"They'll Like Us When We Win"
It's normally not in FITS' purview to comment on issues of international import. We pretty much adhere to Tip O'Neill's legendary "All Politics is Local" maxim and try to stick to what we know ... or at least what we think we know.
But recent events in the Middle East have forced us - and many of you - to briefly shift our focus, even if the underlying modus operandi is more about cheap oil for our gas-guzzling SUV's than it is about the humanitarian pipe dream of "peace in the Middle East."
We were underwhelmed, to say the least, by the local Democratic take on the issue by blog newcomer Elizabeth McHugh - which basically consisted of an eighth-grade social studies rehashing of recent American foreign policy in the region, a bunch of rhetorical questions (conveniently left unanswered) and a "war is not the answer" conclusion that was noteworthy only because it reminded us of the fact that Marvin Gaye was indeed one hell of a singer, and we've missed his vocal stylings immensely since his untimely death.
Anyway, in case you didn't recognize it right off the bat, the picture above is what was left of the U.S. Marine Barracks in Beirut, Lebanon after Palestinean terrorists blew it up with a truck bomb on October 23, 1983 - killing 241 Americans and forcing a U.S. withdrawal from the region a few months later.
Well last week, American soldiers were back in Lebanon for the first time in over two decades, evacuating embassy personnel and other essential-type folks as a brutal Israeli-Hezbollah conflict continued to escalate - threatening lives, regional stability, international relations, gas prices, liberal sensibilities, you name it.
Which leads us to the two fundamental questions Ms. McHugh and millions of others have been asking for decades - What the hell is going on in the Middle East? And what is the role of the big, bad (yes they think we're very bad over there) USA?
Simply put, nobody's got a clue.
Some say the problems in the region stem from America's blind support of Israel and the collapse of Cold War alliances, others say it's a rise in militant, Islamic fundamentalism. Still others say it's all about oil - who owns it, who sells it and how much they can make off of it.
There are nation-versus-nation spats, religion-versus-religion spats, tribe-versus-tribe spats and dictator-versus-dictator spats. When you get right down to it, it's a lot like watching The Bold and the Beautiful or Beverly Hills 90210, except it's set outside in a hot desert, chicks don't usually get starring roles and all the guys have beards, funny-looking hats, seemingly limitless stockpiles of conventional and non-conventional weaponry and itching inferiority complexes.
And here's how it plays out ...
As soon as one Middle Eastern nation attacks another (which happens often), there's retaliation, which leads to the gradual escalation of even deadlier violence and awful pictures of starving, naked kids on the streets, or bleeding, dying kids in hospitals, or (for contrast) semi-clothed kids carrying AK-47 assault rifles.
Once these pictures get beamed back over to our network and cable newscasts, they're neatly packaged and mainlined into American living rooms, followed by not-so-subtle reminders that "Oh yeah, when these people start shooting each other, your gas prices go up."
All of a sudden, bleeding heart liberals (who love kids) and die-hard conservatives (who hate high gas prices) are united in purpose, if not motivation, and before long the air is filled with the sound of the five most dangerous words in American foreign policy:
"We've got to do something."
Of course, let's be honest, that's the one-tenth of Americans who qualify as informed. The rest of the country is scratching its collective head and saying, "Who cares if these people shoot each other?"
But like Mighty Mouse, we're off to "save the day" again, with Secretary of State Condi Rice shuttling back and forth between all the various and sundry warring factions, ironically condemning the "shuttle diplomacy" that was practiced for decades by Warren Christopher and other former U.S. negotiators, all of whom failed to get to the bottom of the rabbit hole.
Let's face it people, the Middle East is like a Rubik's Cube. And America and the rest of the world are like one of those geometrically-challenged people who, no matter how hard they try, will never be able to solve a Rubik's cube - without peeling off and replacing the stickers, that is.
Oddly enough, perhaps the best policy wisdom we've heard yet on Middle Eastern diplomacy (other than just bombing the whole subcontinent back to the Paleolithic Era, which probably wouldn't go over too well at the U.N.), came from, of all places, an episode of The West Wing.
Seldom regarded as a bastion of geopolitical wisdom, the show nonetheless featured a provocative debate once between communications director Toby Ziegler and his ex-wife, a sitting U.S. Congresswoman, over some tough, anti-fundamentalist language Ziegler wanted to include in a Presidential speech addressing escalating Mideast tensions.
Ziegler wanted his stern words of warning to stay, but his ex-wife, adopting a more conciliatory approach to the crisis, wanted the language taken out.
In defending his rhetoric, Ziegler dismissed its potentially adverse repercussions with one, brilliant sentence:
"They'll like us when we win," he said.
Well right now, we're not winning. And until we've got a real plan - not this Oprah Diplomacy of flying around and talking to everyone involved about their "feelings" - we should, quite frankly, keep our people the hell out of there.