Giving Mideast War a Chance?
Today’s WaPo fronts an analysis piece from Michael Abramowitz entitled “In Mideast Strife, Bush Sees a Step To Peace.”
resident Bush’s unwillingness to pressure Israel to halt its military campaign in Lebanon is rooted in a view of the Middle East conflict that is sharply different from that of his predecessors. When hostilities have broken out in the past, the usual U.S. response has been an immediate and public bout of diplomacy aimed at a cease-fire, in the hopes of ensuring that the crisis would not escalate. This week, however, even in the face of growing international demands, the White House has studiously avoided any hint of impatience with Israel. While making it plain it wants civilian casualties limited, the administration is also content to see the Israelis inflict the maximum damage possible on Hezbollah.
As the president’s position is described by White House officials, Bush associates and outside Middle East experts, Bush believes that the status quo — the presence in a sovereign country of a militant group with missiles capable of hitting a U.S. ally — is unacceptable.
The U.S. position also reflects Bush’s deepening belief that Israel is central to the broader campaign against terrorists and represents a shift away from a more traditional view that the United States plays an “honest broker’s” role in the Middle East. In the administration’s view, the new conflict is not just a crisis to be managed. It is also an opportunity to seriously degrade a big threat in the region, just as Bush believes he is doing in Iraq. Israel’s crippling of Hezbollah, officials also hope, would complete the work of building a functioning democracy in Lebanon and send a strong message to the Syrian and Iranian backers of Hezbollah. “The president believes that unless you address the root causes of the violence that has afflicted the Middle East, you cannot forge a lasting peace,” said White House counselor Dan Bartlett. “He mourns the loss of every life. Yet out of this tragic development, he believes a moment of clarity has arrived.”
This is essentially the thesis of “Give War a Chance,” Edward N. Luttwak’s controversial 1999 essay in Foreign Affairs.
An unpleasant truth often overlooked is that although war is a great evil, it does have a great virtue: it can resolve political conflicts and lead to peace. This can happen when all belligerents become exhausted or when one wins decisively. Either way the key is that the fighting must continue until a resolution is reached. War brings peace only after passing a culminating phase of violence. Hopes of military success must fade for accommodation to become more attractive than further combat.
But a cease-fire tends to arrest war-induced exhaustion and lets belligerents reconstitute and rearm their forces. It intensifies and prolongs the struggle once the cease-fire ends — and it does usually end. This was true of the Arab-Israeli war of 1948-49, which might have come to closure in a matter of weeks if two cease-fires ordained by the Security Council had not let the combatants recuperate. It has recently been true in the Balkans. Imposed cease-fires frequently interrupted the fighting between Serbs and Croats in Krajina, between the forces of the rump Yugoslav federation and the Croat army, and between the Serbs, Croats, and Muslims in Bosnia. Each time, the opponents used the pause to recruit, train, and equip additional forces for further combat, prolonging the war and widening the scope of its killing and destruction. Imposed armistices, meanwhile — again, unless followed by negotiated peace accords — artificially freeze conflict and perpetuate a state of war indefinitely by shielding the weaker side from the consequences of refusing to make concessions for peace.
So it has been in the Arab-Israeli conflict for generations. Of course, as I’ve written many times now, it’s unclear that there’s anyone on the Arab side able to do what Emperor Hirohito did for Japan in 1945: surrender and be obeyed by his followers.