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U.S. takes optimistic view of lebanon

The big guns have barely fallen silent in Lebanon but already President Bush and the State Department are finding cause for cheer in the outcome of the 34-day war between Israel and Hezbollah militia.
/ Source: The Associated Press

The big guns have barely fallen silent in Lebanon but already President Bush and the State Department are finding cause for cheer in the outcome of the 34-day war between Israel and Hezbollah militia.

It is an optimistic view echoing in Israel, too, where Prime Minister Ehud Olmert says the "state within a state" that Hezbollah had in place in southern Lebanon has been blown away, its arsenal shattered.

In their upbeat assessment, both the United States and Israel are placing their blue chips on the emergence of a strengthened and democratic Lebanon via the cease-fire resolution approved unanimously last week by the U.N. Security Council.

With 15,000 Lebanese troops and another 15,000 foreign troops perhaps only weeks away from deployment near the border with Israel, Bush said Hezbollah no longer can keep Lebanon from becoming a democracy.

Rough road ahead
While the way forward is going to be difficult and require more sacrifice, the president said, "We can be confident of the outcome because we know and understand the unstoppable power of freedom.

"Forces of terror see the changes that are taking place in their midst," he said Monday. "They understand that the advance of liberty, the freedom to worship, the freedom to dissent, the protection of human rights, would be a defeat for their hateful ideology."

The cease-fire does not propose the eradication of Hezbollah, but it revived a two-year old Security Council demand for the milita's disarmament, a tough job that the Lebanese government did not attempt on its own.

Even now, the Bush administration is not calling for the uprooting of the group designated by the State Department as a terrorist organization. But spokesman Sean McCormack said it had to make a choice between being a political or a terrorist organization. "Hopefully, we won't have to live with such a term, Hezbollah guerrilla, for much longer," he said.

"Hezbollah suffered a defeat in this crisis," Bush said at the State Department Monday after conferring with Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and national security officials.

"The reason why is, this is because there is going to be a new power in the south of Lebanon, and that's going to be a Lebanese force with a robust international force to help them seize control of the country," Bush said.

Sounding the same positive note, McCormack declared, "You will not have Hezbollah roaming freely in the south of Lebanon."

And, he said, Iran and Syria, will sustain a setback by not being able to rearm Hezbollah.

International efforts
Estimates vary as to how long it might take to assemble an international force and deploy it in Lebanon.

"I would hope that very quickly we would see countries coming forward and saying that they will participate in the force," McCormack said.

Operating under a weak 1978 mandate, a U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon has had some 2,000 troops assisted by some 50 U.N. military observers in Lebanon.

But now, McCormack said, "what we have is the version of UNIFIL with an 'S' on its chest as opposed to the Clark Kent version."

The current force commander, French Maj. Gen. Alain Pellegrini, injected a note of caution in Lebanon, though. He said peace was vulnerable to "a provocation, or a stray act, that could undermine everything."

And some small skirmishes erupted Monday in Lebanon.

Opposing viewpoint
The Hezbollah leader, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, whose popularity spread in parts of the Arab world during the conflict with Israel, claimed an outcome precisely opposite from the one outlined by Bush.

Nasrallah said his fighters achieved a "strategic, historic victory" over Israel.

But Olmert, speaking to the Knesset in Jerusalem, said Hezbollah's vast storehouse of weapons was mostly destroyed and its self-confidence undermined.

"We will continue to pursue them everywhere and at all times," he said. "We have no intention of asking anyone's permission."

At the State Department, McCormack supported Israel as having a right to retaliate.

"There is nothing in this resolution that that calls upon Israel to abrogate its rights to self-defense," he said.