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Published: Monday, 7/24/2006

Stalling on Lebanon

Two serious problems with the ongoing warfare in the Middle East should be of enormous concern to Americans.

First, the Bush Administration could bring the fighting to an end quickly if it wanted to, but it hasn't moved to do so. Second, the war is expanding quickly into a regional conflict that could easily involve the United States, the last thing America needs given its current heavy involvement in Iraq.

Critical elements in the current picture include the growing casualty rate in the fighting, including Lebanese, Israelis, and Palestinians. Add to that the pounding that the infrastructure of Lebanon is taking, undoing all of the reconstruction it has achieved in the 15 years since the end of its long civil war.

There is also the question that an estimated 500,000 Lebanese are now on the move, trying to avoid Israeli bombing and the fighting, creating a ballooning humanitarian problem.

Senior Israeli spokespersons, including Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, are talking about Israel being at war with Syria and Iran, in addition to Hamas and Hezbollah.

Important Sunni-majority countries such as theoretical American allies Jordan and Egypt, and Syria have now condemned Israeli aggression, in effect signing on with Shiite Hezbollah as well as Sunni Hamas.

In what has to be seen as a serious blow to Bush Administration strategy, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, the Iraqi whom the United States installed as prime minister, has now also come out strongly in support of Hezbollah, reflecting a unanimous vote of Iraq's 275-member parliament, which condemned Israel for "criminal aggression."

In the meantime, in the face of all this, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is said to be consulting with representatives of interested parties at the United Nations in New York, in effect fiddling while the region burns.

It appears that Bush Administration strategy is to see if Israel can succeed in putting Hezbollah and Hamas out of business through air attacks, supported by light ground warfare.

The trouble is that many Lebanese civilians are paying the price with their lives, loss of the country's assets, and terminal humiliation of the government that had been gaining credibility and strength since the departure of Israeli forces in 2000 and Syrian forces in 2005.

The price in terms of potential gain seems excessive and the risk in terms of potential for U.S. military involvement being required to end an unacceptable regional war is becoming extreme.

First step? Send Ms. Rice there now, rather than later, and hope it works, even without a working U.S. relationship with Hezbollah, Hamas, Iran, and Syria.



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