DATE July 31, 2006 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
PROGRAM Fresh Air
Interview: Christopher Dickey of Newsweek discusses Middle East
TERRY GROSS, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.
My guest is Christopher Dickey, Newsweek's Middle East regional editor and
Paris bureau chief. In this week's edition, he co-wrote the story "Ripples of
War," about how the conflict between Israel and Hezbollah is resonating beyond
the battlefield and why the conflagrations in Gaza, Lebanon and Iraq risk
converging. We recorded our interview this morning. Dickey was in a studio
I asked him first about the Israeli bombing of the Lebanese town Qana, the
most deadly single episode so far during this war. A couple of extended
families had taken shelter in a house that was struck by an Israeli missile.
The majority of the people killed were children. Israel subsequently declared
a 48-hour cessation of air strikes with the exception of strikes in support of
its ground forces or strikes that could stop an imminent attack on Israelis.
Christopher Dickey, welcome back to FRESH AIR. What do you think Qana means
as a turning point in this war?
Mr. CHRISTOPHER DICKEY: I'm not sure it will be the kind of turning point in
this war that it was in 1996, 10 years ago, during the Grapes of Wrath
offensive, when there was another massacre at Qana and more than a hundred
people were killed by Israeli shelling. At that point, the United States was
already engaged, trying to arrange a cease-fire and had been almost from the
start. And, all of a sudden, it galvanized public and world opinion, and
basically the government of Israel at that point decided it had to step back.
We're not seeing that happen this time, although there is as much or more rage
in the Arab and Muslim world about this incident. And although the fighting
has gone on longer now than it had in 1996, the United States still doesn't
seem to have the political will or perhaps the ability to step in and say to
the Israelis, `You have got to stop now.' We've got a 48-hour temporary
humanitarian pause, but the policy still seems to be `support Israel in trying
to wipe out Hezbollah' somehow on the ground. And that means the war is
probably going to go on.
GROSS: But Condoleezza Rice has been saying she thinks a cease-fire could be
negotiated by the end of the week.
Mr. DICKEY: By the end of the week, yeah. Many days from now in a war like
this, and probably it won't happen by the end of the week. There's too many
things at play. Basically, Israel has backed itself into a terrible corner
with this war. To some extent it's been manipulated by Hassan Nasrallah, the
head of Hezbollah. Once it decided to engage in this major way and go from
sort of skirmishing along the border or small punitive attacks as a result of
Hezbollah strikes and the Hezbollah kidnapping of the soldiers, and to open up
the whole theater of real war, now it has to win it. But how does it win it?
It has to wipe out Hezbollah? No, it can't do that. It has to kill
Nasrallah? Well, I think we're going to see a major effort to do exactly that
with the risk of many, many more civilian casualties in the near future
because that's what happens when you try to use bombs to blow away individual
But Israel needs to get some kind of victory out of this. So, basically, what
we see is Israel is stalling and the United States continues to run
interference for it in hopes that it can somehow pull some kind of face-saving
victory out of the situation. But for right now, any kind of cease-fire would
basically play to Hezbollah's benefit. It would come out the victor in this
and, arguably, it already has.
GROSS: When you say "victor," what do you mean?
Mr. DICKEY: Well, it's a guerrilla force. It's not a very big force. It's
3, 4,000 fighters. It has, yes, maybe it has 13,000 rockets and missiles,
most of them are very short range. The damage that it has actually inflicted
on Israel has been relatively small. Of more than 50 Israelis who have been
killed, the vast majority have been soldiers, in fact, killed in combat. What
Hezbollah is showing, however, is that it can stand up against what had
previously been regarded as the military superpower of the region. And when a
guerrilla force is able to do that and survive, then that's counted as a
victory in most of the guerrilla warfare that has ever taken place. And
that's exactly what's happening now.
GROSS: You're saying that Israel was previously regarded as the military
superpower in the region. So I'm wondering if you think once this particular
war ends, if you think Israel will be more vulnerable to attack because it
looks more vulnerable than it did before the war started?
Mr. DICKEY: Absolutely. That is the fear in Israel, and it is a growing
fear in a lot of segments of the Israeli government and society. If Israel
has a major loss of face, a major loss of prestige, a loss of awe, if you
will, as a result of this engagement, then it will be more vulnerable. There
is a proverb that was quoted to us last week by the well-known Israeli
historian Amatzia Baram, which is that "When a tree is bent, the goats jump
over it." Israel could well be bent by this engagement. And the feeling is
that the goats, the invaders, the people who hate Israel will take advantage
of this situation, take advantage of its loss of prestige, the loss of awe and
just come after it again and again and again. And I think the loss of
deterrents is what the Israeli political establishment and military
establishment fear the most right now. And that deterrence has been very,
very badly battered by the performance of Hezbollah over the last couple of
GROSS: Do you think Israel is fighting for its existence right now?
