Monday, July 31, 2006

Seeing the Real Blood and Guts

As the calendar turns from July to August, Washington is in the hot seat both literally – temperatures are to rise above the 100 degree (F) mark – and figuratively in terms of the sudden upsurge in violence in a number of localities.

The most prominent locale is the Hezbollah-Israeli confrontation that has embroiled the shaky democratic institutions in Lebanon. Beirut only recently shed its Syrian overlord after nearly 30 years but now finds itself under air attack everywhere and ground attacks in the 13-mile wide area between the Litani River and the border with Israel. The toll as of July 30, 18 days into the fighting, stood at 750 Lebanese dead, 2,000 wounded, and 800,000 (estimated) displaced. Israel, by contrast, counted 51 military and civilian dead, mostly from unguided rockets fired by Hezbollah into northern Irael

The wide disparity in the number of deaths (15 to 1), Israel’s heavy use of fighter jets dropping bombs and firing air to ground missiles, and the Israeli cabinet's approval for a “wider” war point to even more lives lost on both sides. The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) reportedly have concentrated forces along the border pointing west toward the sea while bombing the roads and bridges to the east – toward Syria. The assumption is they will try to trap Hezbollah between the Litani and the border in a squeeze play with the Israeli navy offshore to block escape that way.

Israel may have hoped its 48 hour “pause” in air operations (albeit not a complete pause), in addition to trying to mollify world opinion following the air attack on Qana that killed some 60 Lebanese Sunday, would also give them data on Hezbollah firing points and troop dispositions. But after launching a record 157 rockets into northern Israel Sunday, no rockets were fired Monday – only a few random mortar rounds. For its part, Hezbollah has joined with the Lebanese government in calling for an immediate cease-fire, a call rejected by Tel Aviv and Washington.

The killing – and that in Gaza where Qassam rockets are launched into Israel and Israel’s methodical march through Gaza searching for Corporal Shalit has taken another 110 lives – is guaranteed to continue for another reason: 90 percent of Israels say the government must force Hezbollah to surrender and be disarmed while 87 percent of Lebanon’s population say they approve of Hezbollah’s missile launches. As one might expect, pro-Hezbollah sentiment is stronger in northern Lebanon where the Israeli bombing has been significantly less.

So what will stop the growing carnage, the death and destruction? This is as much a propaganda/information/psychological war as it is a blood and guts one. The trouble is that the blood and guts part is not being seen by the U.S. public although it is definitely being seen by millions of Muslims throughout the region. The U.S. public really has not “seen” war since the Vietnam era – and then the tapes had to be physically flown out of ‘Nam. It's as if we have to be protected from the horror of war so that our nights will be restful – never mind what is happening to those whose nights are spent praying that they will see the morning.

The White House declaration that an early ceasefire would be counter-productive to achieving a “stable peace” is causing the temperature “on the Arab street” to soar. And as it does, the White House will find itself more and more isolated on other issues where allies are critical – such as North Korea’s nucs, Somalia’s government, Darfur, and Sri Lanka.

It’s as if the White House, having asserted that the U.S. Congress gave it a blank check to wage war against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, is now issuing its own “blank checks” to whomever it wants.

One wonder’s what the cost will be when the checks are filled in and cashed.

Other statistics:

The Iraq toll as of July 31 stood at 2,578 U.S. dead, 19,038 wounded, 129 coalition dead. In the first six months of 2006, the Iraqi Ministry of Health said 14,338 Iraqi civilians were killed –and the trend is up.

In Afghanistan, U.S. fatalities are 323 and the wounded 795, with allied fatalities standing at 95. So far in 2006, U.S. losses are 64 and allied killed are 30. In July, for the first time, allied fatalities (10) exceeded U.S. fatalities (9), reflecting the gradual move of NATO forces replacing U.S. forces in the volatile south and east.


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