In praise of stupid emperors
August 16, 2006
Quite often these days, I feel the sort of ecstatic incredulity that the Goths and the Vandals must have felt in the Fifth Century A.D., rejoicing in the stupidity of the Roman Emperor Theodosius II, a fanatical Christian monophysite and book-burner who presided over the accelerating decline of the Empire, and who eventually died at the age of 49 by tumbling off his horse. The Vandals and Goths didn't anxiously scan the news bulletins from Rome hoping for news of a "better" imperial candidate who would revive the Empire's fortunes and consolidate the iron rule of Rome under the slogan Back to Augustus. Neither should we.
Insulated though they are from reality, one would have thought that Bush and his entourage would have noticed that their military adventure in Iraq has been faring poorly, and possibly even tiptoed toward the conclusion offered earlier by the Vietnam experience that a contest with a determined guerrilla force backed by a supportive population may not necessarily turn out well for the invading party.
So it was with Israel's long planned onslaught on Lebanon, presented to the world as a bid to extirpate Hezbollah. The divorce from reality began many years ago. An army whose prime function for many years has been to terrorize Palestinian civilians, knock down their houses and tear out their olive groves inevitably degenerates in the quality of its officers and in its overall moral fiber. The British discovered that in 1899 in South Africa. Having for decades slaughtered tribespeople armed only with spears, the British army came up against a few determined Dutch farmers with modern weapons and went down in defeat.
A political and military elite fattened on corrupt arms contracts and by triumphal tours to Washington and overall adulation in the U.S. press develops the sort of overweening arrogance most vividly evinced by the oafish Israeli chief of staff, Dan Halutz.
It was Halutz who sold Israeli premier Ehud Olmert and defense minister Amir Peretz on the fantasy of swift and devastating air force raids finishing off Hezbollah. Of course what Halutz did was efficiently unite all Lebanese in loathing of Israel, while being an effective propagandist for Hezbollah.
The U.S. political and media elites were far more united in stupidity than their Israeli counterparts. In the old-line print press and on the networks here the reporting was awful, with CNN in the lead. But online, every day, one could open up the English language online edition of Ha'aretz and read searing criticism of Israel's war. Here, on the political front, the only major politician to call for a ceasefire was the Republican senator from Nebraska, Chuck Hagel. The congressional Democrats were stentorian cheerleaders for Israel's destruction of Lebanon.
But there were some significant differences from the coverage of the 2006 onslaught on Lebanon as opposed to that of the 1982 attack. Particularly shaking to Israel and its supporters here must have been the Aug. 3 report issued by Human Rights Watch (HRW), datelined Beirut. Amid the uproar over the slaughter of civilians in Qana, with a barrage of grotesque propaganda about Hezbollah actually importing bodies into the flattened building from morgues, came a carefully written HRW report entitled "Fatal Strikes: Israel's Indiscriminate Attacks Against Civilians in Lebanon."
HRW's 50-page report analyzed almost two dozen cases of Israeli air and artillery attacks on civilian homes and vehicles. Of the 153 dead civilians named in the report, 63 were children. "The pattern of attacks shows the Israeli military's disturbing disregard for the lives of Lebanese civilians," said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. "Our research shows that Israel's claim that Hezbollah fighters are hiding among civilians does not explain, let alone justify, Israel's indiscriminate warfare."
Among the arts of diplomacy is the all-important one of covering one's tracks. I doubt even Theodosius' entourage would have matched the comical clumsiness with which Rice, Bolton and Blair tried to occlude their total sponsorship and endorsement of Israel's onslaught. Rice was told to scram by an infuriated Lebanese government, and Blair took refuge to San Francisco, at the feet of his future employer, Rupert Murdoch. Only the hugely hyped London terror scare took the spotlight off their humiliation.
Hezbollah stood its ground and checked Israel's advance and, as scores of prominent Israelis made haste to point out, it is a victory of great significance. Israel's planes could flatten villages but not silence the Katyushas, nor hold much ground in southern Lebanon. Israel's generals could command the airwaves in Israel and the United States. but not protect northern Israel from bombardment, where Arab Israelis had not even been vouchsafed any shelters or emergency supplies and where the well-informed Jewish Forward newspaper based in New York said in early August that the inhabitants could only take it for another week. The forces inside Israel saying there has to be a peaceful solution that addresses the root problem of stolen Palestinian lands have been strengthened.
There are seem to be more realists in Israel's ruling circles than here in the U.S., where the utter disaster in Iraq has been so dimly apprehended that the imbecile Cheney vigorously encouraged Israel to embark on the same sort of venture in Lebanon, maybe as a curtain-raiser to a U.S.-Israeli attack on Iran. In Israel, the message seems to have soaked in pretty rapidly that they've taken a pasting and that Nasrallah and his forces have emerged victorious.
Moral: U.S. elites are truly, truly stupid, but as the Goths and the Vandals understood, that can be all to the good, if the desired objective is to have the Empire grow weak and in the end maybe get smart and civilized.
Alexander Cockburn is coeditor with Jeffrey St. Clair of the muckraking newsletter CounterPunch. He is also co-author of the new book "Dime's Worth of Difference: Beyond the Lesser of Two Evils," available through www.counterpunch.com. To find out more about Alexander Cockburn and read features by other columnists and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.
COPYRIGHT 2006 CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.
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