My Turn: Facing the truth in the Middle East

America remains on the sidelines of the Israeli-Hezbollah conflict

Posted: Wednesday, August 09, 2006

We are into the third week of violence between Israel and Hezbollah, the militant wing of the largest political party in Lebanon's freely elected government. Hundreds of civilians have been killed, the majority in Lebanon. Our nation, which claims to believe in peace, freedom and democracy, remains on the sidelines, resisting calls by others for a cease-fire without conditions aimed at disarming Hezbollah.

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Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has told the world that "Any peace is going to have to be based on enduring principles and not on temporary solutions." How does this fit with the finger pointing, when she also defines the roots to the current violence with statements like "Hezbollah is the source of the problem"?

Israel and its neighbors have never truly known peace. In his address to Congress this past May, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert spoke to the tragedy of this historical fact. "Since the birth of the state of Israel and until this very moment, we have been continually at war and amidst confrontation."

Indeed, only weeks later, Israeli shelling killed seven people, including three children, on a beach in Gaza. This was a few weeks before Hezbollah kidnapped the two Israeli soldiers that supposedly instigated the current crisis. An article in The Guardian (UK) reports that the shelling was "the latest of more than 6,000 fired into the Gaza Strip by Israel over the past two months."

How can it be then that our most important international diplomat, a woman with a PhD in international studies, can turn history into a childlike rant about who threw the latest punch? Does the past 50 years and June's violence really have no bearing on the root of the conflict? Such a simplistic worldview insults the intelligence of our nation's and the world's informed citizenry.

But international studies and national interests are politics, an arena that most Americans agree is played behind a fence erected with dirt and deceit. The administration's refusal to discuss the full and honest history of the Middle East conflict seems more deliberately one sided than overly simple. It asks us to wonder what the hidden agenda might be.

The connection here seems to be Iran, America's primary enemy in the Middle East. They support both Hamas and Hezbollah, their mutual objective being the destruction of the Israeli state.

The administration's grand vision of a democracy in Iraq was one with a secular government that would support Israel's existence. But the majority party in the newly elected Iraqi government is an alliance of organizations with historical ties to Iran's fundamentalist Shiite government.

Five years ago President Bush got a lot of mileage with the simple minded "for us or against us" rhetoric. Is Iraq leaning toward the wrong side of that equation? Is our passive avoidance of the Israel-Lebanon conflict really aimed at permitting Israel to fight Iranian backed militants for our benefit?

No one can say exactly what is on the minds of our nation's leaders, but honesty related to the full history is clearly absent. And it seems highly plausible that after three years of failure to build a democracy in our image in Iraq, they are in need of a diversionary tale.

The idea of history isn't to retreat and feel good about accomplishments and victories, or to take glee in pointing out the mistakes of others. The old adage that we learn from history so we won't repeat our mistakes is trying to tell us to look inward, at our personal and collective moments of embarrassment and blunders.

In "Lenin's Tomb," the remarkable book about the last years of the Soviet Empire, David Remnick describes the attempt by the Communist Party to rewrite Soviet history as a practice of political necessity because the honest story lacked the building blocks to create a positive legacy. That was a dictatorship. Are we any better off if we allow our history to be a politically convenient tale? What is freedom if our collective memories are dictated by our government? Is world peace possible if we turn our backs on the truth because it's too painful to expose?

• Rich Moniak is a Juneau resident.





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