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Sunday Gasbaggery: This Week: In Lebanon plus The Roundtable

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Lebanon Qana

Qata, Lebanon: Image courtesy of AFP & the BBC, Israel, the Bush administration, and to some extent, Hizbollah


It's taking a shorter and shorter time for the Bush/Cheney/Kristol foreign policy to crash and burn.

George Stephanoupolos and friends spent the morning spelling out the administration's greatest failure thus far, excepting Iraq, of course, although North Korea is certainly a close third, then again, there's Syria, and ohmygosh, Iran, but hey, those last two are part of the Lebanon disaster...

Hard to keep track, isn't it?


George's first guest, Mahmoud Chatah, Lebanon's Foreign Minister spelled out clearly the total nature of Israel's political failure, and with theirs, ours. Speaking in Israel, Condi Rice had said she was canceling her planned stop in Lebanon; Chatah made it clear; she was asked not to come.

Her visit had been aimed at discussing a UN resolution as a first step toward a cease-fire, but Prime Minister Siniora's position, after the bombing at Qana, is, quite simply, no discussions can take place until there is a cease-fire.

The shift in the tone coming out of Lebanon was startling. Without hesitation, Chatah labeled Qata a war crime, and reminded George that that particular village underwent a similar tragedy at the hands of the Israelis just ten years ago. The Lebanese, all of them, whatever their religion or ethnic sympathies, Christian, Muslim, Shia, Sunni, Druze, all are furious with Israel. The Minister didn't mention how America is now regarded, but then he didn't need to.

George played a video of the spontaneous near riot that took place outside the UN building in Beirut, and American flags were visible burning. George wondered if the Lebanese government had lost control of its own society.

Mr. Chatah practically snapped back; of course not; those people were expressing their anger; it was quickly quieted, and, by the way, the UN is actually well regarded through-out Lebanon - I had the feeling that if he were less of a diplomat, Mr. Chatah was on the verge of saying that the only problem with the gathering was that it wasn't held at the right place - the American embassy.

George kept trying to enlarge the condemnations to include Hezbollah; Chatah was having none of it. Whatever Hezbollah's provocations, Israel's response has been an on-going atrocity. What all Lebanese are saying today - enough is enough. Terrorizing can only create more extremism. Chatah also pointed out that one reason you won't hear many Lebanese criticizing Hezbollah, although in other circumstances they might have continued to as they did in the beginning - Israel is in possession of a military that dwarfs what is available to anyone in Lebanon; in fact, Chatah even went so far as to say that the Lebanese are grateful to Hezbollah

Nor was Chatah buying any of that Bush nonsense that all of Rice's efforts are an attempt to strengthen the Lebanese government, reminding George that Hezbollah was part of the unity government of Lebanon; perhaps I'm reading into the conversation, but the implication of Chatah's entire demeanor seemed to express the determination shared by all Lebanese citizens that they are not about to have another civil war in order to please the Israelis, because that is essentially what Israel is demanding of Lebanon; disarm Hezbollah this instant, or else we will by bombing the hell out of your entire country.

Ambassador Nicholas Burns, Rice's #2, stood in for the administration. There was an air of desperation in everything he said.

Burns made gestures in the direction of a cease-fire, but not an immediate one. Looked to me like what the administration hopes to do is to finesse with rhetoric, their chronic inability to change policy or strategy, even in the face of abject failure; Burns still speaks of a sustainable cease-fire, getting at root causes, and all that jazz; what don't they get about the root cause of the death of forty or fifty children in Qana yesterday being a bomb dropped from an Israeli plane?

The administration is still going for a "robust" international force; sounds like they still think they can find some countries to disarm Hezbollah; probably just trying to buy some time, to what avail, I have no idea.

Burns cited the intervention in Yugoslavia, including lives lost in the bombing of Serbia, and the force necessary to protect Bosnians, but he had the incorrect number for the former - HRW puts the number of civilian deaths in Serbia through six weeks of strategic bombing at 500 - and he seemed to forget the Dayton accords when speaking of the latter.

One of the reasons that this administration's answer to all crises is to find better rhetoric, never to seek different policies, their policies are never more than rhetorical in the first place; they simply don't know how to carry on a foreign policy. Yes, they had a big, fancy toy in the US Military to play with in Iraq, but both their invasion and their occupation policies have never risen above the level of rhetorical positioning.

Representing Israel was their Defense Minister, Daniel Ayalon. What can one say. They are caught in a situation entirely of their own making. They haven't defeated Hezbollah, as everyone can see, they only managed to inflate Hezbollah's reputation around the world, so a cease-fire is out of the question, from their point of view. Still, Ayalon's arguments struck me as particular weak, to the point of sounding ludicrous.

Was Qana a war crime, asked George.

Yes, replied Ayalon; a war crime committed by Hezbollah. The position Ayalon laid out seems an impossible one to sustain: Hezbollah must be defeated, or disarmed, or something, before a cease-fire can be effective. Unable to back down, it appears Israel intends to keep up its war on Lebanon, even though Ayalon said he agreed with Rice that she is close to achieving a framework that can lead to a cease-fire, but what Lebanon, Arabs and Muslims around the world, and most of the rest of that world are looking for is an immediate cease-fire.

CNN has just reported that Israel had agreed to a 48 hour cessation of bombing; just kicking the can down the road.

The roundtable today consisted of George quizzing George Will, Fareed Zakaria, Claire Shipman and Jay Carney, the Hepburn-Tracy-manques of the Washington press corps.

Roundtable headline: all agree Bush and Rice mid-east policies are in the toilet; all our enemies have got the best of us, we and Israel have backed ourselves into a corner, with no good options.

Jay Carney's knee jerked momentarily in the well-worn direction of trying to defend the administration; there was a perfectly defensible point of view within the White House about Hezbollah's provocation and Israel's just turned out to be wrong.

Zakaria got off the best moment when he suggested that Donald Rumsfeld looked increasingly like someone inhabiting a parallel universe; where Fareed thinks the President’s living I’m not sure.

What struck me as most worthy of a headline was the sense of surprise this group of pros expressed at the total ineffectiveness of the Bush foreign policy.

Claire Shipman, in particular, kept remarking on the oddity of certain Rice responses, despite those responses being the same ones this administration has had on every issue having to do with the world and how to deal with it.

Shipman's puzzlement seemed genuine; there was no hint of Claude Rains when she noted there was something a bit shocking about the administration doing that which gets the same bad response around the world again and again.

Well, Claire, all of us on the center left side of the political divide are shocked, shocked that you find that shocking.

I'll leave you with the words of our President in his most recent radio address to the nation; see if you can find an actual foreign policy for the Middle East articulated anywhere in it:

THE PRESIDENT: The current situation in the Middle East is a reminder that all of us must work together to achieve a sustainable peace. America mourns the loss of innocent life. It's a tragic occasion when innocent people are killed, and so our sympathies go out to those who lost their lives today, and lost their lives throughout this crisis.

I've been in touch with Secretary of State Rice twice today. She'll be returning tomorrow, where she'll brief me on her discussions with leaders in the Middle East. I also talked to Tony Blair. The United States is resolved to work with members of the United Nations Security Council to develop a resolution that will enable the region to have a sustainable peace, a peace that lasts, a peace that will enable mothers and fathers to raise their children in a hopeful world.

May God bless those who lost their lives.

How is it possible no one in this administration has noticed the strong connection between failed states and the breeding ground for terrorists?

Reality sugar-coated with rhetoric; that is the essence of this administration's foreign policy.

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