Mr. DICKEY: There are many Israelis who are starting to feel that way, who
are looking at this two-front war, where in fact the firepower is all on
Israeli's side. But the firepower isn't making the enemies go away. It's not
making them stop fighting.
Remember that this is the same nation that managed to conquer every Arab army
against it. Jordan, Syria and, most importantly, Egypt in six days in 1967.
Now this is--this war has gone on more than three times that long, and Israel
has not managed to eliminate a force of 3 to 4,000 men. That is not good for
Israel's image. It's not good, a lot of Israelis believe, for its survival
over the long run.
GROSS: You write in Newsweek, "Something less than victory for Israel and
something less than defeat for Hezbollah may be the only formula that can
bring the fighting to a stop." Can you explain what you mean there?
Mr. DICKEY: Well, we're looking at what appears to be more and more of a
stalemate. Israel is not succeeding in eliminating Hezbollah. We don't
really know to the extent of which it has degraded Hezbollah's ability to
launch rockets into Israel. Hezbollah continues launching rockets into
Israel. It hasn't been able to eliminate the Hezbollah leadership. It has
not been able to achieve its objectives.
If it continues to be unable to achieve those objectives, and the violence
continues, and the civilians continue to die in Lebanon by the hundreds, and
international opinion continues to turn evermore sharply against Israel, then,
for obvious reasons, Israel is going to want to see some kind of end to the
fighting in which it can pull back and maybe leave Hezbollah in existence, but
at least circumscribe its ability to re-arm. All of this would be a
compromise. It would be something of a compromise on Hezbollah's part,
although they would certainly claim victory. And it would necessitate serious
compromise on Israel's part.
So that's what we're talking about, something that is literally less than
victory for Israel and less than defeat for Hezbollah. Remember, when Israel
started this campaign, its objectives were complete defeat for Hezbollah.
GROSS: What do you think is most likely to happen in terms of a settlement?
Mr. DICKEY: I think we're going to see a lot of talking at the UN. And
you're going to see more and more international pressure. Already, even Prime
Minister Tony Blair is having trouble supporting American policy on this.
There are indications that Condoleezza Rice may be getting more and more
uncomfortable with the isolation that the Americans are feeling. Remember
that she's been trying to build international consensus, especially about the
Middle East and about a whole range of problems for the last year and a half
and two years. And she's been quite successful. Now all of that is sort of
crumbling through her fingers as a result of this war. So she's going to want
to push for a diplomatic solution. But it isn't clear that the White House is
on board with this. The White House, President Bush, his advisers like
Elliott Abrams, definitely want to see something very positive, a major blow
on the war on terror, struck here in Lebanon. And, you know, I'm sure they
hope that's what's going to happen. It just doesn't look like what is going
to happen. So we're going to have this muddled situation for the next several
days, possibly weeks, in which more people die, more talk goes on about
establishing a cease-fire. But the actual thing, the cessation of
hostilities, is very, very slow in coming.
GROSS: My guest is Christopher Dickey, Newsweek's Middle East regional editor
and Paris bureau chief.
We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Christopher Dickey. He's
Newsweek's Middle East regional editor and Paris bureau chief, and this week
he has a story on the ripple effects of this war.
Israel has said about its bombing campaign, including the bombing of Qana,
that Hezbollah integrates its weapons and its fighters within neighborhoods in
Lebanon, using civilians as human shields. So in order to attack Hezbollah,
you have to attack neighborhoods. And if people remain in their
neighborhoods, they're going to be at risk. What do you know about how
integrated Hezbollah is within neighborhoods of Lebanon?
Mr. DICKEY: Hezbollah is very well- integrated in the neighborhoods and the
villages of south Lebanon. There's no question about that. They run schools.
