David Ignatius’s Beirut boondoggle

If you were invited to speak to a conference of genocidal murderers, what would you do? David Ignatius is a columnist for the Washington Post who doesn’t appear to have agonized much over the question.
In his column today — “Hezbollah’s success” — he resolves the question in favor of taking advantage of the opportunity. When invited to speak to a Hezbollah conference in Beirut on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he “accepted — on the theory that it was a chance to learn about the group and that more information, even about alleged terrorists, is better than less.”
It isn’t clear to me from his column why Ignatius refers to Hezbollah as “alleged terrorists.” Is it so that he can observe terminological neutrality between murderers and their victims, or because he has some doubt whether Hezbollah is a terrorist organization? The rest of his column shows Hezbollah to be a cold-blooded advocate of terrorism — “‘martyrdom operations,’ as Hezbollah prefers to call them” — and Ignatius must know that the group practices what it preaches.
A brief visit to the Hezbollah Web site reveals the group’s goals with candor and clarity. According to the site, Hezbollah is a “struggle movement that is totally affiliated in the long complicated and complex fight against the Zionist enemy. The starting point of that struggle being the Zionist occupation of Palestine…All that led to the establishment of the identity of Hezbollah as a struggle movement against the Zionists.”
Ignatius does not bother to relate Hezbollah’s self-avowed mission, but he does provide the group’s assessment of the strategic situation: “Hezbollah believes that the Islamic forces arrayed against Israel are winning — thanks to the carnage wrought by suicide bombings. These ‘martyrdom operations,’ as Hezbollah prefers to call them, are often seen in the West as a tactic of desperation. But the leaders of this Lebanese Shiite militia view them as a successful weapon that has put Israel on the defensive.
“A brochure prepared in English and Arabic for the Beirut conference outlined why Hezbollah regards these bombings as a route to victory. The group argues that ‘the first harsh defeat’ for Israel came in May 2000 when it withdrew its forces unilaterally from southern Lebanon after several years of Hezbollah suicide attacks on Israeli soldiers there.”
Ignatius concludes that the conventional liberal view of such terrorism is erroneous. Based on Hezbollah’s analysis of the strategic virtues of terrorism, he concludes: “This stark assessment makes clear that suicide bombings are part of a very deliberate strategy. They aren’t driven by poverty, neglect, irrational fanaticism or the other factors Westerners often cite. They are motivated by a belief that killing Israelis will bring military victory.”
It seems a little late in the day for a sophisticated commentator like Ignatius to present such an insight as grounds for fraternizing with murderers. Was it really necessary at this point in 2003 for Ignatius to travel to Beirut and attend the Hezbollah convention to arrive at this obvious conclusion? Would Ignatius present it as news that al Qaeda is out to kill Americans so that it can defeat the United States?
You might wonder whether Ignatius’s message to Hezbollah warranted his attendance at the conference. If so, you will be disappointed. Having taken the opportunity to speak to a group whose mission is to destroy the state and people of Israel, Ignatius did nothing so bold as asking them to knock it off. Rather, he peddled bromides about journalism: “I said that a journalist’s duty was to report the truth, not support a cause. I expressed hope that an Arab television crew would someday chronicle life with an Israeli family, just as I had once spent a week living with a Palestinian family in the occupied West Bank for a series of articles I was writing.
“‘The only thing that worries me about the rise of the Arab media,’ I said, ‘is that they sometimes see their job as telling the story from the Arab point of view — rather than just telling the story. . . . The Arab people deserve to know the truth, even when it hurts.’”
The late Leo Strauss once said of men such as Ignatius that they fiddle while Rome burns, but that they are excused by two facts. They do not know that they are fiddling, and they do not know that Rome burns.

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