Essays on American politics and foreign policy

By Donald E. Nuechterlein

Donald Nuechterlein is a political scientist and writer who resides near Charlottesville, Virginia. He is the author of numerous books on American politics and foreign policy, including

  • Defiant Superpower: The New American Hegemony, 2005
  • America Recommitted: A Superpower Assesses its Role in a Turbulent World, 2000
  • A Cold War Odyssey, 1997


Donald Nuechterlein


August 2006

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's expectation last week, that the U.N. Security Council would quickly pass a resolution to stop the bloodshed in Lebanon, now seems premature. Israel's Prime Minister Ehud Olmert asserts that his military will stay in Lebanon until international peace enforcing troops are deployed there.

The Lebanon war and growing international protests against President Bush for refusing to press for a cease-fire brings into focus a key question: has the president overreached in his drive to force fundamental change throughout the entire Middle East?

It is not known, as this is written, how soon the U.N. will authorize a major force that can spare both Lebanon and Israel additional destruction and bloodshed. The current dangerous situation has the potential of escalating into fighting between Israel and Syria along Lebanon's eastern border.

It is time for the Bush administration, Congress, and media commentators to address fundamental questions about U.S. policy in the Middle East, where we should be headed and what price we are willing to pay. Here are five central questions that should be asked:

  1. Is it a feasible task for the United States to remake the political institutions of countries in the Middle East, as the president and Condoleezza Rice have been urging? Have recent democratic elections in Iraq, Lebanon, and Palestine produced effective governments able to control terrorists, or have they resulted in political instability?
  2. Are Israel's and America's interests in the Middle East identical, or are they parallel in some cases, and divergent in others? In May 2002, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon persuaded George Bush that ousting Saddam Hussein in Iraq would greatly improve Israel's security and permit it to pull out of Gaza and most of the West Bank. Did Bush carefully weigh the consequences of his decision on Iraq?
  3. Is it realistic to think, as some suggest, that Syria can be intimidated into ceasing its support of Hezbollah if Israel should threaten to invade and bomb its cities? Would an Israeli attack on Syria trigger a Middle East war, and American intervention?
  4. Should the United States try to be an "honest broker" in helping to resolve several Arab-Israeli conflicts? Jimmy Carter earned a Nobel Peace prize for brokering a peace settlement between Israel and Egypt. Does George Bush think his strong support of Israel's actions in Lebanon will produce a general peace in the Middle East?
  5. Will Congress, particularly the Senate, assert an independent role in assessing the costs and risks of our large military presence in Iraq and the Persian Gulf? Should Congress insist on approving any proposal to send American troops to Lebanon, or Gaza, to help secure Israel's borders, or leave that decision solely to the president's judgment?

These questions ought to be addressed by congressional committees to the secretaries of State, Defense, Treasury, and the director of National Intelligence. They should also be debated by candidates in congressional elections this fall.

Washington Post columnist, David Ignatius, suggests that the war in Lebanon resembles the 1973 Yom Kippur War between Israel and Egypt. Others think it looks like August 1914, when European powers, and eventually America, were drawn into a world war. A better precedent is the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s, when Moscow supported the leftist government in Madrid, and Berlin aided the fascist forces of General Franco. That "proxy war" is an appropriate term for what is occurring in Lebanon.

File last modified on Sunday, 6-AUG-2006 7:50 PM EST

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