TCS Daily


Don't Give Peacekeepers a Chance

By Gregory Scoblete - August 25, 2006 12:00 AM

If the Bush administration is successful in cajoling major European nations into contributing peace keepers to southern Lebanon, it will have dealt a serious, perhaps fatal, blow to its efforts to peacefully curtail Iran's nuclear ambitions.

The Bush administration currently wants two things from Europe -- a "robust" peace keeping force to secure the uneasy cease fire in Lebanon and European (and Security Council) backing for sanctions and other punitive measures against Iran for its nuclear intransigence.

But it cannot have both, particularly if France -- a permanent member of the Security Council and a member of the EU-3 negotiating team -- joins the peace keeping mission in Lebanon (as of this writing France had pledged 2,000 troops).

For years the Bush administration has prodded Europe into taking a stronger line against Iran's nuclear program, while Europe pressed for greater American engagement with the mullahs. When Condoleezza Rice took the reins at the State Department, she offered a major U.S. policy shift as a concession to her European negotiating partners -- the U.S. would talk directly with Iran provided it suspended its uranium enrichment and provided Europe would consent to stronger measures if Iran balked.

The Israeli-Hezbollah war intruded upon what had been a successful series of graduated diplomatic pressures on the Islamic Republic (albeit success of a limited nature). With the passage of the French-backed Security Council Resolution 1701, which calls for a peace keeping force to maintain the cease fire in southern Lebanon, the U.S. has put a new demand on Europe: pony up the peacekeepers.

Italy's Prime Minister Romano Prodi was quoted by the AP as saying that "Bush is making a strong effort to put pressure on friendly countries in order to broaden the number of participants in the mission."

This is a tragic mistake.

If Europe were to agree to send peace keepers to Lebanon -- as Italy and France have pledged to do -- they will have handed Iran a gold plated deterrent against any further action on its nuclear program. Lebanon, after all, is infested with Iran's well-armed and well-trained terrorist proxy, Hezbollah.

Given the great reluctance of the EU-3 of Germany, France and Britain to endorse even minimally punishing actions against Iran before their troops were exposed to direct reprisals from Iran, does anyone seriously imagine that they would be more willing to contemplate stronger measures with their troops in Lebanon, in close contact with Hezbollah and its arsenal of rockets and suicide bombers? Not a chance.

Advocates for a peaceful, diplomatic resolution to the Iranian nuclear crisis -- which is an orders of magnitude higher priority for the U.S. and Europe than peace in Lebanon -- should therefore stay mum on the call for Western peacekeepers. (Of course, they haven't.) This is especially so in light of the fact that this peacekeeping mission and the resolution that produced it are premised on the fantasy that Hezbollah will be disarmed, as J. Peter Pham and Michael I. Krauss noted here recently. No nation -- not Lebanon, not France, not Italy -- is willing to follow Resolution 1701's call to disarm Hezbollah.

Given the difficulties that the Israeli Defense Forces had against Hezbollah, other nations can certainly be forgiven for not wanting to mix it up with the Shia terror army, but we must then be clear eyed about the costs and benefits of any European peace keeping force. European troops would not actually further the cause of peace and reconciliation in Lebanon but, as with UNIFIL before it, provide a convenient cover for Hezbollah to rearm itself and plot further mayhem. Worse, they would be uniquely vulnerable to Iranian reprisals when tensions inevitably mount over its less-than-covert nuclear program. Europe, skittish before its troops were in the direct path of Iranian arms, might just bail completely on any unified action against the mullahs.

Stiffing a UN force would leave Israel holding the bag on Lebanon, which is no doubt unfortunate, but the Israelis themselves are doubtful that the UN force would do much good. And the U.S. and Europe simply cannot do everything. They must remain focused on the two top regional priorities -- preventing Iraq from collapsing and preventing the Iranians from arming. With Russia and China already signaling that they're satisfied with the mullah's non-response to the Security Council's demands, the U.S. desperately needs European assistance in levying the type of broad-based economic sanctions likely to pinch the mullahs.

Sending European troops into the lion's den of Lebanon, and into the teeth of Iran's ruthless proxy, makes disarming Iran that much harder.

Gregory Scoblete is a senior editor at TWICE Magazine He writes regularly about technology and politics at www.gscobe.blogspot.com.

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