Friday, August 11, 2006

The morning after the morning after

Excellent piece as always by Tom Friedman. I couldn't agree more:

Thomas Friedman, NY Times, Aug11-With every war there are two days to keep in mind when the guns fall silent: the morning after, and the morning after the morning after. America, Israel and all those who want to see Lebanon’s democracy revived need to keep their eyes focused on the morning after the morning after.

Here’s why.

The only way that the fighting in south Lebanon will be brought to a close is if all the parties accept a cease-fire and the imposition of a robust international peacekeeping force, led by France, along the Israel-Lebanon border — supplanting Hezbollah.

The morning after that cease-fire goes into effect, everyone knows what will happen: Hezbollah’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah — no matter how battered his forces and how much damage his reckless war has visited on Lebanon — will crawl out of his bunker and declare a “great victory.” Hezbollah, he will say, fought the Israeli Army to a standstill inside Lebanon and rained rockets on northern Israel. Meanwhile, military analysts everywhere will write that Israel has “lost its deterrence” vis-à-vis Arab forces, and blah, blah, blah.

Sorry, been there, heard that, and I don’t buy it. What matters in war, alas, is the balance of destruction on the ground and the political weight it exerts over time.

On the morning after the morning after, Lebanese war refugees, who had real jobs and homes, will start streaming back by the hundreds of thousands, many of them Shiites. Tragically, they will find their homes or businesses badly damaged or obliterated. Yes, they will curse Israel. But they and other Arabs will also start asking Nasrallah publicly what many are already asking privately:“What was this war all about? What did we get from this and at what price? Israel has some roofs to repair and some dead to bury. But its economy and state are fully intact, and it will recover quickly. We Lebanese have been set back by a decade. Our economy and our democracy lie in ruins, like our homes. For what? For a one-week boost in ‘Arab honor?’ So that Iran could distract the world’s attention from its nuclear program? You did all this to us for another country?”

...Israel needs to keep its eyes on the prize. It’s already inflicted enormous damage on Hezbollah and its community, but Nasrallah will only have to pay the full price for inviting all that destruction once the guns fall silent on the morning after the morning after. So let’s get there as soon as possible. That will deter him. What would deter him even more, though, would be if the U.N. would go ahead and impose sanctions on Iran for its illicit nuclear bomb program. After all, it was Iran, Nasrallah’s master, that ordered up this war to distract the U.N. from doing just that. It would be nice to say to Iran: You ravaged Hezbollah for nothing.Beyond those two limited objectives, there’s no storybook ending for Israel in Lebanon, and it shouldn’t throw more good lives after some elusive knockout blow.

It’s just not that kind of neighborhood. As they say in the movies, “Forget it, Jake. It’s Chinatown.”