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Hot Story: Partial Victory

Beltway Boys

FRED BARNES, "WEEKLY STANDARD": Coming up on "The Beltway Boys," Israel's military campaign against Hezbollah perhaps in its final days. The U.N. meets next week on a potential cease-fire.

JUAN WILLIAMS, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO: Joe Lieberman and Cynthia McKinney on the verge of losing their primary battles next Tuesday.

BARNES: Donald Rumsfeld hammered by senators on Capitol Hill over Iraq. Hillary Clinton even saying he should resign.

WILLIAMS: And Fidel Castro's hold on Cuba fading fast. We'll tell you what the U.S. is planning.

BARNES: "The Beltway Boys" are next, right after the headlines.

(NEWSBREAK)

BARNES: I'm Fred Barnes.

WILLIAMS: And I'm Juan Williams, in for Mort Kondracke. Tonight, we're "The Beltway Boys."

BARNES: And the "Hot Story" is "Partial Victory." Now I know the war in the Middle East between Israel and Hezbollah still going on, but it's headed toward a partial victory for Israel and the United States, and I believe a partial defeat for Hezbollah, and thus its sponsors, Syria and Iran. And unfortunately, a disaster for the fledgling democratic government in Lebanon which has - which has suffered badly.

Now Israel has been helped by a ground war that's been successful, pushing Hezbollah back. How far they're going to go, we don't know. The - it's still being debated in Israel. Do we go in five miles, or do we push the Hezbollah all the way back to the Litani River, which is 15 to 20 miles north of that? In any case, they have to do it before the U.N. acts. The U.N. will probably act early next week, middle of the week, ratifying a cease-fire. And then some days after that, we'll have a second resolution that will dispatch an international military force to that area of southern Lebanon, on - on the Israeli border.

You can listen to Condoleezza Rice, the secretary of state, as she talks about that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CONDOLEEZZA RICE, SECRETARY OF STATE: We're moving, Larry, toward being able to do this in phases. But we'll permit first an end or a stoppage of the hostilities, and based on the establishment of some very important principles for how we move forward.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BARNES: Did you catch that "Larry"? I think that was Larry King.

The - OK, so here's what - here's how I think it - it winds up at the end. And - and look, I'm - I'm speculating to some extent. This is a war; things happen that - that aren't predicted, and certainly plenty of it have happened in - in this war, just Hezbollah being a tougher foe than the Israelis had expected.

Here's what I think we get though: Israel gets a more secure border, it - its northern border with Hezbollah pushed back, and this international force - and coming in. And the utterly feckless Lebanese army coming down, or being brought down by somebody.

The U.S. gets the benefit from a setback for the Iranians. I mean, you have to remember, Hezbollah is the front-edge of Iran's Islamic revolution. And they - and if - and if they're pushed back, that's a - at least a partial defeat. And of course Syria's been completely isolated here, partly because Condoleezza Rice hasn't let them get in any of the - of the discussions about Lebanon, because she knows and we know that they'd like to renew their influence there, send more troops or back in or something. There's that.

But - and here's the downside - obviously, Hezbollah lives to fight another day. And - I mean, they're still going to be armed. And - and you know, when they talk about disarming Hezbollah - you know, who's going to do it? I mean, I'll - I'll - I'll - I'll - I'll believe it when I see it. And of course, then, you know, this poor Lebanese government, which is backed by the U.S., it's in - in very - in very tough shape. I hope it survives; I think it will. But it'll be just barely.

WILLIAMS: Well, you know, Fred, I think the good news is tenuous at best.

I mean, it's good news in the sense that hopefully we'll soon see an end to the war. But when you think about Hezbollah is still going to be around - that's what you just acknowledged - nobody thinks that you can eradicate Hezbollah. There are - they are there.

BARNES: Well, that was the hope in the beginning.

WILLIAMS: But it's - but it's not real. It's - they're going to be there.

So they're not (INAUDIBLE), but Hezbollah has also been in the position, over these last few weeks, of literally providing social services, feeding, hospital - suddenly they'll become the Robin Hood in the Lebanese scene because the attacks, the Israeli attacks, have worked to not only degrade Hezbollah, but to degrade the legitimate government of Lebanon. I think that's why you see Condi Rice stepping up now and saying to Israel, There has to be a cut-off point. Certainly you could go on and continue to try to degrade Hezbollah's military capability. But at some point you have to think about the future and having a real Lebanese government there that is not an enemy of Israel.

So that's why I say the victory is tenuous at best.

And then - my gosh, how can you claim victory when you've got pictures of that terrorist Nasrallah being carried around, not only in Lebanon - but you got him being carried in, of all places, Syria, Iran and - this is painful for me to say, Fred Barnes - but in Iraq.

BARNES: Yes.

WILLIAMS: Can you believe, in Iraq? After all the United States has done, they are large-scale demonstrations, hundreds of thousands of people, celebrating Nasrallah as an enemy of the United States and an enemy of Israel.

So that's why I say, I don't think you can claim it as a victory. You have to say at some point that - you know, the Iraqi leadership here would be smart, smart if they somehow understood the commitment the United States has put forward to try to build up their government. But at the moment, I think I - I wouldn't claim victory. I wouldn't - I wouldn't be staging any "Mission Accomplished" events on any - any aircraft carriers.

BARNES: Juan, I said partial victory now.

WILLIAMS: Well.

BARNES: I didn't say - I didn't say big-time victory. Partial victory. And not what was hoped, as - as you mentioned. What was hoped for was a crushing, a crippling of Hezbollah.

WILLIAMS: Right.

BARNES: That's not going to happen.

You know, there was an important moment where I thought things were going to change for the worse. And that was some days ago, last weekend, when there was that bombing on this home in Qana, where it turned out not 54, but 28 people were killed. And of course we know that Hezbollah puts out civilians, children as - as shields, and they do get killed.

Now there was such pressure on the United States, on President Bush and Condoleezza Rice to change their tune and call for an immediate cease- fire. They did not. And I think this was very courageous, because it allowed the Israelis to move in, to step up their - their ground war, retake or take some of that area of Lebanon that could be a buffer area. And without that, it would have been a disaster - there would have a disaster for Israel.

Now I want to say one thing about - about the president of Iran, who - Ahmadinejad - Ahmadinejad - hard to pronounce.

WILLIAMS: It is a toughie.

BARNES: But in any case, so he - he - he never lets you down. He came in and said, He has the solution to it: eliminate Israel.

WILLIAMS: Well, you know, that guy.

You know, you can't - look, that guy is a reprobate. You - I mean, what are you going to do with him?

But here's my thing: I'm looking for the long view in terms of American interests in the Middle East. And I'm just worried that Israel now faces a threat from the north - of course, that's the one they're battling in Hezbollah. They've got a threat on the southern end coming from their differences with the Palestinians. And, you know, the United States, because we have been so tied in to Israel in this fight against Hezbollah, we have really sacrificed our standing as third party, an independent force to negotiate settlement.

Now I know some of our friends at the State Department say, There is no option; the U.S. is the superpower. So you're going to have to come to us. But my feeling is, world opinion has isolated the U.S. and Israel together. We have sacrificed so many of our - of our allies in this effort. And that's why I just - I just worry. You've got a weakened Lebanese government.

Where do we go to hear the victory? It will be an end to the bombing, and end to the deaths, Fred.

BARNES: Juan, there's nowhere else for these other countries to go. The U.S. is indispensable.

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