They run clinics. They run basically the whole social services network down
there, in addition to being a fighting force. They have done a lot of work
over the years, not only the six years since Israel withdrew from South
Lebanon, but in the 24 years that they've been in existence, to build
political and popular and social support. They are a very intelligent
organization that way, not only as a guerrilla organization but as a political
party. So are they integrated down there? Absolutely, they are. But that
being said, Israel knows that it is going to have to attack villages. It's
going to have to attack all kinds of locations, apartment blocks, where
Hezbollah might be. And it needs to be very careful that it hits the right
people in that process. This is not just a moral question. It's very much a
political question for Israel. Do they want to win this war? Well, if they
want to win the war, they cannot carry out attacks that take the lives of 30
or 40 children in one incident. That's disastrous from Israel's point of
view. And to do so in Qana, where there's an infamous massacre remembered by
everybody in the Arab world and the Middle East, to do that there 10 years
later again speaks to a kind of political misjudgment that bodes very, very,
very badly for the future of this war from the Israeli point of view.
GROSS: How do you think al-Qaeda is trying to turn this conflict to its
Mr. DICKEY: Al-Qaeda has found itself, oddly, marginalized in this.
Remember that the representative of al-Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi,
who was killed a few weeks ago, was the great promoter of sectarian war
against the Shiites. And Hezbollah is a Shiite organization. It's very
interesting that Ayman al-Zawahiri, the ideologue of al-Qaeda, the number two
of Osama bin Laden, came out a few days ago on television with one of those
videotapes--although this one produced in what seemed like a very slick
television studio--saying, `No, all Muslims should stand together and we
should back Lebanon.' He didn't say we should back Hezbollah, but that was the
clear implication. And, as a result, you basically got al-Qaeda deciding to
ride the wave that's being generated by Hezbollah of public sentiment in this
battle against Israel.
GROSS: Well, what about the Palestinians? Hamas and Hezbollah had been, I
think, in a way rival groups. And Hamas is Sunni. Hezbollah is Shiite. Has
this war changed their relationship?
Mr. DICKEY: That relationship has been evolving over a long period of time.
The first extended contacts between Hamas and Hezbollah took place in 1992,
when Israel exiled hundreds of Hamas leaders to south Lebanon. And they wound
up literally in the hands of Hezbollah. They started talking. They had lots
of differences, ideological differences. And then Iran got on-board, took
advantage of the situation, started to train some Hamas operatives. And
you've had extensive contacts ever since.
What's happened recently is that's all become much more public, much more
overt. And you've got a situation now in Gaza, which is still besieged and
has been since the end of June, after an Israeli soldier was kidnapped
there--you've got a situation in Gaza where people are singing a popular song
that goes, "Right on, right on, Hezbollah." They are flying Hezbollah flags,
and they clearly wish they could emulate the kind of resistance that Hezbollah
is showing in south Lebanon, which is not a good thing for peace in the near
GROSS: Do you think that Hamas and Hezbollah are coordinating their response
to Israel and their attacks on Israel in any way?
Mr. DICKEY: Circumstantially, it would appear that they are. The kidnapping
of an Israeli corporal by Hamas on June 25th was an operation--it was in many
ways very similar to the kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers by Hezbollah on
the northern border on July 12th. And Nasrallah, the head of Hezbollah, has
been explicit, saying that the kidnapping operation that he performed was one
that was conducted in support of the Palestinians in Gaza.
See, what Hezbollah wants to do and what Iran, which basically created and
entirely subsidizes Hezbollah, wants to do is take over this tremendously
potent issue of Palestinian resistance to Israel. But there are no Shia
Palestinians to speak of. So basically they need to do this by allying with
the Palestinians and by allying with Hamas. Iran is trying to send money,
large amounts of money, to Hamas or to the Hamas-led government in Gaza. And
at the same time, you've got Hezbollah playing this military and guerrilla
game, training and aiding and abetting Hamas.
So, yes, I think there's a certain extensive level of cooperation.
GROSS: Why does Hezbollah want to take over the Palestinian cause? And
related to that, what do you think their larger goals are? What do they--what
do they finally want?
Mr. DICKEY: Well, I think they want to take over the Palestinian cause
because it remains the great symbol of oppression and injustice that exists in
the Arab and Muslim world. Now, what are Hezbollah's ambitions? Hezbollah's
ambitions are very much Iran's ambitions at this point. Hezbollah used to be
seen very--as a national movement in Lebanon resisting occupation. That's the
way it was portrayed by the Lebanese. That's one of the reasons its political
power became so extensive in Lebanon. But, in fact, it was created, it is
funded, it is trained by Iran. And it is serving Iran's national interests.
And what does Iran want? Iran wants to be the pre-eminent regional power in
the Middle East, and it wants to be treated as such by the United States and
every other country in the world. Hezbollah is an agent of that policy.
