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Month: July 2006 (page 1 of 3)

Sunday Talkshow Breakdown

In the wake of the Qana, Lebanon attack, the Sunday shows generally featured predictable, counterproductive finger-pointing from U.S., Israeli and Lebanese “leaders.”
But a couple of comments are worth calling attention to.
First is from U.S. Undersecretary of State Nick Burns, from ABC’s This Week:

This is a very sad day for the people of Lebanon. It’s a tragic day.
It points to the fact that we’ve all got to work very, very quickly to put in place a durable cease-fire …. so these types of incidents are not repeated in the future.

“Very, very quickly.” What a tragic joke.
Qana would never had happened if Dubya and Condi chose to work “quickly” on the diplomatic front, instead of deliberately foot-dragging the diplomacy to allow for a longer Israeli military mission.
While Condi was back in the Middle East this past weekend, the foot-dragging strategy was still in effect, according to a Sunday morning report in Israel’s Ha’aretz:

[Condi] Rice will not ask [Israeli PM Ehud] Olmert to end the fighting at this stage, but it is assumed at the Defense Ministry that the IDF [Israeli Defense Forces] has 7 to 10 days to continue its operation in Lebanon.
By Wednesday the U.S. would like to gain approval for a new Security Council resolution that will call for an end to hostilities.
Israel sources estimate the U.S. will allow a few more days for mopping up operations by the IDF.

The Bushies thought they could weaken Hezbollah, and improve the standing of their regional allies, by stage managing a limited military campaign.
But the botched Qana strike is scrambling the game plan.
Israel is losing standing, as is the new Bush-friendly Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, while Hezbollah is gaining political strength.
And the Bushies are now “freaked out” (that’s a quote, from Newsweek) because Hezbollah has weathered the Israeli assault.
That’s leading White House officials to come up with a way to get Israel to “cut and bolt” according to one Israeli report (though a seemingly contrary report indicates some in the White House are egging on Israel to expand the war to Syria.)
While the Bushies are ad-libbing as their grand designs fail miserably, Siniora is doggedly continuing to push a grand compromise. From CBS’ Face The Nation:

…we are ready to step in, to find a solution for the Lebanese detainees and for the abducted soldiers.
And at the same time, we said that it’s high time to look into the matter and find a solution. What is the problem? Why this thing has been continuing?
Because Israel is still occupying a part of Lebanon. The Shebaa Farms are still being occupied by Israel. It’s high time to find a solution…
…We’ve said that the Lebanese government is ready to prevail all over the Lebanese territory and to be in charge.
And, at the same time, that no weapons are in Lebanon except that of the Lebanese authority.
And this would be in line with the withdrawal of the Israelis from the Shebaa Farms.

As far as LiberalOasis has seen, Siniora has been the only guy in this whole mess proposing something that involves concessions and risks on his own part.
He wants Israel to withdraw from Shebaa Farms and give up Lebanese prisoners, but he also wants to get the abducted Israelis released and get Hezbollah to disarm.
Granted, disarming Hezbollah serves his own interests in strengthening his central government.
But it’s still a political risk for Siniora to press the issue (especially now that Lebanese support for Hezbollah to keep arms shot up from 58% to 87% this past week), and it’d be a major win for Israel — not to mention the world — to make it happen without causing further carnage and political backlash.
Supposedly it’s possible for Israel to offer concessions as well, but that wasn’t on Condi’s schedule until the end of the week.
We’ll see if the Qana fiasco changes the schedule.

LiberalOasis Interviews Eric Boehlert, Author of “Lapdogs”

