August 15, 2006

Discussing the Ceasefire in Lebanon—Alice Roosevelt Style

By Julian Dunraven

Perhaps one of my favorite political figures in American History is Alice Roosevelt Longworth, daughter of Teddy Roosevelt, wife of Speaker of the House Nicholas Longworth, known as the Grande Dame of the Republican Party, the Other Washington Monument, and the Witch of Washington. It was said in her time that dinner at the White House was nice, but you were not anyone special until you had tea at Alice’s. When Alice hosted tea, she always tried to sit Democrats next to Republicans, Catholics next to Protestants, and Liberals next to Conservatives claiming that if there was not at least one good argument by the end of the night it was to be regarded as a great failure.

Recently, my own guests for afternoon tea have done their best to emulate Alice’s salon, and by her standards my teas have been marvelous successes. Say what you will of this iconic lady, she certainly knew how to have a good time. The brawl began yesterday after one gentleman guest proclaimed his deep satisfaction with the ceasefire agreement in Lebanon and the great victory it meant for Israel and the United States. Suddenly, I felt like I was in the Knesset, so fiercely did my other guests denounce him. Though President Bush seems to support his argument, boldly proclaiming a victory in this morning’s press, Hezbollah, Syria, and Iran did the same thing. I am afraid I am more inclined to agree with the later—and the majority of my guests.

It is without doubt that Israel managed to successfully seize and occupy much of southern Lebanon. This much was never in doubt and, in absolute terms, I suppose it can be called a victory. That said, Hezbollah managed to launch its rockets into Israel right up to when the ceasefire agreement took effect. Its leadership is still in tact; its militia is still well armed. Worse, no one forced it to sue for peace; rather, it is choosing to accept the ceasefire agreement as if it were a state actor. Finally, though Israel remains in existence, Hezbollah never expected to wipe it out in this conflict. All it needed to do was survive with a few teeth in order to show the entire world that standing up to Israel and, by proxy, the United States and Great Britain, is quite possible. This it managed to do with smashing success.

Israel and its British and American allies, however, were trying to obliterate Hezbollah. This they failed miserably to achieve, and now must content themselves with a ceasefire and hope the international force somehow manages to disarm, or at least restrain, Hezbollah—both extremely doubtful prospects. From where I am sitting, that looks like a defeat. Simply striking an enemy and knocking him over is useless. He will only get up again, angrier than ever, and find a way to hit back. Rather, if you strike at all, it should be such a blow that your enemy will not rise again. If anyone really believes that Hezbollah has been struck with such a blow, I can recommend several talented psychiatrists that can help work out such delusions.

A young lady acquaintance was the next person to jump into the fray. She contended that, victory or defeat, she thought Israel was totally out of line to react so forcefully to a few kidnappings. A shocked silence fell over my guests at this statement and the only sound was a slight plop and splash as the remaining bit of my crumpet leapt from my hand to drown itself despairingly in my tea.

The silence was brief, though, and both Democrat and Republican guests began to pepper her with questions: What about the barrage of rockets sent daily into Israel? What about the avowed purpose of Hezbollah to destroy Israel? Doesn’t Israel have a right to defend itself?

To these questions she could only wish that the two sides could tolerate one another. Faced with the fact that Israel has never disputed any other state’s right to exist, she wished that Muhammad was back to remind the Arab world of the virtues of peace. When she learned that Muhammad himself led the conquest of Arabia, she gave up entirely. She did not however, give up her position. She maintained that she simply felt that war was terrible and that Israel should have maintained peace above all.

To borrow again from the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in his "Letter from Birmingham Jail," she, “is more devoted to "order" than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: "I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”.”

Both of these positions display a fundamental misunderstanding. My gentleman friend mistakenly believes that a technical victory on the field is enough to defeat the ideological motivation of Hezbollah. My lady friend refuses to believe that her feelings are insufficient to shape reality and that sometimes justice demands conflict. To cling to peace solely for the sake of peace even in the absence of justice is to accommodate evil. It is the position of a moral midget. Perhaps that is not a very nice way to depict one of my guests, but as Alice Roosevelt Longworth was fond of reciting, “If you can’t say something nice about someone, come sit right here next to me.”

Julian Dunraven, J.D., M.P.A.


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