The New York Times has a lengthy report on the diplomacy surrounding Lebanon. Kofi Annan and Tony Blair are pushing for a multinational force to calm the borders. This would be a disaster. Russia has expressed interest in sending troops, as most certainly would France. If Britain and the U.S. send troops as well, the four foreign parties most responsible for the perverse poltics of the Middle East would be ensconced at that region's most perilous fault line.
Secretary of State Condaleeza Rice travels to the Middle East this week. What she will do is hard to say. Hezbollah won't give up their arms, Israel won't give up until her soldiers are returned, and Syria and Iran have given no indication they will abandon Hezbollah. E.J. Dionne perceives the situation well:
The most frightening aspect of this war is that the logic for escalation is far stronger than the logic for de-escalation. If Hezbollah's power is not severely degraded, Israel will remain vulnerable. But if Olmert wants to avoid Sharon's 1982 mistake of a large-scale occupation of Lebanon, what options does he have?
As long as Hezbollah continues to receive support from its Iranian patrons and its Syrian partners, it will be able to re-create itself, building on long-standing Shiite grievances. Absent such support, the movement would wither militarily. That argues for settling things once and for all with Iran and Syria -- which means wholesale war in the Middle East at a time when roughly 130,000 American troops are in Iraq.
This would be a calamity, which is why alarmism is the highest form of realism in this case.
Dionne's solution -- a 72 hour cease fire -- is unlikely in the extreme.
However, it must be said that Kofi Annan's message to Syria -- "to make something happen" with Hezbollah -- is an encouraging sign that the international community understands which party controls how long the Lebanese suffer. The surest way to deflate the crisis is to disarm Hezbollah and then deny them resupply. It's hopeful that Annan, who is still influential despite the kleptomania of his organization, seems to have broken with the U.N.'s long and shameful bias against Israel.
Hezbollah continues to launch rockets into Israel, Israel continues to respond ferociously, Westerners and others continue to flee, and the nations of the Middle East look on with great fear, of both the Persian and the Shia.
UPDATE: Richard Cohen advises Israel not to be overly aggresive. He theorizes that Israel would be best served to "hunker down" in a defensive position and wait for the nations which surround it to develop into peaceful neighbors. It is an excellent hypothesis provided one does not have to face the consequences of testing it.
Its fundamental flaw is that it understands Muslim hatred of Israel as an accident of the 20th century. This is wrong. It has existed from Mohammed's first victory in the deserts of Arabia, and it will not go away any time soon. As long as there is an Israel, there will somewhere be a Muslim army anxious to destroy it using whatever means are at its disposal.
Furthermore, it asks of Israel a forebearance no other nation in the world is required to display. It is immoral and unrealistic to expect such patience from the Jews simply because their nation's birth displeases their neighbors; any nation has a right to strike back against repeated provocation, and Israel is not obliged to be better than other nations. The fault lies with those who provoke, not with those who respond.
UPDATE 2: Soccer Dad links to a lot of the commentary on Cohen's piece. Perhaps because he's made such a thourough study of Cohen's argument, he has probably the most perceptive comment about its flaws:
...it's hard to get past the article without feeling that he's giving ammunition to Israel's enemies.
To Cohen Israel's founding is a reaction to the Holocaust. Toleration of Israel is a sign of civilization and an acknowledgement of the wrongness of the Holocaust. But there are those who don't accept his premises. They too must be tolerated no matter how outrageous (and murderous) their behavior. Until they come around. Somehow that's not very comforting or convincing.
The Belmont Club also has a perceptive line: "'Never Again' lasted all of sixty years."
"Never" is not a word thought of fondly by the ivory towered.