Transcript: 'The Journal Editorial Report,' December 9, 2006
This is a rush transcript from "The Journal Editorial Report," December 9, 2006.
PAUL GIGOT, HOST: This week on the "Journal Editorial Report," the new rules of war. Recently declassified documents highlight Hezbollah terror tactics in this summer's 34-day conflict in Lebanon.
Plus, should President Bush take the Iraq Study Group advice and negotiate with Iran and Syria?
And a global warming gag order — two U.S. Senators tell ExxonMobil to start towing the line on climate change or else.
Those topics, plus our weekly "Hits and Misses, but first, these headlines.
GIGOT: Welcome to the "Journal Editorial Report." I'm Paul Gigot.
In the wake of this summer's 34-day conflict in Lebanon, international human rights groups have accused Israel of war crimes, saying that the IDF fired into populated areas and, in some cases, deliberately targeting civilians.
But a new report documents what Israel has long been claimed, that Hezbollah stored weapons in Mosques, battled Israelis from inside empty schools and launched rockets near U.N. monitoring posts.
One video included in the report shows a captured Hezbollah guerrilla telling interrogators how they militia rented houses in residential areas to secretly store missiles.
Avi Bell is a law professor at Bar Ilan University in Israel and a visiting professor at Fordham University Law School. He joins me now in the studio.
Avi Bell, welcome.
AVI BELL, LAW PROFESSOR, BAR ILAN UNIVERSITY-ISREAL: Thank you.
GIGOT: What do those videos and testimony tell us about the strategy - - war strategy of groups like Hezbollah?
BELL: Well, basically, the entire strategy is based on the commission of war crimes. That is they attack civilians. They hide among civilians. They pretend to be civilians. And they use civilians as cover.
And the idea is that, first of all, it is going to make it more difficult to strike at them. And second of all, they are relying on media reports to criticize countries like Israel that end up attacking Hezbollah and causing collateral damage.
GIGOT: Did this strategy that Hezbollah pursued, did this change Israel's war strategy at all and make the prosecution of the war more difficult this summer?
BELL: Absolutely. It was difficult to find where the Hezbollah targets were. In going into any particular area, one had to be very careful to distinguish between what looked like civilians but were actually combatants, and what looked like civilians and were civilians.
And Israel did not have good intelligence about where Hezbollah had done all this stuff. All the information we have is after the fact. And so it made the prosecution of the war very difficult.
GIGOT: But what you are saying is that civilian casualties in this kind of a war, particularly if Israel doesn't have a perfect intelligence — and in a war, you never do — is probably inevitable.
BELL: Absolutely. The strategy is based upon creating as many civilian casualties as possible. And unfortunately, it succeeds. There is no way for a country like Israel to avoid falling into this trap. Either is allows its own civilians to be killed or some of the Lebanese shields get killed.
GIGOT: So what does this tell you of groups, like Human Rights Watch for example, when there is a civilian murder, or not murder, a civilian bombing, some victims? What does it tell you about the criticism that they issued against Israel saying it was indiscriminate bombing, that sort of thing? Is that a fair critique?
BELL: Well, I think it is wrong, as a matter of law. First of all, it is permissible to attack military targets, even if they are hiding among civilians. And it is permissible to cause collateral damage among civilians, so long as it is not excessive.
But there is a more important point, which is that — inadvertently I am sure but, nevertheless, it happens. Human Rights Watch is encouraging use of this strategy. It's encouraging groups like Hezbollah to think that hiding among civilians will work and get them political support.
GIGOT: What about the role of the Western media — CNN, al-Jazeera — when they put some of these terrible events, these deaths, civilian deaths on camera, are they playing into the hands of that Hezbollah strategy as well?
BELL: I think they are. And I think it is also inadvertent. Now, part of the problem is that it is hard to get good pictures of something that's very well hidden. And the media has no better intelligence, and probably worse intelligence on this than the Israeli army does. And so it would be very difficult for the media to find these storehouses in the middle of villages and residence areas.
But also Hezbollah played to the strategy. That is, they staged certain events in order to try to create pictures that would create sympathy for Lebanese and picture Israel as an aggressor and callous.
GIGOT: But what does this mean for Western military leaders — Israeli and American military leaders? Because they face the same kind of challenges. How does this — what challenges — confront them with? And how do they have to change their strategy to beat Hezbollah?
BELL: Unfortunately, as long at the strategy of Hezbollah works — hiding among civilians, attacking civilians, et cetera — as long as this strategy works at getting Hezbollah what it wants, which is, in this case, political power in Lebanon and weakening Israel for its eventual destruction, they're going to continue doing it.
And the only way that Western leaders can confront this is ultimately to work on destroying these groups and bringing war criminals like this to justice.
