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The World's Opportunity

The Journal Editorial Report

Paul Gigot: This week on "The Journal Editorial Report," in-depth coverage of the crisis in the Middle East. Air and artillery strikes continue as Israeli special forces and Hezbollah militants crash inside Lebanon. But is a ground invasion necessary to disarm the terror group once and for all? Plus, Iraq's prime minister condemns Israel, signaling a break with President Bush. Where do other Arab governments stand? And as Condoleezza Rice makes plans to travel to the region, what are the diplomatic options? First, these headlines.

Gigot: Welcome to "The Journal Editorial Report." I'm Paul Gigot.

Israeli troops met fierce resistance from Hezbollah guerrillas this week as they crossed into Lebanon on short missions to destroy key terror targets. This as warplanes launched new air strikes on Hezbollah strongholds in south Beirut. Wall Street Journal foreign-affairs columnist Bret Stephens was in the region this week. I spoke with him from Jerusalem.

Gigot (on tape): How far along do you think Israel is in achieving its military goal of disarming Hezbollah?

Stephens: Well, the Israelis talk about a 10- to 14-day timeframe to totally degrade or massively degrade Hezbollah's, at least its missile capabilities. But there have been some clashes on the border and some Israeli incursions in which they uncovered huge underground bunkers right near the border, and there has been Hezbollah snipers picking off Israelis and Israelis dying just on the other side. So it's not clear to me that air power alone is going to be able to achieve Israel's objectives, unless they are able to really decapitate really several top echelons of Hezbollah's leadership.

Gigot: Well, you wrote this in your column that you thought only a ground campaign, that was the only thing that really frightened Nasrallah, the Hezbollah leader. Why did you say that?

Stephens: Look, Hezbollah I think has calculated that the Israelis have no appetite to repeat their 1982 full-scale invasion of Lebanon--that turned out to be politically almost catastrophic for the Israeli government of the time--and that they would content themselves or attempt just a sort of limited retaliation against Hezbollah. In fact, a poll was recently taken among Israelis, which shows that there is--60% of Israelis would favor a full-scale invasion of Lebanon if that's what it takes to get rid of Hezbollah and get rid of this missile threat.

Gigot: Well, what you are saying then is that Nasrallah probably has miscalculated the Israeli public mood, and there is support for some kind of ground invasion. How much is that being discussed there? Is that something that we're likely to see?

Stephens: I think the Israelis want to see how long they can play out the air campaign before any kind of ground invasion is envisaged. But I think the Israelis also feel that if they come to a point where they feel they reach a point of diminishing returns with air strikes, you are going to see much more--you are going to see incursions and possibly an invasion, at least up until maybe 10 kilometers within the Lebanese border. Whether it goes further than that is very hard to say. This is really the fog of war here. It's very unclear, day to day, hour to hour, exactly what's happening and who has the upper hand.

Gigot: There is--one of the surprises in this conflict so far has been the range and precision of some of the missiles that Hezbollah is using. That's been a surprise to a lot of people. I mean, they had one missile that hit a warship, which had never happened before with Hezbollah. Are there any other surprises, military surprises, that the Israelis fear Hezbollah may be able to spring on them?

Stephens: Well, in fact, you know, there was--an Iranian missile was destroyed on its launcher--it was an Iranian missile; it was operated by Hezbollah--several days ago, which I don't think the Israelis realized that Hezbollah had. That missile would have had a range to target Tel Aviv, about 200, 250 kilometers away from the launch pad. So that came as a big surprise. So there are questions of whether Hezbollah might have chemical capabilities or biological weapon capabilities, in addition to this rather muscular display of rocketry that they have put on since the conflict began.

Gigot: Prime Minister Olmert said this week that Syria and Iran were the axis of evil behind Hezbollah. Is there a lot of discussion there about taking this war to Syria? I mean, I am talking about serious discussion about making an attack that would pre-emptively strike Syria.

Stephens: Well, there is certainly support for it, and support from some surprising quarters. Yossi Beilin, who is otherwise known as a kind of archdove on the Israeli political spectrum has said he is in favor possibly of launching attacks against Syria if that's necessary.

I think when Olmert mentioned Iran and Syria in his speech to the Knesset the other day, he was trying to send--to put those regimes on notice and also perhaps prepare the Israeli public for the possibility of widening the war. Now, whether the Israelis are prepared to do that I think will depend a great deal on the successes they feel they have achieved in Lebanon against Hezbollah in the coming days. But I think that there is a feeling in Israel that they will do whatever it takes, well beyond Lebanon, in order to make sure that their country isn't subject to what has been going in the past couple of weeks.

