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Bush, Cheney in deep funk after Israel war performance
Aug. 22-28, 2006, Posted On: 8/22/2006

President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney have been extremely disappointed by Israel's failure to defeat Hezbollah.

Government sources said the Israeli failure has led to deep pessimism within the National Security Council and Pentagon regarding U.S. goals in the Middle East, particularly the effort to stop Iran's advance in Iraq and toward nuclear weapons. The sources said the Israeli experience has been used by the Pentagon to explain the U.S. difficulty in halting the deterioration of order in Iraq.

"There's a lot of doom and gloom in the White House over the U.S. future in the Middle East," a source said. "Everybody feels there's been a significant strategic shift in favor of the bad guys."

Mr. Bush and his advisers have sought to clarify Israel's standoff with Hezbollah in the 33-day war in Lebanon. Over the last week, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who has avoided meeting Israeli leaders, held an unannounced session with visiting Israeli Vice Premier Shimon Peres.

Later, Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni met former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who has served as an unofficial consultant to Mr. Bush.

The Livni-Kissinger talks focused on Israel's strategic position and the expected confrontation with Iran.

"The overall impression is that the Israeli government is not the kind of government that provides clear and effective management of war," said Anthony Cordesman, a former Pentagon official and now a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "The same message is one that is being communicated about the senior command of the IDF [Israel's military]. It was very clear that the government began this war rapidly, without proper preparation, without proper training of the reserves."

Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney have sought to understand the implications of the Hezbollah war for the U.S. military presence in Iraq. Hours after the United Nations-arranged ceasefire in Lebanon on Aug. 14, they went to the Pentagon for a lunch with a group of outside experts to discuss the prospects of Iraq.

The meeting included Mr. Rumsfeld, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Peter Pace. Ms. Rice is said to have devoted 90 percent of her time to the Lebanon war.

"This is certainly one of the toughest challenges we have faced in the last few years," said Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns, regarded as a leading architect of U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East. "We knew the consequences were very broad. We recognized this was not just a border war between Hezbollah and Israel."

Mr. Rumsfeld is said to have assessed that Sunni and Shiite militias would use the Hezbollah model in the insurgency war in Iraq. The defense secretary has been concerned that Iranian-backed Shiite militias would soon deploy anti-tank missiles that Hezbollah used against the Israeli army in Lebanon.

"If they can knock out the [Israeli main battle tank] Merkava, then they can certainly do the same with the Bradley, Stryker and even Abrams," an official said. "This will be a priority for Rumsfeld and the army."

Mr. Bush's biggest concern is said to be Iran, which his advisers assert intends to dominate the Middle East through a takeover of Iraq, Lebanon and Syria. The president has ordered Ms. Rice to press hard for U.N. Security Council sanctions against Tehran over the next few weeks.

"Syria is a tool of Iran today and it has been for some time," former Secretary of State Alexander Haig said. "But it's been a tool for other people, as well. Iran is the ideological core of our problem."

At the same time, Mr. Bush has been urged by some of his advisers to prepare for a disengagement from the Middle East while focusing on homeland security. Last week, the president was briefed by the National Security Council and Homeland Security Council.

"America is safer than it has been, yet it is not yet safe," Mr. Bush said. "The enemy has got an advantage when it comes to attacking our homeland: They got to be right one time and we've got to be right 100 percent of the time to protect the American people."

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