GIGOT: Well now, there is an alternative, is there not? I mean, the Russians, for example, were faced with the Chechen rebels, who did similar things. But they didn't respond in the same way. How did they do things differently?
BELL: Well, they used force a little bit more indiscriminately. They paid, I think, an enormous price in civilian life. And it is not clear that ultimately that strategy will succeed better. And I am not sure I would encourage that particular course of action.
I think it is a good thing that we use discrimination to aim our attacks at the military. But we have to understand that no strategy is going to be perfect.
GIGOT: And Western leaders have to prepare their publics for the fact that there will be civilian casualties in these kinds of conflicts.
BELL: Absolutely. War is an ugly business. There are going to be innocents that get hurt. And as much as we might wish it could be different, it will not going to be.
GIGOT: All right, Avi Bell, thanks so much for being here.
BELL: Thank you.
GIGOT: When we come back, what do these new rules of war mean for the American soldiers in Iraq? Our panel weighs in.
Plus, a global warming gag order — two U.S. Senators tell ExxonMobil to tow the line on climate change or suffer the consequences.
That story, and our "Hits and Misses" of the week when the "Journal Editorial Report" continues.
GIGOT: We are back with more on the new rules of war. Joining the panel this week, "Wall Street Journal" columnist and deputy editor Dan Henninger, foreign affairs columnist Bret Stephens, editorial board member Kim Strassel.
Bret you heard Avi Bell. Are their larger lessons here from the points he makes about the way we have to pursue the war on terror?
BRET STEPHENS, WSJ FOREIGN AFFAIRS COLUMNIST: Well, the lesson is that the way that Israel is being forced to conduct its wars, is the way that the United States is going to be — is and it will be required to conduct its wars. Which is to say that it is not going to be a pretty business, the war on terror.
And I think part of the problem that we have confronted, in Iraq and Afghanistan and elsewhere, is that we have subjected our forces to a level of public and institutional scrutiny that is totally out of keeping with the nature of the combat in which they are engaged.
If you are serious about defeating terrorism, it is going to mean waging a war that was very different from the sort of chivalrous wars of the 17th century. That's a fact of modern life.
GIGOT: But we still should pursue the battle with discrimination, should we not? I mean, there's no — we don't want to do what the Russians did in not caring about civilian casualties?
STEPHENS: No, and in part, we don't want to do that because we care about winning hearts and minds among the genuinely innocent.
The problem is terrorists make that difficult for you. One of the reasons we have had such a hard time establishing control in Baghdad is because the terrorists are inflicting mass casualties on other Muslims, on other civilians, under civilian cover. And it is not — it's not — they don't offer us any easy options the way, say, the North Vietnamese did, where you could go and bomb Hat Hong (ph) or other enemy sites.
KIM STRASSEL, WSJ EDITORIAL BOARD MEMBER: What has made that more difficult, too, is that international organizations, like the U.N., won't stand up and actually say these are the bad guys. They are the ones that are doing the bad things, putting civilians in harm's way. And that makes it harder to win the hearts and minds.
GIGOT: All right. Bret brought up Iraq.
We have the Iraq Study Group this week, Dan, with its recommendations. How should President Bush respond to those?
DAN HENNINGER, WSJ COLUMNIST AND DEPUTY EDITOR: Well, I have a specific answer to that. I think he should pretty much throw most of it in the waste basket and adopt one recommendation. And I think it is one that we're going to see.
They are going to embed one platoon in — one U.S. platoon in one Iraqi battalion, which is to say, they're going to increase the number of advisors five-fold. And that those will be a force multiplier for the Iraqi army. They will become the primary fighting force.
I think they will then draw down troops, excuse me, station them in Kuwait. And lower our profile in Iraq that way.
GIGOT: But you can't draw down our troops too much, because otherwise those...
HENNINGER: Not too much.
GIGOT: ... those embeds are going to be hostages, or potentially hostages, are they not? I mean, because you need — do need some kind of combat brigades there to provide force protection.
HENNINGER: I think they will be over in Kuwait. They will be readily available if we need them. But I think the whole idea is to simply reduce, by some measure, the number of forces. Not a significant number, but to lower the profile in Iraq.
GIGOT: What about the political impact of this? Is this — of this report. It's clear now Baker and Lee Hamilton are going to Capitol Hill, making their case. Are they going to box in the president and reduce his options in a significant way?
STEPHENS: I am not sure they will. The president has been pretty forthright in saying that this is one recommendation, one set of ideas among many. And I think actually the prospective defense secretary, Robert Gates, was very helpful when he said that there are no new ideas on Iraq.
