- Robert Browning
The fighting between Israel and Lebanon over the course of the last few days presents perhaps the most dangerous moment since the Cuban Missile Crisis. The leadership of Israel and Hezbollah spend the blood of innocents to prove how very tough they are, and the lords of unreason hold sway over all. Syria trembles on the edge of significant involvement, with Iran waiting in the wings.
Annia Ciezadlo, writing for The Nation, offered a poignant snapshot of the mood on the Lebanese street. "The day after Hezbollah kidnapped two Israeli soldiers," wrote Ciezadlo, "all of Beirut prepared for war in time-honored Lebanese fashion: shopping. We bought siege food, anything that doesn't need refrigeration - powdered milk, canned hummus, beans, cracked wheat."
"Less rationally, however," continued Ciezadlo, "we bought comfort food, compiling a collective shopping list of fear and craving: I bought a chocolate cake mix for no reason. Yogurt, which will spoil once the electricity dies, disappeared from the shelves. And everyone lined up to buy bread. It's going to mold in a day or two, but who doesn't feel better after smelling freshly-baked bread, and who knew when we'd smell that again?"
Noted Mideast expert Juan Cole put the ramifications from what is taking place on every American doorstep. "Americans have to understand that when Israel goes wild and bombs a civilian airport and civilian neighborhoods in Beirut," wrote Cole, "a lot of the world's Catholics (Lebanon is partially a Catholic country) and its 1.4 billion Muslims blame the United States for it. Israel is given billions every year by the United States, including sophisticated weaponry that is now being trained on the slums of south Beirut."
"It should also be remembered," continued Cole, "that Bin Laden said, at least, that he started thinking about hitting New York when he saw that 1982 Israeli destruction of the skyscrapers or "towers" of Lebanon. How many future Bin Ladens are watching with horror and rage and feelings of revenge as Israel drops bombs on civilian tenement buildings? When will this blow back on Americans?"
It is all quite terrifying, but most frightening of all are the voices being raised in support of widening this crisis into total war. William Kristol, editor of the far-right periodical The Weekly Standard, has openly stated that the crisis should be used as an opportunity to attack other Middle Eastern nations. "While Syria and Iran are enemies of Israel," wrote Kristol in an article titled "It's Our War," "they are also enemies of the United States. 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. For that matter, we might consider countering this act of Iranian aggression with a military strike against Iranian nuclear facilities."
It should be noted that Kristol was one of the most vociferous cheerleaders for the invasion and occupation of Iraq, which has been working out splendidly thus far. One hopes there are some wiser heads somewhere who will remember this, and take Mr. Kristol's advice with a large grain of salt.
Even so, it is disturbing to hear these kinds of things. The last several years have established, beyond doubt, that the Bush administration is at best inept, and at worst deliberately destructive. Watching Bush observe the carnage with a "What me worry?" look on his face has been disgusting, if not terribly surprising. The United States has abandoned its position of leadership on the world stage, and the mayhem erupting in the Middle East, combined with provocative actions from North Korea, is a direct result of that.
If further proof of this is required, look no further than the exchange between Mr. Bush and Russian president Vladimir Putin on Saturday. Bush offered a critique of Russia's so-called democracy, and Putin shot back, "We certainly would not want to have the same kind of democracy as they have in Iraq, I will tell you quite honestly." Bush tried to laugh it off, but his face purpled with rage. And so the president of the United States is publicly slapped by the leader of Russia, and we are all lessened and shamed by it, because Putin was correct.
Much of what is happening has come about, simply, because the Bush administration is run by, and heeds the advice of, stone cold crazy people. Inside the administration lurks Dick Cheney, who with his proxy Don Rumsfeld engineered the Iraq fiasco. On the outside, and enjoying far more credibility than is deserved, are voices like William Kristol's.
And then, of course, there is the Republican base, the people who stand by Mr. Bush because they believe him to be the right arm of Jesus Christ. The fundamentalist far-right branch of Christianity that has established itself as the most powerful force in electoral politics is heeded by this administration because they owe their tenure to these people.
A lot of them are thrilled by what is happening in the Middle East. An internet forum called "Rapture Ready" offers some insight into that particular breed of right-wing Christian who cannot wait for the Apocalypse. "Gosh!!!" writes one poster, "Here we are making plans to move to the east coast and we might not even have to move after all. I say, come quickly Lord!!!"
"Israel is not a land of un-walled villages so this is probably a war that will result in that," writes another poster. "Then Gog and Magog will come. But I believe we could be raptured before. I believe before Damascus is destroyed God may rescue His children out of there." Yet another poster writes, "In another thread, someone brought up the fact that the kidnapping of the first Israeli soldier that started this whole thing was on June 25th, and if you count from that day to August 3rd ... it is EXACTLY 40 days!!!!! I find that to be a HUGE coincidence."
Mr. Bush is accounted as the unofficial leader of these people, listens to them, and has surrounded himself with violent men who share violent dreams. An analysis of apocalyptic scripture could, perhaps, reveal the manner in which a combination of stupidity, extremism and a total lack of morality is the key which will unlock the end of days. In the meantime, I am reminded of those bumper stickers which can be seen on the roads from time to time. "In case of Rapture," they read, "this car will be empty." Once, I saw a witty rejoinder to this sentiment on another bumper: "In case of Rapture, can I have your car?"