GROSS: So, in a way, do you think what Iran wants here is like, `You've got
to reckon, you've got to talk with us. You've got to deal with us.'
Mr. DICKEY: Absolutely. And that's exactly what the Syrians want, too. The
Syrians, who are allies and now basically acolytes of the Iranians, want to be
taken seriously. The United States has done its best to isolate Iran, mainly
because of the nuclear issue but also for lots of ideological and historical
reasons. And it has treated Syria as if it were a country that could be
marginalized and excluded.
This is Syria's ticket out of that isolation, or at least that's what it wants
it to be. And, of course, that's exactly what Israel wants to prevent, which
is why it's unlikely we're going to see a real cease-fire anytime in the near
GROSS: Well, because you think there can't really be a cease-fire unless Iran
and Syria are part of the deal, and the United States refuses to talk with
Mr. DICKEY: That's right.
Mr. DICKEY: And the United States--but, you see, this is the trap that the
United States has gotten into and to some extent Israel has gotten into. You
have a situation where for more than a year the United States has done its
best and France has done its best and the European Union has done its best to
marginalize and isolate Syria so that some kind of democracy movement can take
hold in Lebanon. Remember the Lebanese spring, the Arab spring, the
democratic spring of last year? All of that is crumbling because, why?
Because basically Syria is saying, `You can't play in this region without us,'
and the Americans are beginning to conclude that that might just be true and
that they are going to have to invite Syria back into Lebanon in some way.
And they really don't want to do that.
So what is the United States doing? It's supporting Israel in its attempt to
use military means to transform the situation on the ground, to change the
facts on the ground in Lebanon, where Hezbollah and Syrian power are
concerned. Unfortunately, that hasn't been working.
GROSS: What do you mean when you say the United States might have to invite
Syria back into Lebanon?
Mr. DICKEY: Well, very early on in the crisis, you heard Condoleezza Rice
saying, you know, the Syrians know that they have responsibilities and duties
in Lebanon. Now she spoke that as if it were a theat to the Syrians, but the
Syrians were, `Great. This is terrific. You're telling us we have
responsibilities in Lebanon. Let's talk about what the price is for us to
exercise those responsibilities.'
The only time that Hezbollah was ever seriously held in check after its
creation was in the late '80s and early '90s when Syria moved in and occupied
the whole of the country of Lebanon. At that point, if Hezbollah got out of
line, the Syrians would line Hezbollahis up and shoot them. I'm not sure that
Syria even has the power to do that anymore, but back then, the world was
happy to have Hafez al-Assad doing it.
Now there are many people who would wish that to end this crisis they could
get Bashar al-Assad, the son of Hafez, to do the same job. I'm not sure he
has the power to do it. I'm not sure the Iranians would be on board. But
there's a kind of not disguised hope that somehow the Syrians could offer a
solution to this. At the same time, that there's a terrible reluctance to
talk to the Syrians, and so the fighting goes on.
GROSS: Christopher Dickey is Newsweek's Middle East regional editor and Paris
bureau chief. He'll be back in the second half of the show.
I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross, back with Christopher Dickey,
Newsweek's Middle East regional editor and Paris bureau chief. Dickey also
writes a column for Newsweek online called "Shadowland" about counterterrorism
and espionage in the Middle East. Our interview was recorded this morning.
Dickey was in the studio in Paris.
You know, in the current edition of Newsweek, you have an article about the
ripple effects of this war between Israel and Hezbollah. Let's talk about the
ripple effects in Iraq. You write some of Hezbollah's biggest supporters are
our Shiite allies in Iraq. What's their connection between them?
Mr. DICKEY: It goes way back. The government in Iraq is dominated by Shia
parties that are attached to Shia militias. The president, Nouri al-Maliki,
is a longtime member of the Dawa Party. Hezbollah was created in Lebanon in
the early 1980s on a foundation that had been laid for the previous decade or
more by the Dawa Party, by the Iraqi Dawa Party, which was the first great
international Shiite underground terrorist organization.
Now, we've created the situation in Iraq where the Dawa Party and a similar
group that had split away from it, the Supreme Council for the Islamic
Revolution in Iraq, are our two key allies in the government of Iraq. But are
there sympathies with Hezbollah when it comes to fighting Israel? Absolutely,
they are. So, the problem that we have is that our best allies are also close
friends with our worst enemies in the region at this moment. But it's more
complicated and more difficult even than that because those same militias,
particularly the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, have been
involved and implicated along with Muqtada Sadr's party with these death
squads that are now a bigger and bigger problem for the stability of Iraq.