Where I wonder whether this report will have impact is in renewing the drive by some people to get the U.S. government to engage with the Iranians and the Syrians on a diplomatic track. And that — I think that's very worrisome.
You really didn't need a blue ribbon commission to give you tactical recommendations, of the kind that Dan mentioned. But these larger political recommendations are extremely worrisome. And I think that the administration needs to start combating them now.
GIGOT: Are they going to go anywhere, Kim? Particularly, the Iran and the Syria engagement recommendation?
STRASSEL: Well, there is going to be an enormous amount of pressure for the United States to do something on this. And this gets back to the Hezbollah discussion we were just having.
There's going to be talk about how Iran and Syria want Iraq to be a stable place. Nothing in their actions actually suggests that. These are the people that are fronting Hezbollah and allowing this to happen in the civilians. They want to bleed America as much as they can so that they are not the next ones who America comes and tries to topple the dictators there.
STEPHENS: Yes. In fact, the Iranians and the Syrians, in a way, are making the case for the Bush administration with their actions. Ali Larijani, a senior Iranian diplomat, said very clearly a few days ago that the only — the only concession the U.S. could make that will get them to engage in a constructive way in Iraq is full withdrawal of U.S. troops.
And I think that tells you exactly what their strategy is. They want the United States out. They want it bloody. They want it humiliated. And I don't think the president is going to accept that strategy, nor will most Americans.
GIGOT: One other good bit of news here is that John McCain and Joe Lieberman are giving the president some support on this and saying — and criticizing the Iraq Study Group report. And therefore, not — so the president himself is not the only one saying I'm not going to accept all of these recommendations.
All right. Up next, two U.S. Senators are caught strong-arming climate-change skeptics. We'll have details when the "Journal Editorial Report" continues.
GIGOT: Two United States Senators have been caught trying to bully ExxonMobil into towing their line on global warming. In a letter to CEO Rex Tillerson, Republican Olympia Snowe, of Maine, and Democrat John D. Rockefeller, of West Virginia, urged the company to, quote, "end its dangerous support of global warming deniers," end quote.
The Senators also write "We are convinced that ExxonMobil's long- standing support of a small cadre of global climate change skeptics and those skeptic's access to, and influence on government policymakers, have made it increasingly difficult for the United States to demonstrate the moral clarity it needs across facets of its diplomacy."
The letter concludes by urging ExxonMobil to, quote, "publicly acknowledge both the reality of climate change and the role of humans in causing or exacerbating it."
Kim, I've been in Washington a long time. And I can't remember seeing a letter this blunt and, frankly, threatening.
GIGOT: What are they trying to accomplish, Snowe and Rockefeller?
STRASSEL: Well, no, I mean, look, these people, they've made up their mind about global warming. And they're going to make sure nobody else disagrees with them anymore.
ExxonMobil has been a big thorn in their side, because they have been funding groups that have been asking probing questions about global warming. You would think we would like that down in Washington, but not the Senators.
Now, what's scary about this is these are people who have the ability to institute windfall profits tax on oil companies, hold hearings and drag these people, public companies with share prices, in and embarrass them. So, I mean, there's some ethical issues about what they've been doing here too.
GIGOT: I should add that we did call the Senators and ask for comment. And they did not return our phone calls.
Bret, what does this tell us about the state of the global warming debate, that they are so concerned about these few skeptics?
STEPHENS: Well, that's one of the very interesting things here. Because one of the things that people like Snowe and Rockefeller will say is that there is a consensus here. So anyone who rejects it isn't simply a skeptic, is a denier, as if they're Holocaust deniers, or some kind of category like that.
But there is clearly a sense of real insecurity. Because the letter - - the real objection is to a relatively small, very effective think tank, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, which has been one of the very few voices which has been consistently pointing out the flaws in some of the political conclusions that have been reached here.
If there were such a consensus and, if it were only CEI that was rejecting it, why would they have to bully ExxonMobil? Why would they be so afraid of what little CEI has to say?
STRASSEL: And one thing, you've got to remember the stakes. The environmental community, for decades, has been trying to get all these things accomplished — smaller cars, phasing out power plants, all these things done. And they have never been able to convince the American public to get on board.
Now, you say you've got this huge thing that's going to blow up the world. We've got to act immediately. And behind it, you can accomplish all these other things they've wanted to do.
So this is a very important issue for a lot of people. And they want to use it. They don't want any debate on this.
HENNINGER: No. They — that's right. I mean, they've turned global warming into essentially a fundamentalist religion. They're the ones who worry about evangelicals. But this has become the same thing on the left.
And you know what? I have — I know scientists on the margin of this who are beginning to become very concerned about the credibility of science as they get drawn deeper into these political fights.
