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guest post by Taylor Marsh

I’d like to get Joe Lieberman’s opinion on the Middle East escalation going on right now. I bet he’d back Bush all the way.

First we had Bush’s lackluster Katrina response, Lebanon-style, which held Americans hostage to a promissory note in a war zone. MSNBC just talked about people driving to the Syrian border to get out because they’re afraid of what tomorrow will bring. Still, we’ve got continuing hands off diplomacy. I guess we can just be thankful that Condi wasn’t caught shoe shopping. What will it take for the president to engage? Waiting until more children are killed and Lebanese civilians die is not the answer.

President Bush is allowing the current Middle East escalation to continue, because he’s hoping Israeli Prime Minister Olmert can take out Hezbollah in a week. Outsourcing American foreign policy isn’t the answer. Olmert has a duty to defend Israel against Hezbollah, but Olmert has overreacted badly and miscalculated horribly by pummeling the Lebanese government’s infrastructure, including water purification plants, electrical grids, as well as the airport, which is why we leased a cruise ship. The collective punishment of Lebanon is endangering this fledgling government, which has been given absolutely no backing by Bush except his ad nauseam speeches about "democracy." It would have been nice to actually put efforts behind Resolution 1559 during all these months, instead of expecting Lebanon’s Siniora to do it on his own, with Hezbollah breathing down his neck. Meanwhile, because of Bush’s light switch diplomacy, which has blown a fuse, things get ever more dangerous in Iraq.

For those of you keeping score, here’s the breakdown, as far as I can tell. Hezbollah is Shia (Shiite), with support and backing from Iran, Syria and the Iraqi government sitting inside the Green Zone. Hamas is Sunni, with the support of Saudi Arabia, Jordan, the Palestinians, Syria (playing all sides), Iraq insurgents and Egypt. That’s simplistic, but you won’t hear it explained on cable, with the nitwits and wingnuts cackling about how Arab leaders are condemning Hezbollah. Well, no kidding, because most of them doing the condemning are Sunnis. The Sunni – Shia showdown could one day be the Israeli – Palestinian conflict on steroids, if we’re not careful. The situation is getting more complicated by the minute.

One of Saudi Arabia’s leading Wahhabi sheiks, Abdullah bin Jabreen has issued a strongly worded religious edict, or fatwa, declaring it unlawful to support, join or pray for Hezbollah, the Shiite militias lobbing missiles into northern Israel.

The day after Hezbollah abducted two Israeli soldiers on July 12, Sheik Hamid al-Ali issued an informal statement titled "The Sharia position on what is going on." In it, the Kuwaiti based cleric condemned the imperial ambitions of Iran regarding Hezbollah’s cross border raid.

The surprising move demonstrates that Sunni Muslim fundamentalists in the Middle East are deeply divided over whether Moslems should support Hezbollah, Iran’s Shiite proxies in the war raging in Lebanon.

Leading Saudi Sheik Pronounces Fatwa Against Hezbollah

The real problem right now is that America has no credibility in the Middle East. George W. Bush isn’t trusted, because America is no longer seen as an honest broker.

We need a leader who can support Israel, while also telling our friend that their actions are out of bounds, because they are destabilizing the Lebanese government, while making more enemies of the Lebanese people, who are innocent in all this. Israel doesn’t have to listen, but without America’s involvement this situation just makes matters worse. I haven’t even gotten to the plight of the Lebanese Christians.

What we get instead from George W. Bush is silence, which encourages Israel’s actions. Meanwhile, we are losing Lebanon, while Bush refuses to even appoint an ambassador to Syria. So who are we going to call in a crisis? This isn’t a foreign policy. It’s grade school dramatics.

Diplomacy takes day to day working, grueling interaction, which opens out on to serious relationships and bonds of trust, if we’re lucky. It also means talking to people you don’t like and don’t trust. That’s why it’s called diplomacy. Democrats not only know this, but take derision for our diplomatic prowess. But we cannot survive in the modern world without it. Unfortunately, Bush isn’t interested. We’re seeing the results right now.

(photo: AP, Mohammed Zaatari)