Richard Armitage, former number 2 at the State Department has profound doubts about Bush policy in Lebanon. You’ll recall he served at State during the first Bush presidency and presided over the 1983 Beirut bombing fiasco. So he knows whereof he speaks and he recently spoke to Renee Montaigne of NPR (audio).
He doesn’t believe a multinational peacekeeping force will work. First, the term of the mission would have to be “years, rather than months,” since he does not believe the Lebanese government would be able to do any of the “heavy lifting for a long time to come.” Second, he believes there are very few nations in the world with sufficient troops to take on such a mission. His final judgment on the matter is:
We’re an awfully long way it would seem to me from having any ability to have any forces interposed between the warring camps.
Armitage also believes the U.S. is making a serious mistake in refusing to engage Syria directly in resolving the conflict:
NPR: Are there parallels between that peacekeeping force and now?
ARMITAGE: Well, I remember with stunning clarity one of our Israeli interlocutors sitting in my office, telling me that, “Don’t worry about this peace in Galilee operation. We understand our neighbors very well. We understand them better than anyone. We know all the dynamics of the situation in Lebanon.” And that turned out not quite to be the case.
I suspect that people in government now are also hearing that from Israel. Don’t get me wrong — if I thought that this air campaign would work, and would eliminate Nasrullah and the leadership of Hezbollah, I think it would all be fine. But I fear that you can’t do this from the sky, and that you’re going to end up empowering Hezbollah, and perhaps introducing an element into the body politic in Lebanon that will take some great period of time to recover from.
NPR: An element into the body politic that as yet we do not know?
ARMITAGE: I think we do not know. And we’re not, as far as I’m concerned, using all the levers that we have, such as having the Secretary of State talk to the Syrians. I think they want to get involved. I think they want to become more central to a solution, and you might as well give them the opportunity. If they step up to it, fine. If they don’t, we’ll know them for what they are.
…We get a little lazy I think when we spend all our time as diplomats talking to our friends and not to our enemies.
Condi, the guy was your number 2. Are you listening???