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It's Disproportionate. . .

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By Eugene Robinson
Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Just my luck. I go away on vacation and it happens to be the week when George W. Bush's strategic view of the current world situation is revealed: Russia big. China big, too. World leaders boring. Lady world leaders need neck rub. Terrorism bad. Elections good (when the right people get elected). Israel good. Time to go home yet?

I felt better when I thought the Decider didn't have a worldview, just a set of instincts about freedom and democracy. But even if you set aside the president's embarrassing open-mike performance at the Group of Eight summit, which is hard to do, events of the past week show that this administration actually thinks it knows what it's doing. Bush and his folks haven't just blundered around and created this dangerous mess, they've done it on purpose. And they intend to make it worse.

Bush's endorsement of the violence that Israel is inflicting on Lebanon -- a sustained bombing campaign that has killed hundreds of civilians and can only be seen as collective punishment -- is truly astonishing. Of course Israel has the right to defend itself against Hezbollah's rocket attacks. But how can this utterly disproportionate, seemingly indiscriminate carnage be anything but counterproductive?

Destroying the Beirut airport, blasting communications towers into oblivion and cleansing southern Lebanon of its civilian population are not measures the world will see as an attack on Hezbollah terrorists. The Israeli campaign is so intense and widespread that it is creating more terrorists than it kills. Proportionate military action might have enhanced Israel's security, but video footage of grandmothers weeping amid the rubble of their homes and bloodied children lying in hospital beds won't make Israel more secure. Hezbollah's stature in the Arab world is growing, and its patrons in Damascus and Tehran must be smugly satisfied.

The role of any American president and secretary of state should have been to move quickly to bring hostilities to an end. Instead, Bush all but egged the Israelis on, and Condoleezza Rice went so far as to reject the idea of a cease-fire. Belatedly, she has flown to the region with no real credibility as an honest broker. Her words of concern about the "humanitarian crisis" in Lebanon ring hollow.

But this administration doesn't want to be an honest broker in the Middle East. Bush and Rice have staked their Middle East policy on a single incontrovertible idea -- that terrorism is bad -- and it has led them to the mistaken notion that Israel can achieve long-term security by creating a kind of scorched-earth buffer zone in southern Lebanon.

It's hard to imagine a more unpromising course of action. Even Rice (who is an expert on Russia, not the Middle East) and Bush (who knows that Russia and China are big) must recall that a full-fledged military occupation of southern Lebanon didn't work, which should lead them to question whether a few weeks of bombing will do the trick. Even the Israelis, who boasted at first that they were out to destroy Hezbollah, now speak only of severely weakening the enemy and are leaving the door open to some sort of international force on the border.

Perhaps that will be the resolution. Perhaps Israel will get its buffer zone and Hezbollah rockets will stop falling on Haifa for the time being. But ultimately Israel will be less secure, and so will the rest of us.

Bush, Rice et al. refuse to see that their crusade against terrorism can never be won by military action alone, because a victory in the war of arms can also be a defeat in the war of ideas. Lebanon was moving -- imperfectly but unmistakably -- toward becoming the kind of society we paint as a model for the Arab world, a secular democracy with a modernizing economy. Now billions of dollars' worth of infrastructure are in ruins and the country's most promising industry, tourism, has effectively been obliterated. It will be some time before Beirut is anyone's first choice for a holiday of sun and fun.

Hezbollah started this with its rockets, but the unrestrained Israeli response threatens to make an iconic hero of Hezbollah leader Hasan Nasrallah. Hezbollah's new prominence enhances Iranian influence in the region, which creates problems for pro-Western governments in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan. Iraq, meanwhile, is in the midst of a brutal civil war, and American troops are bogged down in a long-term occupation. This is winning a war on terrorism?

The next time you hear someone praise the simplicity of George W. Bush's worldview, keep in mind that what you don't know can indeed hurt you.

The writer will take questions today at 1 p.m. on www.washingtonpost.com. His e-mail address iseugenerobinson@washpost.com.


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