Richard Armitage dramatically broke ranks with his neoconservative allies yesterday, saying in a radio interview that he feared it was impossible to eliminate Hezbollah through airstrikes, and that by attempting to do so, “you’re going to end up empowering Hezbollah, and perhaps introducing an element into the body politic in Lebanon that will take some great period of time to recover from.” Armitage also criticized the Bush administration for refusing to talk directly to Syria.
According to a database search, no major media outlets have yet printed Armitage’s remarks. Listen:
Armitage was Assistant Secretary of Defense under President Reagan when the U.S. Embassy in Lebanon was bombed in 1983, and served as second-in-command at the State Department under President George W. Bush. In 1998, he signed the Project for a New American Century letter to President Clinton urging regime change in Iraq.
The Bush administration has thus far “giving a tacit blessing” to the escalating Mideast violence. During crisis talks in Rome yesterday, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice bucked the “entreaties of nearly all of her European and Arab counterparts” to push for a ceasefire.
NPR: You were an assistant secretary of defense back in 1982, when a peacekeeping force was sent into Lebanon, a multinational force stationed there but ultimately forced to withdraw. Talk to us about that, and what we might draw from that.
ARMITAGE: It was a very troubled time, actually, and sooner rather than later we became involved — or were seen as taking sides — in someone else’s civil war. And ultimately we lost 241 Naval and Marine personnel.
NPR: In the bombing of the…
ARMITAGE: Yes, in the October ’83 bombing.
NPR: Are there parallels between that peacekeeping force and now?
ARMITAGE: Well, I remember with stunning clarity one of our Israeli interlocutors sitting in my office, telling me that, “Don’t worry about this peace in Galilee operation. We understand our neighbors very well. We understand them better than anyone. We know all the dynamics of the situation in Lebanon.” And that turned out not quite to be the case.
I suspect that people in government now are also hearing that from Israel. Don’t get me wrong — if I thought that this air campaign would work, and would eliminate Nasrullah and the leadership of Hezbollah, I think it would all be fine. But I fear that you can’t do this from the sky, and that you’re going to end up empowering Hezbollah, and perhaps introducing an element into the body politic in Lebanon that will take some great period of time to recover from.
NPR: An element into the body politic that as yet we do not know?
ARMITAGE: I think we do not know. And we’re not, as far as I’m concerned, using all the levers that we have, such as having the Secretary of State talk to the Syrians. I think they want to get involved. I think they want to become more central to a solution, and you might as well give them the opportunity. If they step up to it, fine. If they don’t, we’ll know them for what they are.