It's been three years since Saddam's fall and three days since the cease-fire took hold in Lebanon. From the former, President Bush proclaimed a new Middle East would rise in which democracy would prove an irresistible force that would spread and eradicate terrorism and despotism.
From the latter, Iran's Mahmoud Amadinejad and Syria's Bashar Assad have both announced the birth of a different "new Middle East," in which Bush's version was more hallucination than vision. The region has changed, Assad said, "because of the achievements of the [Hezbollah] resistance." The facts on the ground compel the conclusion that Assad's assessment is closer to the truth than Bush's, and Ahmadinejad's intent will cast the region into the fire.
Little signs are scattered all over. Iran's "Holocaust Cartoon" exhibition. The Saudi government press agency warning Bush against linking Islam with fascism. Those, and many others like them, can be shrugged off as Middle Eastern politics. But what we — and the Israelis — cannot shrug off are the events that demonstrate the ground truths that have changed in the Middle East, and in the West some of the worst have been reaffirmed in the West. On the Arab side, the changes are significant.
Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has done what no other Arab leader has before: he has withstood Israel's military might, losing many men and much equipment but not an inch of ground. For years, he had been the member of a very select club, a state-sponsored terrorist whose organization beleaguered Israelis occasionally and cohabited with U.N. "peacekeepers" on the Lebanese-Israeli border.
Now, after a month of war, he is the de facto ruler of Lebanon, setting the terms for U.N. agreements, and the acclaimed hero of the Middle East. As a column in the Saudi government-sponsored daily "Arab News" said, "The Lebanese resistance's month-long stand against the region's mightiest army has earned it praise in the Arab world and raised hopes of a possible change in pro-Israeli Western policies. It has energized the Arab street and is being viewed as a cause for celebration despite the incredible toll the war has taken on Lebanon."
Already the Palestinian Hamas terrorist organization-cum-political party has proclaimed its admiration of Nasrallah's methods, and is working hard to emulate them. Other than Iran's Ahmadinejad, there is no more prominent figure in the Islamic world. Among terrorists, even Usama bin Laden stands in Nasrallah's shadow. And Nasrallah's principal enemy, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, is diminished in direct proportion to Nasrallah's enhancement.
Olmert's indecisiveness — which achieved a level hitherto unknown outside Old Europe — mistook hope for a foundation stone of policy. Olmert hoped that Hezbollah could be demolished by air power even though he hobbled it with rules of engagement that guaranteed the Hezbollah forces would escape.
He hoped that his military would bring him plans to win easily, without the loss of many Israeli troops and without inflicting many civilian casualties. But Olmert never had a plan to win or a clue of what it would take to do so. Olmert's bitter experience is new to him, but as old as Caesar to military historians. Hope is not a policy, and wishing doesn't win wars — which is not to say that apocalyptic visions can't come true.
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is the biggest winner of all, his power in the Middle East now secure against Israeli intervention. Ahmadinejad engineered the Israeli-Hezbollah war to divert the West's attention from his nuclear weapons program at the July G-8 summit. He succeeded beyond his wildest dreams. Not only is the Iranian nuclear weapons program off the West's agenda, Israel has lost a war: not even to Iran itself, but to Ahmadinejad's subordinate.
Abandoned weapons and the other detritus of combat discovered in destroyed Hezbollah positions proves redundantly that Iran was the source of most of the weaponry that Hezbollah used to considerable effect against Israeli troops and armor.
The Tuesday Daily Telegraph reported Israel was "humbled by arms from Iran." Ahmadinejad — reclaiming the spotlight from Assad — said Hezbollah "hoisted the banner of victory" over Israel and defeated plans "to create the so-called new Middle East ... a Middle East that would be under the domination the U.S., Britain and Zionists."
The Iranian leader created a small war and directed it to a conclusion that reduces his adversaries — America and Israel — to penitents at the U.N.'s table. He is immeasurably emboldened to take the next step against Israel and America. That step — be it a larger war against Israel or another small war designed to bring America to battle but not conclusively, to test us as he just tested Israel — may happen at any time. And we seem unable to even grasp the reality of what has just happened.
Israel's failure to break Hezbollah's hold on the Lebanese government was exacerbated by the failure of the Bush administration to hold the line it set when the war began. The president said over and over that any cease-fire would have to be predicated on a settlement that precluded Hezbollah from continuing as a state-within-a-state in Lebanon. The Monday cease-fire does nothing of the sort. In fact, it accomplishes the opposite.
In Wednesday's Washington Post, Secretary of State Rice wrote of the Lebanese UN deal was a "path to lasting peace." But her idea of a path to lasting peace is much at odds with reality. She wrote that U.N. Resolution 1701 was a defeat for Iran and Syria, that it imposes an international arms embargo to prevent Hezbollah from rearming, and a new U.N. force with a "robust mandate" will help the Lebanese government impose its sovereignty in the southern part of its territory. Rice's explanation parallels that of Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, who declaimed that the U.N. deal would, result in a "change in the rules of the game" between Israel and Lebanon, and that the U.N. cease-fire resolution "can lead to the real change in the Middle East that we have all been waiting for." For both Rice and Livni, a more complete detachment from reality would be very hard to craft.
Neither America nor Israel have grasped the simple fact that the Lebanese government is held captive by Hezbollah and as long as that condition lasts Lebanon will allow Syria and Iran to fund, arm, and reinforce Hezbollah. The restoration of the status quo ante bellum that Bush said we would prevent has occurred. And then, by agreeing to the French-imposed, Arab-demanded terms of the U.N. resolution, the situation has been materially worsened.
From America's and Israel's actions, a clear message was sent to the state sponsors of terrorism: neither the United States nor its allies are at all serious about defeating and disarming terrorists. The scope of victories the West can achieve over terrorists is defined by the limits of what the Arab League will insist upon in the U.N.
All the West's military might is powerless against a highly motivated, well-funded and well-trained adversary who refuses to stand and fight on the conventional battlefield. The only reason this is true is because we are too irresolute to match the enemy's determination to win. We — and the Israelis — choose to not apply the force we have in a manner that will achieve the effect we say we desire. Pardon me, but this is where I came in. In 1973.