The last two weeks of conflict between Lebanon and Israel are disconcerting to the Bush administration’s attempt to bring democracy and peace to the Middle East. However, if they had not invaded Iraq so haphazardly, perhaps they could have used their forces and former foreign policy credibility to the end of alleviating tensions between Israel and its neighbors.
Certainly, America has paid its dues in regard to having a say in Israeli affairs, with an annual tithing to the Israelis amounting to tens of billions of dollars over the last fifty years. As well, without American intervention in foreign affairs during the World Wars, Israel would not exist.
As well, the alternatives to Americans staying out of the peacekeeping game are not very heartening to those who want to see an end to warfare. The United Nations obviously does not have a military arm and they have failed over the last fifty years to do more than stir the pot between Israel, Palestine, and the rest of the Middle East over territorial claims. The European Union as a whole does not have the military or diplomatic mechanisms in order to respond to situations within their own borders much less respond to a war raging for the last millennium. As well, Europeans form the corps of the United Nations and share the failed diplomatic approach of that organization. The Chinese are more concerned with continuing to build their economic empire and they have foreign policy problems of their own, with Japan becoming more aggressive and North Korea showing off its teeth to anyone who will look their way. Finally, the Russians have been ambiguous in their dealings with the Middle East, consorting with Iran at times and offering little help in efforts to mediate conflicts. As well, they are more concerned with dealing with South America and Europe rather than spend their capital on Israel and Palestine.
The question to many is why this current conflict is any different from conflicts in 1968, 1972, or any of the other conflicts between Israel and its neighbors. First, the war in Iraq and the threat of a radical Iran has destabilized the Middle East to the point where too many resources are spread throughout the region instead of focusing on one conflict at a time. Second, unlike the Cold War era where the Soviets and the Americans held almost all of the nuclear weapons in the world, there is an unknown amount of nuclear missiles floating around the Middle East that were sold by the Soviets following communism’s collapse. We know that Israel has weapons, but who is to say that Hezbollah, Syria, or Iran doesn’t have such weapons at their disposal. Finally, the scale of the conflict between Israel and Hezbollah is much larger than anything we have seen and Israel has escalated its attacks on the terrorist organization to the point where some international observers question their military strategy.
However, Bush and the Republicans have done too much damage to our international credibility for us to use our considerable military to stop fighting and bring warring sides to the table. In the Middle East, it is not an either-or proposition between democracy and anarchy, like Republicans and Democrats would have us believe. We will not find out the moderation and compromise that can be found during cease fire, but only half-measures found during a time of war.