Lebanon? What does Kerry Mean by Lebanon?" which is on the subject of John Kerry's exchange with the press on Thursday, a transcript of which appears here, with a press release from the RNC on the allegation by Kerry that General Shinseki was "fired" interjected. The symposium question: "What do Kerry's answers to today's press inquiries tell us about Kerry's worldview and character?"
The Lebanon remark follows:
Q. "If you are elected, given Paul Bremer's remarks, and deteriorating conditions as you have judged them, would you be prepared to commit more troops."
A. "I will do what the generals believe we need to do without having any chilling effect, as the president put in place by firing General Shinseki, and I'll have to wait until January 20th. I don't know what I am going to find on January 20th, the way the president is going. If the president just does more of the same every day, and it continues to deteriorate, I may be handed Lebanon, figuratively speaking. Now, I just don't know. I can't tell you. What I'll tell you is, I have a plan. I have laid out my plan to America, and I know that my plan has a better chance of working. And in the next days I am going to say more about exactly how we are going to do what has been available to this Administration that it has chosen not to do. But I will make certain that our troops are protected. I will hunt down and kill the terrorists, and I will make sure that we are successful, and I know exactly what I am going to do and how to do it."
It does seem hard for him to "have a plan" and at the same time have no idea what he would be handed (God forbid!) on January 20th.
What "Lebanon" does he fear being handed? It could be one of at least three:
- Most probably, he's referring to the Lebanon of the civil war in the '80s, into which Israel (unsuccessfully) and Syria (successfully, so far) intervened -- a multitude of sects and parties, once carefully balanced in an intricate political system that left the Christian Maronites and Sunnis on top and the U.S. Marines were there for a time, too, until Hezbollah blew up a barracks and Reagan cut his losses and withdrew.
- He could also be referring to the Eisenhower intervention in Lebanon that occurred when the Hashemite king of Iraq was deposed, his body dragged through the street in a jeep, and Lebanon and Jordan were both threatened by Nasserite rebellion.
- Or more remotely, he could be referring to the current situation, where Syrian troops and intelligence maintain overall control of the political system, and the US and even the UN asks the Syrians to leave.
Kerry is almost certainly be referring to the Lebanese civil war of the '80s, and the condition he fears in Iraq is one in which the ethnic and religious groups in Iraq began to struggle with one another militarily and not just politically. This is not an irrational fear. The Kurds don't trust us or the other Iraqis, in both cases with some justice. The Shi'a, now that Muqtada as-Sadr has been quelled for the moment, will wait for elections on the theory that they will end up dominating. The Sunni are mostly unhappy and some in open rebellion, because they foresee a loss of their former dominance. The Turkmen are waiting watchfully, with some support from Turkey. Long story short, most of the groups are watching and waiting, but a descent into active warfare is possible.
It's more likely that most will wait to see what happens with the planned Iraqi elections.
If the civil war scenario were to come to pass, it could pose major problems for the U.S. forces and for U.S. policy. But Kerry's invocation of this scenario is not thought-out, but what my children call "random" -- that is, arbitrary and unmotivated. It's typical Kerry, a reference designed to make him seem knowledgeable and Bush misguided, but devoid of any real content. It's not, "if we can't prevent a Civil War we might (a) need to invoke a regional negotiated solution; (b) send more troops; (c) evacuate," but "I have a plan, but I can't tell you what I will do, because after all, it might become . . . LEBANON! And you should elect me, because I can say Lebanon in English and in French."
In short, the reference to Lebanon reaffirms Kerry as a pompous, "pampered cipher," as Mark Steyn calls him.
From the perspective of US interests, the biggest fear (next to an Al Qaeda takeover, which even Kerry might resist with overwhelming force) is that a chaotic Iraq would invite intervention by a regional power, just as a chaotic Iraq invited intervention by Syria. The candidate power for intervention in Iran, which would be unacceptable as long as the mullahs rule. The mullahs won't intervene as long as Bush is in power, because they know his determination. If Neville . . I mean, Kerry, is elected, Iranian intervention would be a great danger, because his response would very likely be akin to Carter's feckless response to the Iranian hostage crisis. For all we know, Kerry would have a summit conference with Chiraq, Putin, Mubarak and the Iranians, and acquiesce in their intervention as long as there was an international fig-leaf for it, as there was in the beginning for Syria's intervention in Lebanon.
My views are more akin to Mark Helprin's realistic hawkishness, but Kerry, almost certainly, would be a feckless, hand-wringing internationalist -- or worse.