Quagmire

As the latest Middle East crisis goes from bad to worse, one thing is now completely obvious: the United States has virtually no leverage. When the fantasy policy George W. Bush shares in private with his lapdog Tony is getting Kofi Annan to lean on Syria to lean on Hezbollah, you know we’re up the proverbial polluted estuary with no plausible means of propulsion.

A successful occupation of Iraq leading to the installation of a powerful and friendly government there might indeed have increased our influence over the region. But a long counterinsurgency campaign that ties up so much of our military capacity that we can’t credibly threaten ground action anywhere else in the world, and the creation of 130,000 potential hostages should we do anything that sufficiently annoys Iran, has the opposite effect.

Only blind loyalty to GWB as a political figure or to the neocon imperial dream could make it impossible to see such an obvious set of relationships. The argument for getting out of Iraq ASAP just got a whole bunch stronger.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com

16 thoughts on “Quagmire”

  1. Bush may live in a fantasy world where Muslims and other undesirable people of color are puppets who dance to the tune of hidden masters. (Rremember the coviction of many Southerners that "outside agitators?" were behind the Civil Rights movement?)
    But the US having "no leverage" in the Middle East? That;s a fantasy, too. Do you really think Israel would have undertaken this adventure without the conviction that the US would stand by passively – and that we would not interrupt the flow of $2000 per person per year in aid and subsidies?

  2. Naturally, of course, the fact that Hezbollah is firing rockets into Israel is of no consequence. Re: the comment above. It's simply an imperial adventure on Israel's part. Right? Isn't that the way the trope works? Every Israeli action is, by definition, unjustified and everything that Hezbollah does is justified on the basis that it's a "resistance" movement. I think Israel has overreacted, but doesn't it have a right to defend against rocket attacks, especially when it is pretty obvious that this is, in part, an Iranian play to gain influence in the region? Is it ever acceptable to suggest that Iran and Hezbollah orchestrated this create more instability in the region? Or that maybe it might be dangerous for Hezbollah to have a stockpile of increasingly deadly missiles–most likely supplied by Iran–that it can fire at Israel with impunity? I suppose the only "progressive" position is to oppose every action Israel takes on principle and to applaud Hezbollah and ignore the role of Iran. Of course, I realize this makes me a "special pleader" for Jews since we all know that Jews are irrationally attached to Israel or that I must be a part of the evil "Israel lobby."

  3. Marc –
    Calm down and please stick to the facts. Are my facts wrong?
    Hezbollah began firing rockets after the Israeli invasion didn't it? The Israelis invaded because two soldiers were kidnapped, didn;'t they? In other words, the campaign to destrtoy Hezbollah began before the rocket attacks. Logically, therefore the Israeli invasion is not in any way justified by or caused by the rocket attacks.
    I said nothing about Jews or an evil Jewish lobby. How do you know that I don't have Jewsih relatives? (I do.) Are you calling me an anti-Semite? How about if you answer the argument I made, rather than the one you imagine I made.

  4. Michael,
    I apologize for MY overreaction and I did not intent to imply you were anti-semitic. But the fact is, the Israelis responded to an action by Hezbollah. You can argue that is was an overreaction, but Israel was not reacting to a phantom. And once Hezbollah showed that it had long-range rockets, I think Israel had a reason to go try to take them out. It's not as if Hezbollah is simply conducting an action for a limited purpose; it's announced goal (however unrealistic)is to eliminate Israel.
    I'm not saying that Israel's policy is necessarily correct. I think it played into Hezbollah's hands and it has certainly made numerous mistakes with respect to the Palestineans. But I think it's unfair to say that Israel took the action only because of some ostensible free ride they are getting from US aid. Israel is militarily much stronger than the surrounding states, but it's strategic situation is difficult; it's damned if it does and damned if it doesn't. If Israel didn't react to Hezbollah incursions, Hezbollah and Iran would see it as weak–and after all, it seems that at least part of the premise behind the various terror campaigns is the idea that the Jews eventually will run away. On the other hand, if they respond vigorously, Israel is seen as provocative. I think it was a mistake to drag Lebanon into this so heavily, but it's pretty difficult to exactly calibrate the appropriate amount of force.

  5. Greg Djerejian certainly thinks that Israel is overreacting by attacking Lebanon as a whole, and that this is (A) immoral and (B) seriously counterproductive strategically. See his July 18 through 20 entries at Belgravia Dispatch. It's possible, I suppose, that Olmert is a strategic dumbbell comparable to Bush, in which case God help us.
    As for Kleiman's actual central point above, I can't see any holes in it at all — indeed, I've been predicting with dreary regularity for about three years now that the single most disastrous consequence of our getting stuck in Iraq would be that we wouldn't be able to take military action elsewhere to deal with the very real dangers produced by Iran's imminent acquisition of the Bomb and the fact that Pakistan and North Korea already have it. We are now seeing exactly that — although it isn't stopping the loonier hawks from currently accusing Bush himself of being a Closet Pacifist and demanding Immediate Military Action on about eight fronts at once to Clean Up This Mess Quickly And Easily. As Kevin Drum says, Bush now finds himself in the position of the Sorcerer's Apprentice — he whipped up these people for political gain by talking constantly about how we could solve the whole problem quickly and easily just by being Militarily Courageous and Aggressive; and now that he's been revealed as just having said this at the time for political effect, they've turned on him. God help us if any of these fruitcakes ever actually gains power. (By the way, Djerejian neatly sticks the shiv into Krauthammer on this subject in his July 20 entry. As one of my friends says, isn't it about time that man was recognized as a fanatic of the first order?)

