Friday, July 28, 2006

A Kotzker President

This war should be called the Tisha B’Av war. The IDF is having big problems, and before long there will be recriminations. If there is not enough of a victory to justify all the pain, the Olmert government should fall, which would be the least of Israel’s problems. A failure to achieve a decisive victory will embolden Israel’s enemies, and be one more indication to radical Islam that the tide has turned in their favor. Hezbollah and Iran will grow in stature at the expense of the Sunni governments and al Qaeda. At this point, Israel’s deterrence depends to a large extent on a firm reigning in and disarming of Hezbollah, pushing them back far enough so that no rockets will fall on Israel.

The issues that are already being raised is, first and foremost, that Israel did not think through the consequences. The decision to attack was made without sufficient internal Israeli consultations, and without adequate contingency plans. If the idea was to bring back the soldiers, we could have found other ways to achieve the goal. Even Hezbollah and Iran were surprised, having thought that a kidnapping or two were within the rules of engagement. In addition, the IDF misjudged the strength of the enemy. I have little doubt that in time the chief of staff and the other top brass who advised the government will bear some of the blame. What other conclusion can one draw? The U.S. and everyone else believed the IDF had this war all figured out. It seemed plausible to say an army as powerful as Israel’s would decimate an opponent no larger than a brigade. Even without a cease fire, l am confident the IDF will prevail, but apparently it will be a difficult battle.

The world already is voicing other criticisms. The Arabs, the EU, the U.N., the political left will deplore the ferocity of the attack on the non-Hezbollah parts of Lebanon. Israel is using excessive force without distinguishing between the civilian population and the enemy. The sole purpose of the destruction is to force the Lebanese government to enter the area and disarm Hezbollah. The problem is the Lebanese army is 30% Shiite, a quarter of the government is still in Syria’s pocket, and the government is so delicately balanced, it is effectively paralyzed. If Hezbollah is not defeated, such large scale destruction will be seen as having achieved nothing. In order to justify what has been done so far, and in order to maintain a future deterrence, Israel has little choice but to continue fighting. It is a downward spiral, and an unhappy situation.

A possible alternative to the fighting is vigorous negations to achieve the same goals by diplomatic means. In my opinion, the Bush administration is way too rigid on how a meaningful cease fire can be brokered. Maureen Dowd ,the day before yesterday in the NY Times, hit it on the head. “What‘s so frustrating about watching him (Bush) deal with Iraq or Lebanon, there’s almost nothing to watch. It’s not like watching paint dry, since that too is a passage from one state to another. It’s like watching dry paint.” If they want a deal, at this point, I think they must pay up. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, not a messenger and not a third party, must go to Damascus and make Assad a genuine offer. Saying in her supercilious way, "He knows what he must do, and we expect him to do it’’ is way too arrogant a way to talk to someone who has a very strong hand, and can be of major help both in Lebanon and in Iraq. Rigid is a mild word for the Bush strategy. Dowd again, “The more people tell him that this is a region of shifting alliances and interests, the less he seems inclined to develop an adroit policy to win people over to our side rather than try to annihilate them.”

There are currently, in the Middle East imbroglio 19 players: Israel, Hezbollah, the non Hezbollah Lebanese Shiites, the Lebanese government, Syria, Iran, Russia, China (because of its support of Iran), Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the U.S., the E.U., the U.N., the Iraqi insurgents, the Iraqi government, the Iraqi Shia, the Arab and Muslim street, the American street (public), and the EU street. Each have a half a dozen uncertainties associated with how they are going to act under different contingencies. President Bush in a recent press conference said “That’s what leaders do. They see problems, they address problems, and they lay out a plan to solve the problems.’’ He certainly does get the general idea.

In Kotzk (a Chasidic group in Congress Poland) they used to say “oyb men kenisht ariber, miz men ariber”. A rough but inadequate translation might be, "If faced with an insurmountable obstacle, surmount it.” Bush is a Kotzker if I ever saw one. One last time Dowd," W prides himself on his changelessness and regards his immutability as the surest sign of virtue. Facing a map on fire he sees any inkling of change as the slippery slope to failure.”