Science is becoming extremely politicized. And I think it's posing dangers to the credibility of science with the American public.
GIGOT: Well, Richard Lindzen, a climatologist at MIT has said that there is a climate of creeping political correctness here. And if you're a young scientist who wants to get tenure, wants to make advances in his career, wants money for research, you pretty much have to tow the line on global warming. Otherwise, you're going to run the risk that you won't get those kinds of resources.
STRASSEL: Well, you just — one of the words you just used is most important — money. Sure, there is a consensus of climate scientists out there who say there is global warming. Because if they would say otherwise, they wouldn't have a job.
I mean, this is increasingly becoming about funding. This is one of the biggest scientific areas for money at the moment. And you lose all that, if you say that there is a possibility it's not happening.
GIGOT: How much consensus is there on global warming? Most people agree the earth has warmed by about one degree over the last century or so. And most people agree that carbon amounts have played some kind of role in that. How much consensus is there really beyond that?
STEPHENS: Well, the issue is — and the important issue politically is how responsible human activity is for that, what we've seen, that relatively slight warming? Or is what has happened simply a matter of natural fluctuations that have happened for centuries and eons? And they're relatively large questions.
Was there a little Ice Age in the past millennium? Was there a warm period about 1,000 years ago? Those are issues that are still very much in contention. And there, there isn't such consensus about the degree to which human activity actually contributes to free thinking.
STRASSEL: We also need some debate too on how much is this going to cost. How bad would it actually be? Are there other things that are more important to take care of at the moment? Those are the things that Exxon's been asking some of think tanks to look at. And we should be having debate on it.
Other things to take care of at the movement. Those are the things Mobile Exxon asked the think tanks to look at.
GIGOT: The world has a lot of other problems, like AIDS in Africa, like having potable water.
GIGOT: And Malaria, and scarce resources and where they should go, and what problems they should go to, is a very big issue.
All right, thank you all.
We have to take one more break. When we come back, our "Hits and Misses" of the week.
GIGOT: Winners and losers, picks and pans, "Hits and Misses," it's our way of calling attention to the best and the worst of the week.
Item 1, the winner of the Genghis Khan trophy, Dan, is who?
HENNINGER: Most American school children equate Genghis Khan with rank barbarism. But Genghis Kahn is actually the father of Mongolia. And the Mongolians have decided to revive him. A, they have just created the Genghis Kahn Trophy for international sports. It's Genghis Kahn on a horse. I wish I could win it myself.
And their parliament is about to pass a law saying that you cannot use Genghis Kahn's image in a discredited way, such as on the side of a bottle of vodka.
Now, given the way we use our presidents, such as George Washington and Abraham Lincoln on President's Day, I kind of commend the Mongolians for acting with dignity. I say go Genghis.
GIGOT: All right, Dan.
Next, the former head of the Carter Center severs ties with the 39th president over his new book — Bret?
STEPHENS: Yes, well, sometimes Christmas comes a little early. Jimmy Carter has been hocking his book on Israel and the Palestinians, "Palestine Peace, Not Apartheid." And the former director of the Carter Center, who is a Middle East scholar, had this to say about it. And how would you like this review from a colleague?
"President Carter's book," said Professor Kenneth Stein, "is not based on unvarnished analyses. It is replete with factual errors, copied materials not cited, superficialities, glaring omissions and simply invented segments."
I would like to thank Professor Stein for finally shining a light on our finest ex-president.
GIGOT: All right, Bret.
Finally, a hit for NASA's new lunar strategy — Kim?
STRASSEL: To put this in perspective, you have to remember that NASA, as an agency, has been drifting for decades. And there is a whole generation of us, myself and younger people, who have never understood the space exploration excitement.
And now, a couple years ago, President Bush said let's go back to the moon and to Mars.
This week, we had the first big ideas from NASA, explaining it. And they are pretty grand and exciting. There could be more private sector involvement. They could have a few more things that they could get in order to make it more exciting. But this is neat. This could be the first chance that a lot of people, myself included, will get to see a space program that actually has some vision.
GIGOT: Why shouldn't we let Larry Ellison of "Oracle" or Warren Buffet or Bill Gates...
STRASSEL: I'm all for that. I'm all for that.
GIGOT: Yes, but in addition to NASA. You would be in favor of that kind of private exploration?
STRASSEL: Oh, yes, absolutely. But it's just nice to see that the kind of agency out there responsible for this is finally thinking big again.
GIGOT: OK. All right, Kim.
That's it for this week's edition of the "Journal Editorial Report."
Thanks to Dan Henninger, Bret Stephens and Kim Strassel.
I'm Paul Gigot. Thanks to all of you for watching. And we hope to see you right here next week.
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