The canon of 21st century media criticism starts with Eric Alterman’s “What Liberal Media?” and continues with Eric Boehlert’s “Lapdogs: How the Press Rolled Over for Bush.”
LiberalOasis recently conducted an email interview with Mr. Boehlert — whose work is often found at Salon.com and The Huffington Post — on the state of today’s mainstream media. A verbatim transcript follows:
LiberalOasis: What has been the reaction to Lapdogs among working reporters and editors? Knowing nods or cold defensiveness?
Eric Boehlert: A couple knowing nods, but mostly journalists and media outlets have strained mightily to ignore the book and to refuse to address the very troubling questions it raises about what has been a near complete collapse from the Beltway press corps and how it functions under Bush.
My publisher and I knew that if I wrote a book critical of the MSM that it would then be difficult to get the MSM to acknowledge the book, let alone pay attention to it.
That said, we’ve both been a bit taken back at the MSM’s blanket denial about “Lapdogs” and the absolute fear of dealing with the contents of the book.
“Lapdogs” is the classic skunk at the Beltway party. The fact that the book is brimming with facts and footnotes and is impossible to simply dismiss is why the major players have chosen to wish it away.
(My hunch is that “Lapdogs” will never, ever be mentioned in the pages of the New York Times, which normally lavishes attention on the intersection of media and politics. The book, from the Times perspective, does not exist.)
In other words, the MSM’s reaction has been utterly predictable and only re-enforced the contents of the book.
LO: What is the root cause of the media’s failings?
Political bias among reporters and editors? Corporate conglomerates more concerned about profit margins than good journalism? Excessive intermingling of the political and media classes in Washington?
EB: The two main causes are the fear of the “liberal media” charge, teamed with a clear careerism at play within the Beltway; the clear understanding among savvy players that the surest way to derail a job track is to be identified as overly liberal or caustic towards Republicans.
By contrast, the surest way up the ladder is to strenuously stick to the spoken and unspoken Beltway guidelines that demand Democrats be mocked and Republicans, and especially Karl Rove, be held in awe for this unmatched political skill, despite the fact Bush himself is an historically unpopular two-term president and the Republican-controlled Congress is viewed by the vast majority of Americans as a colossal failure.
LO: Even though Bush’s approval ratings mired in the 30s, do you find the mainstream media is still timid of the Administration?
EB: Timidity still reigns.
Just look at the coverage of the on-going Middle East coverage and specifically how the MSM had portrayed Bush during the crisis.
Look to the Newsweek and Time whose recent “Crisis in the Middle East” cover stories strained to depict Bush as a man in motion, a man trying to put out a crisis; and man doing something.
The truth however, was obvious yet less appealing; the Bush White House had decided to do absolutely nothing about the violence and had no plans to do anything.
In fact it actively opposes a cease-fire to stop the killing of innocents on both sides.
That is an absolutely radical foreign policy approach, yet the press refused to spell that out in plain English and instead has bent over backwards to dress it up as something it was not — i.e. Bush is manically trying to make peace.
That’s literally propaganda.
LO: Clearly, there’s been a change in the White House press strategy, with Bush holding more press conferences than the last term, and sad sack Scott McClellan replaced with TV/radio personality Tony Snow.
Beyond trying to goose sagging poll numbers, what do you think is the underlying motive behind these shifts? Does the White House now have a friendlier attitude towards the press, or is it part of the same manipulation game?
EB: I still think the White House holds the press in contempt and doesn’t think the press serves a unique role in a democracy.
But I think they discovered that its strategy of stiff-arming the press did not work in that it made it difficult for the White House to get its story out, so it had to adjust particularly as Bush’s approval rating imploded.
LO: Is the media game rigged against Democrats? Or are there strategies that Democrats could adopt to better grapple with the modern culture of the Washington press corps?
EB: It’s partially rigged, but Democrats have to shoulder some of the blame and more importantly have to get a spine and start fighting back against the press.
