Friday, July 14, 2006

The Bad News And The Good News

First the bad news:

The danger of Iranian-backed adventurism is immense right now, but that's all the more reason for America and Israel to avoid past mistakes in countering it. Reliable strategic lessons are hard to come by in that part of the world, but here are a few:

The first is that in countering aggression, international solidarity and legitimacy matter. In responding to the Lebanon crisis, the United States should work closely with its allies at the Group of Eight summit and the United Nations. Iran and its proxies would like nothing more than to isolate America and Israel. They would like nothing less than a strong, international coalition of opposition.

A second point -- obvious from Gaza to Beirut to Baghdad -- is that the power of non-state actors is magnified when there is no strong central government. That may sound like a truism, but responding wisely can require some creative diplomacy. The way to blunt Hamas is to build a strong Palestinian Authority that delivers benefits for the Palestinian people. The way to curb Hezbollah is to build up the Lebanese government and army. One way to boost the Lebanese government (and deflate Hezbollah) would be to negotiate the return of the Israeli-occupied territory known as Shebaa Farms. That chance is lost for now, but the Bush administration should find other ways to enhance Siniora's authority.

A final obvious lesson is that in an open, interconnected world, public opinion matters. This is a tricky battlefield for an unpopular America and Israel, but not an impossible one. To fight the Long War, America and Israel have to get out of the devil suit in global public opinion. For a generation, America maintained a role as honest broker between Israel and the Arabs. The Bush administration should work hard to refurbish that role.

In the Lebanon crisis we have a terrifying glimpse of the future: Iran and its radical allies are pushing toward war. That's the chilling reality behind this week's events. On Tuesday the Iranians spurned an American offer of talks on their nuclear program; on Wednesday their Hezbollah proxy committed what Israel rightly called "an act of war." The radicals want to lure America and Israel deeper into the killing ground, confident that they have the staying power to prevail. We should not play their game.

But we ARE playing their game, the penis-measuring game. Violence has always been used in international politics. But it hasn't been used unlinked to international cooperation and reason on such a scale for a very long time. The "boys" on both sides have now decided that pointless cruelty and slaughter of anything that breathes is a good way of getting attention and of scaring everybody else to submission. And no, I'm not trying to compare whose violence might be the cruellest. Such comparisons are part of the new blood games, too.

What I'm trying to say is that we need to have the adults back in control. And here are the good news, though they naturally pale in comparison to the bad news. But I grab any straw right now:

Republicans are in jeopardy of losing their grip on Congress in November. With less than four months to the midterm elections, the latest Associated Press-Ipsos poll found that Americans by an almost 3-to-1 margin hold the GOP-controlled Congress in low regard and profess a desire to see Democrats wrest control after a dozen years of Republican rule.

Further complicating the GOP outlook to turn things around is a solid percentage of liberals, moderates and even conservatives who say they'll vote Democratic. The party out of power also holds the edge among persuadable voters, a prospect that doesn't bode well for the Republicans.

The election ultimately will be decided in 435 House districts and 33 Senate contests, in which incumbents typically hold the upper hand. But the survey underscored the difficulty Republicans face in trying to persuade a skeptical public to return them to Washington.

That was the AP-Ipsos poll. Even the Fox News poll finds similar sentiments:

Less than four months before Election Day, the latest FOX News Poll finds that voters strongly favor the Democrats on key issues such as the economy and gas prices, and give the minority party a double-digit lead for control of Congress this fall. For most of President Bush's second term in office, more Americans have said they disapprove than approve of his job performance and that is again the case in this new poll.

The president's approval rating dropped to 36 percent, down from 41 percent approval two weeks ago and 40 percent in mid-June. Bush lost ground this week among some key constituent groups, such as Republicans, whites and men. Overall, 53 percent of Americans say they disapprove.

"It is important to remember that the president got his bounce after the killing of al-Zarqawi in Iraq," comments Opinion Dynamics Chairman John Gorman. "While administration officials were careful not to overplay the significance of this, it naturally created hope that things would get better. Several weeks of bloody footage from Iraq have pretty much dashed those hopes."

Oh how I hope this turns out to be true. I don't even care about the domestic issues right now. I don't care if the Democrats are corpocrats, too. All I care about right now is for someone to take control of the steering wheel, someone who can actually drive and think at the same time, someone who has studied international politics. And if that can't be had at least we might get a Congress which puts a stop to the most inane plans of this administration.