White House Policy and Mideast Violence

President Bush has repeatedly said Israel has a right to defend itself from Hezbollah militants and has delayed calling for a cease-fire, despite international pressure. Slate chief political correspondent John Dickerson talks with Alex Chadwick.

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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

There's been criticism from many, that the White House isn't doing enough to stop the fighting, but is that more purposeful than it seems? Joining us is John Dickerson, chief political correspondent for the online magazine Slate. John welcome back. You write that for the moment the Bush team is content to look concerned but let Israel continue to batter Hezbollah. Why is that?

Mr. JOHN DICKERSON (Chief political correspondent, Slate magazine): Well I think there are two reasons. One, they see this as a part of the larger war on terror and they like to see countries reacting strongly to terrorism. And so, from a general standpoint they like that. Secondly they see this as an effort by Iran and Syria to flex their muscle. And they want to beat back that regional question, and so they want to see Hezbollah weakened before there's a cease-fire.

CHADWICK: Well what about secretary Rice's role, she's on her way to the Mid East, at some point.

Mr. DICKERSON: That's right. Well at some point she will try to step in and get this buffer zone. But the - secretary Rice and the president talk about getting to the root cause. And again, this is a part of their notion of the war on terror, and that the root cause here are these extremists, Hezbollah and Hamas, that need to be — have their nose bloodied. And also, they talk about this as a clarifying moment - which means they want the hostilities perhaps to continue a little longer so that everybody gets a clear sense of really what's at stake in the region.

CHADWICK: There has been some reaction from Arab governments interestingly, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Jordan condemning Hezbollah. How does that come about, and do you think that the administration has a role in it or are these governments really expressing their concerns?

Mr. DICKERSON: The administration definitely has a role. They've gone to these Arab countries and they've said, look again this is a clarifying moment and you need to stand up. But what these countries are saying, essentially, is they are worried about the influence of Iran and Shiite Muslims in Iraq and across the region and so they see this action in that context and they want to speak up before Iran becomes too much of a power in this region.

CHADWICK: So you note in Slate in a couple of pieces, that there's a conflict between the administration's rhetoric that it's been practicing for years now about building democracy in the Middle East and how it is handling this particular crisis. There's a contradiction, what is that?

Mr. DICKERSON: Well the contradiction is that the White House is very happy to have these Arab nations come on board and criticize Hezbollah. But those Arab nations are not democracies and they do not have liberal institutions. And the White House has said, for several years now, that a big flaw on U.S. foreign policy, for the last sixty years has sort of been turning a blind eye to Arab countries that aren't democracies. But now we're in a situation where the White House is joining with those non-democratic Arab nations because their short term interest are allied. Well, those are the kinds of agreements that those previous administrations made over the last sixty years but for which the Bush administration has criticized them. So it's a contradiction in the way the White House talks and the way in which they behave.

CHADWICK: And if democracy is represented by the street, the people in the street, Hezbollah actually is seemingly doing pretty well in the Arab world right now, better than the government's maybe.

Mr. DICKERSON: Well that's right, an additional contradiction here. Here we have Hezbollah and Hamas, both of whom have elected seats in Lebanon and in the Palestinian territories, and yet they're the one's causing all the trouble. And so Arab democracy is a lot messier than the White House has presented it over the last several years.

CHADWICK: John Dickerson, chief political writer for the online magazine, Slate. John thank you again.

Mr. DICKERSON: Thank you.

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