Putting Israel on the clock

The current fighting in the Middle East has put the American left, and other accommodationists, in a difficult position. Ordinary Americans of all political persuasions understand that a terrorist organization that has killed Americans is attacking one of our allies. Accordingly, most of the Bush-haters I know, Jew and non-Jew, see no reason to stand in the way of an Israeli response that offers the possibility of inflicting a complete defeat on Hezbollah.

But such a response, and perhaps the very concept of completely defeating an enemy, is foreign to the thinking of sophisticated liberals. Thus, a middle ground had to be staked out, and the liberal elite found such ground in the form of their favorite notion — the martial time-table. Thus, Israel would be given a few weeks to try to inflict enough damage on Hezbollah to prevent future bombing of its cities and towns. After that, regardless of its degree of success, Israel would cease hostilities and turn responsibility for protecting its security over to the U.N., NATO, the Lebanese government, or some combination thereof.

The concept of fighting a war for a limited, pre-established duration is, to put it gently, a post-modern one. Prior to the left’s call for a time-table in Iraq, I’m not aware of any precedent for this peculiar approach to warfare. So it is fair to ask, what are the reasons why Israel should be allowed only a few weeks to finish a military operation it initiated in order to prevent its citizens from being bombed by an enemy committed to Israel’s destruction?

Today on television, the reliably-disingenuous Lawrence Korb, of John Podesta’s left-wing think tank, tried to explain why Israel should have only one more week in which to fight. For one thing, Korb argued, if the war goes beyond one more week, Hezbollah will gain recruits in reaction to the continued destruction of Lebanon. For another, countries like Saudi Arabia, which have not denounced Israel, will face pressure from the Arab street.

But Korb has no evidence or sound basis for arguing that the destruction Israel would inflict after one more week, as compared to the destruction it already will have inflicted by that point, will produce an appreciable number of new Hezbollah members. Nor does he take into account the recruiting possibilities associated with a less than fully successful Israeli response, which could easily (and, I would argue, accurately) be portrayed as a victory for Hezbollah. If one is truly worried about Hezbollah recruiting, one should worry most about the scenario Korb effectively calls for — large scale Israeli infliction of damage in an unsuccessful military campaign.

As for Saudi Arabia, again there is no evidence that the Saudi street is willing to tolerate one additional week, but no more than one additional week, of Israeli military action. More fundamentally, who cares? If the Saudi populace becomes too unhappy with Israel, the Saudi royal family or its spokesmen can (and presumably will) denounce Israeli and demand a cease-fire. The concept that Israel’s security should be held hostage to speculation about the Saudi street is laughable.

The fig-leaf quality of Korb’s arguments is a good sign that he and others in the defeat-retreat crowd are trying to limit Israel because they do not want to see it defeat Hezbollah, at least not on President Bush’s watch.

UPDATE: President Bush and Secretary Rice met with Saudi diplomats in Washington today. The Saudis made the obligatory call for a cease fire. The administration reportedly is hoping that the Saudis will reach out to Syrians and convince them to tilt away from Iran and Hezbollah. Good luck with that.

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