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The most important lesson the United States can learn from the latest war in Lebanon is that the Bush administration's policy of disengagement has been a catastrophic failure.
This war could have definitely been avoided had the American President been a man of vision interested in proactive diplomacy, alliance-building, and conflict resolution. Instead, the President has substituted the hard work of statesmanship for rhetoric and a rather perplexing blind support of Israel, which is wholly devoid of any regional, historical or cultural understanding.
However, there are absolutes which must be addressed in dealing with the Arabic-Israeli conflict, and without a doubt, the United States must be cognizant and respectful of them. The first is that the two countries have been close friends ever since the Israel's inception. In no way, should the U.S. ever back away from a commitment to Israel's security and right to exist. But this is not to say the U.S. cannot be a creditable arbitrator in fair, just and equitable negotiations for peace and security.
The second absolute is that any diplomatic efforts in the Arabic-Israeli conflict will likely be arduous and trying affairs. No agreement will come easily, yet this does not mean diplomacy is not worth pursuing. It takes time and effort for fair and viable solutions to difficult problems, and the Arabic-Israeli conflict may be the most trying problem in the world today. The solution will not occur in one day, in one conference or even over the course of one presidency. The problem is generational and requires the full engagement of every administration that comes into office.
The fact that the conflict is such a daunting diplomatic task could be one reason the Bush administration has shied away from a persistent engagement. It is true Bush is much more prone to rhetoric than actual hard work on virtually every issue, domestic or otherwise, and too often Bush's lack of imagination and knowledge has given way to his disastrous reliance on dogmatic and "gut" decisions. Yet, his personal shortcomings and the difficulty of the task aside, I believe there are two main reasons this administration has disengaged from diplomacy in general, and the Arabic-Israeli conflict in particular.
The first is purely political. In order to have any electoral success, Republicans, and especially Right-Wingers such as Bush, explicitly cater to the fundamentalist Christian Right. Fundamentalist Christians, especially the ones of the "Left Behind" apocalyptic variety, believe once the Jewish people control all of Palestine the End Times will occur and all of the True Believers of Christ will be taken to heaven in the Rapture, while nonbelievers will be left behind to a gruesome fate. Due to this belief, the Right-Wing fundamentalist Christians are devoted supporters of Zionism. Zionists accept this alliance, even though their partners believe Jews will have to repent their beliefs or die an awful death. So since fundamentalist Christians are part of the Bush base, he has consistently sat back and allowed Israel to do whatever Israel wants, regardless of the potential problems. His willingness to do nothing on the issue ingratiated him - and the GOP - to a valuable voting base, which would otherwise sit out elections were they not placated.
The second is ideological. The Bush administration foreign policy has been shaped almost exclusively by neoconservatives and neoconservative ideas. Neoconservatives believe in promoting democracy and American ideals, including the reformation and modernization of Islam. They openly advocate achieving these goals by force, specifically with preemptive, theater wars. They also are unabashed supporters of Israel, a country they attempt to emulate, specifically the hard-line Likud faction. Their vision is a radical transformation of the Middle East through military force and democracy, or as Daniel Levy recently wrote in Haaretz "an unsophisticated mixture of bombs and ballots." They also believe the war in Lebanon is the beginning of World War Three and that Israel should extend the war out to both Syria and Iran. These wars are essential, in their opinions, not only to Israel's security but in bringing about regime change, so in this way, Israel is going to bring about democracy and stability to the Middle East. In defending their own country, Israel is defending civilization and through destruction paving the way for the spread of Western friendly, democratic regimes. As a result, Israel has served as a proxy to neoconservative interests, ensuring their own security, while carrying out preemptive warfare, which neoconservatives ideologically believe will lead to the promotion of Western ideals. The Bush administration's absence from any diplomatic engagement is an extension of the neoconservative ideology, which believes in radical change and unquestioned support of Israel.
A major problem with the Bush administration's blind support of Israel, is that often the supposed "great friends" of Israel, are perhaps the biggest enemy the Jewish state has. The Christian Right has no true love of the Jewish people, they simply support an alliance for their own reasons. Neoconservatives ideas have sent the region in disarray. The wars in Iraq and Lebanon have strengthened Iran, the region has become inflamed with radicalizations, and the U.S. and Israel have never been hated more than they are right now. Hezbollah, which was extremely unpopular a month ago, has recently surged in popularity. Not to mention radical movements in Iraq, the Palestinian territories, and Lebanon have garnered success and credibility through elections in those countries. All of this has weakened the security of Israel, if anything. The peace process has been set back years, if not decades.
It is important to remember the United States is an invaluable nation in foreign affairs. Since the end of the Cold War, we have been in an unprecedented position in world history. We are the world's only remaining superpower, and with the position comes a unique ability to make a difference in world affairs. Whether that difference is positive or negative depends very much on the person who resides in the White House. U.S. foreign policy can be effective, altruistic and proactive. Even in the Arabic-Israeli conflict. President Carter had great success with the Camp David Accords, and several presidents since have made attempts to chip away towards resolution. Sure, they all could have done more, but they at least made attempts toward concrete progress. Not so with this current administration.
A war has broken out. One that never needed to happen. The Independent UK reported yesterday: "29 Lebanese Army soldiers have been killed. 3,293 Lebanese have been wounded. 45 per cent of the casualties have been children. 913,000 Lebanese have been displaced (300,000 of whom are children). 94 Israelis have been killed and 1,867 wounded." There has been no resolutions introduced at the United Nations. The diplomatic actions are limited at best.
Now is the time when a credible, respected broker is needed. A time when the world needs the United States the most. Except, right now, the U.S. is none of these. No credibility. No respect. And, no leadership. The Bush administration has been missing in action for six years. Don't expect that to change in the next two years. The administration is only hoping to hold on and pass all of the world's problems on to the next president.
Hopefully, that administration will positively and intelligently engage itself in the world.