Thursday, August 24, 2006

August 20, 2006

Hezbollah As Teacher

Israel set out to teach Hezbollah and it's Lebanese hosts a lesson: “Mess with us and we will mess with you – times 1000.”

Whoa! lesson taught!! And then some.

Now it's time for Israel and the US to learn a far more valuable lesson from, of all folks, Hezbollah.

This odd notion – that Islamo-fascist Hezbollah had something useful to teach us – came to me one night during the recent fighting. A CNN correspondent was interviewing Lebanese civilians trapped in one of the towns under Israeli attack. The civilians were praising Hezbollah, not for their fighting skills, but for all the help they were getting from them. While the Red Cross and UN said they couldn't get help to communities under attack, Hezbollah's social services were providing at least some help.

An old Lebanese man held a full bottle of prescription medicine he desperately needed up to the TV camera in a shaking hand. A Hezbollah social worker had traveled the dangerous roads north to fetch it for him. Other civilians, when asked how they felt about their homes being destroyed, shrugged.

“Hezbollah will rebuild them like they did last time,” was their response.

What made them so sure? Because, after previous Israeli retaliations Hezbollah reconstruction teams showed up in damaged villages within days with truck loads of building materials and volunteer workers. They stopped at each damaged home went straight to work putting it back together. (The citizens of New Orleans should have been so lucky.)

Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know where Hezbollah got the money and matterials.. from the bad guys -- Syria and Iran. If you care about that then you're missing the point entirely. Because, I can assure you, the folks whose homes were being rebuilt by Hezbollah volunteers sure as hell didn't care where the stuff came from.

The Bush administration talks about the importance of “winning the hearts and minds,” of our enemies in the Islamic world, then goes about it in precisely the wrong way. Sending that Wonder Bread white Texan, Karen Hughes out to chat up Muslims in the Middle East will turn stomachs, not warm Muslim hearts.

What Hezbollah teaches is that you win more hearts by fixing homes rather than un-fixing them. You win minds and hearts by making sure civilians get the food and medicines they need, rather than threatening you'll strafe their cars if they try to make a dash to the market or pharmacy. (Dare I say, “Duh.”)

Now that it appears the fighting will stop for a while, Israel the US and Hezbollah have an opportunity to reflect on the lessons taught by each side.

Lesson taught to Hezbollah:
Enough with the rockets. Stop doing things you know push all of Iisrael's buttons. Because you have next door a county with a permanent case of industrial-strength PMS. Just don't get her going because, if you do, she's gonna make you wish you hadn't .

Lesson taught to Israel & the US:
Enough with the bombs. Instead rush into Lebanon with hammers, saws, cement, lumber, pills, lotions, food and money. And do it before Hezbollah social workers beat you to the punch. Say you're sorry to innocent victims, and this time, put your money, materials and sweat into it.

Both sides are going to claim they "won" the shooting portion of this war. But the second the shooting stops the real battle will begin -- the battle for hearts and minds – which is the only battle that really matters.

So, Israel. So George W. (Can't-seem-to-do-anything-right) Bush – compete now with Hezbollah on the battlefield of good deeds. Because otherwise you will almost certainly have to compete with them once again on the battlefield of bombs and blood. (Oh and double ditto for Hamas and the Palestinians.)

Those are today's lessons. And yes, there will be a test.

(Editor's note: I am still vacationing on the News For Real Ranch through the month of August and will not be posting regularly. Because, here at News For Real, I am the decider, and I have decided I need a rest from all this nonsense. I suggest you do the same.)

July 27, 2006

Peace In the Middle East?
It Can Happen

It's easy to despair over the current meltdown between Israel, Lebanon and Palestinians in Gaza. Arabs and Israelis are, for the umpteenth time, busy killing one another while, as usual, the rest of the world chooses up sides like spectators at a street brawl.

Arab leaders refuse to talk to Israeli leaders. Israelis refuse to talk to duly elected Hamas leaders. The US refuses to talk to either Hezbollah or Hamas leaders. The UN will talk to anyone, but no one cares, because calling the UN for help is about as rewarding as talking to Lily Tomlin's PBX operator, Ernestine.

Which is why it all looks so bleak right now with no apparent solution possible.

But we've been here before, and I do mean “we,” as in the west. The place was Ireland. The year was 1798, then 1803, and again in 1848, and again in 1867. The 45 years between 1803 and 1848 saw the Irish population mobilized in one of the first anti-colonialst mass movements in the history of Europe, demanding independence from British occupation.

Of course, the British refused and the struggle began. In 1916 the fight spawned the birth of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) which began a campaign of urban terror that would stretch to the dawn of the next millennium. (More)

The beginning of the end of that bloody era began in1972, not on the field of battle, but at the ballot box.

“With the repudiation of violence in 1972, and its move from republicanism to Marxism, Provisional Sinn Féin became the political voice of the minority of northern nationalists who saw IRA violence as the means of forcing an end to British rule and institutionalised discrimination against nationalists...” (More)

Over the next thirty years Sinn Fein, as the non-violent political arm of the IRA, was not only able to win political offices throughout Northern Ireland but, more importantly, provided an IRA entity to which those who had pledged never “to negotiate with terrorists,” could do just that, without looking like they were.

