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The Triumph of Unrealism

By George F. Will
Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Five weeks have passed since the kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers provoked Israel to launch its most unsatisfactory military operation in 58 years. What problem has been solved, or even ameliorated?

Hezbollah, often using World War II-vintage rockets, has demonstrated the inadequacy of Israel's policy of unilateral disengagement -- from Lebanon, Gaza, much of the West Bank -- behind a fence. Hezbollah has willingly suffered (temporary) military diminution in exchange for enormous political enlargement. Hitherto Hezbollah in Lebanon was a "state within a state." Henceforth, the Lebanese state may be an appendage of Hezbollah, as the collapsing Palestinian Authority is an appendage of the terrorist organization Hamas. Hezbollah is an army that, having frustrated the regional superpower, suddenly embodies, as no Arab state ever has, Arab valor vindicated in combat with Israel.

Only twice in the United Nations' six decades has it authorized the use of substantial force -- in 1950 regarding Korea and in 1990 regarding Kuwait. It still has not authorized force in Lebanon. What is being called a "cease-fire" resolution calls for Israel to stop all "offensive" operations. Israel, however, reasonably says that its entire effort is defensive. The resolution calls for Hezbollah to stop "all attacks." The United Nations, however, has twice resolved that Hezbollah should be disarmed, yet has not willed the means to that end. Regarding force now, the U.N. merely "expresses its intention to consider in a later resolution further enhancements" of the U.N. force that for 28 years has been loitering without serious intent in south Lebanon.

The "new Middle East," the "birth pangs" of which we supposedly are witnessing, reflects the region's oldest tradition, the tribalism that preceded nations. The faux and disintegrating nation of Iraq, from which the middle class, the hope of stability, is fleeing, has experienced in these five weeks many more violent deaths than have occurred in Lebanon and Israel. U.S. Gen. George Casey says 60 percent of Iraqis recently killed are victims of Shiite death squads. Some are associated with the Shiite-controlled Interior Ministry, which resembles a terrorist organization.

The London plot against civil aviation confirmed a theme of an illuminating new book, Lawrence Wright's "The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11." The theme is that better law enforcement, which probably could have prevented Sept. 11, is central to combating terrorism. F-16s are not useful tools against terrorism that issues from places such as Hamburg (where Mohamed Atta lived before dying in the North Tower of the World Trade Center) and High Wycombe, England.

Cooperation between Pakistani and British law enforcement (the British draw upon useful experience combating IRA terrorism) has validated John Kerry's belief (as paraphrased by the New York Times Magazine of Oct. 10, 2004) that "many of the interdiction tactics that cripple drug lords, including governments working jointly to share intelligence, patrol borders and force banks to identify suspicious customers, can also be some of the most useful tools in the war on terror." In a candidates' debate in South Carolina (Jan. 29, 2004), Kerry said that although the war on terror will be "occasionally military," it is "primarily an intelligence and law enforcement operation that requires cooperation around the world."

Immediately after the London plot was disrupted, a "senior administration official," insisting on anonymity for his or her splenetic words, denied the obvious, that Kerry had a point. The official told The Weekly Standard:

"The idea that the jihadists would all be peaceful, warm, lovable, God-fearing people if it weren't for U.S. policies strikes me as not a valid idea. [Democrats] do not have the understanding or the commitment to take on these forces. It's like John Kerry. The law enforcement approach doesn't work."

This farrago of caricature and non sequitur makes the administration seem eager to repel all but the delusional. But perhaps such rhetoric reflects the intellectual contortions required to sustain the illusion that the war in Iraq is central to the war on terrorism, and that the war, unlike "the law enforcement approach," does "work."

The official is correct that it is wrong "to think that somehow we are responsible -- that the actions of the jihadists are justified by U.S. policies." But few outside the fog of paranoia that is the blogosphere think like that. It is more dismaying that someone at the center of government considers it clever to talk like that. It is the language of foreign policy -- and domestic politics -- unrealism.

Foreign policy "realists" considered Middle East stability the goal. The realists' critics, who regard realism as reprehensibly unambitious, considered stability the problem. That problem has been solved.

georgewill@washpost.com

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