Saturday, July 22, 2006

Full Spectrum Warriors

As part of his discussion of the unflagging cheerleading exhibited by neoconservatives for the insane situation in the Middle East, Glenn Greenwald has written a particularly insightful essay. (Greenwald is always insightful, which is why he is increasingly a source of frustration on the right and a source of envy on the left--and count me among the envious.)
The real underlying premises and impulses of neoconservatism are being laid bare for all to see. And what they really want is more war and destruction -- lots and lots and lots of it -- to rain down mercilessly on their enemies and anyone nearby. [. . .]

So many of them seem to be driven not even any longer by a pretense of a strategic goal, but by a naked, bloodthirsty craving for destruction and killing itself, almost as the end in itself. They urge massive military attacks on Lebanon, Syria, Iran -- and before that, Iraq -- knowing that it will kill huge numbers of innocent people, but never knowing, or seemingly caring, what comes after that.
His comments are so thorough and devastating that they need to be read in their entirety, and I have only two points to add. First, it's this business of a "strategic goal" that both perplexes me and underscores the validity of Greenwald's arguments. Even from a purely Machiavellian point of view, the current campaign of death and destruction seems destined to defeat itself.

I can't wrap my brain around the internal logic which argues that the only way to respond to provocations by Hezbollah and Hamas is to annihilate the fragile infrastructures of Lebanon and Gaza (and to kill hundreds or thousands of innocent civilians in the process). Do Israel and the neoconservative supporters of its current actions (e.g., Cheney, Bolton, Kristol) really believe that by returning Lebanon to its pre-1985 Stone Age status that they will eliminate or weaken Hezbollah? Some foreign policy experts share my cynicism:
Robert Malley, who handled Middle East issues on the National Security Council staff for President Bill Clinton, voiced skepticism about whether the current course would pay off for either Israel or the United States. "It may not succeed with all the time in the world, and Hezbollah could emerge with its dignity intact and much of its political and military arsenal still available," said Malley, who monitors the region for the International Crisis Group. "What will you have gained?"
Indeed, if our recent history in Iraq (and, for that matter, Afghanistan) proves anything, it must be that terrorist organizations thrive far more insidiously in an area governed by a weak or nonexistent state instead of a territory controlled by a strong one. The "new" neoconservative attitude reeks not simply of callousness but more of desperation, as if certain warmongers have suddenly felt free to abandon (in Greenwald's words) "all of the lofty pretenses about the virtues of spreading democracy and winning hearts and minds."

Second, while I agree with Greenwald that behind the public feebleness of the White House's response is an administration still composed "largely of adherents to neoconservatism," it also seems to me that the U.S. has boxed itself, policy-wise, into a corner. From the Israeli perspective, how is their shock and awe campaign, in response to the kidnapping of three soldiers, different from our shock and awe campaign, in response to an imagined (and invented) stash of lethal weapons?

Both responses were obscenely disproportionate to the initial problem, both involved a cavalier disregard for the lives of innocent bystanders (including, recently, seven Canadian tourists), both were launch with an apparent disregard for the aftermath. For their part, the Israel government can (and does) point to an actual provocation rather than an imagined one, but the Bush administration can hardly chide the Olmert administration on moral or policy grounds without denouncing by implication every justification for their own ill-conceived and ill-executed adventure.

Martini Republic (quoting an op-ed piece by Richard Reeves) juxtaposes how things were only two decades ago with how things stand today. When Michael Deaver threatened to quit over the American silence in response to the bombing of Beirut ("I can't be part of this anymore, the bombings, the killing of children. It's wrong."), Reagan woke up, called Menachem Begin, and argued successfully for an end to the attack. Perhaps Bush has "the power to stop the killing" as well, but the integrity of that power has surely been weakened by our own foreign policy adventures of the last three years.

Meanwhile, over at Chock Full o' Nuts and among other sundry chickenhawks, the most spirited argument, as James Wolcott mocks, seems to be over what to name their shiny new war: "World War III, World War IV, or, according to the perhaps innumerative Sean Hannity, World War V." The glee which these pundits approach the violence and bloodshed and the enthusiasm they display for its continuance reminds me of my nephew's unsettling love of certain video games. ("RPG! They've got an RPG!") Maybe we should just capitulate to the juvenile minds who won't hand over the game controller and call it "The Whole Wide World War."