I’m not suggesting Dems launch a phony, hateful jihad against the press the way the online wing nuts do. But Dems in Washington, D.C. need to cure themselves of the notion that deep down journalists really are the friend of Democrats and that in the end they’ll come around.
Gore made that mistake in 2000 (he also fretted way too much about what the editorial page of the New York Times might say about him if his campaign went into attack mode), and Kerry made the mistake in 2004 (assuming the press would pull the curtain back on the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth hoax.)
Democrats, and particularly the DNC need to understand that it really doesn’t matter what it’s message is, if it can get through the MSM’s distorted Beltway filter than it won’t matter.
LO: Slate’s Jack Shafer was critical of the thesis of Lapdogs. He wrote:
“I resist the simple arithmetic that states bad TV news coverage and stupid TV commentary equals a ‘timid D.C. press corps.’ Any convincing critique of the mainstream media … must take down the two biggest dogs, the New York Times and the Washington Post, which throw more reporters at the political coverage than any other news organizations and provide most of the press corps its marching instructions. On this score, Boehlert doesn’t even try.”
Is that a fair criticism?
EB: It was a blatantly unfair criticism and I emailed Shafer about it.
I said Jack, I’m looking at the index of “Lapdogs” and it indicates the Washington Post and the New York Times are mentioned on roughly 140 of “Lapdog’s” 320 pages, so how on earth can you write I didn’t even try to take on the Post and the Times? Really bizarre.
LO: NY Observer’s Gabriel Sherman contended that Lapdogs has “contribute[d] to the erosion of the public’s faith in our establishment media” which unwittingly serves the interest of whom you deem the “press haters” of the Right.
Are you concerned about negative repercussions from your work?
EB: The Observer review, like the Slate review, really set out to re-assure readers that the MSM is great, there’s nothing odd going on. In other words, “Move along folks, nothing to see here.” If the reviewers had to ignore what was actually in “Lapdogs,” so be it.
For instance as you noted above, the Observer review suggested liberal media critics are just doing what conservative press critics are doing. That, despite the fact that I dedicated an entire chapter explaining how conservative press critics are nothing like those on the right.
But the Observer, like Slate, simply ignored the portions of the book that didn’t fit into their narrative. Again, they simply proved the point of my book.
And I actually laughed out loud when I read the portion of the Observer review that basically reprimanded ungrateful liberals because we were only making things worse by criticizing the press.
LO: As saber-rattling with Iran continues, do you think the mainstream media has learned any lessons from its pre-war Iraq reporting, or are conservatives succeeding once again in pressuring the media and distorting the coverage?
EB: The fact that neocons like Bill Kristol and Frank Gaffney continue to waltz in and out of D.C. television studios as foreign policy “experts,” despite the fact that they got everything wrong about Iraq, is pretty mind-boggling.
Indeed, there seems to be an almost gentlemen’s agreement within the Beltway not to make the neocons feel bad or uncomfortable about being so shockingly wrong about Iraq.
And now they’re invited to spread their “wisdom” about the dangers of Iran.
Suffice to say, if liberals had been that wrong about Iraq, they would never see the inside of another Beltway Green Room again.
LO: What should average news consumers do to help improve mainstream media coverage and counter the efforts of conservative “press haters?”
EB: Consumers need to be in touch with journalists, and hold them accountable factually. Let the wing nuts send out the hate emails calling reporters Godless traitors, etc.
Progressives (i.e adults) ought to stick to the facts and forcefully demand journalists’ work live up to longtime industry standards.
LO: To end on a positive note: who is the most underrated mainstream media reporter?
EB: I like David Shuster at MSNBC.
Not because he breaks the mold or hates the White House or anything like that. (He doesn’t.) It’s just that he doesn’t seem to be afraid of the facts and the consequences of reporting them.
It’s pretty basic, but in today’s Beltway environment, simply doing the fundamentals makes you stand out journalistically. Sad but true.

