Cato Institute Expert Comments on Middle East Crisis

“This is their fight, not ours”

July 20, 2006

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WASHINGTON — Christopher Preble, director of foreign policy studies at the Cato Institute, comments on the crisis in Lebanon:

“Americans are rightly worried about the human tragedy unfolding in Lebanon. They are outraged over the provocations that precipitated the Israeli response, and saddened by the deaths of civilians on both sides.  The greatest concern is ensuring that the crisis does not spread into a wider regional war.

“While there is more than enough blame to go around, the U.S. government should be focused right now on providing safe passage out of the war zone for all Americans who wish to leave.

“Beyond these immediate concerns, American policymakers should avoid further entangling the United States in the conflict. Unfortunately, two proposals on the table would do just that.

“The first involves an expansion of the UN peacekeeping mission in southern Lebanon, an effort that has ground on for 28 years, to little effect. It is doubtful that a larger force will succeed where the current force of 2,000 has failed, even if the UN secures a new mandate and clarifies the rules of engagement. Whether or not these details can be worked out, however, U.S. forces should not be involved. The United States is not seen as an impartial actor in the region, and U.S. troops would likely end up being targets, just as they were in Lebanon in 1983. The last thing the United States needs is to become further embroiled militarily in the region.

“Proposals to widen the war by attacking Syria or Iran are even more reckless. If we learned anything from the debacle in Iraq, it is that the United States is unlikely to solve the problems of the region by starting two more wars there. A U.S. attack on Syria or Iran would inflame the Muslim world, drive countless sympathizers into the arms of radical Islamists, and further undermine U.S. efforts to fight and defeat al-Qaeda and its affiliates. It could even turn our current troubles with predominantly Muslim countries into a true clash of civilizations, the costs of which would be incalculable.

“The United States certainly doesn’t have all the answers to the ongoing Middle East conflict, and it should not be expected to come up with them. Responsibility for the killing of dozens of Israelis, and hundreds of Lebanese, and the displacement of tens of thousands more, lies squarely with Hezbollah and Israel. This is their fight, not ours. If the violence escalates, and spreads throughout the region, the U.S. military, already engaged in a ruinous and seemingly interminable conflict in Iraq, would be caught in the middle. U.S. policy should be focused on ensuring that this does not occur.”