Gigot: Bret, briefly, last question. There has been a lot of discussion about a multilateral peacekeeping force from the United Nations and outside countries to enforce a cease-fire. What's the view from Israel of the wisdom of that kind of intervention by the world?

Stephens: Well, Israelis are dead-set against it for a variety of reasons. The first of which is that there is already a U.N. force in southern Lebanon, which has proved to be totally ineffectual. And the second reason is the fear that if you, say, have French troops or Norwegian troops in a buffer zone, Hezbollah might be able to take advantage of that situation, to use them as human shields of a kind, or political shields, to prevent Israel from exercising its full range of military options in the event of a future conflict.

Gigot: All right, Bret. We'll have to see what happens when Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice goes out there early next week. Thanks for being with us, and take care.

Stephens: Thank you.

Gigot (in studio): When we come back, Iraq's prime minister condemns Israel's attack on Lebanon in a public split from the United States. But other Arab leaders are staying quiet. Find out why. And as fighting continues, the Bush administration is under increasing pressure to launch some sort of diplomatic initiative. But are the options limited? Our panel weighs in on those topics and our "Hits and Misses" of the week when "The Journal Editorial Report" continues.

Gigot: Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki denounced Israel's attacks on Lebanon this week in language that was noticeably stronger than that used by other Arab governments in the region. What's behind this split in Arab sentiment?

Fouad Ajami is the director of the Middle East Studies Program at the Johns Hopkins University, a CBS News analyst, and the author of the new book "The Foreigner's Gift: The Americans, the Arabs and the Iraqis in Iraq." Fouad, welcome.

Ajami: Thank you very much, Paul.

Gigot: In your new book, you talk about the foreigner's gift to the Arab world. What do you mean by that?

Ajami: Well, in a way, there is a kind of ambivalence in the title, because as you know when foreigners bear gifts, it's a complicated gift. But fundamentally, this is a book that really makes the case for the war, and it is a very sympathetic account of the war, and a kind of account of the bet that we have made on this war that will change some of the ways of the Arab world, and a portrait of the Iraqis and the Americans caught up in this war.

Gigot: And a bet on the democracy project--

Ajami: Absolutely.

Gigot: --President Bush's democracy project, which you argue is still a bet worth taking.

Ajami: Absolutely. That's the argument.

Gigot: Well, a lot of Americans looking at the turmoil in the Middle East now have made the case that, Look, this is actually making the Middle East a more dangerous place, this democracy project, because you have Hamas, a terror regime, taking over in Palestine, that you have Hezbollah, which has representatives in the Lebanese Parliament, now making trouble in the Middle East. What's your response to that argument that, Hey, this project is making the world more dangerous?

Ajami: Well, I don't think we are here because of the democratic impulse, if you will, in the Arab world. We are here because of other things. We are here because of the push of Iran into the Arab world. We are here because of the thwarted ambitions of the Syrians. We are here because of the intersection, if you will, between Iran's ambitions and the radicalism in the Arab world.

So we are not here because somehow or another we have tried to reform the ways of the Arab world. This crisis makes it even more imperative that you have to protect order in the region and the democratic aspirations of people. The Lebanese government is a fairly democratic government, elected in a democratic way, and yet here it is hostage to the wider currents of this Arab radicalism.

Gigot: But I think some of the dictators in the region, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, would say, See, America, this is what happens when you try to roll the dice of history, as I think you put it in your book, and try to--try to--we offered you stability for 20, 30 years. Now you have this mess. Don't do this.

Ajami: Well, the terrible price was paid for stability. We know what the price was. It was 9/11. So we rejected this kind of argument. I mean, this is really the kind of where we are now.

Gigot: Does the democracy effort in the Middle East have to go through what some people are calling this radical period, where you have to let the people of the region elect a Hamas, if that's their choice, and then have to live with the consequences, before they discover that in fact radicals don't deliver what they want--stability, prosperity--and then maybe we'll enter an era which is better?

Ajami: Well, in truth now, the question of democracy has been put aside. I mean, in fact we have this war on the Israeli-Lebanese border, and indeed this is a very tenacious crisis, because if you recall, we all went through the war of a quarter century ago, there was another war in Lebanon, the Lebanon war of 1982, because there was another bid in Lebanon that was playing out.

