I don't want to be seen as a knee-jerk pessimistic Eeyore, immediately jumping to the worst-case scenario no matter what, but it looks like all that progress is currently in the process of being blown into oblivion. If there's even a Lebanon left after the Israel-Hezbollah war is over with, who knows what it's going to look like? Maybe some Lebanese George Washington will magically rise up to rebuild the country into something beautiful again, but it seems just as likely that Syria or Iran will find a way to take advantage of the chaos and weasel another puppet regime back in there. Whatever kind of government emerges from the ashes, it's hard to imagine the people of Lebanon having many kind feelings toward Israel after the IDF blows their country to bits.
That, I think, is what makes me the most angry about all of this. Here's a country, once called "the Paris of the Middle East" for its culture and intellectual openness, that survived a brutal 15-year civil war and another 15 years of Syrian oppression to emerge as perhaps the best hope for actual democracy in the Middle East -- and both Hezbollah and Israel have evidently decided that all that progress and all that hope are worth erasing if it means they get to continue blasting the hell out of each other.
Obviously Hezbollah carries the lion's share of the blame in all this. They knew exactly what they were doing by kidnapping those two Israeli soldiers last month, and probably knew full well how much the conflict was going to widen itself over the ensuing weeks. Which meant that they had a good idea just how much destruction was going to be rained down on Lebanon from both sides, and were willing to allow that to happen just so that they could start an unwinnable war with the Israelis.
But Israel, for their part, obediently fell for the Hezbollah trap hook, line, and sinker: For want of two kidnapped soldiers, they gave Hezbollah the war it wanted. Look, I'm one of the last people who's going to sit here and argue that Israel doesn't have a right to defend itself, and I'm certainly not going to say that the kidnapping of two citizens is something Israel should've ignored. But look, I'm just going to come out and say it -- is reducing entire cities to rubble their idea of a proportional response to two kidnappings? And can the Israelis hold their heads high and feel like they haven't been drawn into something terribly pointless in all this?
For all we know, the kidnappings were all a plan hatched by Syria to goad Israel into a conflict that would sow chaos in Lebanon and create an environment in which Syria could sneak back in and re-install a friendly puppet government. Is that what Israel, or anyone else, wants?
Meanwhile, aside from dropping four-letter words in front of fellow world leaders and saying they're not going to tell the Israelis how to run their country, the U.S. government appears to be doing nothing. And back here in America, some of the same people who self-righteously hailed the sweep of democracy through Lebanon 17 months ago are now shrugging their shoulders and insinuating that the Lebanese should just shut up and take what's coming to them. So that's as long as your attention span lasted re the Cedar Revolution, huh? Seventeen months ago you were chiding us liberals for not being happy enough for the Lebanese, and now you're blasting us for supposedly being too concerned with their welfare. Seventeen months ago you hailed Lebanon's progress as a vindication for Bush's pro-democracy policies, and now you cheer as that progress is reduced to dust.
I don't want to beat a dead horse (or a dead Arab) here, but I think it bears repeating: Eventually the neo-con kill-'em-all-let-God-sort-'em-out right-wing cheerleaders are going to have to decide whether they want freedom for the poor benighted Arabs or whether they just want to bomb the shit out of 'em. If you want freedom and democracy for Lebanon, you probably shouldn't cheer as innocents are caught in the crossfire of this war; if you want freedom and democracy for Iraq, it seems poor form for you to fantasize about turning entire cities into parking lots, etc. etc. etc. Be a freedom-lover or be a bloodthirsty warmonger, but pick one, stick with it, and be honest and upfront about your choice. (Or as Bill Maher might say: "New rule -- you're officially banned from going ga-ga over pictures of hot women if you're only going to call them all terrorists later.")
But I'm not going to spend a lot of time sitting around and waiting for them to make up their minds. Right now I'm trying to make up my own mind -- whether to continue to hope that this whole thing can be resolved before Lebanon is completely wiped off the map, or to just give up on humanity entirely, move to Tahiti, and never pick up another newspaper or watch CNN ever again. I gotta tell you, at this point the latter's looking more and more attractive by the second.
A friend of mine summed it up best as we glumly hashed out this topic over drinks on Saturday. He said this crisis made him think back to a line spoken during an episode of "The West Wing" during similar circumstances: "Tell me how this ends!"
Leo McGarry: Mr. President, please -- Congress, the Joint Chiefs, the American Public, your own staff, everyone disagrees with your assessment of the situation.
President Bartlet: Killing Palestinians isn't going to make us feel safer. They'll kill more of us and we'll have to kill more of them. It's Russian Roulette with a fully loaded gun.
McGarry: We can't allow terrorists to murder our citizens without . . .
President Josiah Bartlet: Why would Palestinians murder American government officials? They never have before. They're deliberately provoking us, Leo. They know that we have to retaliate. They've studied us, they want us to overreact.
Leo McGarry: This isn't overreacting, this is the appropriate, balanced . . .
President Josiah Bartlet: Tell me how this ends, Leo! You want me to start something that may have serious repercussions on American foreign policy for decades, but you don't know how this ends!
My friend said that what he'd like to do more than anything is to sit down with Israel and ask them what they want the outcome of this whole thing to be, and then work backwards from there. Maybe that'd help in this case, because it seems like both sides in this conflict did a really good job early on of getting enraged but not a good job at all of pondering where that rage is likely to get them.
Not anywhere good would be my guess. I hope somebody figures that out before it's too late.
ADDED: Boy, it just gets better. What does Rush Limbaugh have in common with the Rapture fetishists of the evangelical right? They both think all this violence in Lebanon is a good thing. Read it and weep.