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Tuesday, August 22, 2006
Is it Really Sharon's Fault?

How should democracies hold their leaders accountable for mistakes in wartime? Though I personally believe the current Administration is beyond redemption, and, that all Americans should vote strait-ticket nationally Democrat to prevent the government from doing anything until the 2008 elections, more generally, what responsbilities do citizens have?

I came across this interesting blog entry on the subject the other day. Since polls in Israeli immediately after the war demonstrated how much Israelis wanted Olmert et al. to go (even though I really like Olmert), Rosenberg responds:
"It all seems a little unfair. The Olmert government has only been in office for a few months. He only assumed the Acting Prime Minister's job in January." He then muses: "Perhaps Israelis are so quick to cast blame on Olmert because it feels unseemly to blame his predecessor, Ariel Sharon."

Now that's juicy. He continues:
today's terrible situation began some 24 years ago when Sharon, as Minister of Defense, cajoled Prime Minister Menachem Begin into invading Lebanon – not just south Lebanon but Beirut. That ultimately led to over a thousand dead Israeli soldiers, the Sabra and Shatila massacres, the creation of Hezbollah and this summer’s war.

By the time Prime Minister Ehud Barak unilaterally pulled out 18 years later (an act that seems less than strategically wise in retrospect), he had little choice. Israeli parents demanded that their sons be moved out of there. Barak responded by pulling out without achieving an agreement with the Syrians or any of the Lebanese parties.

But Lebanon was always Sharon's battle and his Achilles heel. In fact, an Israeli Commission of Inquiry to concluded in 1983 that he could never again serve as Minister of Defense, a determination that wounded him politically and personally. (Oddly, the ban on Sharon serving as Defense Minister did not prevent him becoming Prime Minister).

And it led Sharon, according to an unnamed close friend quoted in the New York Times, to avoid Lebanon like the plague. Accordingly, he ignored the Hezbollah build up on the border over the past six years, focusing not on the terrorists with katyushas who could devastate northern Israel (as they ultimately did) but on the hapless Palestinians with their Kassams which, fired thousands of times, caused only a fraction of the damage inflicted by Hezbollah’s rockets.

After the 1982 catastrophe, Sharon's white whale became the Palestinians and Yasir Arafat in particular. Remember when the walls of Arafat’s Ramallah headquarters were blown out, his phones disconnected, his water cut off. What was that about? Meanwhile, Nasrallah was sitting fat and sassy in Lebanon, building up the arsenal that would inflict upon Israel one of the two worst disasters in its history (the worst was the Yom Kippur War).

So maybe it is all Sharon's fault. What really struck me though was his discussion of American politics.
After the Lebanon debacle of 1982, Menachem Begin felt he had no choice but to resign. He felt that Sharon had led him into into Lebanon by promising a short attack that would stop far short of Beirut. But Sharon kept going and disaster ensued.

Once grieving parents appeared under Begin's window, denouncing him for the deaths of their sons, Begin collapsed. "I can't go on," he told his cabinet and, for the last decade of his life, never made another public appearance. The deaths of so many soldiers -- and the Sabra/Shatila massacre -- under his watch, haunted and then destroyed him. He could have blamed Sharon for misleading him, but he was Prime Minister and, by his standards, he was accountable.

Being an American statesman or politician means never having to say you are sorry (or, more to the point, that you were wrong).

President Franklin D. Roosevelt succeeded because, the ultimate pragmatist, he would change direction when his current course failed. He put it like this: “Take a method and try it. If it fails, admit it, and try another. But by all means, try something.”

That is what Israel’s friends in this country need to be telling Israel. And we need to be telling it to the Bush administration as well. America's benign neglect of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is having some very malignant consequences.