What America and even Israel need is a Galitzianer (the south Polish province Galicia that was part of the Austrian Hungarian Empire), or Ungarisher (Hungarian) foreign policy dressed in the appropriate Germanic (Yekkish) gravitas, a Henry Kissinger style of realism. In Galitzia they used to say “Oib men kenisht ariber, git men zich aan eitzah.” In an even freer translation this means “If faced with an insurmountable obstacle, go around it.” We need a foreign policy team that can whistle Dixie and chew gum at the same time.


At 7:51 PM, Anonymous MF said...

Question. Other than Israel's intelligence failings (a government not live up to a standard of knowing perfect information? wow, there's a big surprise!), it seems like your unhappiness with Israel stems largely from Israel's use of "excessive force" -- but, you think that Israel is using "excessive force" as compared to what? I'm hard pressed to think of a country or group that, in a similar situation, would not have used even more force. Certainly not as compared to Hezbollah or the nations around them continuously attacking Israel (they have been using more force, for example their recent massacres of Lebanese villagers trying to leave villages after Israel's warnings of attack). Certainly not compared to the democratic countries of Western Europe (remember France's very uncalled for brutality against the Algerians?). The only examples I can think of, of nations responding with less force from Israel, are nations that willingly gave in to their attackers (Vichy France barely left a finger as Hitler marched in).

Therefore, my question for you is: as compared to what?

-M "never, never, never, never pay the dane geld" F

At 6:27 AM, Blogger LitaLives said...

If I had the strength, I would debate you on each & every point. Unfortunately, I don't, so I'll just say that I whole-heartedly agree with MF & I suggest you read WITH AN OPEN MIND yesterday's WSJ editorial & the interview with Walid Jumblatt.As hard as it may be for you to believe, kol hatorah kula is not limited to the pages of the NYT or the Wash. Post.

To try & sell us that the only thing we're missing for world peace is a galitzyaner Israeli Prime Minister (or a reincarnation of Kissinger - who is not my favorite person in the world, either) is an insult to our intelligence. Do you REALLY believe that Syria & Iran are partners for peace??!!

At 8:16 AM, Blogger evanstonjew said...

Last first…I never for a moment suggested Iran.I did suggest Syria can be bribed. The same WSJ that carried the Jumblatt interview also had an editorial on the subject. The editorial’s main points were…the U.S. has been conciliatory, Asad has spurned all offers. The Hariri assassination precludes a deal. The Journal suggests we make Syria a deal they can’t refuse, "Either Syria stop arming Hezbollah. or Israel will have to consider taking the fight to Damascus." So rather than forget about the Hariri assassination they would have Israel fight a major war. The issue is whether a neo-conservative or some variant of realism is the way to go. We differ. I don’t believe my suggesting in a folksy Jewish way there is an alternative to neo-conservatives is insulting to any one’s intelligence. It may even be the Republcan policy going into the next election.

MF- The first 2 paragraphs are descriptive summaries of internal Israeli and world criticism. My main point was that America is narrowing its diplomatic possibilities because of its rigid attitude towards dealing. My opinion about excessive force, now that you asked, is that I am more than happy to give Israel the benefit of the doubt with respect to collateral damage in any attack whose mission was the destruction of a Hezbollah cell. When the issue is the degradation of the Lebanese infrastructure in order to force the Lebanese govt. to fight Hezbollah, I do believe the goal is illusory and a long shot. Everyone seems to feel this way or they would not be talking 30,000 peacekeepers to contain a 3500 man militia. If causing massive damage is counter productive I would say it is excessive. This issue might be litigated if Lebanon follows through on its intention to demand compensation.

At 5:59 PM, Anonymous MF said...

How do you think America is "My main point was that America is narrowing its diplomatic possibilities because of its rigid attitude towards dealing"?


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