haven’t we been here before?

From today’s Washington Week in Review roundtable, Barbara Slavin of USA Today speaking:

“There’s another aspect. People keep saying “Oh, isn’t this like Vietnam, this is reminding me of Vietnam.”

I think they’re wrong.

Unfortunatly, it’s looking more and more like Lebanon.

As you recall, the Israelis invaded Lebanon in 1982. They were greeted with… actually they were greeted more enthusiastically than we were greeted. They were greeted with roses and rice by the Shi’a community in the south. Before long Hizbollah arose, to attack the Israelis, to attack the Americans: we had kidnappings of journalists, of foreigners; suicide bombings. It’s not a pretty picture.”

Pardon me for taking a moment here to quote, um, myself:

Iraq does look suspiciously like a past conflict, but Vietnam isn’t it.

About twenty years ago, an advanced western-style army swept into an unstable but still holding-together middle eastern country, ostensibly to protect themselves from an imminent threat, but really because the people orchestrating the attack believed that it was the first step in completely and positively reordering the politics of the entire region. The loud and repeated objections of the rest of the world were blithely ignored. They did this with confidence partly because of promises from a group of rebels on the inside who’s strength and support turned out to be largely illusory once they arrived. They romped to an easy formal military victory, but shortly thereafter found themselves unable to actually control the country they’d conquered, and became sitting-duck targets in the middle of a multi-way civil war where the only thing the various factions could agree on was dislike of the invaders. A few of the native leaders who were interested in cooperating with the occupiers were quickly assassinated by other factions, and the remaining ones lost interest as a result.

Sound familiar yet? To my eyes and ears, Iraq in 2003 is starting to look painfully similar to Lebanon in 1982. And surprise surprise, there’s good ol’ reliable Ariel Sharon stuck right in the middle of both of them.

The second time, not as farce, just a bigger, messier tragedy. Are we having fun yet?

To review: The Lebanon invasion didn’t go completely pear-shaped for the Israelis until, some time after their initial (and easy) victory, their hand-picked President-elect for Lebanon, Bashir al-Jumayyil, was assassinated, and his brother and successor, Amin, realized that his life wasn’t worth squat if he was seen as cooperating with the Israelis in any substantive way. At that point, the game was effectively over, and it was merely a matter of ritually watching the balls drop as Syria ran the table: the Israelis had to content themselves with pushing the PLO into Tunisia, and Begin and Sharon’s dream of a re-ordered mideast political map died a hasty death. All for the cost of one bullet.

Would anybody care to take any bets on the lifespan of the first “independent” Prime Minister of Iraq?

Would anybody care to speculate on the likely motives and plans of the coterie of Iranian Shi’ite theocrats just across the border, who have recently had a hard time riding herd on their (well-educated and chafing) population, but who have just been handed a huge natural constituency right next door?

Apparently not Abdel Basit Turki, nor Iyad Allawi; both members of the Provisional Government who resigned in haste today. Somehow I doubt they’ll be the last.

And it’s not even summer yet.

[Edit and postscript: Josh gets it.]

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