You know, the Lebanese have always been, if you will, they have been home to the wars of others. There is a great Lebanese journalist, Ghassan Twaini--his son Jubran was killed by the Syrians--and he has an expression, basically he says "the wars of others." So the wars of the region played out in Lebanon. A quarter century ago, it was the Israeli-Palestinian war that played out in Lebanon. Now, this time, it is the confrontation between Iran and Israel, Iran and America. And this is really the issue of the hour.

Gigot: In that context, it's been fascinating to watch Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan--the Sunni regimes of the area--who would denounce Israel on a moment's notice, denounce Hezbollah more than they've denounced Israel. What explains this?

Ajami: Well, they pulled the plug, if you will, on Hezbollah. Because anyway, they are very sympathetic to the government, the Lebanese government of Prime Minister Siniora. By tradition, the prime minister in Lebanon is a Sunni Muslim, and this Siniora is an aide of the late Rafik Hariri, if we remember.

Gigot: Who was assassinated.

Ajami: Absolutely. So the Sunni Arab governments are very sympathetic to the government of Fuad Siniora, and they're very sympathetic to the order in Lebanon. But there is a cautionary tale I think that has to be told about the Sunni Arab regimes. They have always bet on the Sunnis of Lebanon. Their traffic has been with the Sunnis of Lebanon. And my lament--

Gigot: Hezbollah are Shia.

Ajami: Absolutely. And my lament, my lament is in fact, the Saudis, the Egyptians and the Jordanians do not have much credit with the Shia of Lebanon. They don't have much credit with the Shia of the south. They don't have much credit with the Shia of greater Beirut. And the Shia of Lebanon were left, if you will, as easy prey for the Iranians. So the Iranians came in, exploited this breach, and sent enormous sums of money over the last 20 years to the Lebanese Shia, and now they've called in their chits. This is really what the Iranians have done. They've paid Hezbollah for over two decades, and now they have called these chits and asked for this war, and the timing of this war is an Iranian timing.

Gigot: And the Sunni Arabs fear a regionally dominant Iran.

Ajami: Absolutely. They fear a regionally dominant Iran. But I think their huge moral responsibility for being, shall we say, indifferent to the suffering of the Shia of Lebanon, because a quarter century ago, they gave enormous money and enormous support to the Palestinians, to the disadvantage of the Shia. They left the Shia. They've never had traffic with them. They've never had traffic with them, and that's why you see this impasse between the Sunni Arab regimes and the Shia of Lebanon.

Gigot: All right, Fouad Ajami, thanks for being here.

Ajami: Thank you.

Gigot: When we come back, the next step. Should Israel turn its sights on Syria and Iran without direct provocation? Our panel debates that topic, plus our "Hits and Misses" of the week when "The Journal Editorial Report" continues.

John Bolton: What we seek is a long-term cessation of hostilities that's part of a comprehensive change in the region and part of a real foundation for peace. But still, no one has explained how you conduct a cease-fire with a group of terrorists.

Gigot: That was U.N. Ambassador John Bolton, responding to Secretary-General Kofi Annan's call this week for an immediate halt to the escalating conflict in the Middle East. As Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice heads to the region, what diplomatic options remain?

Joining the panel this week, editorial page deputy editor Melanie Kirkpatrick, as well as Rob Pollock and Brian Carney, both Wall Street Journal editorial board members.

Let's talk about the U.S. policy and reaction to all this, Melanie. Do you think President Bush had been right to give Israel a relatively free hand to counterattack against Hezbollah?

Kirkpatrick: Yes, I do. It's hard to accept this at this moment when the bombs are flying, but there is a real opportunity here. It's an opportunity to rid the region of a very pernicious force, and Israel is going to need several weeks, perhaps months, to completely get rid of--I am not sure they can ever completely get rid of Hezbollah--but to decapitate it.

Gigot: Weeks or months, Rob. That's--already the pressure is building for some kind of diplomatic intervention to stop this. Does Israel have that long?

Pollock: I don't know if it has that long, but I think it's exactly right. You know, we have to view this as an opportunity. As Fouad said, the essence of this conflict is not a conflict between Israel and Lebanon. It is a conflict ultimately between the United States and the international community on one side, and Iran on the other side. Iran is using Hezbollah to try to distract attention from the nuclear program, to try to show the world what kind of chaos they can cause. You know, we and our allies--Israel--have to show them that their military option will not be tolerated.

Gigot: So this multinational peacekeeping idea is being floated by Tony Blair and by Kofi Annan. What do you think of that option?

Carney: It's a disaster. Look, the Israelis tried to conduct a decapitation strike on Hezbollah earlier in the week that apparently didn't succeed. Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, immediately went on al-Jazeera to say the way to resolve this conflict is indirect negotiations and a prisoner swap. Hezbollah at the moment is totally unbowed, and to bring in an international force to hold them at arm's length would resolve nothing and would preserve a status quo that Hezbollah could only see as a victory.

