Thursday, August 10, 2006

World War III? IV? V? Get Happy!

Amy Goodman interviews Richard Debs, a Lebanese-American businessman. In my view, the two most crucial points Debs makes are, (1) that the causes of this current war between Lebanon and Israel go far beyond the kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers; and (2) that Hezbollah's origins, and its popularity, came in response to Israel's 1982 invasion of Lebanon and subsequent almost 20-year occupation. I have bolded what I think are the most significant points:

AMY GOODMAN: The timetable that's often given is that this began in mid-July, when Hezbollah abducted two Israeli soldiers. Is that your timetable? Is that how you see it?

RICHARD DEBS: No, absolutely not. Absolutely not. This is not a one-shot recent affair. This situation -- really you have to go back many decades, but more recently, this is the way the Lebanese look at it, and most of the Middle East, including those who would rather see Hezbollah disappear. Going back to the civil war in Lebanon that had been caused by many, many reasons, many parties involved, sectarian and so forth, but also foreign interference, including that of Israel, who went in in the early '80s and occupied, bombed Beirut, bombed Lebanon, in much the same way as they are doing now, but it was in '82 or so that Hezbollah itself was organized. And from '82 until 2000, Israel occupied the southern part of Lebanon, after having created devastation in the country itself, which took a long time. It never did recover, never did recover.

The south was in terrible shape. The poorer Lebanese lived there . The occupation lasted all that time. And Hezbollah was created, not just as a military force, but as a welfare organization, like a state within a state. They took care of the people there. The Lebanese government did not, could not get there to do it. The army couldn't get there to do it. The police couldn't get there to do it. Hezbollah was the government, in effect. They were seen, perceived as the Lebanese, and I say most of the Middle East, as having, after many skirmishes and so forth with the Israelis, forced the Israelis out of Lebanon in 2000. And in that respect, Israel looks upon it as a peace-giving measure of retreating from an occupied territory. The Arabs, in general, look upon it as a victory for this group of guerrillas who forced the Israelis out of Lebanon.

Since then, there have been many skirmishes on that border, many skirmishes. Many people were killed on both sides. And there were prisoner exchanges, between Hezbollah kidnapping Israelis, Israelis taking as prisoners Lebanese, whom they still hold in captivity.

As I understand it, from everything I've heard, Hezbollah intended this kidnapping as the basis for a prisoner exchange. I don't think that they expected the kind of reaction from Israel that they got. But whatever the case was, and when you look back chronologically, the first attack was by Hezbollah, going across the border, doing the kidnappings, which are illegal -- there's no doubt about it -- but it's happened before, and then the retaliation by Israel at Lebanon, not just at Hezbollah, because they couldn't -- I think the Israelis were surprised, as well, as to their inability to get to where the Hezbollah guerrillas are.

That, in itself, the bombing of Lebanon, in itself, was the real weak point in this whole strategy. But the reaction of Hezbollah at that point was to throw these missiles into Israel itself, killing many innocent people over there, and not beginning the conflagration, but responding to what the Israeli incursion was.

The first reaction by many Lebanese and many Arabs was, you know, it's a pity that Hezbollah did this and creating this situation or causing, inflaming it. It didn't take long for the Middle East, in view of what Israel did to Lebanon itself, an innocent people being killed and the infrastructure being destroyed -- it's amazing what has happened now in the country itself -- to think, to change their view of Lebanon, even those who were opposed to Hezbollah and would rather have seen it just disappear, as considering them the heroes, the resistant fighters, against this aggressive state.

And not just Israel. In the Middle East, it's now considered the American war against the Arabs. That's what it's gotten down to. And this is going to haunt us for many, many years, I think. I don't see why we took this position blatantly. I mean, there's no doubt about it. It's not subtle. It's not diplomatic or anything. The President says it over and over, and our Secretary of State says it over and over: we do not want a ceasefire, we will not press for a ceasefire, until certain conditions are met.

And this has been going on, as you know, for many weeks. In the meanwhile, every day more people are killed on both sides. And I'm sure the Lebanese dead count is going to exceed a thousand people easily by the time this is over, not to mention those who are wounded, but more importantly, those who are left behind. Those who are left behind, the refugees who have left their towns and villages, those who have received them in northern Lebanon -- the economy is just devastated -- those people are alive and will be around for a long time. And they won't forget this American position of not wanting to stop the violence and the killing until Israel achieved its objectives.

Christopher Allbritton writes that the IDF air war has completely destroyed Lebanon's civilian infrastructure, after 16 years of painstaking rebuilding from the last Israeli war against Lebanon. Allbritton also states his belief (in excerpts from an article to be published in a Singapore paper this weekend) that the savageness of Israel's current invasion is motivated by vengefulness:

I've submitted an essay to the Singapore Strait Times which should be published this Sunday. I'll post the text or link when it's available, but for now, an excerpt:

The war came quickly to Lebanon, like an angry storm from the south, just hours after the Shi'ite group Hizbullah snatched two Israeli soldiers in a daring cross-border raid July 12.

The Israeli response was swift and terrible. Roads, bridges, airports, the entire civilian infrastructure of Lebanon, which had worked so hard in 15 years to rebuild from a devastating civil war, was under assault because of the actions of an armed group inside its borders and a furious Israeli military that had been looking for a chance to get even ever since Hizbullah finally forced Israel from Lebanon in 2000.

Beirut, my home, changed overnight. Thousands of urbane, cosmopolitan people -- Christians, Sunnis and Shi'ites alike -- fled the country to Syria. Or at least they high-tailed it to the mountains. Within days, many came from the south to take their place. Mostly poor Shi'ites, they came by the hundreds of thousands. Filling abandoned buildings, schools and taken in by generous Lebanese families. After three weeks of fighting, between 800,000 and 900,000 people -- again, mostly poor Shi'ites -- have been pushed up cheek-to-jowl with upperclass Christians and Sunnis.