  6. Cripes, I forgot to include my name on the comment above. (And after wearing eternal enmity to anonymous comments and pseudonyms, too…)

  7. Marc: "But the fact is, the Israelis responded to an action by Hezbollah. "
    And Hezbollah was 'responding' to acts commited by Israel. But I don't think that you'll see it that way, will you?

  8. Returning to the original comment, yes, yes, of course, everything is Bush's fault. We didn't have all this hostility between Israel and its neighbors back when we had Democratic presidents, did we? Of course, if we had a Democratic president, and the Saudi government was denouncing Hezbollah, that would be a sign of how brilliant our diplomacy was, but let's not let facts get in the way of our political preconceptions, shall we?

  9. Marc S – Thanks for your thoughtful reply. I feel much better knowing that you were not accusing me of anti-Semitism.
    I think we agree that the US has some leverage over Israel. (Otherwise why oppose using it?) We probably disagree on how much leverage, how and whether it should be used and under what circumstances, and to what end. Just so you know, I don't have any idea how much leverage the US might have. I don't even know how to figure it out. I do know that the Israeli government is passionate about getting the aid, so I assume there is some.
    I thought those topics relevant to Kleiman's post, the subject of which was leverage in the Middle East or the absence thereof.

  10. Honestly, I think the most revealing thing about King George's fantasy policy is in his thought processes.
    Among Wealthy Anglo-Saxon Protestants 'problems' are solved by social networking. George has a word with Tony who passes the message to Kofi who calls Hafez who solves the problem. Maybe it works adequately among the Country Club set — I don't know, because although I'm of Anglo-Saxon descent I didn't pick my parents (fathers especially) well — but international diplomacy doesn't appear to me to work that way.
    But we already knew King George was mad, didn't we?
    BC

  11. If you try and compare Israel's response to the abduction of two soldiers and therefore view it as disproportionate and unjustified, you are missing the point. The current operations in South Lebanon are not in response to the abduction of two solders — they are in response to the unchecked existence of a broad and flourishing terrorist organization that threatens Israeli and global security and acts in concert with the most fundamental elements of regimes such as Ahmadinejad's Iran. These are my statements, and I'm trying to make them separately from the post-9/11 rhetoric that floats around Washington these days. It's unfortunate that terms such as "terrorism" have been dilluted by overuse, but I can't emphasize this enough: Hizb'allah is a textbook terrorist organization. Yes, they provide social wellfare services, as well, but it doesn't change their core nature. Unfortunately, it does complicate combating them, but that is a necessary hardship for the IDF military planners to confront.
    Peace in this region is impossible as long as groups such as Hizbollah exist. The people of the Middle East need to understand that neither Israel or the Arabs are going anywhere. Mutual acceptance must be achieved. But, contrary to some, I do not think this is always going to be possible through narrative acceptance, or some sort of feel-good, planned-encounters affair. These things have their place, but some elements are so rejectionist that they can only be confronted through force. Hizbollah is one such element.

  12. This comment is addressed to Jeremy:
    Perhaps I'm naive, but how and in what way is "global security" threatened by Hezbollah [?spelling? Hizbollah?]. Furthermore, where is the evidence that Hezbollah is acting "in concert with the most fundamental elements of regimes such as Ahmadinejad's Iran". Also, could you please name the other fundamental regimes such as Iran that Hezbollah is acting in concert with.
    Derek

  13. I'm not sure what you think we would be doing if we weren't in Iraq. Invading Lebanon side-by-side with Israel? Or would we be invading Israel? If US troops aren't good at counterinsurgency in Iraq, why would they be good at counterinsurgency in Lebanon? It seems to me that your argument amounts to saying that we shouldn't be involved in the quagmire in Iraq, because it's keeping us from getting involved in Israel's quagmire. How, exactly, would taking Israel's side, with troops, lead to peace in the region?

  14. Data amassed by Israeli intelligence refers to the transfer of approximately $50 million per year from Iran to Hezbollah. But there have been periods, for example when Hashemi Rafsanjani was the president of Iran, when the organization received close to $280 million in a single year and average $100 million a year. These are direct cash transfers, and do not include the cost of arms and ammunition sent by Iran and Syria. The majority of hezbollah's stockpile of 600kg warhead-tipped, radar-evading missiles capable of reaching as far south as Be'er Sheva come from Iran.

  15. Jeremy,
    I fail to see how your comment of July 26 is a response to my comment addressed to you of July 24 [if, that is, your July 26 comment is intended as a response].
    The fact that Hezbollah receives support [financial and military] from Iran proves too much: by your logic, Israel is doing the bidding of the US because it receives not millions but billions of foreign aid money and military aid. So, I will repeat my original comment to you: "how and in what way is "global security" threatened by Hezbollah [?spelling? Hizbollah?]. Furthermore, where is the evidence that Hezbollah is acting "in concert with the most fundamental elements of regimes such as Ahmadinejad's Iran". Also, could you please name the other fundamental regimes such as Iran that Hezbollah is acting in concert with."
    Derek

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