Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Attack, Attack, Attack!!!

It's not surprising that the same conservative hawks who pushed for pre-emptive strikes against Iraq four years ago are making similarly strident calls to do the same against Iran and Syria in light of the current situation between Israel and Hezbollah.

Newt Gingrich has already called the Israeli-Hezbollah conflict the start of World War III, while William Kristol of the Weekly Standard recently made an impassioned plea to use the conflict as a justification to pursue regime change by force in both Iran and Syria.

And just to add a little more to the feelings of déjà vu, this morning on Fox News, Kristol asserted that US military force could cause the Iranian people “to reconsider whether they really want to have this regime in power," which doesn’t quite have the ring of “greeted as liberators,” but the picture is still the same.

Although those pleas are eye-opening, to say the least, what’s really interesting is that they appear to be getting the cold shoulder within the Bush Administration – at least for now.

The Washington Post has an important article today regarding the anger that many hawkish conservatives have with the White House’s reluctance to exploit the current situation in the Middle East. Some even go so far as to say that Bush – by privileging bilateral diplomacy over unilateral military action – is acting like Kerry would if he was president!

The sentiment is echoed by some on the left. In the midst of the hubbub over Bush using the word shit in his private conversation with Tony Blair over lunch at the G8 Summit, the media largely missed this other line that came out of the president’s uncensored mouth: “I feel like telling [UN General-Secretary] Kofi [Annan] to get on the phone with [Syrian President Bashar Al-]Assad and make something happen.”

John Dickerson of Slate had this to say about the comment: “Cover your ears! George Bush is expressing his feelings, and his feelings are that he wants the United Nations to engage in more diplomacy. Why, he sounds like a Democrat!”

It seems likely that part of the reason Bush appears to be acting like a diplomat is practical. The cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, in terms of both actual money and military resources, make incursions into Iran, Syria, or both highly untenable.

But what the conservative hawks probably fear most is that Bush’s reluctance to pre-emptively attack more countries will be perceived as a sign that the goal of worldwide democratization by force is a failure.

As Matt Yglesias of the American Prospect noted the other day, the hawkish conviction that world democratization by force is possible is based on their belief that pure willpower can overcome any practical odds and obstacles.

According to Yglesias, this explains why the practical concerns some may have about engaging Iran or Syria while still engaging Iraq and Afghanistan are irrelevant for the hawks.

He writes: “To the hawks…the answer to every problem is more will, more force. So it stands to reason that the current chaos shouldn’t make us cautious about further destabilizing actions. Rather, the current chaos actually proves the need for the application of more force, more will.”

What’s also interesting in all this, from a political standpoint, is the impact the internal conservative squabbling over foreign policy might have on the upcoming fall elections and those that are slated for 2008. The Rove strategy for the midterms has been to cast the Dems as weak on foreign policy by characterizing them as “cut and run,” and part of that criticism is tied to the division that exists in the liberal ranks regarding what to do about Iraq.

In light of the current Israel-Hezbollah situation, however, it’s the GOP that can’t seem to make up its collective mind on the best route to go.

If Bush continues down the current path of favoring bilateral diplomacy (albeit very hesitantly), it threatens to draw out the foreign policy divisions on the right even more heading into the November elections, not to mention – as the hawks likely fear – potentially undermine the administration’s long held belief in the power of military force to effectively spread democracy around the globe.

But if the White House chooses the other path…well, just think Iraq, but worse.

No wonder Bush has taken to swearing.


UPDATE: Based on reports from today, it appears the Bush Administration has notably changed its tune on diplomacy.

Last week the White House said it couldn't call for an immediate cease-fire because that would be interfering with the Israeli right to respond. "It's important everyone talk with one voice," was the line from Tony Snow last Friday.

Now, however, while the European Union and the UN push forward with diplomatic efforts, the official White House line has become that negotiating at all with the "terrorist group" Hezbollah isn't an option -- in other words, no diplomacy.

Here's Tony Snow today: "A cease-fire that would leave intact a terrorist infrastructure is unacceptable."

I truly hope this isn't a first step toward catering to the wishes of the conservative hawks to expand the fighting into Iran and Syria.


Blogger publius said...

I think you are looking for an internal conflict withink the GOP where one hasn't truly developed yet.

It certainly isn't as stark as the one the Dems are going through re: Iraq.

Your team has had 3 years to figure it out, while the conflict currently waging, i.e., the escalation of cross-border violence between Hizbollah and Israel, is only about 7 days old.

July 19, 2006  
Blogger Seth Zlotocha said...

I didn't set out looking for an internal conflict in the GOP on the foreign policy front -- the Washington Post article I cite makes it pretty clear that there is one.

What's more, conservative hawks have been talking up a pre-emptive attack against Iran for three years now (just read the Weekly Standard since 2003, particularly the work of its editor William Kristol) -- the situation between Israel and Hezbollah recently is just bringing it all to light for the broader public.

And, as it happens, the Dems do agree on one thing concerning Iraq: more of the same is not an option. All that the GOP can seem to agree on is that more of the same is the only option.

July 19, 2006  

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