Dragging Democracy Through The Mud

Back in February, LiberalOasis offered that: “Perhaps the worst part of the Bush legacy will be the stain he has put upon the good name of democracy.”
That stain is getting harder and harder to come out.
Syria Comment delivered the damning analysis earlier this week:

Democracy, the American export, has been further discredited in the eyes of Middle Easterners.
The US promised Lebanon’s new anti-Syrian democratic coalition that it would be protected and backed by Washington in its struggle with Damascus. This turns out to have been a false promise.
Democracy led to weakness and division in the Lebanese government.
Washington and Israel lost patience with the Lebanese government after little more than a year and chose to punish it for not showing the characteristics of a powerful dictatorship that can destroy opposition groups.
Washington has turned against its own democratic experiment. The lesson is that Washington cannot be trusted [and] is not sincere about democracy…

We could have strengthened democracy in Lebanon by giving the new Prime Minister a tangible success, such as orchestrating an Israeli withdrawal of Shebaa Farms months ago.
We could have strengthened democracy in Palestine by giving the elected Hamas officials incentives to follow through on their hints of recognizing Israel.
Instead in both cases, we allowed militants to seize the upper hand and make elected leaders look weak.
This was not done out of ignorance or incompetence, but out of insincerity.
If democracy did mean something to the Bushies, they would have ensured that peoples who expiremented with free elections got something out of their civic engagement besides a slap in the face.
But talking up democracy while undermining it may not only damage democracy’s reputation abroad.
It appears to be ruining it at home as well.
The NY Times poll released yesterday, finding a “strong isolationist streak” among Americans, based on the finding that 59% believe the U.S. should not “take the lead in solving international crises and conflicts.”
Such cynical and pessimistic sentiment is more than understandable, after witnessing the results of Dubya’s disastrous neocon foreign policy.
But if that pessimism deepens, it will be harder to revamp our foreign policy into a productive one that promotes credible democracy, as opposed to the Bush brand of phony democracy.
As is put forth in [SELF-PROMOTION ALERT] the soon-to-be published “Wait! Don’t Move To Canada!”, we should not be chasing a public opinion spike in isolationism by crudely offering an opposite of Bush rhetoric.
We should not argue that Bush’s failing was a policy of promoting democracy, but a policy of promoting Democracy Hypocrisy.
Which has further fueled global resentment, instability and violence.
And we should argue that a liberal foreign policy that promotes “credible democracy” — which cannot be imposed at the point of a gun — will restore our moral authority and increase our influence without suppressing other nations, harming the global economy or stoking terrorism.
The more the GOP drags democracy through the mud, the more courage it’s going to take for us to champion it.
Because there will likely be no short-term political gain to be had by making democracy promotion a main pillar of our foreign polcy.
But you don’t articulate a foreign policy vision to win the election immediately in front of you.
You do it to build trust and establish credibility on national security over the long run.

Morons

The Bush Administration’s strategy on resolving the Israel-Lebanon crisis reached a new level of idiocy yesterday.
It appears that the Rome meeting, despite not resulting in any concrete agreements, did move the international community — possibly including the US — towards a consensus for a political solution.
Reuters reports:

…diplomats said groundwork was laid for a possible way forward.
Key elements of a political solution were identified at a private meeting of U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, they said.
These included a U.N. ceasefire resolution, a prisoner exchange between Israel and Hizbollah, an end to a territorial dispute over a border area known as the Shebaa Farms occupied by Israel, moves to disarm Hizbollah and the deployment of an EU-led international peace force in southern Lebanon.
“Of course we don’t have all that everyone wanted, but the Rome meeting was necessary to clear the ground,” a European participant said.

Now, that could well be wishful thinking by desperate, delusional European diplomats.
But there were other reports that Bush and Condi have given ground on the Shebaa Farms issue.
Ha’aretz reports:

The U.S., which fiercely opposed the calls for an immediate cease-fire, has been working on its own proposal for solving the conflict in Lebanon.
Its initiative calls for Israel’s withdrawal from the Shaba Farms and a deployment of NATO forces to guarantee Hezbollah’s disarmament.
The London-based Arabic newspaper Al-Hayat quoted Lebanese sources Wednesday as saying that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice presented this proposal to officials in Beirut earlier this week…
…According to Lebanese sources, Rice added Israel’s withdrawal from Shaba Farms to the initiative under pressure from Lebanese officials, including Prime Minister Fuad Siniora.

And the Jerusalem Post reports:

The US is ‘counseling’ Israel to negotiate a possible withdrawal from the Mount Dov (Shaba Farms) area with Lebanon as part of a long-term arrangement for Lebanon…

So, that all sounds pretty good, especially for this Administration. Where does the idiocy come in?
Consider: the Bush Administration actually agreed with the rest of the international community on the outlines of a peaceful solution … and they still sabotaged the Rome summit!
And over the ridiculous, comestic matter of calling for an immediate cease-fire.
Cosmetic, because outside parties “calling” for a cease-fire isn’t actually getting to a cease-fire.
It’s the substantive political compromises that get you to a “lasting, enduring” cease-fire (to use Condi’s favorite words of late.)
Apparently, there’s was plenty of agreement on the substance. Why trash things over cosmetics?
As everyone has figured out (because the Bushies were so transparent about it), this whole week of “diplomacy” was all about stalling so the Israeli military could finish what it deems to be its objectives.
But if you’re close to a deal that paves the way for Hezbollah’s disarmament, who cares about inflicting more damage on Hezbollah?
In fact, the longer the violence goes on, the more dug in the players can get, making a deal more difficult to reach, or, to stick.
The Bushies had a chance in Rome to accomplish their own objectives of shoring up Lebanon’s democracy and defanging Hezbollah, and they’re missing it to cling to the fantasy that brute force and more deaths will accomplish what they haven’t accomplished for decades.
That’s the idiocy.
And it also calls into question how sincere are Condi’s moves to resolve Shebaa Farms and other outstanding issues.
Note that the Jerusalem Post story says:

