Robust troops

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(HOST) As a political debate evolves, so too can the vocabulary used to frame it. Commentator Bill Seamans has a good example.

(SEAMANS) You’ve probably noticed that the Washington punditocracy laboring in an atmosphere of congenial journalistic wisdom has developed a favorite words syndrome – words that suddenly pop up in all their utterances and writings. They generally are belabored and then slowly fade away – words like gravitas, hair on fire, cronyism, out of the box and Swiftboating.

It seems that now the word du jour is “robust.” The dictionary says it means vigorous, strong and capable of performing without failure under a wide range of conditions. President Bush says the international military force that the UN has called for in Lebanon must be “robust.” Pundits favor “robust” when they talk about the kind of troops that would prevent the Hezbollah from re-emerging as a very combative mini-army.

Now to be given the responsibility of disarming and keeping the Hezbollah under control gives a bigger dimension to the dictionary definition of “robust.” On the ground in Lebanon robust means willing to clash with the Hezbollah and willing to suffer casualties – and willing to bleed and die.

According to the UN resolution it was understood that France would lead the 15,000 members of the international force and would itself contribute a large number of its own troops. They would join other UN forces and 15,000 from the Lebanese army to make a total of 30,000 to assure a ceasefire.

But like so many UN resolutions there are questions. France so far has offered to send only two hundred troops instead of the several thousand expected. Other European countries want the UN to clarify the Chain of Command and the Rules of Engagement before they commit troops. Israel says it will not accept any countries in the force that do not have diplomatic relations with Israel. A close reading of the resolution does not say who, if anyone, will disarm Hezbollah. The Lebanese army is said to be so poorly trained and equipped that it certainly is not “robust”. The U.S. will not send troops but will supply logistical, communications and intelligence support which sounds like we’ll be paying the food, gasoline and ammunition bills for 30,000 troops.

As Israel’s largest newspaper commented: “The Europeans have one small condition – that the force be made up of soldiers from another country.”

A so-called “robust” international force that will hammer whatever is left of Hezbollah to keep it under control is a key element in the effort to sustain an interim ceasefire in Lebanon so that the diplomats can work on a permanent solution. But if the NATO countries won’t put their troops where their UN resolutions are – then more Israeli and Hezbollah violence is inevitable.

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

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