Monday, August 07, 2006

Neo-con, Lebanon, Bungle On

Daniel Levy has a fascinating editorial in Haaretz. His argument is that the escalation in Lebanon is a result of the American neo-conservatives failing to understand the role the US is supposed to play in the Middle East dance. (Good reason to take his analysis seriously: he was a top Israeli negotiator at Oslo.)

Levy argues that the job of the US is to be the good cop to Israel's bad cop. Israel rattles the saber and the US offers the peace deal which moves American and Israeli interests slightly forward while maintaining the delicate balance in the larger region. The possibility of ending hostilities while living to fight another day combined with pressure from the US closes the deal. At least that was the unspoken agreement before now.

But the neo-cons looked at Israel's tough guy routine and took it seriously. They didn't realize that it was part of a larger strategy that kept a lid on a boiling pot. Instead, they thought that the US script constrained Israeli forces that really wanted to keep going, so they decided to be bad asses too and not step in, thereby letting the IDF off the leash to "finish the job"... just like they did in Iraq...

There is no doubt that the PNAC group is filled with members enamored of Israeli tactics, but again we see the naivete of trying to divorce those tactics from the larger context. It still stuns me that there is not a greater degree of discussion about the nature and failings of neo-conservatism in America. Levy is dead on when he writes,

Disentangling Israeli interests from the rubble of neo-con "creative destruction" in the Middle East has become an urgent challenge for Israeli policy-makers. An America that seeks to reshape the region through an unsophisticated mixture of bombs and ballots, devoid of local contextual understanding, alliance-building or redressing of grievances, ultimately undermines both itself and Israel. The sight this week of Secretary of State Rice homeward bound, unable to touch down in any Arab capital, should have a sobering effect in Washington and Jerusalem.
Yet, while there may be blame afforded to the Bush administration for bungling foreign policy, there is precious little analysis of how these failings are a direct result of the application of a well-formed political theory. There are central guiding principles here which are being empirically disconfirmed. It is not only in the world's interest to disentangle themselves from the purveyors of this theory, but also to make clear what the theory is and where and how it failed.

All the marks are here: We see explicit disdain for diplomacy -- talking is a sign of weakness, it is equivalent to coddling; action instills fear and fear destroys the will of the other forcing them to bend their will to your wishes. We see the idea that asymmetric warfare, given enough time, guarantees regime change. We see Fukuyama's neo-neo-Hegelianism in which there is a natural end -- liberal democracy -- towards which all governments naturally move if only freed from tyranny. Create a power vacuum and provide some purple finger ink, et voila, instant democracy.

While such discussions occur amongst policy experts, the fact that it is not a larger popular discussion is a bad thing. Mistakes were made, and continue to be made, and continue to be made, and it is imperative that those mistakes be clearly labeled lest they threaten to be repeated and repeated and repeated. A good start is provided by Glenn Greenwald who is guest blogging at Salon, but there is much more to do. Any public policy folks or political philosophers who are hanging around, please consider the project. I think it would be of the greatest value.