The US is not pressing Israel on the [Shebaa Farms] issue, but is discussing with Jerusalem when the right time would be to put it on the table…

So we’re still in foot-dragging mode, rising body count be damned.
Perhaps more importantly in the long-run, the Ha’aretz piece indicates that Condi has created an out to avoid an actual resolution on Shebaa Farms:

While the U.S. initiative calls for transferring control of Shaba Farms to Lebanon, it stipulates that the permanent international border will not be determined if Syria continues to refuse to agree on the boundaries of this area.

That may be a truism, but it also could provide a handy excuse to eventually scuttle a deal.
As noted here before, Syria, like Hezbollah, isn’t motivated to resolve the Shebaa Farms border issue because it wants Hezbollah to continue having an excuse to remain armed.
And once Syria is brought into to any Shebaa Farms discussion, it is sure to demand that Israel withdraw from the larger Golan Heights region, a major sticking point between Israel and Syria.
Diplomats not sincerely interested in solving the problem, including Condi, can be expected to allow talks to grind to a halt at that point, instead of creatively pushing ahead.
Bush has argued that the expansion of democracy, not brute military force, is what will truly defeat terrorism.
But based on Condi’s actions this week, they still have their chips on brute force.

Shebaa Farms: Twists and Turns

The Shebaa Farms issue appears to be heating up in advance of today’s foreign ministers’ meeting in Rome, with some twists and turns to straighten out.
Yesterday, LiberalOasis cited a Guardian report that Israel had “signalled its readiness” to withdraw from Shebaa Farms in order to “strengthen the Lebanese government and undermine Hizbullah’s claim to be resisting Israeli ‘occupation.'”
But today’s Jerusalem Post says otherwise:

In advance of Wednesday’s Rome conference … where there will inevitably be calls for Israel to withdraw from Har Dov (the Shaba Farms) … Israeli diplomatic officials said Tuesday there was nothing to talk about.
“This should not be part of the equation,” one diplomatic official said.

However, we don’t know if this is 1) a real shift in Israel’s position, 2) indicitive of a split within the Israeli government or 3) simple positioning in advance of future bargaining.
Also yesterday, LiberalOasis characterized a Ha’aretz report of a meeting between Rice and Hezbollah’s “de facto negotiator” Nabih Berri, speaker of the Lebanese parliament, as an indication that Hezbollah was not looking to push for withdrawal.
But Time.com reported otherwise yesterday:

…since Hizballah has given him the authority to negotiate on its behalf, Berri has taken a surprising position.
His people say that Berri — and by extension Hizballah — would be willing to discuss all of the U.S. proposals, including using a multinational force to help the Lebanese government take control of southern Lebanon…
…According to Berri’s spokesman Hamadan, negotiations with Israel should include not just a prisoner exchange, and the withdrawal of both Israel and Hizballah forces from the border, but also the fate of Sheba Farms.

So unlike what LO said yesteday, Berri’s position is in sync with Ha’aretz columnist Zvi Bar’el’s interpretation of comments from a Hezbollah member of the Lebanese cabinet as a sign that Hezbollah may disarm after a Shebaa Farms withdrawal.
Meanwhile, today’s New York Times finally mentions the role of Shebaa Farms in this crisis, but botches the analysis:

The Lebanese government has now adopted four Hezbollah conditions for a settlement as its own: giving the small disputed slice of border territory known as Shabaa Farms to Lebanon, returning three Lebanese prisoners held by Israel, ending Israeli flyovers into Lebanese airspace, and providing a map showing the location of Israeli land mines in southern Lebanon.

