Quite often these days, I feel the sort of ecstatic incredulity that the Goths and the Vandals must have felt in the fifth century, rejoicing in the stupidity of the Roman Emperor Theodosius II, a fanatical Christian monophysite and book-burner who presided over the Empire's accelerating decline, and who eventually died at age 49 by tumbling off his horse. The Vandals and Goths didn't anxiously scan the news bulletins from Rome hoping to find a "better" imperial candidate who would revive the Empire's fortunes and consolidate its iron rule. Neither should we.
Insulated though they are from reality, one would have thought that Bush and his entourage would have noticed that their military adventure in Iraq has been faring poorly. They might even have tiptoed towards the conclusion that a contest with a determined guerilla force backed by a supportive population may not necessarily turn out well for the invading party.
The same goes for Israel's long-planned onslaught on Lebanon, presented to the world as a bid to extirpate Hezbollah. The problem is that having an army whose primary function for many years has been to terrorize Palestinian civilians, knock down their houses and tear out their olive groves, inevitably degenerates the quality of its officers and overall moral fiber. And having a political and military elite fattened on corrupt arms contracts and by triumphal tours to Washington and overall adulation in the U.S. press leads to the sort of overweening arrogance most vividly evinced by the brutish chief of staff, Dan Halutz.
It was Halutz who sold Peretz on the fantasy of swift and devastating air force raids finishing off Hezbollah. Of course, these raids managed to efficiently unite the Lebanese in loathing of Israel, while boosting the fortunes of Hezbollah. What better recruiter of sympathy for Lebanon than Halutz howling, "We're going to turn Lebanon back into what it was 20 years ago," and threatening to blow up a 10-story building for every missile.
The U.S. political and media elites were far more united in stupidity than their Israeli counterparts. The reporting in the print press and on the networks here was awful, with CNN in the lead. But online, every day, one could find the English language edition of Ha'aretz and read searing criticism of Israel's war.
On the political front, the only major U.S. politician to call for a ceasefire was Chuck Hagel, the Republican senator from Nebraska. The congressional Democrats were stentorian cheerleaders for Israel's destruction of Lebanon.
Just listen to Jerry Nadler, a New York congressman identified as among the most progressive in the Democratic congressional caucus. On a pro-Israel rally on July 18, Nadler asked, "Since when should a response to aggression and murder be proportionate?" In other words, he gave a green light for Israeli war crimes. (Meanwhile, voters in Connecticut's Democratic primary had no compunction about trying to deep-six the political career of Lieberman, the U.S. senator most closely identified with Israel.)
On Aug. 3, Human Rights Watch issued a report from Beirut. Entitled "Fatal Strikes: Israel's Indiscriminate Attacks Against Civilians in Lebanon," it analyzed almost two dozen cases of Israeli air and artillery attacks on civilian homes and vehicles. Of the 153 dead civilians named in the report, 63 were children.
"The pattern of attacks shows the Israeli military's disturbing disregard for the lives of Lebanese civilians," said Kenneth Roth, the group's executive director. "Our research shows that Israel's claim that Hezbollah fighters are hiding among civilians does not explain, let alone justify, Israel's indiscriminate warfare."
Among the arts of diplomacy is the all-important one of covering one's tracks. I doubt even Theodosius' entourage would have matched the comical clumsiness with which Rice, Bolton and Blair tried to occlude their total sponsorship and endorsement of Israel's onslaught. Rice was told to scram by an infuriated Lebanese government and Blair took refuge to San Francisco, at the feet of his future employer, Rupert Murdoch. Only the hugely hyped London terror scare took the spotlight off their humiliation.
Hezbollah stood its ground and checked Israel's advance, a victory of great significance. Israel's planes could flatten villages but not silence the Katyushas, nor hold much ground in southern Lebanon. Israel's generals could not protect northern Israel from bombardment. The voices of those inside Israel calling for a solution that addresses the root problem of stolen Palestinian lands have been strengthened.
Indeed, there seem to be more realists in Israel's ruling circles than here in the U.S., where the utter disaster in Iraq has been so dimly apprehended that the imbecile Cheney vigorously encouraged Israel to embark on the same sort of venture in Lebanon, maybe as a curtain-raiser to a U.S.-Israeli attack on Iran. In Israel, the message seems to have soaked in pretty rapidly that they've taken a pasting and that Nasrallah and his forces have emerged victorious.
Moral: U.S. elites are truly stupid, but as the Goths and the Vandals understood, that can be all to the good, if the desired objective is to have the Empire grow weak and in the end slip below the waves.