March 10, 2005

Lebanon Hold-Em and the Poker Skills of George Bush

REIHAN @ The American Scene offers a sobering assessment of what could happen during a Lebanon end-game:

Once Hezbollah stands by its paymasters, always the most likely scenario, the game is over. Hezbollah can leave tremendous bloodshed in its wake, provided it stands with Syria and Iran until the bitter end. And there's no reason to believe it won't. The "Curley effect" comes to mind. A self-interested ruler isn't necessarily interested in the well-being of his charges -- it's far more likely that he'll be interested in maximizing his own power, the interests of a saintly suffering population be damned. A democratic Lebanon can't coexist with a heavily armed statelet with a foreign policy of its own. The flock Nasrallah tends so assiduously will, under that set of circumstances, grow restless over time. It is, in the end, an unacceptable outcome. If others get trampled underfoot, so be it.

President Bush, I'm sorry to say, could be handling this more deftly.

Now perhaps the President and the White House, to skew a line from "The West Wing," is juggling a bit too many items "of live ammunition" a bit too quickly here. Then again, perhaps not. In Lebanon Hold-Em, we've seen the flop, may be looking at the turn, but we're not yet at the River and we've only just a peek at what Bush's hole-cards are.

A lot remains to be seen of what Bush's plan for the region actually entails. As I remarked on March 2, the moment of the guns will be the moment of truth:

Freedom for the Entire Middle East? Just How Much Fight Have We Got?

What happens if Syria, its regime pushed to the wall, decides to employ Hama Rules against its own people or the people of Lebanon? What exactly does America plan to do if the seekers of freedom in public squares in Lebanon and Iran are machine-gunned down by their governments? Will America send planes and troops in to rescue and avenge those who are massacred?

No, you say? You say it is not possible for America to send troops and planes in from bases mere miles away in Iraq, but it will condemn massacres in the strongest possible terms?

Very well, but then what does the promise "When you stand for your liberty, we will stand with you." mean? And if it really only means, "When you stand for your liberty, we will protest to your government after they kill you " what is America's promise of freedom really worth to the dead? What is the word of America worth to the world?

Is it still, when the guns come out, worth what it was during the last days of Vietnam? Or is it now worth more? Does America mean what it says or will it be content to once more be marked down as "A Fool who tried to hustle the East"?

Only when the guns begin will we begin to know the truth.

Until then we'll have a kind of Prague Spring. Whether the Lebanon Freedom and Independence movement will "Tear down this wall." or morph into 1956's Hungarian Revolution is not given us to know at this juncture. Much will depend not only on the widely bally-hooed concept of the perception of what the United States might do to Syria/Hezbollah, but what it actually will do.

On the one hand, lack of armed intervention in the event of violence in Lebanon would undo much of what has been gained in Iraq and Afghanistan.

On the other hand, an expedition of American troops into Lebanon could not only be inflammatory, but also take the forces in the region A Bridge Too Far.

So, we have a situation in which an armed intervention in Lebanon by the United States is "Damned if you do. Damned if you don't." What does a plain-spoken, dumb old cowboy do? What sort of insurance does he take out?

Perhaps, in this international game of high-stakes hold-em you don't go all in. Perhaps, if you are George Bush, you look for a third hand.

Perhaps he saddles up and ambles off to Europe to mend those ornery fences and have himself a Yalta Conference chat with that pesky Jacques Chirac. Perhaps they agree to tag-team Hezbollah and Syria with France getting a foothold in the new Lebanon -- once a favorite French vacation Eden in the region.

And what would this 'rapprochement ', this nouveau entente cordiale between US and French interests in the Middle East look like? You might look for something like this:

March 1, 2005: Without much publicity, France has moved the replenishment ship Var to the eastern Mediterranean. The Var contains facilities for running commando operations, as well as facilities for about 200 commandoes and their equipment. France apparently believes that the situation in Lebanon is going to get out of control. Since World War II, France has been something of a big brother for Lebanon, especially the Lebanese Christians. This particular relationship goes back some 800 years, to the time of the Crusades. Currently, the Lebanese are out in the streets protesting the continued presence of Syrian troops in the country. If France is going to get involved, it won’t be with a lot of troops. But you can do a lot with a hundred or so commandoes. The Var has previously supported French commandoes operating in Afghanistan.
-- News about Commandos and Special Operations at StrategyPage

Could it possibly be that that dumb old cowboy George Bush is really THAT smart? You bet your boots, pardner. You bet your boots.

Posted by Vanderleun at March 10, 2005 8:11 AM
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"It is impossible to speak in such a way that you cannot be misunderstood." -- Karl Popper N.B.: Comments are moderated and may not appear immediately. Comments that exceed the obscenity or stupidity limits will be either edited or expunged.

Or George could play the Richard Nixon card and just start taking out his frustrations on the Syrians. I hear they're developing a target-rich environment in the Bekaa Valley. After all, war IS a contest of wills.

"If anything goes wrong, your fault, my fault, anybody's fault, I'm gonna blow your head off." --John Wayne in BIG JAKE

Posted by: slimedog at March 10, 2005 10:01 AM


I love that line; it's one of my all-time favorite Wayne lines. I was thinking about it yesterday and couldn't remember the movie. I thought it was McClintock. I loved the look on Richard Boone's face at that point.


Posted by: nobody important at March 10, 2005 10:45 AM

I think that America's best shot is to tell the Syrians (quietly)that if they play by "Hama Rules", then we play by "Chicago Rules." And then we see who plays best.

Posted by: Final Historian at March 10, 2005 11:15 AM

france has aligned with us (and the feckless U.N.) to demand Syria's withdrawl.

I second Final's comment. If we are serious about supporting democracy we will find no profit in fighting a war of fronts in Lebanon.

We tell Assad and his happy band of otherwise unemployable thugs that they go. And we avoid Lebanon entirely in the process - seems we've got a substantial presence on their border already.

An interesting what-if to me is just what france may do if it comes to that. Will they send troops?

If they measure the rising sentiment for democracy across the mideast as the true face of the future, it would definitely be in their interest to be "on the ground" with a liberation of Lebanon (the obvious Arab economic powerhouse to arise in a democratic, peaceful, mideast).

It wouldn't cost them anything. They could send a liasion team of officers and mess stewards to work off one of our carriers or 'phibs, and a battalion of legionnaires for photo ops on the ground, and they'd get full credit as allies from us.

The other side of the coin is easy; they might well think that the Cowboy will take Assad out regardless of who is on his bench, and then they are left with no contacts to exploit at all.

The french are easy to figure out if you can just find out what you have to do to let their politicians look good and make a buck or two.

Posted by: TmjUtah at March 10, 2005 11:58 AM