So it seems that we are on the brink of a far more intense and bloody phase of this war, as it now looks next to certain that Israel has already begun or is in the process of beginning a major ground incursion into southern Lebanon.
All I will say on the final outcome of this is that there won't be peace on that border or in the region more generally as long as southern Lebanon is controlled by a militia that is not controlled from Beirut, especially one that is supported if not necessarily directed by Iran, and most importantly one that still seeks confrontation with Israel. Our whole state system rests on sovereignty and governments strong enough to exercise it.
There is only one conceiveable way back from the brink here -- a multinational force to patrol southern Lebanon, get Hizbullah, or at least its rockets, off the Lebanon-Israeli border and put the region back under the control of the Lebanese central government, first nominally and then, as soon as possible, actually.
Clearly, Beirut is not capable of doing that on her own. Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon would be a disaster for Israel, Lebanon and the entire region. The bad consequences that would flow from that are just too numerous and dire to catalog.
It's clear that the Bush administration thinks that the answer to the situation is to let Israel crush Hizbullah, to whatever extent that is possible and then come in with some sort of international settlement once the changed situation on the ground is fait accompli. But I really wonder whether there is any serious grappling in Washington with how many fires are currently burning in the Middle East and how close they all are to bleeding into one another into a truly regional confrontation. We have three fairly hot wars going on right now in a relatively small amount of space -- four depending on how you choose to measure -- each of very different sorts: Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon and a quasi-war in Gaza.
Who are we talking to exactly?
I don't think you need to oppose Israel's response to the initial Hizbullah attack or question the need to change the status quo in southern Lebanon, to get an eerie feeling that the Bush administration seems content to let this take its natural course, as though it were some geopolitical common cold or flu, with just as predictable an outcome. If Israel goes into southern Lebanon, how does she get out? And how does this end with a Lebanese government stronger, rather than weaker, than it already was -- a fairly key issue considering that the weakness of the Lebanese state, its inability to take control of the southern border region is the underlying cause of the problem. For all the lessons on offer in Iraq, I don't get the sense that the powers-that-be in the White House grasp the malign effect of what you might call geopolitical scar tissue or the unpredictability of war. This can quickly develop a dynamic that will be beyond our control to counter or guide.
Quite a bit of this flows from the Bush administration's general indifference to the peace process -- writ small (negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians) and writ large (trying to wrestle the various conflicts in the region toward some peaceful equlibrium) -- and their out of the gate conceit that managing the conflicts of the Middle East, particularly Israel-Palestine, accomplished little and only generated political grief for the president. But as we can see, things can always get worse. For the moment, however, forget about the past. What are they doing now?