You can't call this the Arab-Israeli war of '06, since some of the usual belligerents have declined to participate. You could call it World War III, as Newt Gingrich has suggested, but that annoys everyone who wanted the Cold War to be WWIII, never mind that we got it out of the way without a nuclear swapmeet. You could call it the Israel-Hezbollah War, but that lets Syria and Iran off the hook.
So let's just call it Bush's Fault. At least that's what Howard Dean proposes. The energetic head of the Democratic National Committee had this to say:
"If you think what's going on in the Middle East today would be going on if the Democrats were in control, it wouldn't, because we would have worked day after day after day to make sure we didn't get where we are today. We would have had the moral authority that Bill Clinton had ... when he brought together the Israelis and the Palestinians."
Does Dean mean the Oslo accords? Clinton had been president less than a year. What's more, Norwegian diplomats did all the heavy lifting (specifically, suspending disbelief about Yasser Arafat's motives, which can throw your back out if you're not careful).
Does Dean mean the Camp David negotiations, which ended in the bloody second intifada? Details, details. Moral Authority, that's what counts. Doesn't stop wars, but it makes the bad guys look extra guilty. Ingrates!
This is not to underestimate Clinton's ability to make other diplomats feel good about themselves or to produce impressive pieces of paper. But Mr. Clinton, at least, is not running in 2008, and neither Al Gore nor John Kerry had Clinton's conspicuous gift for oleaginous empathy.
Then again, who knows? Perhaps Gore would have Moral Authority gushing out his ear if he'd become president and chosen to leave Saddam in power. No question Hezbollah would have been impressed perhaps enough to aim the rockets a little to the left, so they'd land on the outskirts of the playgrounds.
But the revealing moment in Dean's assertion was its touching faith in Talk and Work. President Gore or Kerry would have been working day after day after day on the issue. Nonstop! Sleeves rolled up, dinner at the desk: Make another pot of coffee, Mabel, this Golan Heights dispute won't solve itself.
This suggests the Democrats belive the difficulties of the Middle East have the weight and consequence of a tariff dispute. This suggests they don't understand that Hezbollah's definition of "disarm" is blowing off Israeli limbs.
Imagine a typical negotiation ...
Fierce-eyed Hezbollah representative: Thank you for the invitation; lovely office. Death to Israel.
Gullible American: Well, that's just rhetoric; we understand.
Hezbollah: It is not rhetoric. It is truth. The Zionist entity is a festering infected splinter in the lip of the Caliphate.
American: So you're saying you want some antibiotics as well? We can do that. But you have to show us you're ready to coexist with Israel.
Hezbollah: We recognize the right of Israel to exist, but only as a footnote in history books.
American: So we agree on principle, and the rest is just a matter of details. Great! We'll draw up the treaty for the signing ceremony. You're going to love the pens. They're Cross. Smoothest pen you've ever used.
Hezbollah: I will save it to plunge into the heart of the last Jew to crawl towards the sea.
American: Do you need your parking validated?
(Repeat until the most recent accords fall apart, then call for new accords.)
Howard Dean is not a stupid man; he knows Iran and Syria are the real actors behind this game. But his words placate the Democrats' netroots activists who think Bush is stumping the country blaming the Hezbollah attacks on Max Cleland.
Fine. If Israel eliminates Hezbollah, humiliates the fascists of Syria and lets Lebanon get on with the Cedar Revolution devoid of murder-gang influence, will that be Bush's doing?
Of course not. He doesn't have Moral Authority, like Bill Clinton.