The Times makes it sound like the Lebanese government is being fully co-opted by Hezbollah.
When in fact it was the Lebanese Prime Minister who has, for some time, pushed hard for a Shebaa Farms withdrawal explicitly as a way to disarm Hezbollah.
While Hezbollah’s leader Hasan Nasrallah had been primarily pushing for a prisoner exchange following the abduction of two Israeli soliders.
(In an Al Jazeera interview last week, Nasrallah said: “We do not want to go to war because of the farms … However, there are two issues that can stand no postponement … the prisoners’ issue [and] any attack on civilians … .”)
It is only in recent days that Hezbollah representatives have linked Shebaa Farms to the current crisis.
It is Hezbollah that is following the lead of the Lebanese Prime Minister, not the other way around.
Today’s Jerusalem Post editorialized against withdrawal from Shebaa Farms, saying it would be rewarding aggression.
But that’s backwards. Shebaa Farms would not be a prize for Hezbollah.
Hezbollah wanted to derail a potential Shebaa Farms deal — which would bolster the Prime Minister’s standing and take away its main rationale for keeping arms; and it wanted a prisoner swap — which would bolster its own standing as the party in Lebanon that gets results.
Hezbollah is shifting its stance under pressure. It would be foolish not to take advantage.

Bloggingheads.tv

The latest installment of Bloggingheads.tv finds sparring partners Robert Wright and Mickey Kaus both having some kind words for LiberalOasis. Click here to watch.

Shifts on Shebaa Farms

Yesterday, LiberalOasis flagged the calls from Lebanese PM Fouad Siniora to get an end to hostilities by resolving the Shebaa Farms dispute.
Chances are you won’t find out about it from any US media outlet, but there may be significant developments on the Shebaa Farms front.
According to today’s The Guardian, the Israeli government is keeping withdrawal from Shebaa Farms on the table:

Israel has also signalled its readiness to surrender the 25sq km of the Shebaa Farms … That would strengthen the Lebanese government and undermine Hizbullah’s claim to be resisting Israeli “occupation”.

And Ha’aretz columnist Zvi Bar’el reports that Hezbollah may be shifting its Shebaa strategy:

…Energy Minister Mohammed Fneish, a Hezbollah representative, announced that once [Israel] withdrew from the Shaba Farms area, Hezbollah’s role as a ‘liberating’ army would be over, and it would stick to a purely a defensive role.
This is a very significant statement, because it begins to define the conditions for Hezbollah’s disarmament.

As LO contended yesterday, Hezbollah abducted Israeli soldiers in part to provoke Israel and thwart a potential Shebaa Farms deal, precisely because Israeli withdrawal would undermine Hezbollah’s legitmacy as an armed resistance.
Now Hezbollah may be relenting, though it’s also possible that Bar’el is overinterpreting Fniesh’s comment.
In fact, another Ha’aretz news story, on Condi Rice’s brief Lebanon visit, painted a somewhat contradictory portrait.
It noted that “Hezbollah’s de facto negotiator” in Lebanon’s parliament gave Condi a proposal for “a two-phased plan. First would come a cease-fire and negotiations for a prisoner swap. Then an inter-Lebanese dialogue would work out a solution to the situation in south Lebanon… .”
Putting a prisoner exchange first and foremost, as opposed to Shebaa Farms withdrawal, is in line with Hezbollah’s strategy to date: to keep land issues unresolved and maintain its armed posture.
Still, any shift in language by a key figure, such as a cabinet official like Fneish, is a diplomatic opportunity to exploit.
Another area where the two Ha’aretz pieces seemingly contradict is the US position on Shebaa Farms.
Bar’el’s optimistic column says: “The government of Lebanon, Hezbollah, the United States, France and the United Nations have all realized now that the key to achieving a long-term and sustainable cease-fire by means of the deployment of the Lebanese Army in the south lies in a resolution to the Shaba Farms dispute,” leaving only Syria as the major player yet to be on board.
But Bar’el doesn’t say how it is known that the US is board, and the other Ha’aretz article more plausibly indicates that it isn’t:

The United States has insisted that no cease-fire can take place without dealing what it calls the root cause of the violence – Hezbollah’s domination of the south along the Israeli border …
… In a sign of the differences between the U.S. and Lebanon, Siniora presented his own package for a permanent solution…
… a “swift cease-fire,” to be followed an over-all solution guaranteeing the return of Lebanese prisoners held by Israel, Israel’s withdrawal from the Shaba Farms … and a provision on minefields lain in south Lebanon during its 18-year occupation of the region.

