Hagel on the Mideast Crisis
As Israel prepares to widen ground operations and continues its air assault on southern Lebanon even during a putative 48-hour pause, and President Bush maintains his refusal to call for a cease-fire, Republican senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska has broken ranks with the Administration to call for strong steps toward ending the conflict before it expands still further.
In a speech on the Senate flood yesterday, Hagel said "The sickening slaughter on both sides must end and it must end now. President Bush must call for an immediate cease-fire. This madness must stop." The senator noted that America's actions must be examined in context of our wider goal to achieve long-term stability in the Middle East: "How do we realistically believe that a continuation of the systematic destruction of an American friend - the country and people of Lebanon - is going to enhance America's image and give us the trust and credibility to lead a lasting and sustained peace effort in the Middle East?"
A bit more from Hagel: "Our relationship with Israel is special and historic. But it need not and cannot be at the expense of our Arab and Muslim relationships. That is an irresponsible and dangerous false choice." He urged the president to name a "statesman of global stature" as his personal envoy to assist in quelling the crisis, and called for talks with Iran and Syria, who are backing Hezbollah.
I think Hagel's got something right here. While I entirely support Israel's right to defend herself, and deplore the continued attacks on Israeli cities by Hezbollah's terrorists, the world must come together and demand an end to the violence in a way that will guarantee Israel's safety and the sidelining of Hezbollah as a military actor in the region. I agree with Senator Hagel that the punishing attacks on Lebanese infrastructure and civilian populations should be halted - we (the world community, but particularly the United States) should take steps to stabilize the legitimate Lebanese government and provide support for its people so that they don't have to turn to Syria, Iran, and Hezbollah.
This is not going to be an easy fix. But the dismantling of Lebanon must end, and it must end soon to prevent a crisis in that country that will only send the region further into a tailspin. Hagel's right, we've got to stop the madness.