Condi’s shuttle

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(HOST) As world leaders search for possible solutions to the current Middle East crisis, commentator Bill Seamans has been watching the progress of one diplomatic effort in particular.

(SEAMANS) The Washington punditocracy is stressed out this week trying to analyze Secretary of State Condi Rice’s first real taste of Middle East junket diplomacy. The question the opinion-
ators are struggling with is “What has Condi accomplished? Did she create any forward movement – or was her trip merely a carefully scripted and staged handshake photo op including a co-called ‘surprise’ stop in Beirut.”

If there was any progress, it was the speculation kicked off by Ms. Rice when she suggested that after a ceasefire an international force probably led by NATO would patrol a buffer zone just inside Lebanon to forestall the reemergence of Hezebollah. It would be an aggressive force numbering up to 30,000 troops willing to fight and take casualties – not act as passive peacekeepers as the UN has in the past in the Middle East. And a most important exception – U.S. troops would not be involved.

However, we can see signs that the Bush regime has again leaped ahead without adequate preparation because a NATO spokesman said, “No request has been made to NATO…The possibility, the shape, the structure of any international force – none of them has been seriously addressed.” And leading NATO countries – Britain, Germany and France have reacted negatively to sending troops to serve in Lebanon.

Britain said that with so many of its troops committed in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Balkans it doesn’t have any more to send to Lebanon. France says any idea of sending its troops was “premature.” And Germany came up with a unique response – it is willing to participate only if Hezbollah, the terrorist force it would police – agrees to it. A leading Israeli newspaper, Yediot Aharonot observed that “the Europeans have one small condition – that the force be made up of soldiers from another country – that it’s doubtful whether there is a single country in the West currently volunteering to lay down its soldiers on Hezbollah’s fence.”

That leaves another big question for the pundits to ponder – if NATO cannot muster troops to serve as a counter-terrorist force in Lebanon and the UN is disqualified, will the burden of patrolling the Lebanon border fall by default on U.S. troops already stressed to the limit in Iraq. Even though we have declared that no U.S. troops would be involved policing the Lebanon border could the proverbial “circumstances beyond our control” force President Bush to change that policy….

…..And speculating further – if our army, according to Rep. John Murtha and other military observers is stretched to the “breaking point” how could we raise the additional number of troops needed to carry out Ms. Rice’s border patrol proposal? Welcome to shuttle diplomacy, Condi!

Bill Seamans is a former correspondent and bureau chief for ABC News in the Middle East.

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