If Rice and Siniora we’re in agreement about making Shebaa Farms a priority, there’d probably be more smiles coming out of yesterday’s meeting.
Instead, all we’ve heard about is differences, which is in line with what LiberalOasis and others anticipated for Condi’s trip:
A useless spinning of wheels intended to buy time for the Israeli military to achieve its objectives, making achieving any diplomatic objectives all the harder.
Condi infamously defended her foot-dragging preceding this trip by saying: “I could have gotten on a plane and rushed over and started shuttling, and it wouldn’t have been clear what I was shuttling to do.”
(What can I do? I’m just the Secretary of State after all.)
She full well knows she could have been shuttling about Shebaa Farms and other outstanding Israel-Lebanon disputes.
She could be doing it now.
A truly engaged Secretary of State would, especially after the recent shifts on Shebaa farms by Israel and Hezbollah.
But she’s not truly engaged. She, and her boss, are willfully disengaged.
And so, unless by some miracle other players step up, another opportunity to solve problems and advance MidEast peace will be criminally lost.

Sunday Talkshow Breakdown

On NBC’s Meet The Press, Dubya’s Chief of Staff Josh Bolten repeated the White House’s main talking point, that the “root problem” is “Hezbollah.”
Which means that the White House won’t support a cease-fire, because that would mean Israel would have to stop shooting at the “root problem.”
However, the Bush-backed Prime Minister of Lebanon, Fouad Siniora, has a decidedly different take on what the root problem is: Shebaa Farms.
From CNN’s Late Edition:
WOLF BLITZER: What about the fears in Israel of all of these rockets coming in, potentially even longer-range ones going beyond Haifa to Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.
Who’s going to make sure that Hezbollah is disarmed as a militia, disbanded, which of course was the responsibility of the Lebanese government since U.N. Security Council Resolution 1559 was passed six years ago?
SINIORA: … I think the way how to really deal with … the presence of long-range missiles and so on … is to really go directly into the crux of the problem.
What is the problem? The problem is the occupied territory in the Shebaa Farms.
And once we really address the issue, then everything else will start to really get the solution for it.
I strongly believe that the Lebanese government should really prevail over all of the Lebanese territory, and there shouldn’t be any weapons in Lebanon other than in the hands of the Lebanese government.
BLITZER: But can you do that? Can the Lebanese army go into south Lebanon and take charge and effectively disarm Hezbollah?
SINIORA: Yes. But … this is within the perspective that we are addressing the issue of the occupied territory.
As long as the Shebaa Farms is still occupied, then it becomes really impossible to really deal with these issues…
Unless you are steeped in the details of the Middle East conflict, you probably don’t know what the whole Shebaa Farms thing is about.
But it has a great deal to do with why war broke out between Israel and Hezbollah this month.
In my Star Tribune op-ed this past Saturday, when tracking the true origins of the current violence, I focused on how Hamas militants provoked Israel to derail moves by Hamas pragmatists towards a recognition of Israel.
When discussing how Hezbollah piled on after the Gaza flare-up, I only mentioned in passing that “Hezbollah [also] was seeking an opportunity to provoke Israel, because if outstanding issues between Israel and Lebanon were resolved, Hezbollah’s reason for being would evaporate.”
One of the main outstanding issues is Shebaa Farms, a small area of land with plenty of water that Lebanon claims and Israel occupies.
But wait, haven’t we been told repeatedly that Israel fully withdrew from occupying southern Lebanon in 2000?
Haven’t right-wingers like David Brooks been crowing that, “You can … kiss goodbye to the land-for-peace mentality … this crisis follows withdrawals in Lebanon … .”
Well, that ignores that there still is disputed occupied land, namely, Shebaa Farms.
Israel argues that Shebaa Farms is historically Syrian, and part of its occupation of the Golan Heights, not part of its earlier occupation of southern Lebanon.
But Lebanon begs to differ.
And Hezbollah uses the Israeli presence there to claim is still engaging in resistance, and in turn, justify being armed. (If there’s no land being occupied, there’s not much to resist.)
Further, Syria hasn’t been interested in asserting a claim on the land, because that would resolve the Israel-Lebanon dispute, helping Israel and undermining Hezbollah.
So that’s the long-standing issue.
But there were moves to resolve it right before the recent violence.
This past May, the new Lebanon government was trying to step up pressure on Israel to withdraw, and they scored a UN resolution calling for Syria and Lebanon to clearly define their borders — an implicit call to resolve the Shebaa Farms matter.
Then just last month (link via Free Cedar), Israel indicated it was receptive to the idea of withdrawal, despite being cool to the idea last September, apparently intrigued by the possibility it could directly lead to the disarming of Hezbollah.
(In late June, bitterlemons-international.org published several essays offering the pros and cons for addressing Shebaa Farms.)
Seeing its final token on the verge of disappearing, Hezbollah looked for a opportunity to provoke Israel and scuttle the hopes for withdrawal.
As Gaza flared up, Hezbollah pounced, and Israeli predictably responded in kind.
Once again, what the militants wanted.
Israel’s firepower is not what Hezbollah was afraid of.
It’s afraid of a peaceful resolution of disputes between Israel and Lebanon, chiefly Shebaa Farms.
Siniora is desperately trying to get his buddy Bush to grasp that.
(Other similar thoughts on how to address the underlying disputes and disarm Hezbollah come from Slate’s Fred Kaplan, former Amb. to Israel Martin Indyk and Kofi Annan.)