Kirkpatrick: I might add that I think there is room for a multinational force perhaps in the future, but not until the supply route from Syria is destroyed, not until the munitions that Hezbollah has in southern Lebanon are destroyed--and then, a multinational force working with the Lebanese army to let Lebanon take control of the south, perhaps has a role.

Gigot: Syria here is a middleman. They are doing Iran's bidding by being a conduit for arms, financing, to Hezbollah. How should the United States put pressure on Syria to stop?

Pollock: Well, obviously, I think a military option, probably by Israel, has to be considered. Look, we've tried diplomacy with Syria for years. The first Clinton secretary of state, Warren Christopher, went to see Assad something like two dozen times--and I am not exaggerating--and yet the arming of Hezbollah via Damascus went on. So the diplomatic option has not worked, so a military one has to be considered, I think.

Carney: I don't think the military one should be taken off the table, but I think it would be a huge mistake, both militarily and diplomatically, for Israel to decide without direct provocation to expand the war.

Gigot: That is, without a direct attack on Israel first.

Carney: Right. Without some kind of direct action by Syria against the Israelis, for the Israelis to go after Syria themselves would eliminate the restraint that so far much of the Sunni Arab world has shown towards Israel's attacks on Hezbollah, would undermine what diplomatic leeway they have in terms of continuing the current battle, and militarily would probably overextend them as well.

Pollock: I don't know, I think supplying an enemy is a direct provocation.

Gigot: Would it also, though, alienate some of these other Arab regimes that have been so far muted about Israel?

Pollock: That's certainly possible. But again, you cannot afford to let behavior like what Syria has done for about two decades now in terms of arming Hezbollah go unpunished.

Gigot: All right, Rob, thank you.

We have to take one more break. When we come back, our "Hits and Misses" of the week.

Gigot: Winners and losers, picks and pans, "Hits and Misses." It's our way of calling attention to the best and the worst of the week.

Item one, Ohio Sen. George Voinovich has a change of heart. Melanie?

Kirkpatrick: Sen. Voinovich wrote an article in the Washington Post this week in which he sang the praises of U.S. ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton. Now, what makes this notable is that just a year ago, Sen. Voinovich was calling, and I quote, Mr. Bolton "arrogant," and "bullying," and--this is the best one--"the poster child of what someone in the diplomatic corps should not be." This week, he writes that while Mr. Bolton "is not perfect," he "has been tempered."

Now, all this puts me in mind of Mark Twain's famous story about his father. He said, "When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned." In the case of Sen. Voinovich's newfound appreciation of John Bolton, I'd say that Ambassador Bolton is the same man he's always been. It's Sen. Voinovich who's learned on the job.

Gigot: Thanks, Melanie.

Next, a reluctant hit to President Bush for his stem-cell research veto. Rob, why?

Pollock: Well, look, I mean, I don't personally have strong feelings on the issue of embryonic stem-cell research, but a lot of Americans do. President Bush clearly views it as a moral issue. So I think it is a perfectly reasonable thing for him to do, to decide that it is not the best use of our common tax dollars to fund this research. It is reluctant hit, because we are well into the fifth year of his presidency, and this is the very first veto he's cast on anything. I guess my hope here is that maybe he'll get himself into the habit, and he'll start viewing other kinds of spending, say on Alaskan bridges to nowhere, as a moral issue too and start vetoing that kind of stuff as well.

Gigot: I wouldn't hold your breath on that one, Rob.

Finally, a hit for the Discovery crew's safe landing this week, but not for the shuttle program. Brian?

Carney: That's right. My kudos go to the shuttle crew for completing a successful mission and getting everyone home safely, but one of the aspects of this mission was that the seven-hour spacewalk in which they practiced spackling in space, in case they need to make emergency repairs to the shuttle, and it doesn't have to be this way. Twenty-five years after the shuttle program first launched into orbit, we ought to be able to do better. And if NASA can't figure out a better orbiter, then let's have a contest like the Ansari X Prize contest to develop one with private money and risk capital. We can do better than a 25-year-old shuttle program.

Gigot: Sounds good, Brian. Thanks.

That's it for this week's edition of "The Journal Editorial Report." Thanks to Melanie Kirkpatrick, Rob Pollock and Brian Carney. I'm Paul Gigot. Thank all of you for watching, and we hope to see you right here next week.


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