12 July 2006 — Even before the Lebanese-based Hezbollah took two Israeli prisoners of war today, I ended my trip to Beirut last week with the feeling that, beneath the beautiful, vibrant country there remained serious political tectonic plates waiting for any excuse to slip. I had conversations and visits over a two week period with Lebanese people of all stripes — from the pro-democracy/anti-Syrian political elite, to Hamas, to the downtrodden Palestinian refugees, to the average Mohammad — and I left with the unmistakable impression that American interests are screwed.
Israel’s invasion today into South Lebanon and the ongoing air strikes against Lebanon’s infrastructure exceeded my worst predictions. Whether you agree or not, three points below explain the context of what is happening now in Lebanon and why the US-Israeli response is bound to cast America deeper into the Mideast abyss, further undermining the (albeit badly) damaged image of US forces while crippling our efforts to sway the global recruits from the growing appeal of Bin Laden.
First, the Bush Administration does not stand for genuine democracy. For months people in the Arab and Muslim world have watched the US and Israel punish the entire Palestinian population for casting its ballot in the January parliamentary elections in which the Hamas party won a majority of seats. The Bush Administration has overtly promoted a soft coup to bring down the Hamas government via economic strangulation. The Palestinians are badly suffering what the United Nations describes as a “humanitarian crisis” and, rather than blaming Hamas — as Bush’s NSC policy brainchildren envisioned — the whole Arab and Muslim world is squarely blaming not only Israel but the United States. Many Lebanese people blame Palestinians for ruining their country, yet are still repulsed by America’s treatment of Hamas. They are distancing themselves from Washington politicians who once heralded Lebanon for its democratic advancements following the so-called “Cedar Revolution.” Alliance with America is the kiss of death as the Islamists continue to win popularity with the Arab street all over the Middle East.
Second, the Bush Administration does not stand for genuine freedom as it believes that the Arab people have no right whatsoever to defend themselves and resist the violent and oppressive Israeli occupation. For the past three weeks, people in the Arab and Muslim world have had their TV sets on, and not just to see the World Cup. One would have to be hidden in a remote cave to not see the constant stream of new and increasingly horrific images beaming in from not only Iraq but Gaza, where the US’ strongest ally — Israel, using American-made weapons — pummel the 1.4 million Palestinians of Gaza for the capturing of a single Israeli POW during a Hamas military operation. The Hamas operation was in response to the daily shelling of northern Gaza in which a girl lost her entire family during a picnic at the beach. For once, Hamas sidesteps its abhorrent terror tactics, launches a military operation against a military target and takes a military hostage. America issues the usual condemnation, blames Hamas, Iran, and Syria, and offers Israel a free hand to continue “defending herself.”Third, if the stronger America can be defeated in Iraq, so too can Israel be defeated in Palestine. For the past three years, the Arab and Muslim world has seen the US occupier failing in Iraq. America’s inability to gain control of events on the ground — for whatever reason — have removed the concept of the American superpower as an indomitable force. The fact that loosely organized insurgents can pin down the strongest military in the world emboldens the recruitment drive for those groups and individuals calling for a global jihad in defense of the Palestinian people.
These escalations and incursions into Lebanon spell mission creep. In its attempts to retake the initiative by swatting a flea with a sledgehammer, Israel, with American support, is again miscalculating the outcome. Israel believes the collective punishment against the Lebanese for the acts of the Shia Hezbollah organization will lead to its unpopularity and disarmament. The US also believes that it will be in a better position to pressure Syria and Iran (the latter on nuclear matters) with such `clear evidence’ of its role in the operation.
As with most of the recent US-Israeli miscalculations, the opposite is likely to happen. Lebanese people will instead rally and not only against the Israeli occupier but the US for its supportive role.
Moreover, folks, with a Judeo-Christian alliance fighting Arabs and Muslims from Afghanistan, to Iraq, to Palestine and now Lebanon — an optic that will make Bin Laden proud prevails: President Bush’s global war on terror really is, in the sense that was used in an earlier Freudian slip, “a crusade.”
The Bush Administration’s blanket support to Israel has served neither the interests of America nor Israel. From the American perspective, disengagement and refusal to credibly resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict has harmed, not helped, the image of American armed forces in the region.
While it may be too late to change those images, sensible patriots must arise and pressure the Administration to reengage in a constructive way. For starters we need to send an unbiased, no-nonsense, Presidential Envoy to negotiate an immediate cease-fire. Beyond the cease-fire there needs to be a clearly defined political horizon that spells out with maps and diagrams the final solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict along the lines of what was presented by President Clinton in his last weeks in office (later fleshed out between Israelis and Palestinians themselves in the Geneva Initiative). The Bush Administration’s puerile mantra of “if Clinton did it we, must do the opposite” has been disastrous for America, and we need to reengage on all Arab-Israeli fronts immediately.
That also means talking with Iran, sending our Ambassador back to Syria (we recalled her over a year ago, and contacts have since been through television sound bites) and recognizing that all of our homeland security and civil liberties hinges on the security and freedoms of Palestinians halfway around the world. The treatment of Palestinians by Israel is often the only representation Arabs and Muslims see of America, even in Western-oriented countries like Lebanon, and if this is all they see, then we can rest assured that they will continue to support Hezbollah and its resistance of foreign occupation.
Clayton E. Swisher, a former Marine reservist and federal criminal investigator, was educated as the University of Pittsburgh, Georgetown University, and is director of programs at the nonprofit Middle East Institute in Washington, D.C. Swisher is the author of “The Truth about Camp David” (Nation Books, 2004). This article first appeared in The Daily Kos on 12 July 2006 and is reprinted with the author’s permission. The article reflects the writer’s own opinions.
*TARFU - military acronym for “Things Are Really Fucked Up.”