The rest is history. The IRA has now disarmed and the murderous, nearly century-long “troubles,” in Northern Ireland are – it appears – finally over.

Now to the Middle East and how, though George Bush's vision of democratizing that region went sideways, may still be useful. There's an old saying that, “even a broken clock is right twice a day.” That applies to Bush's stated Middle East policy. Bush and his neo-con sidekicks figured that, if Arabs were allowed to vote for their leaders they would vote for non-terrorist leaders.

Wrong. The Palestinians promptly voted Hamas into office. The Iraqis voted in pro-Iranian Shiites. And, with the largest unified block of voters in Lebanon, Shiite's elected Hezbollah Shiites to key posts, which is why Hezbollah now has the Lebanese government by the balls.

Bush's clock stopped a long time ago, yet has turned out to be right, by default, in this case. Both Hamas and Hezbollah used Bush's pro-democracy rhetoric to diversify their operations, adding purely political arms to what had been solely military operations.

I'm sure you can see where I am going with this. The British, and other western leaders, including the US, were able to “not talk to terrorists,” by instead negotiating with Sinn Fein. Likewise the US, Europe and even the Israelis could open talks with both Hamas and Hezbollah's peacefully elected officials. (Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know – some of those guys carried guns before they went into politics. Well, I have news for you, more than few Sinn Fein officials earned their bones killing British soldiers too. And, least we forget, the Brits considered Jewish freedom fighters in British-occupied Palestine terrorists too. Which is why this is one of those rare cases where the “don't ask, don't tell” policy is actually constructive.)

There are other problems with this idea I'd like to acknowledge. The IRA had the good sense not to share it's name with it's political arm. That provided greater cover and deniability for the “we will never negotiate with IRA terrorists,” crowd.

It's the kind of diplomatic kabuki dance that everyone sees right through but, since the stakes are so high, pretend they don't.

Consequently it will be harder to create such a diplomatic fiction in regards to Hamas and Hezbollah, since the terrorists and their political arms of each are burdened by identical branding. Choosing the same names for their political parties was just plain dumb – something even the most mediocre political consulting firm would have told them, had they bothered to ask.

Still it can be done. The US and Europe can, and should, seize the existence of Hamas and Hezbollah's political entities as a way to open a channel with these to groups. Bush has lied so many times already – WMD, yellow cake, we are not spying on Americans... etc. etc.... that this one should be a piece of cake.

Here George. Copy this onto a 3 x 5 card:

“We are not talking to terrorists with blood on their hands. We are talking to the democratically elected members of the Palestinian and Lebanese people. We will never negotiate with terrorists. That's always been our position, it still is and always will be. The people we are talking to chose ballots over bullets. In other words, we are not talking to terrorists.”

There, wouldn't be so hard, would it? Especially for the same guy who could stand in front TV cameras and, with a straight face, claim, “America does not torture people,” even as a CNN split screen displays photos of US troops doing precisely that. Hell, this wouldn't even rank as a white lie, compared to that whooper.

"Saddled with one failure after another, the administration seems paralyzed, completely unable to shape the big issues facing the U.S. and the world today. Condoleezza Rice is in charge of the diplomatic effort regarding Lebanon. She’s been about as effective at that as the president was in his response to Katrina." Columnist Bob Herbert

By negotiating with the IRA's political wing a solution was finally achieved. Anyone who suggested just a few years ago that they day would arrive when IRA soldiers would not only put down their guns but voluntarily lead government officials to the hidden arms caches, would have been laughed from the room. Did the final solution please everyone in Ireland? Of course not. Hardliners on both the Catholic and Protestant sides still consider themselves the aggrieved parties of the first part, and will go to the graves believing so.

But the solution did give the people of Northern Ireland what they wanted -- peace.

Does anyone doubt that the majorities within Palestine, Lebanon, Israel, Iraq and Afghanistan want the same? Peace. Of course they do. The question is how to achieve it and on what terms. Terms are required to settle any dispute. And terms require talks. Some times you have no choice but the fight. But fighting terrorism solely by fighting terrorists is like trying to win a ground war by only bombing. It can't be done. You can't "win" that way. Sooner or later you have to put diplomatic boots on the ground.

So, Bush, Blair, Olmert, listen up you knuckleheads. Open talks with guys in Gaza and Lebanon who choose to wear suits instead of ski masks and uniforms. You'll know then when you see them because they carry briefcases to work every day, instead of rifles. These are the folks Palestinians and Lebanese voted for in the privacy of the voting booth, not because they had a gun to their heads. They voted for them because they trust them and what they had to say. That trust is precisely what you guys don't have, and I think we all know why. That means you're going to need these guys to sell a settlement to their people. So start talking to them. (In return we will pretend to believe you are not talking to terrorists.” Deal?)

So the Jews and Muslims hate one another. We get that. But they don't hate each other any more than Ireland's Protestants and Catholics hated one another.

Peace in the Middle East is possible.

It can be done.

There is way.

And that's it.