The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

"Back off" !?!?!?

I am still in Marrakesh and wasn't going to blog, but this from Steve Clemons is worth following, if true:

Although I do not have independent confirmation, I heard the rumor from a well-placed source that Secretary of State Rice attempted to increase pressure on Israel to stand down and to demonstrate "restraint". The rumor is that she was told flatly by the Prime Minister's office to "back off".

Rice is not one to be told to back off without the other party paying a price. Israel's outrageous, over-the-top military escalations were exactly what the most militarist fanatics of Hamas wanted and exactly what Hezbollah wanted to prompt. Those in the middle of the extremists on all sides are getting crushed.

And it may take this kind of out of control danger that FINALLY wakes up some tough-minded strategists in the White House, Defense Department, and State Department to compel Israel to back off and all other parties to wind down their militant elements.

Note to George W. Bush, please call your father, James Baker and Brent Scowcroft for some advice. Also, get Elliott Abrams to recuse himself NOW from any further counsel on these matters as his perspective is too close to Israel -- and dispassionate counsel is needed.

More later.
It may already be too late to stop this developing into a full-scale war, which could have been avoided if the Bush administration had played a restraining role. The responsibility they bear by retreating from the Arab-Israeli conflict in the last few years (meaningless "roadmap" aside") is nearly criminal, and does great harm to American interests in the Middle East and worldwide. This isn't about who they should be backing, it's about statesmanship -- or the lack thereof.

Update: Obviously I'm not the only one thinking the US needs to show some positive leadership on this issue rather than tow the Israeli line, but Marc Lynch certainly has a point:

The only reason I’m not calling more loudly for Bush to get involved and take a leadership role in the conflict is the expectation that he would probably do the wrong thing. But at this point, doing nothing is, in fact, doing something. The Bush administration right now looks weak, confused, and vaguely pathetic... which is better than batshit crazy (like the folks who are demanding that America either smile on or even join in a war with Damascus and/or Tehran), but not nearly as good as exercising actual grown-up leadership at a time when the world could really, really use some