Shiite death squads who have taken it in their hands to carry out vigilante
justice, not just against Sunni-Arab terrorists, but against Sunni Arabs.
There's a whole pattern of ethnic cleansing going on in Iraq right now. And
it is being carried out by people in police uniforms, very often in police
units and in the interior ministry and in the military that the US created,
who basically are still members of these radical Shiite militias.
So, we're depending on the same people in Iraq for stability who are
destabilizing the country. And those people are very close to Hezbollah. So,
it's not a good situation from an American point of view.
GROSS: And are those militias connected to Iran?
Mr. DICKEY: And all of those groups are closely, closely connected to Iran.
The Dawa Party and especially the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution
in Iraq were longtime residents of Iran, all through the Saddam Hussein era.
They were aided, supported, trained and armed by Iran in those days. And Iran
now has very, very close ties to them. Does that mean that they are
completely the puppets of Iran? No. But does that mean the Iranians know
them and understand them and work with them much more effectively than the
United States? Yes.
GROSS: So Iraq and Iran had been real foes. They fought a long terrible war
in the '80s, but what you're saying is our invasion of Iraq has brought part
of Iraq and Iran together?
Mr. DICKEY: Absolutely. Look, the United States supported Saddam Hussein
all through the 1980s and with a vengeance later in that decade when the
United States essentially went to war, at least naval and air war, against
Iran. And why did it do that? One of the reasons was that it wanted to avoid
a takeover of Iraq by a pro-Shiite, pro-Iran government by precisely the
groups, in fact, that are in power now in Iraq. But once we decided to get
rid of Saddam, there really was not another alternative unless Ahmed Chalabi
had proved to have a lot more credibility than he did. The Pentagon's idea
was to put him in power. But, of course, I've known Ahmed Chalabi for more
than 20 years. He's always been very close to Iran. Why we were surprised
later on that he too turned out to be on intimate terms with Tehran has always
GROSS: Now, another possible consequence of this war between Israel and
Hezbollah, you write that Lebanon could descend into another civil war. What
would that mean?
Mr. DICKEY: Right now, we're looking at the situation where there are, by UN
and other estimates, about 750,000 people who have been displaced out of their
homes in southern Lebanon, who've taken the Israelis at their word, who have
fled the area. Well, where do they flee to? Lebanon is a country that has
suffered from terrible sectarian divisions throughout its history from before
it was a state, even when it was part of the Ottoman empire. That's a very,
very delicate balance there. And when you take 750,000 people who are mostly
Shiites and you force them to go live, at least temporarily and maybe for the
long term, in areas that are predominantly Druze or Christian or Sunni, when
you take people who are mainly from rural backgrounds and you force them to go
live essentially as squatters or in tents or in schools temporarily in the
urban environment of Beirut, you are hugely destabilizing the country. And in
Lebanon, that's particularly problematic because of this sectarian history
that exists there.
So what you have right now is an environment where the Christians and the
Druze and others are accepting these refugees and taking them in and trying to
give them food and shelter and help them out. But if this situation continues
for any length of time, resentments will grow. And you'll very likely have a
situation where people start to fight about trivial matters. And that blows
up into something much worse.
Added to that is the problem that among the refugees are people who are
definitely members of Hezbollah, fighters from Hezbollah. And, in some cases,
they appear to be taking their weapons with them. What happens if the
Israelis decide that in order to cripple Hezbollah, they need to go after
where it's hiding or where the refugees are hiding in those Christian and
Druze areas? It will create yet more chaos, and it will sow the seeds for,
potentially, for a renewed civil war in Lebanon, which will help, again, to
further destabilize the region that is actually currently disastrously
fractured in Iraq, in Lebanon and elsewhere.
GROSS: What impact do you think this war is having on countries, Arab
countries, that are American allies?
Mr. DICKEY: Not that many Arab countries are American allies. But there are
Arab governments that are American allies. And they are finding themselves
increasingly and frighteningly isolated. I think the Saudis are the most
conspicuous case. The Saudis came out very early and said Hezbollah has done
something wrong here. It has started a war that didn't need to be started.
And it should be held to account for this.
Well, that was a position that seemed credible in the Arab world and to the
Saudis, maybe dangerous, maybe risky, but credible three or four days into the
fighting. But three weeks into the fighting, after more than 700 Lebanese
have been killed in the Israeli assault and maybe a third of those are
children, that just doesn't seem like a credible position anymore. So the
Saudis find themselves more and more isolated, as do the Egyptians, as does
King Abdullah in Jordan. And, frankly, I don't think they know what to do.
