Short takes: Bloomberg on the Ground Zero mosque, the Celtics, and Iran

Today, some short takes, mostly catching up on some recent events and commentary:

1. Bloomberg nails it.  
If you haven't done so already, you really owe it to yourself to read or watch N.Y. Mayor Michael Bloomberg's compelling response to those who objected to the construction of a Muslim center in lower Manhattan. The contrast between Bloomberg's eloquent and reasoned defense of religious freedom and the hypocritical bombast of the Gingriches, Giulianis, and Foxmans tells you all you need to know about who gets what America stands for and who doesn't.  

2. Judge Walker does, too.
It's not a foreign policy issue (although I think it will help America's image in many parts of the world), but I was delighted when a federal judge issued a strongly-worded ruling declaring that California's Proposition 8 (which barred gay marriage) unconstitutional. Like Bloomberg's speech, it was one of those moments that made me proud to be American.

3. But not proud to be a Celtics fan. 
I was raised in northern California, but I've been partial to the Celtics ever since elementary school because I was a huge Bill Russell fan. (My goal at the time was to be a dominant shot-blocking and rebounding center like Russell, but it turns out this is hard to do when you are only 6' 2" and have limited leaping ability.) But my Celtics loyalty is gonna be tested now that they've signed Shaquille O'Neal. Nothing personal, but his three-steps-turn-and-dunk approach to basketball is about as fun and exciting as going through the TSA checkpoints at Logan Airport.

4. Meanwhile, back in Iran...  
As some of the same geniuses that got us into Iraq start spinning up the case for bombing Iran, you might want to take a look at this careful assessment from Oxford of what a military campaign might entail and produce. Nobody knows for sure how an attack on Iran might go or what the broader repercussions might be, but I sure hope people in the White House are taking note of this study. If David Ignatius is right, maybe someone is.

5. And for the truly obsessive defense policy wonk on your holiday list...
I recommend Gordon Adams and Cindy Williams's new book Buying National Security: How American Plans and Pays for its Global Role and Safety and Home. This book isn't exactly a Stieg Larsson style page-turner (The Girl with the Budget Authority, anyone?) but if you want to understand how U.S. national security policy gets funded and implemented, it's a great place to start. Adams and Williams have lots of experience inside the belly of the beast, and they've written a clear and non-partisan account of the bureaucratic and budgetary machinery that drives our national security state. Among other things, they unveil the vast array of agencies, bureaus, funds, organizations, programs, initiatives, etc. that make up the national security establishment (and that's not even counting all the activities we barely know about... ). If Eisenhower came back today, I'll bet he'd feel like a prophet.

Michael Nagle/Getty Images

Stephen M. Walt

What was the Lebanese army thinking?

Based on the news reports I've read this morning, it was some numbskull in the Lebanese Army who was responsible for the clash that occurred along the Israeli-Lebanese border yesterday. An Israeli officer was killed by sniper fire as IDF troops were removing a tree in the buffer zone between Israel and Lebanon, and the IDF retaliated for the attack and killed two Lebanese soldiers and a journalist. Some initial accounts suggested that the IDF had crossed the border to remove the tree, but U.N. officials now confirm that the tree was in Israeli territory.

My reaction? What a pointless and tragic waste of life. I don't know which Lebanese individuals were directly responsible for the shooting of the IDF officer, but it was stupid and wrong and whoever did it ought to be held to account.  How anyone could think that taking potshots at soldiers removing a tree -- a tree, for heaven's sake -- might accomplish anything positive is beyond me.  That's the sort of behavior we expect from North Korea. 

Like Juan Cole, I also wonder why the IDF didn't ask UNIFIL (the U.N. peacekeeping force) to remove the tree for them or to arrange conditions where it could have been done safely.  My guess is that it didn't occur to them that anything serious might happen, but if so, that assumption was tragically wrong. The BBC reports that the IDF is now removing the tree under UNIFIL supervision: Had it done so in the first place, the dead officer would still be alive and so would the two Lebanese soldiers and the journalist. 

This incident underscores the fragility of the current peace between Israel and Lebanon.  When security is precarious, military personnel will be more inclined to shoot first and ask questions later, and may also engage in provocative actions to show that they can't be intimidated. The problem is that this is all very risky, especially in this context. 

There has been some speculation in recent weeks about the possibility of renewed fighting in Lebanon -- and maybe even a replay of the 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah -- which is just about the last thing the region needs right now. If you want to get a good sense of the issues and the need for renewed diplomatic action, I recommend the latest International Crisis Group report: "Drums of War: Israel and the ‘Axis of Resistance." But don't read it just before you go to bed.