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Iran's Strategy Is Crudely Obvious--So Why Can't We Fight It?

By Robert Tracinski

The new Lebanon War, like much of the War on Terrorism, has a strange character. It is a war in which everyone knows the enemy's strategy, in which it is child's play to see through all of his ruses and propaganda tricks--and yet our leaders, rather than devising their own counter-strategy, fall for every ruse and play along with the enemy's game.

You hear a lot of talk these days about the "clever" Iranians and what good "chess players" they are in the contest of international diplomacy. But the Iranian strategy is, in fact, crudely transparent and obviously morally bankrupt. Everyone can grasp this--yet our leaders keep falling into the Iranian traps.

Everyone knows that Iran is using Hezbollah's war in Lebanon to distract attention from its nuclear weapons program. The Iranians were given a July 5 deadline to suspend uranium enrichment or face "serious consequences." The contemptuous Iranians declared that they wouldn't reply for another six weeks, on August 22. Then Hezbollah--a wholly-owned subsidiary of Iran's Revolutionary Guards--initiated their war in Lebanon, and no one has paid attention to the Iranian nuclear program for the past three weeks. Now, finally, we are sending a new resolution to the UN Security Council--giving Iran until August 31 to agree to talks or face another months-long debate about whether we will impose sanctions against them.

The Iranian strategy to buy time is utterly transparent and not especially clever. It is simple to defeat: declare that Hezbollah's aggression against Israel is proof of Iran's evil intentions and that we don't require any further diplomatic justification to bomb Iran's nuclear sites and bring down its regime.

Instead, Western leaders fell for the Iranian strategy, and the Iranians have pretty much gotten what they wanted.

Everyone knows that Syria is using Hezbollah's war as a way of propping up its security and influence after it was forced to retreat from Lebanon in disgrace last year. By initiating a new war against Israel, the Syrians hope to appeal to the venomous hatred of Israel on the "Arab street," regaining Arab support Syria had lost by assassinating pro-independence leaders in Lebanon. By initiating the war on Lebanese soil, Syria hoped to justify its former military presence there, "proving" that the Syrian withdrawal led only to anarchy and bloodshed--proving it, that is, by causing the bloodshed. Finally, Syria's Baathist regime is using its alliance with the Islamist fanatics of Hezbollah to replace its fading secular ideology with a new, religious foundation.

Again, this is all obvious, and the answer is obvious. By bringing the war home to its Syrian sponsor, we could make it clear that initiating this war will topple the Syrian regime, rather than propping it up.

Instead, American commentators and diplomats have fallen for the Syrian strategy, declaring that this conflict makes it necessary to re-establish negotiations with Syria, offer Syria territorial concessions, and even to compete with Iran for Syria's affections.

Everyone knows that Hezbollah initiated a war with Israel in order to justify its status as a military "state within a state," billing itself as a defender of Lebanon against Israel--even while, far from defending Lebanon, Hezbollah is causing Lebanon to be torn apart. And everyone knows that Hezbollah deliberately operates among Lebanon's civilian population, cynically exploiting the resulting civilian casualties as propaganda.

This has already been ruthlessly dissected by many American and Israeli commentators. See, for example, an excellent editorial in Monday's Washington Times on Hezbollah's use of "human shields," which includes a link to photos of Hezbollah guns and missile launchers positioned in residential apartment blocks. Even better, a hard-hitting column in an Israeli newspaper, Haaretz, quotes an Israeli paratrooper who sums up Hezbollah's tactics: "They are a lousy army. They only win when they hide behind baby carriages."

Both of these articles identify the proper response: point out that Hezbollah is responsible for all civilian casualties in this war, and refuse to allow those casualties to hobble the war effort. Stop rewarding Hezbollah for using civilians as human shields.

Instead, faced with a gory new story about civilian casualties, our own Secretary of State panicked and pressured Israel to agree to a mini-cease-fire, suspending its air war for 48 hours (which Israel, thankfully, did not fully do). According to the New York Times when Condoleezza Rice heard about a new group of Lebanese civilians killed in an Israeli airstrike--with images of the corpses splashed across TV screens in Lebanon and across the Arab world--she "appeared shaken." She then immediately pushed for the Israeli cessation, while "American officials scrambled to try to counter the wrenching TV scenes of the devastation at Qana."