They're disgusted by the situation. One Saudi official, speaking privately to
me, at the end of last week when I asked him to comment on the situation said,
`I'll tell you how I feel. I fell personally I'd like to throw up.'
This has been a terribly damaging war, not only for the whole Arab world, but
for Israel's interests and American interests in the region over the long
term. And the failure to bring it to a rapid conclusion either by victory or
failing that, and that has now been failed, to bring it to an end with a
cease-fire is just making the situation incalculably worse.
GROSS: What are your fears about how this war could spread?
Mr. DICKEY: I think the Israelis have made it clear that they don't want
this war to spread beyond Lebanon. And they have not attacked Syria. And
they have not made any serious noises about attacking Syria in recent weeks.
They certainly are not going to attack Iran. And if they did, then they would
be asking for still more trouble because there's no follow-up. The most they
could do is to bomb some installations, presumably nuclear installations. But
over the long run, those can be--even over the medium term, those could be
rebuilt. And Iran's potential for retaliation is vast.
So, I think that contrary to the situation we found ourselves three weeks ago
right at the beginning of this or a little less than three weeks ago, I think
the fears about this war expanding as such, in a direct linear way, have
subsided. But the fears of this war abetting and supporting a growing hatred
that fuels the terrorist activity throughout the region, indeed, throughout
the world, those fears are increasing all the time.
GROSS: Now, you said you didn't think that this war was going to expand in a
linear way? But you think it's going to expand in a nonlinear way?
Mr. DICKEY: I absolutely do. If Hezbollah comes under pressure, for
instance--let's just talk about Hezbollah. Let's limit it to Hezbollah.
Hezbollah is an international terrorist organization. It's not just a
political party. And it's not just a guerrilla force. Hezbollah, in the
past, has carried out terrorist operations as far away as Argentina. And they
have cost a lot of lives. There was bombings of the Israeli Embassy and of
the Jewish community center in Argentina. Hezbollah has many sympathizers in
the United States and not only on ideological grounds. There are court cases
pending in the United States against Hezbollah supporters at this very moment.
So, you could have a situation where Hezbollah came under more and more
pressure on the ground in Lebanon and decided to reach out and strike
elsewhere. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, maybe six months or a year
from now. And that has to be a major concern for anyone making policy on this
GROSS: My guest is Christopher Dickey, Newsweek's Middle East regional editor
and Paris bureau chief.
We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Christopher Dickey. He's the
Middle East regional editor for Newsweek and its Paris bureau chief. And he's
joining us from Paris.
Now, you don't think that Israel intends to bomb any country outside of
Lebanon. But what about the United States? There have been reports that
behind the scenes the Bush administration has talked about possibly bombing
Iran or Syria. I don't know if you have any inside connections in the Bush
administration, but do you think that there are members of the administration
who are considering that now?
Mr. DICKEY: There have always been members of the Bush administration who
have considered that and have talked about it and have leaked about that.
Seymour Hersh had an article several months ago that seemed to be leaked
intentionally by some people in the administration to sort of float that idea.
But it's not a plausible strategy. It's not even a plausible tactic. And the
reason is essentially Iraq. The United States has 133,000 very hard-pressed
soldiers in Iraq right now. It's taking them out of the far-flung
battlefields, moving them into Baghdad because the capital of the country is
the main battleground in Iraq. It's also likely to send 5,000 more troops
into Iraq in the near future because the Italians and the Polish and the
others want to get their troops out of the country. They've had enough of
this war. So the United States is finding itself more isolated. Instead of
drawing down troops, it's increasing its number of troops. And the main
battleground is the capital of the country. In a situation like that, the
last thing it wants to do is so infuriate and antagonize the neighboring
country, the one that has the longest single border with Iraq, the one that
sends millions of pilgrims and others into Iraq every year. The last thing
the United States wants to do is to create a situation of open warfare with
that country which is Iran. And that's why it's not going to do anything.
GROSS: There's many things I don't understand about what's planned for an end
game of this war, but I guess the main one is, what role does Hezbollah play
in agreement to a cease-fire? Would Hezbollah, do you think, agree to a
cease-fire? And they're certainly not going to agree to disarm. And they're
the party of God. They think that God is on their side in this. So, where do
they fit in as negotiators and as agreeing to any kind of long-term agreement?
