Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

From The Forward ...

The United States is pushing for the deployment of a large international force in Lebanon, which would be authorized to confront Hezbollah and effectively prevent the militant group from rearming, senior Bush administration officials told Jewish communal leaders in recent days.

During a briefing with senior officials at several major Jewish organizations, Deputy National Security Advisor Elliot Abrams reportedly said that a multinational force in Lebanon would have to be “combat ready,” authorized and appropriately equipped to engage Hezbollah militarily if needed. Such a force, he said, would also have to patrol not only Lebanon’s border with Israel but also Lebanon’s border with Syria, to prevent smuggling of weapons to Hezbollah. In addition, such a force would have to observe Lebanon’s sea and air ports to make sure that Iran is not rearming Hezbollah, Abrams reportedly said.

As I said a few days ago, I think some international force on the ground is likely essential to any sort of resolution to this. But that's a broad brief. Who's going to man that mission? I would imagine that both for political and capacity reasons the United States can't make any significant contribution to ground troops who would take on this role.

Here's an interesting article in Ha'aretz about the role of the military and civilian leaderships in Israel in the decision to launch massive retaliation in response to the July 12th Hezbollah incursion into northern Israel. The role of the Chief of Staff of the IDF is always a very prominent one in Israel. But that of Dan Halutz has seemed especially so over the last two weeks. And one also has to figure in the lack of extensive military experience of the two lead ministers of the government -- Olmert and Peretz. This is at least an interesting part fo the equation.

New Jersey Reps. and Senators getting ready to draw a line in the sand on President Bush's plan to phase out Social Security? There's a press conference today in Trenton. We'll be listening. And remember, there's still the prize awaiting whoever can get the straight answer out of Tom Kean, Jr.

I feel better because I was worried the folks on the subcontinent might be resting on their nuclear laurels. But now it seems Pakistan is getting into plutonium-based bomb production in a big way. So we should have a real man's nuclear arms race between India and Pakistan after all.

Italy to host ceasefire conference next week; Rice to attend. The conference, according to Italian FM (and former PM) Massimo D'Alema, was called at the behest of the State Department and will not include representatives from Israel, Syria or Iran.

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?