Opinion polls show Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s approval rating is above 80 per cent. Even the savagery in Qana, a replay of Israel’s 1996 atrocity, has failed this time to produce a domestic political backlash. There are no Israeli votes in calling for a truce with a group that has lobbed thousands of missiles into Israel. This may be the most popular war in its violent history.
In the US, mid-term elections in just over 100 days could put the opposition Democratic Party back in charge of Congress, the Senate or both. Since most Americans think Hezbollah is the same as Al-Qaeda, only politicians with safe seats have been willing to call for a ceasefire. The US’ spineless reaction to Israel’s bloody onslaught
has outraged the Middle East. But it is not the result of muddled thinking. On the contrary, the White House’s posture is driven by a determination to win votes in November. It may be wrong, but what people think in Poughkeepsie matters more in an election year than how many die in Beirut.
Arab leaders too are under pressure. Saudi Arabia’s condemnation of Hezbollah in mid-July has not been repeated. There was exceptional
unanimity at the emergency Arab League meeting on 7 August that Israel had to stop the attacks immediately. Most Arab leaders know their protests will fall on deaf ears. For the majority, radical Islam is a bigger threat than Israel. Yet none is now willing to criticise Hezbollah’s tactics.
The inhumane length and intensity of the Lebanon war of 2006 is largely the result of a perfect storm of mutually-reinforcing political factors. Hezbollah hits Israel which strikes back with overwhelming public backing. The inevitable Lebanese civilian casualties in turn intensify the anger that is feeding support for Hezbollah. And the US, the only power capable of ending the violence, has been neutralised by its leaders’ fear of its people’s votes.
This explains why a war triggered by a border incident has been allowed to escalate into a global crisis that has added $10 to the price of a barrel of oil and disgraced everyone involved. UK Prime Minister Tony Blair’s response to domestic
criticism of his statements about the Lebanese crisis has been to go on holiday.
The Labour Day holiday on 4 September, traditionally the start of the US political season, could see a more coherent White House response to a conflict that has done serious damage to the US’ international reputation. But even then, the world will have two further months of the idiocies that pass during US elections for public debate about Middle East matters. A proper judgement of US policy in the light of the Hezbollah war will only be possible once the mid-term polls are over and US leaders can get back to reality. President Bush could yet redeem himself.
It is too soon to say what the long-term implications of this summer’s events will be. The cost in cash and blood may convince the moderate majority that a determined US initiative to promote comprehensive Middle East peace must come. Extremists and pessimists, on the other hand, are declaring a third world war is about to begin. US congressman Newt Gingrich thinks it has already started.
So that’s it in a nutshell: peace or war with almost no middle ground left. The White House has the next 12 weeks to think about what its choice will be.
There is more talk about the UAE bidding for the 2014 FIFA World Cup finals. It seems no one in South America has the facilities or the money to host the event. Australia and the UAE are now being tipped as top potential contenders.
As every Englishman privately concedes, Australia is the world’s greatest sporting nation. And there are no finer places to watch any game than in its su