shiites. Shiite irregulars could easily engage in pipeline and fuel convoy sabotage of the sort deployed by the Sunni guerrillas in the north. Without fuel, US troops would be sitting ducks for rocket and mortar attacks that US air power could not hope completely to stop (as the experience of Israel with Hizbullah in Lebanon demonstrates).

A pan-Islamic alliance of furious Shiites and Sunni guerrillas might well be the result, spelling the decisive end of Americastan in Iraq. Shiite Iraqis are already at the boiling point over Israel's assault on their coreligionists in Lebanon. An attack on Iran could well push them over the edge. People like Cheney and Bush don't understand people's movements or how they can win. They don't understand the Islamic revolution in Iran of 1978-79. They don't understand that they are playing George III in the eyes of most Middle Eastern Muslims, and that lots of people want to play George Washington.

By the way, Hersh maintains that US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has at least some inkling of all this, which is one reason he hasn't been enthusiastically cheering on the Lebanon war.

Quite. How bad are things at the moment, more than three years after the invasion of Iraq? This bad. 300 US troops have landed back home from their Iraq deployment - believing they had done their tour of duty - and immediately been sent back to Iraq.

What these crazy people are doing isn't thinking, it's grieving. They're grieving for their dead philosophy. They seem to have moved from the "denial" stage to "anger", where they will likely be jammed for some time.

The suggestion by Israel's foreign minister yesterday that perhaps it was time now for "renewed dialogue" with the Palestinians and even Syria will doubtless be causing further foaming outrage as you read this. But really: if the filthy, murdering dictator of Uzbekistan can be showered with aid and invited to the White House, then surely it's viable to talk to a comparatively normal state like Syria. (And yes, I know Syria has a demonstrably poor human rights record, but if you had to choose between being a citizen there or in various of the "friendly" US client states in Central Asia, you'd choose Syria, believe me.)

Iran? More problematic, obviously, especially with the present millenialist loon in charge there. But it is worth recalling that in March of this year, the US administration did actually offer direct talks with Iran, prompting the country's interior minister to propose sharing information to help "curb Al-Qaeda's activities in Iraq."

The two countries actively co-operated over Afghanistan in 2001-2002, and were set for talks in 2003, when Iran was imprisoning al-Qaeda operatives, including Bin Laden's own son, Saad (the thinking is that Shia Iran isn't particularly sympathetic to Sunni al-Qaeda, but finds it handy to have some operatives under lock and key). In communications at that time with the US State Department, via the so-called "Geneva channel", Iran explicitly raised the prospect of cutting off its support for Hamas and Islamic Jihad and converting Hezbollah into a purely socio-political organisation. Was it a good-faith offer? We'll never know.

According to Lawrence Wilkerson, then-chief of staff to Colin Powell, that diplomatic engagement was blocked by neocons in the administration, led by Dick Cheney, who preferred the option of trying to further destabilise Iran in pursuit of regime change. Well this is what that gets: there are reports that amid the febrile atmosphere of the Lebanese war, Saad was released last week, bound for Lebanon. Not a good result. An unintended consequence, actually. Another one. I know, I know: pondering unintended consequences is letting-the-terrorists-win, but in light of the past month's events, it might be worth trying.

Finally, PA reader James Westlake offered another view being expressed in some quarters, contending that "it's not too far fetched to imagine Israel's actual goal was what they've got now - a large, toothy UN force to do the job of controlling southern Lebanon. Israel realised in the 90s they couldn't do it indefinitely themselves, and discovered over the last six years that the Lebanese Govt couldn't either. The third option, getting someone else to do the job, needed a serious crisis to get rolling, and the latest round seems to have done the trick."

I doubt that was the original intention, but it would be a good result for everyone if it happened. Apart from anything else, the United Nations being part of the solution would enrage the neocons like nothing else. And surely that's a good thing.

PS: James also notes James Fallows' Atlantic Monthly cover story, 'Declaring Victory', in which he argues that "the time has come to declare the war on terror over, so that an even more effective military and diplomatic campaign can begin." It's behind the paywall: anyone know of a liberated version online?

PPS: While the necons are fuming and farting, the Israeli public is justifiably outraged about this. Three hours after the two Israeli soldiers were kidnapped, IDF Chief of Staff Daniel Halutz went and cashed in an investment portfolio. It looks a lot like insider trading on war.