A Moment to Be Seized in Lebanon
The charm of any U.N. Security Council resolution lies in the preamble, which invariably begins by "recalling" all previous resolutions on the same subject that have been entirely ignored, therefore necessitating the current resolution. Hence newly minted Resolution 1701: Before mandating the return of south Lebanon to Lebanese government control, it lists the seven Security Council resolutions going back 28 years that have demanded the same thing.
We are to believe, however, that this time the United Nations means it. Yet, the fact that responsibility for implementation is given to Kofi Annan's office -- not known for integrity, competence or neutrality -- betrays a certain unseriousness about the enterprise from the very beginning.
Now, it is true that had Israel succeeded militarily in its strategic objectives, there would have been no need for any resolution. Israel would have unilaterally cleaned out south Lebanon and would be dictating terms.
But that did not happen. The first Israel-Hezbollah war ended in a tie, and in this kind of warfare, tie goes to the terrorist. Yet there is no doubt that had Israel been permitted to proceed with the expanded offensive it began two days before the cease-fire, Israel would eventually have destroyed Hezbollah in the south, albeit at great cost to itself, Lebanon and Israel's patron, the United States. Which is why the war was called off.
Having obviated that possibility with the cease-fire, the United States is left with certain responsibilities. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice gave assurances that this resolution would not be a dead letter; that it had enough Chapter 7 (i.e., legally enforceable) language to give it teeth; that there would indeed be a buffer zone below the Litani River; that there would be a robust international force with robust rules of engagement.
Yet, within days, these assurances are already fraying. Hezbollah has declared that it will not disarm. The Siniora government in Beirut has acquiesced in a "don't ask, don't tell" deal in which Hezbollah retains its entire infrastructure south of the Litani -- bunkers, weapons, fighters -- with the cosmetic proviso that none will be displayed very openly. No strutting, but everything remains in place awaiting the order to restart the war when the time is right.
That arrangement is essentially a return to the status quo ante -- precisely what the United States had said it would not permit because that would represent a strategic disaster for the forces of democracy and moderation in the region.
We are headed for a complete repudiation of the bottom-line American position. The stakes are high. Not so much for Israel, which in the end will take care of itself. By the now-inevitable Round Two, Israel will have rejected the failed Olmert-led exercise in hesitancy and will have new leadership, new tactics and new equipment (for example, expensive new plating for its tanks, which were so vulnerable to advanced Iranian antitank weaponry).
What is most at stake, from the American perspective, is Lebanon. Lebanon was the most encouraging achievement of the democratization project launched with great risk with the invasion of Iraq. The Beirut Spring, the liberation from Syrian rule and the election of a pro-Western government marked the high point (together with the first Iraqi election, which inspired the events in Lebanon) of the Bush doctrine.
Syria, Iran and Hezbollah have been working assiduously to reverse that great advance. Hezbollah insinuated itself into the government. The investigation of Syria for the murder of Rafiq Hariri has stalled. And now, with the psychological success of the war with Israel, Hezbollah may soon become the dominant force in all of Lebanon. In the south, the Lebanese army will be taking orders from Hezbollah. Hezbollah is not just returning to being a "state within a state." It is becoming the state, with the Siniora government reduced to acting as its front.
That is why ensuring that Hezbollah is cut down to size by a robust international force with very strict enforcement of its disarmament is so critical. For all its boasts, Hezbollah has suffered grievously militarily, with enormous losses of fighters, materiel and infrastructure. Now is its moment of maximum weakness. That moment will not last long. Resupply and rebuilding have already begun.
This is no time for the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations to be saying, when asked about the creation of an international force, that "this really is a responsibility of the Secretariat." Maybe officially, but if we are not working frantically behind the scenes to make sure that this preposterously inappropriate body gets real troops in quickly, armed with the right equipment and the right mandate, the moment will be lost. And with it Lebanon.