Secretary Rice has a reputation as an intelligent, hard-charging woman who doesn't scare easily. Over the past few months, she has blown that reputation, caving in to Iran and its European sympathizers--and now allowing herself to be panicked into appeasement by predictable images of Lebanese civilian casualties. The Iranians have not been playing a sophisticated diplomatic game--yet they have consistently outplayed Secretary Rice.

Just as obvious as the strategy of the Iranian Axis are the destructive consequences of America's diplomatic retreat in the face of Hezbollah's war.

The French government has taken advantage of Rice's abdication and stepped in to assert a leading role in the crisis--as a defender of Iran. The French foreign minister, speaking today in Beirut, hailed Iran as the potential savior of Lebanon, describing Iran as "a great civilization which is respected and which plays a stabilizing role in the region." If the French are to be part of a "multinational force" in Southern Lebanon, will they be there to disarm Hezbollah--or to protect it?

The joke going around all the blogs recently is that it's not a World War until France surrenders. But it's not really a World War until the French become collaborators.

Similarly, Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, who sat on the fence for the first few weeks of the war, complaining about Israel but also calling for Hezbollah to be disarmed, sensed the shift in the political winds and threw in with Hezbollah, thanking terrorist leader Hassan Nasrallah for "all those who sacrifice their lives for the independence and sovereignty of Lebanon.''

And remember that every charge made against the Israelis in Lebanon can be applied equally to the Americans in Iraq--which means that Secretary Rice has just given a green light for Iranian-backed firebrand Muqtada al-Sadr to emulate Hezbollah and orchestrate another uprising against the US in Iraq.

The tirades of the Angry Left to the contrary, our leaders are not stupid or incompetent. If the rest of us can figure out the Iranian strategy and see through Iran's tricks, so can they. But something is neutralizing their knowledge. Something is preventing them from turning that knowledge into corresponding action.

Part of what is crippling Western leaders is the sacrifice-worship of the altruist morality, which programs them, in response to human suffering, to suspend thinking and react emotionally. Natan Sharansky recounts a discussion he had with former president Jimmy Carter about why the Palestinian-Israeli "peace process" kept failing. Carter responded, "You know, you are right, but don't try to be too rational about these things. The moment you see people suffering, you should feel solidarity with them and try to help them without thinking too much about the reasons."

But even more insidious is a kind of cognitive altruism that tells men to sacrifice, not just their interests, but their judgment, subordinating their knowledge to the opinions and prejudices of others. That is what seems to be operating here. Whatever Secretary Rice knows about the Iranians' strategy is discarded the moment lurid images of civilian casualties are splashed across the front pages of European newspapers and the broadcasts of Arab television stations. Just as, in this self-abnegating morality, you have to consider the interests of everyone except yourself--so, in this morality of cognitive self-abnegation, you have to consider everyone's opinion except your own. Thus, faced with the united force of "world opinion," the formerly "tough-minded" Secretary of State was flustered into an ignominious surrender of American interests.

This is a strange kind of war, in which we have more than enough military capability to crush the enemy's "lousy army." Nor do we lack the intellectual power to understand and counteract the enemy's strategy. But we lack the moral confidence to use both our power and our knowledge.

But in the life-and-death struggle with totalitarian Islam, there is no room for Western self-abnegation. On the contrary, what we need is a proud, righteous self-assertion, the unapologetic pursuit of America's and Israel's vital interests, unbowed by appeals to pity or to "world opinion."

In recent months, there has been a rebellion brewing on the right in protest against the Bush administration's appeasement of Iran. Secretary Rice's recent capitulation, if it goes uncorrected, ought to be the event that brings that rebellion to the boiling point, threatening President Bush with the defection of his remaining political "base." It will be a bruising political rebellion, and it should probably require the firing of Condoleezza Rice--a crushing concession for George Bush to make--to satisfy a justified fury against the administration's recent policies.

But if our leaders won't provide an assertive American national defense on their own power, we will have to demand it of them. If they won't lead the way against our enemies, we will have to lead and force them to follow.

Robert Tracinski writes daily commentary at He is the editor of The Intellectual Activist and

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