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18. (S) Making clear that he was not responsible for passing messages to Israel, Murr told us that Israel would do well to avoid two things when it comes for Hizballah. One, it must not touch the Blue Line or the UNSCR 1701 areas as this will keep Hizballah out of these areas. Two, Israel cannot bomb bridges and infrastructure in the Christian areas. The Christians were supporting Israel in 2006 until they started bombing their bridges. If Israel has to bomb all of these places in the Shia areas as a matter of operational concern, that is Hizballah's problem. According to Murr, this war is not with Lebanon, it is will [sic] Hizballah...
For Murr, the LAF's strategic objective was to survive a three week war "completely intact" and able to take over once Hizballah's militia has been destroyed. "I do not want thousands of our soldiers to die for no reason," Murr declared.
And here’s Benjamin Netanyahu discussing the same combat lessons with Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-New York) in 2007 (from notes by then-Ambassador Richard H. Jones):
Netanyahu said the problem was not the war's goals but rather the disconnect between goals and methods. If the IDF had used a flanking move by a superior ground force, it could have won easily. Instead, Israel "dripped troops into their gunsights," an approach he termed "stupid." The top leadership had lacked a sense of military maneuver. In addition, they had been afraid to take military casualties, but instead got many civilian casualties. If Olmert had mobilized the reserves in ten days, seized ground, destroyed Hizballah in southern Lebann, and then withdrawn, he would be a hero today. Instead, Netanyahu predicted, Olmert will not last politically.
Three years on, the political predictions have proven accurate. Ehud Barak is still Israel’s defense minister, and Netanyahu defeated Ehud Olmert to become prime minister of Israel (though that happened almost two years after the comments above). The military judgments largely dovetail.
And you know who else I’ll bet would corroborate these reports—in the unlikely event he were to stop by for a chat at the U.S. embassy? Hizbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah. I’m serious: I’ll bet 15,000 Lebanese lira that in whatever counterpart cable went between South Beirut and Damascus (don’t expect to see that one from WikiLeaks!), Nasrallah summed up his view of the 2006 war and the future war using pretty much the same language as Murr and Netanyahu.
This combination of predictability and squalidness gives the cables a somebody-else’s-diary vibe: You know where it’s all headed; you’re just not sure the author has figured it out yet. The cable dump (healthy movement of a regular nation) also reveals an almost total continuity between the foreign policies of the Bush and Obama administrations. It’s hard enough telling fish from fowl within the borders of the United States; but at the level of the foreign policy the United State projects upon the world, the differences between Republican and Democratic policy shrink, as Gen. George S. Patton said, to insignificance.
In their capacity to capture horror and render it banal, the cables make you understand how the same people can be dismissing WikiLeaks’ information as unimportant while also calling for treason charges against non-U.S. citizen Assange. On May 8, 2008, Mariot Leslie, a British defense and intelligence official with NATO, tells Undersecretary of State John Rood of reservations the United Kingdom has about the incautiously named operation CEDAR SWEEP, which required U.S. use of the British base at Akrotiri in Cyprus, apparently for surveillance flights over Lebanon. The British, according to Leslie, are concerned that the invitation for these flights came not from the government of Lebanon itself but specifically from its defense ministry, which is headed up by Elias Murr, whom we met above. She and a colleague also note the Lebanese Armed Forces’ reputation for torturing detainees:
FCO is concerned that human rights reports, including the State Department’s own, do not reflect the sterling reputation of the LAF as conveyed in our April 14 request for use of Akrotiri airbase. HMG expects the United States to monitor use of the CEDAR SWEEP intel and ensure the LAF lives up to its commitment to maintain high human rights standards… To the extent that the USG becomes aware of arrests made as a result of CEDAR SWEEP intel, HMG expects the USG to ensure the detainees are treated lawfully. If the U.S. became aware of “reasons to doubt LAF assurances,” HMG would expect to be notified immediately.
This memo from the U.S. embassy in London objects to this British “piling on of concerns and conditions, which portend a burdensome process for getting the rest of our intel flights approved,” and requests that the State and Defense Departments intercede with their UK counterparts. Apparently the intercession worked, because on May 16 Leslie returns to the embassy to concede the point, diplomatically:
Leslie expressed annoyance at the additional conditions conveyed by the FCO working level on May 14 (Ref A), noting she had not been aware beforehand that such a message would be conveyed. In fact, she regretted the tenor of the discussions had turned prickly and underscored HMG appreciation for U.S.-UK military and intelligence cooperation. To set the record straight, she clarified that [a related letter from the Ministry of Defense] was not/not intended to question whether the U.S. had obtained full GOL (vice just MOD) approval for the operation or to put any additional conditions on it. Furthermore, regarding the May 14 expectation that the U.S. must follow up on all cases of alleged terrorists who were detained as a result of CEDAR SWEEP intel, Leslie said that was not at all what HMG intended to convey to the USG. In fact, ministers had merely wanted to impress upon the USG that they take the human rights considerations seriously.
And because no discussion of torture is complete without a mention of the toilet, Leslie points out that she had been concerned mainly because “the Cypriots are hypersensitive about the British presence there and, she said, could ‘turn off the utilities at any time.’”
The intellectual argument against Wikileaks—that agencies empowered to torture people and undermine sovereign nations should be subjected to less scrutiny than a municipal department of sanitation—is itself treasonous. Anybody who makes this argument is unfit to live in, let alone govern, a free society.
The emotional argument, on the other hand, is clearly powerful, as we have seen in the establishmentarian consensus that Assange needs to be imprisoned no matter how flimsy the pretext. But I expect the emotions are already fading, as the various anti-Assange factions get distracted by a trove information that is broadly useful if never surprising.
What troubles me is that it is so unsurprising. That may be explicable through capture bias: When people approach American diplomats, they make their requests (usually for American blood and treasure) in language American diplomats can understand. But the creepy thing is how even these supposedly confidential documents confirm the consensus on the United States and its roles in the world. When everybody is in agreement, it’s time to worry.
Tim Cavanaugh is a senior editor at Reason magazine.