Mr. DICKEY: Hezbollah is the party of God. And it has all the trappings of
a religious party. And a lot of its rhetoric is religious. But when it comes
to politics, Hassan Nasrallah especially is a very shrewd and calculating
politician. And his language and his performance in Lebanon has always been
the language that was not wild-eyed, religious, radicalism. He uses--he
speaks just like any other politician. There are two members of the cabinet
in Lebanon who are members of Hezbollah. What's going on right now is there
are negotiations with Hezbollah through the other Shiite party, Nabih Berri's
Amal Party in Lebanon. And so talks are under way. What would Nasrallah
settle for? He's indicated that he would settle for some kind of cease-fire
or peace plan similar to the one that has been proposed by Lebanese President
Fouad Siniora which would include the return of Shabaa Farms, a little corner
of land--actually, it's disputed between Lebanon and Syria--but the return of
that land to Lebanon and out of Israeli hands--Israel has continued to occupy
that over the years--and a lot of other seemingly technical issues. And he
has said that he wasn't totally against, he hasn't completely opposed the
issue of disarming under UN Resolution 1559. But he knows perfectly well that
all the other conditions which he demands will have to be met will not be met.
That the Israelis won't agree to them. So he can afford to come across as a
pragmatic politician working with Siniora while the Israelis basically say no
to Siniora's proposals.
GROSS: One of the really difficult things about watching this war play out is
that, on the one hand, it's very plausible that this war is an attack on
Israel's very being, its very future. At the same time Israel, in its
campaign against Hezbollah, has killed a lot of civilians. And it's just
heartbreaking. It's horrible to watch what's--the human cost of this war.
Now, but does that put your sympathies on Hezbollah? I mean, do you know what
I mean? It's like--it doesn't, right?
Mr. DICKEY: Well, it obviously doesn't put my sympathies with Hezbollah or
GROSS: No, but...
Mr. DICKEY: But it does put your sympathy with the Lebanese people. And the
way the campaign is conducted forces you to sympathize with the Lebanese
people, if you have any feeling for that culture at all or those people at
all. I--look, the Israeli line again and again is `We dropped leaflets. We
told them to leave.' Well, you know, to force 750,000 people out of their
homes is a hard thing to do. And leaflets won't do the job. Most people
would rather stay where they are if they possibly can. Now they know that
men, women and children who stay where they are, are very likely to be
slaughtered. So more of them will leave if they can. But here's another
problem, the roads they leave on are constantly bombed. And people are
terrified. So, if you're terrified, would you rather go on those roads that
you know are terribly dangerous to some place you've never been or can't
imagine living, where you don't know what your future will be, or would you
rather stay home and try to tough it out? Well, some people try to tough it
out and a lot of those people are dying.
GROSS: I guess I'd really like to hear what you think the options are for
Israel knowing what it's up against for Hezbollah. And seeing the cost of the
approach they have taken and how costly that has been in terms of human life,
what options do you think Israel has?
Mr. DICKEY: I think Israel has to get out of the psychology that one
reservist--Israeli reservist we were talking to described as a gambler
psychology. Right now, it's in a position where it has to keep doubling its
bet or think about doubling its bet in terms of the violence in Lebanon. It
has to step back from that. It has to look at its own interests and say, `Is
this war working for Israeli interests?' And the fact is it is not. And
Israel should support rather than opposing a rapid cease-fire. Israel should
support the rapid reconstruction of Lebanon. And Israel should support the
United States and the international community is pressuring Syria and Iran.
But the idea that it can continue to fight this war on Lebanese territory
simply claiming that civilian casualties are the result of cynical ploys by
Hezbollah, which they are, is not going to play. I think the United States
would do Israel a favor and Israel would do itself a favor if both governments
would move quickly for a cease-fire.
GROSS: Christopher Dickey, thank you so much for talking with us.
Mr. DICKEY: Thank you very much, Terry. It's always a pleasure.
GROSS: Christopher Dickey is Newsweek's Middle East regional editor and Paris
bureau chief. He spoke to us from Paris. Our interview was recorded this
Coming up, our linguist Geoff Nunberg considers how the word `lifestyle' is
used in marketing and politics.
This is FRESH AIR.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Profile: Linguist Geoff Nunberg discusses how the word "lifestyle"
TERRY GROSS, host:
The word `lifestyle' has moved around in our culture since it first appeared
more than 35 years ago. Our linguist Geoff Nunberg says the word has evolved
from a way to describe the '60s counterculture to a marketing tool and a
political catch phrase.
