Juan Cole’s blog, Informed Comment, is on my short list of indispensable stops, but it’s indispensable in the same way vegetables are to a child; they may be an essential part of a healthy diet, but they’re not always that appetizing.
Don’t get me wrong: Cole is a craftsmanlike writer, his prose dependably crisp. He is, after all, the person who originated the use of the phrase “sometimes you are just screwed” as descriptive of the US’s position in Iraq.
And you can’t punch much more truth into five words than that.
What’s vegetable about Informed Comment is its depressing honesty, starkness even, in recounting the horrors that flow every day from the failed (and failing) neocon experiments in Iraq (and Lebanon). If the major news media’s coverage of the region is cappuccino with extra steamed milk, Informed Comment is a triple-thick espresso served up in a rusty metal cup.
To get down to business, in a Sunday blog entry, Cole addresses something that’s baffled me for some time: What possible logic is there in Israel’s massive bombing campaign against parts of Lebanon, including the Christian areas north of Beirut, not aligned with Hezbollah?
The wholesale destruction of all of Lebanon by Israel and the US Pentagon does not make any sense. Why bomb roads, roads, bridges, ports, fuel depots in Sunni and Christian areas that have nothing to do with Shiite Hizbullah in the deep south? And, why was Hizbullah’s rocket capability so crucial that it provoked Israel to this orgy of destruction? Most of the rockets were small katyushas with limited range and were highly inaccurate. They were an annoyance in the Occupied Golan Heights, especially the Lebanese-owned Shebaa Farms area. Hizbullah had killed 6 Israeli civilians since 2000. For this you would destroy a whole country?
It doesn’t make any sense.
Moreover, the Lebanese government elected last year was pro-American! Why risk causing it to fall by hitting the whole country so hard?
And, why was Condi Rice’s reaction to the capture of two Israeli soldiers and Israel’s wholesale destruction of little Lebanon that these were the “birth pangs” of the “New Middle East”? How did she know so early on that this war would be so wideranging? And, how could a little border dispute in the Levant signal such an elephantine baby’s advent? Isn’t it because she had, like Tony Blair, been briefed about the likelihood of a war by the Israelis, or maybe collaborated with them in the plans, and also conceived of it in much larger strategic terms?
Borrowing in part from a European correspondent, Cole offers (without endorsing it) a possible explanation for this otherwise inexplicable madness: Could the sacrifice of Lebanon be all about Middle Eastern oil — not just as a general background explanation for America’s obsession with the region, but as part of a specific neoconservative scheme to secure long term control of the region’s reserves?
Far from a new thought, I’ll grant you, but what Cole, an indisputable expert on the region, brings to the table in his hypothetical scenario is a more sweeping description of why such an outrage might appeal to the neocon mind; it offers a viable, if uncertain, explanation for something that desperately needs to be explained.
What this suggests, of course, is that we may be dealing here with something far worse than the usual wanton cruelty of the region; that the death of Lebanon, far from being “collateral damage” caused by legitimate (if grossly excessive) Israeli self-defense, is, instead, the product of malice aforethought — a nation deliberately targeted, not for its own misdeeds, but as part of a stratagem directed at others, namely Syria and Iran.
Could Bush and the neoconservatives really be that cruel — destroying an entire country as nothing more than a chess move in the Great Game? Real men and women and, of course, real children too — lots of them — their lives spent as part of a Machiavellian scheme that is sure in the end to blow up in our faces anyway, just like everything else these would-be Churchills touch.
This would be so much crueler than even Iraq; the same pattern of lies, to be sure, but at least in Iraq they could claim to be trying to bring a better life to the Iraqis, even if that was never the actual goal. But how is Lebanon supposed to benefit from this? Where’s its supposed payoff for having its infrastructure (and citizens) blown to hell?
Could the neocons really be that cruel?
And if they are, when does bad policy at last become something more than bad policy? When does it become a crime?