18 July 2006

Expletive not deleted

The BBC website prints the text of President Bush's "unguarded chat", as the headline coyly describes it, with Mr Blair which was picked up by both sound and video equipment. You can view it by following the links on the website. There's been some comment about the President's speaking with his mouth full and even more about his use of an expletive, which by contemporary standards is very mild, yet I'm not sure what to make of his often indistinct assessment of the situation (and by this I mean not just what's on the transcript but also his other pronouncements).

How strong is his grasp of the situation? Is he capable of playing a leading role in stopping the killing and destruction as soon as possible? Beyond that are the key parties able to sit down and talk and try to work out a settlement based on acceptance of Israel's right to exist and implementation of UN resolution 242? It will be hard enough to stop the fighting, let alone make any progress towards a settlement, and I am not confident that much will happen beyond restoring a tense truce.

Just as I'm about to post this I've checked the latest BBC online news again. The headline "Glimmer of hope for Mid-East diplomacy" isn't really borne out by the text which follows:

Diplomacy is gearing up slowly in the Middle East crisis and its intention is not just to end the immediate conflict but to help prevent future ones.

In fact, until future arrangements are agreed it is unlikely that there will be a ceasefire at all.

There is a recognition among many countries that a ceasefire alone will not be enough.

Israel is determined not to go back to the status quo and Israel is one of the parties calling the shots. Ideally, it would like Hezbollah to be disbanded but certainly moved back from the border in a much reduced state.

Getting any agreement or understanding will take time during which Israel will continue to strike at Hezbollah, mainly by artillery and from the air.

It is therefore using the delay in diplomacy to carry out its aims and it appears to have the support of the United States.


The key to any solution, in the view of Western officials, is the phrase in the statement issued by the G8 meeting in St Petersburg on Sunday. This said that "extremist elements and those that support them cannot be allowed to plunge the Middle East into chaos".

This was a reference to Hezbollah and to the two countries that support it, Syria and Iran.

The way to a restoration of peace, therefore, might lie through the door to Damascus. The aim would be to get some arrangement under which Hezbollah is restrained in southern Lebanon, thereby allowing the Israelis to stop their campaign.

Another "long-term arrangement" has been suggested by UN Secretary-General Annan and Mr Blair: this involves beefing up UNIFIL, the 2,000 UN troops already in Lebanon. Yes, that is correct, but don't ask me what they're doing. They're supposed to be a "monitoring force": monitoring what I don't know.

Given the track record of other UN "peacekeeping" forces, eg in Rwanda, You wouldn't want to put too much money on them to do more than hold the ring for a short time. I shall nevertheless keep watching the situation and hope for the best (ie least bloody) outcome.

Update 20 July

The Times(London) discusses President Bush's "gangsta rap summary" of the Middle East situation.

The Australian has an article by Rebecca Weisser which, among other things, claims that "the ABC looks balanced compared with the [Sydney Morning] Herald".

If you think the ABC's balance is in question check out the trancript of last night's Lateline discussion with Tony Jones, Ted Lapkin and Antony Loewenstein. I won't comment on it.

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