TomDispatch tells us what the IDF means by "precision bombing":

In Lebanon, here's what "precision" bombing seems to mean. "On Saturday, an Israeli offense consisting of more than 250 air attacks dropped 4,000 bombs within seven hours. ... The total death toll from the attacks is approaching 1,000. One third of those deaths are from children under 12." I don't know who is counting all this or whether such figures are accurate, but there can be no question that parts of Lebanon are being turned into little more than rubble; that with main highways and bridges destroyed, unmanned aerial drones and F-16s overhead, airports shut down, and the coastline blockaded, supplies are not arriving; that hospitals are at the edge of closing, and that a staggering percentage of the country of only 3.8 million are now refugees -- abroad, in Syria, or simply on the move and homeless in their own country. Christian areas of Lebanon are now being bombed -- for this, see a vivid, and horrifying post by Juan Cole -- and the bombing campaign is widening with, for instance, ever more central areas of Beirut being hit. It seems that even some Israeli pilots are having qualms about the targets being offered. The message is, I suppose, precise enough, even if the bombs and missiles aren't: Nowhere is safe; there will be no refuge. In Baghdad as in Lebanon, this, it seems, is where the Bush "crusade" has indeed left us all. It's a place without pity or, evidently, a shred of mercy. It is no place for diplomacy, nor even for words (so much more precise and yet frustrating than bombs). Hezbollah's "words" are, of course, its rockets which land indiscriminately across northern Israel.

Meanwhile. Pres. Bush, on vacation in Crawford -- "his favorite place to be during a major crisis," says Juan Cole -- pumps himself up by screaming "Air assault!" as he does wheelies up Texas hills. It's all like a video game to him -- he has no clue what an air assault looks like and and what it feels like to have 3,000 bombs dropped on your village in one day. Imagine if 3,000 bombs were dropped on Crawford, Texas, in one day. Three thousand bombs. Each weighing about 500 pounds. One village. One day.

Prof. Cole's words for Bush are lacerating:

Bush is on vacation, his favorite place to be during a major crisis. The August retreat is the only open admission he makes that Cheney and Rumsfeld are actually running the country, and he just doesn't need to be in his office. The only difference between his stonewalling of Lebanon and the way he let New Orleans drown is that he has put away the banjo this summer, at least in public view. He had someone tie a necktie on him and stopped manically clearing brush for long enough to come out with Condi and hold a press conference. He lied, saying that no one wants to see the violence continue. He wants to see the violence continue. Otherwise he would insist on a ceasefire. You see, if you don't have a ceasefire, the violence continues. If you oppose a ceasefire, you are saying you want the violence to continue. He does.
The Israelis have also bombed Ashrafiyah, a Christian area of Beirut. They have ruined Christian businesses-- restaurants, nightclubs, retail shops, by destroying bridges, roads and ports and by killing tourism for years to come.

The Syrians, about whom the Bush administration complained so bitterly for their role in Lebanon, had actually protected the Lebanese Christians from the PLO back in the 1970s and never did to them a hundredth of the damage that Israel has now done.

I don't mean to suggest that one should only worry about Lebanon's Christians, who form 40 percent of the electorate.

The Shiite Muslims of the south have been subjected to collective punishment on a mass scale. Whole towns and villages have been destroyed. Nearly a million people are displaced and homeless. The deliberate deportation or forcible transfer of a civilian population during war time is a crime against humanity, as is unnecessary expulsion of civilians from their homes.

Lebanon is a small country, with a population of only 3.8 million. A fourth of the country is homeless! That would be like a disaster that left 70 million Americans wandering around with just the shirts on their backs, living in shelters and schools, wondering where their next bite of food would come from, their homes in rubble, their lives destroyed.

But you're wasting your time trying to convince George W. Bush that all this is undesirable. A significant and growing part of Bush's fan base actually is thrilled at the spreading war. For them, it's a sign that World War III is upon us, and that is a very hopeful development, because it means that the Rapture is coming closer, and all the Christians will be getting their glorious reward in Heaven:

No matter what your position is on Iraq or the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, no one in their right mind could be anything but dismayed. Unless, that is, you're of a particular conservative mind.

To some of the leading lights of the right-wing commentariat, what we're seeing unfold is no mere crisis. Instead, it is literally World War III, a clash of civilizations in which everyone everywhere will have to take a side and take up arms. And they couldn't be happier about it.

It will surprise no one to hear that this argument is coming from certain fundamentalist Christian quarters, where premillenial dispensationalists see signs that the coming Rapture is accelerating toward its glorious end. But it is also being heard from more mainstream voices.

Newt Gingrich recently said, "We're in the early stages of what I would describe as the Third World War," while conservative talking head Bill Bennett said, "I think we're in World War III now." Right-wing talk show hosts like Bill O'Reilly and Glenn Beck have chimed in their agreement that World War III is now in progress, and a few, such as neocon gray eminence Norman Podhoretz and the American Enterprise Institute's Michael Ledeen, have said this is actually World War IV (the Cold War, apparently, was World War III). Sean Hannity even said this is World War V, but it was less than clear what he was talking about.

So just why is it that so many conservatives are so eager to characterize the current conflict as another world war? The answer lies in a deep, abiding need among conservatives to exist in a state of war, the bigger the better. It need not be a war in which actual shots are being fired, but it must be defined as a war so that our political reality, both in practical terms and with regard to our discourse, can be ordered in a particular way.

Are you Rapture Ready?

No comments: