William F. Buckley

So we incline to support Israel, which is understandable, but which raises, also, questions.

Begin by focusing on hints of policies/inclinations that seeped out of St. Petersburg during the summit. The most instantly reassuring note was: President Bush is unwilling to negotiate with four of the key players. Namely, Hamas, Hezbollah, Syria and Iran.

That intoxicating notion didn't last for very long. The news releases for Tuesday all but committed the United States to dispatching Condoleezza Rice to the area. To do what, was nowhere specified, the clearest reason for this being that there are no openings for negotiation that don't require the abandonment of life's purposes for two unofficial entities (Hamas and Hezbollah) and for two regimes (Syria and Iran).

The whole purpose of Hamas is to press its case against the existence of Israel. If tomorrow it abandoned this objective, the voters who gave Hamas its victory in the Palestinian Authority election would almost certainly coalesce around a fresh leader, returning to the same goal.

Hezbollah could be destroyed but not appeased, certainly not at this juncture. Sustained warfare in southern Lebanon, where Hezbollah is concentrated, could break the organization's back. But the government of Lebanon, although it never abandoned its formal powers in deference to the Shiite radicalism of Hezbollah, isn't strong enough to carry out a military campaign in Lebanon designed to subjugate that powerful minority. The work would have to be done by Israeli soldiers, summoned back to the duties they undertook before 2000, when a new modus vivendi was arrived at.

President Bush was probably correct when he muttered to Mr. Blair that Syria should clamp down on Hezbollah, because the Syrian government, unlike the Lebanese, would have the power to do so. However, Syria, though a secular state, is a hothouse of radical Islamic activity. It is unlikely to move against the Shiite radicals unless prompted to do so by -- Iran.

Between Iran and Syria is a stretch of territory under the flag of Iraq. Last week in Iraq disparate elements expressed themselves heatedly. Hundreds of civilians were killed.

What would a memorandum to Secretary Rice say that accommodated the realities on the map?

William F. Buckley

William F. Buckley, Jr. is editor-at-large of National Review, the prolific author of Miles Gone By: A Literary Autobiography.

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