Conflict could easily spread

By Thomas Eagleton

Hell has broken loose in Lebanon and Israel. There are two enormous apprehensions: the war itself and the possibility that it could spread to Syria and Iran. The latter two are the overt arms suppliers of Hezbollah, a rancid terrorist group with significant political power in Lebanon. As suppliers, Syria and Iran are co-conspirators in the missile attacks on Israel. With Hezbollah, they are as one.

The risk of enlarging the war is a clear and present danger — one dead body could do it. For example, suppose the mutilated body of one of the kidnapped Israeli soldiers is found in Syria. One body — another war. The combustible tentacles of hate are woven from the Mediterranean to the Gulf of Oman. The point is that with wars going in Israel, Lebanon, Iraq and Afghanistan, it doesn’t take much to light a match engulfing the whole region in fire.

At the outset of the Bush administration in 2001, Iraq and “democracy spreading” became the primary policy. Israel/Palestine was put on the back burner, flame turned off. Nature would “take its course” there. Awakened from a long absence of attention, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says that “we are not in favor” of a ceasefire. She goes on to resurrect old, dead, now irrelevant words “frameworks” and “road maps.” Her statement comes close to “no comment.”

President Bush, understandably, declares that free and fair elections are hallmarks of democracy. There have been elections in Egypt, Palestine, Lebanon, and Iran. In Egypt, the founding terrorist Muslim Brotherhood won seats becoming the opposition party. In Palestine, Hamas, another terrorist group, was elected to power. In Lebanon, terrorist Hezbollah swept Shiite southern Lebanon and won enough seats to get cabinet posts in the government. In Iraq, a pro-Iran secular Islamic was elected prime minister. Inventing Islamic democracies is a new fiction headed for failure.

It is simply incredible that the U.S. pretends to show no interest in what could be a global debacle. President Dwight Eisenhower showed America’s interest when he stopped the crazy Suez adventure. In 1996, Secretary of State Warren Christopher brokered a deal under circumstances similar to today’s.

Israel has a Hezbollah plan on the shelf waiting for the time to be used. Israel, under constant threat, has dozens of military plans on the shelf. So do we — just like the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution was sitting on the shelf waiting to be used by President Lyndon Johnson on some event, real or fictitious.

The U.S. has to be fully engaged in this crisis. President Bush should appoint, as a special envoy, former Secretary of State Colin Powell who is still one of the most respected Americans in the world. The President should immediately send him to Beirut and Jerusalem. He needs no training.

Bush should consult with G-8 and NATO partners for a U.N. resolution that updates previous U.N. resolutions relating to Hezbollah and should introduce such a resolution calling for NATO to send a peacekeeping force to the Israel/Lebanon border. The NATO commander is an American and some U.S. troops would be part of the mission. The Lebanese army would be called in to police both the border and a demilitarized zone with NATO forces as backup. Any attack on the Lebanese forces would be an attack on the NATO forces. The NATO units should undertake a substantial training program of the Lebanese army which today is even more pitiful than the Iraq army. In our complex world, some borders may need perpetual protection, e.g. Korea, the Balkans, and now this one.

From here to eternity, Wahhabis clerics and xenophobic Shiites will poison the minds of generation after generation of desperate young Muslims to hate Jews and Christians. There is no negotiable middle ground with hate. We are amidst the clash of civilizations to the end of time.

Thomas F. Eagleton was a Democratic U.S. senator from Missouri (1968-1987). He served on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the Senate Intelligence Committee and the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board.