Pity Lebanon

Richard Siegel is professor emeritus in political science at the University of Nevada, Reno and president of the American Civil Liberties Union in Nevada.

In the last few days, Israel’s formidable air force took the lives of at least four unarmed U.N. observers and perhaps 60 Lebanese civilians in a South Lebanese village. With these and similar acts, Israel’s and America’s claims to innocence in this dirty war were destroyed in the eyes of much of the world. Condoleezza Rice, the cynical delayer of a desperately needed cease fire, is no longer welcome in Lebanon—or in many other parts of the Moslem world.

America has paid a high price for its approach to Iraq, and now it further jeopardizes its interests by supporting Israeli strategies that go well beyond self-defense and the destruction of Hezbollah assets. One risk, a wider war, does not appear likely. What is predictable is the consolidation of opinion on the “Arab Street” and elsewhere against our country and against such U.S. interests and goals as the “war on terror” and the war in Iraq. Our best friends in the Middle East now must either fully disavow our foreign policy or face the wrath of their own people and possible removal from power.

The White House, the State Department, and both Democratic and Republican leaders in Congress have helped to create this situation with their resolutions and public statements. Most of the world correctly views this as strong evidence of American moral bankruptcy. It certainly reflects cynical calculations of how such votes and statements will affect upcoming American elections. United Nations officials and much of world opinion views this as U.S. support for ongoing war crimes.

Israel’s war in Lebanon involves two very separate matters. The first, the Jewish state’s efforts to remove Hezbollah’s rockets targeting Israeli towns, generates support for Israel.

But large-scale destruction of much of Lebanon‘s infrastructure and economy by the Israeli Defense Forces, involving the death of hundreds of innocent civilians, fails to generate support outside of the United States and Israel. Callousness toward innocent lives that would have escaped notice in earlier wars now inflames opinion throughout the world. Neither we nor Israel can afford to ignore the consequences.

The root cause of the Lebanon and Gaza conflicts is Israel’s illegal settlements and control of Palestinian lands since 1967. Opposition to this unites most Sunni and Shi’a Moslems—even as some worry about Hezbollah’s support from Iran. Although our government views Hezbollah and Hamas as terrorist groups, most of the billion-plus Moslems view them as effective and needed defenders of the Palestinian and Lebanese peoples.

The incredibly inept U.S. policies in Iraq now combine with our crudely expressed green light to Israel (and our supplying of its munitions even as the war proceeds) to sharply diminish America’s position in the world. The saddest part of this is that so few Democratic or Republican officials even notice the growing debacle.