Mr. GEOFF NUNBERG: Some words are born stars, but others have to wait
patiently in the wings for years until the world suddenly realizes it has a
need for them. The word `lifestyle' entered the language early in the 20th
century, but for the first 50 years of its existence, it was an obscure bit of
sociological and psychoanalytic jargon.
In the whole of 1967, the word appeared in the Chicago Tribune exactly seven
times. But five years later, that figure had jumped to 3300, and the word was
on everybody's lips. A newspaper cartoon showed a little boy coming home from
school and telling his mom, `Today we learned about the unalienable rights:
lifestyle, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.'
A lot of the credit for that surge belongs to a 1970 book by a Yale professor
named Charles Reich. "The Greening of America" was an exuberant peek into the
youth culture with its beads, bell bottoms, drugs and casual sex. The new
lifestyle, Reich said, persaged nothing less than the advent of a new form of
human consciousness, which would prove to be far more world-shaking than
merely political upheavals like the Russian or French revolutions.
In retrospect, as the Weekly Standard's David Skinner pointed out recently,
Reich did little more than raise the modus radical cliches of the time to the
status of profundities. The critics were scathing. Liberals panned the book
because it suggested that drugs and sex were an alternative to political
activism. Conservatives panned it because it countenance drugs and sex at
Just last year, in fact, the conservatively weekly Human Events, included "The
Greening of America" on its list of the most harmful books of the last two
centuries in a dead heat with Frantz Fanon's "The Wretched of the Earth." But
Reich's book was a huge popular success. And it took the word lifestyle along
with it. There may have been nothing new about the idea that different groups
had their own characteristic fashions, morals and mores. But the second those
patterns started going by the name of lifestyles, everybody suddenly had to
Lifestyle was clearly a word whose time had come. That was the moment when
marketing analysts were replacing social scientists as the new cartographers
of the American social landscape. People took to dropping words like
demographics and upscale into their conversations. The old vocabulary of
social class was being replaced by new consumer classifications like empty
nesters, Gen X, trendies and yuppies. And the entry requirements for becoming
a preppie were relaxed from four years at Andover or Choate to an afternoon at
Abercrombie & Fitch. It wasn't exactly the revolution of consciousness that
Reich had had in mind, but the notion of lifestyles flattered people that
their consumer choices could be the fundamental fabric of their social
identity, at least for people who have the resources to make them. Not
everybody gets to have a lifestyle after all. You don't see many references
to the lifestyles of undocumented immigrants or hourly workers. It's all they
can do just to have a life. But for everybody else, lifestyle became the new
organizing principle of consumer culture. The old-fashioned shopping and
society pages were merged in the Sunday lifestyle section that paraded the
richly varied forms of having that America offers.
And then there's the vast uber lifestyle divide between red and blue America,
which was first unearthed around the time that Reich's book appeared. In
1970, Time magazine named as its Man and Woman of the Year, the newly
discovered middle Americans whom it defined by their consumption and leisure
habits. Middle Americans, Time explained just a little condescendingly, were
people who learned baton twirling rather than read Hermann Hesse, who skipped
"Midnight Cowboy" in favor of John Wayne and "The Green Berets" and who
preferred the Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall to Old Calcutta.
There's a direct line from those descriptions down to the modern picture of an
America riven into two nations barely capable of speaking to each other. The
one, listening to Lynyrd Skynyrd in their Chevy Avalanches; the other,
listening to Radiohead in their Priuses. Contemplating that chasm,
commentators have announced with a straight face that the country is more
divided than at any time since the Civil War. You've got 80 to 90 percent of
the country that look at each other as if they were on separate planets, as
one analyst says. It's a view everybody seems to accept. Even if all the
data actually show that the country is more uniform in both its culture and
political attitudes than at any time in recent history.
But the fascination with lifestyles always leads to exaggerating the
significance of shallow differences, which is why the word can be useful to
people who want to deny the existence of the deep ones. You can hear that in
the way social conservatives denounced the gay lifestyle or the homosexual
lifestyle. Gay and lesbian civil rights groups often object to those phrases
as implying that there's only a single gay lifestyle. The familiar stereotype
of poodles, poppers and promiscuity. But the real up-front is simply in using
the word lifestyle in the first place, as if homosexuality were just another
choice like deciding to get a mullet or build a backyard hot tub. That's the
dark side of the obsession with lifestyles. It suggests that people choose to
be everything they are. If you're different from me, you've got nobody but
yourself to blame.
GROSS: Geoff Nunberg is the author of a new book on language and politics
called "Talking Right."
GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.
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