The lessons of Lebanon

At a certain age, people tend to stop learning from new events and begin seeing them solely as confirming beliefs and prejudices they already hold. This is true, for example, of the latest war in the Middle East. I see these events as confirmation of my views that Israeli territorial concessions are a bad idea and that the U.N. is a curse on the world. Leftists see the same events as confirmaation that war is not the answer or that Israel is on the same moral plane as Hezbollah, or whatever it is that leftists believe about such matters.

Against the odds, however, the current war in the Middle East has caused me to modify my thinking a bit. Specifically, it has made me more sympathetic to the views of the “to hell with them hawks” and/or the “endgame conservatives,” and less a fan of the Bush administration’s quest to promote democracy in the Middle East.

It’s not that the development of democracies in the Middle East wouldn’t, on balance, be a good thing for the U.S. And it’s not that the development of democracies in the Middle East over time is impossible or necessarily unrealistic. Rather, the problem is that we at war right now, and being at war requires single-mindedness. Thus, we should not compromise our overriding war aim — disabling terrorists and the states that support them — in the pursuit of other goals, such as promoting the interests of fledgling (or pseudo) democratic governments or enhancing our popularity among Arabs.

In Lebanon, for example, it would have been great simultaneously to enable Israel to crush Hezbollah, enhance the status of the government of Lebanon, and lose no popularity among Arabs. But accomplishing both the first and third of these objecives was always going to be impossible, and in the end even the first and second objectives seemed incompatible. It’s clear to me that, under these circumstances, the first objective should have trumped the other two. Unfortunately, the administration disagreed.

To make matters even worse, brokering this “peace” deal will not enhance our popularity among Arabs, nor is it likely to lead to a strong, stable, and democratic Lebanese government.

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