LiberalOasis in the Star Tribune

Saturday’s editon of the Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune includes a op-ed of mine, on how this round of Middle East violence could have been avoided: if Bush and the Israeli government strengthened the pragmatists of Hamas looking to move towards a recognition of Israel, instead of undermining them.
The piece covers much of the same ground as last week’s LiberalOasis post, “Letting the Militants Win,” but includes additional info about the little covered split in Hamas between pragmatists and militants, and how the split led to the abduction of Israeli soldiers.
The Star Tribune piece references articles about the Hamas factions from the Asia Times and The Jewish Week. Both are very much worth reading in full.

Did Dubya Mislead His Poodle?

During Monday’s “open mic” lunch chat, British Prime Minister appears to have urged Dubya to dispatch Condi Rice to the Middle East “quickly, otherwise this will spiral out of [control.]” To which Dubya responds, “Yeah, she’s going. I think Condi’s going to go pretty soon.”
Since then, there has been no formal announcement that Condi’s going anywhere, though as of late Thursday, we are hearing some informal word.
Today’s NY Times reports that “the State Department said [she] intended to go to the Mideast as early as next week.” And Israel’s Ha’aretz has more unofficial detail:

Rice will probably leave for the Middle East on Sunday, going first to Cairo for meetings with Arab foreign ministers, and making only a brief stop in Israel on Tuesday, for updates and briefings.
Rice will not be able to remain for talks because of an obligation to attend the Asian Regional Forum in Kuala Lumpur, but other meetings scheduled for her at the start of the week in Japan, China, Vietnam and other countries in the region will likely be postponed.
Israeli and American officials have been in constant touch … and the assessment in Israel is that in view of Rice’s schedule, there remains a window of a week to 10 days until she can return to the region for more focused talks on attaining a cease-fire agreement.

In other words:
Blair argues that a strong diplomatic presence, in the form of Condi, is needed in the region ASAP to contain the crisis and end the violence. Bush agrees.
Bush then drags his feet on sending Condi so, as the NYT editorial board put it, they can “give Israel more time to fight”.
Condi apparently plans to go six days after Blair’s urgent request. When she gets to Israel, she won’t stay long enough for actual talks, and won’t come back for another week or so.
Which Israeli officials take to mean they have even more time to fight, making her trip completely pointless.
And more importantly, undercutting Blair’s objective: to quickly engage in serious diplomacy and lessen the risk that events will spiral out of control.
Blair made the mistake that many Dems make with the Bushies, setting the bar too low and allowing himself to be easily poodle-fied.
In diplomatic parlance, dispatching an high-level official to talk inherently means something.
But in reality, it doesn’t mean anything, if the official is part of an Administration that isn’t interested in solving conflicts.
As the W. Post reports today, Bush sees the warring between Israel and Hezbollah not as a problem, but as dandy for democracy, a la Iraq.
Further, “One former senior administration official said Bush is only emboldened by the pressure from U.N. officials and European leaders to lead a call for a cease-fire.”
(What was that about “cowboy diplomacy” being dead?)
So Mr. Blair, you can forget about talking “international agreements” with your pal George.
He’s not playing your game, and we’ll be better off if you stopped playing his.

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