The Limitations of Military “Solutions”

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Condi Rice, Middle East

Michael J. Totten describes the effects of Israel’s military actions in Lebanon (emphasis added):

Sectarian tensions and hatreds run deep in Lebanon, even so, far deeper than those of us in the West can begin to relate to. 32 years ago Beirut was the Paris of the Middle East. But 15 years ago Lebanon was the Somalia of the Middle East. It made the current troubles in Iraq look like a polite debate in a Canadian coffeeshop by comparison. There is no ethnic-religious majority in that country, and every major sect has been, at one time or another, a victim of all the others.

I spent a total of seven months in Lebanon recently, and I never could quite figure out what prevented the country from flying apart into pieces. It barely held together like unstable chemicals in a nitro glycerin vat. The slightest ripple sent Lebanese scattering from the streets and into their homes. They were far more twitchy than I, in part (I think) because they understood better than I just how precarious their civilized anarchy was. Their country needed several more years of careful nurturing during peace time to fully recover from its status as a carved up failed state.

By bombing all of Lebanon rather than merely the concentrated Hezbollah strongholds, Israel is putting extraordinary pressure on Lebanese society at points of extreme vulnerability. The delicate post-war democratic culture has been brutally replaced, overnight, with a culture of rage and terror and war. Lebanon isn’t Gaza, but nor is it Denmark.

Lebanese are temporarily more united than ever. No one is running off to join Hezbollah, but tensions are being smoothed over for now while everyone feels they are under attack by the same enemy. Most Lebanese who had warm feelings for Israel — and there were more of these than you can possibly imagine — no longer do.

Totten goes on to say that a great many Lebanese blame Hezbollah, also, and he thinks these factons could take up arms against Hezbollah whenever there’s an Israeli-Hezbollah cease fire. But generally when factions within a nation are taking up arms against each other you’re looking at a civil war. This takes us back to the “failed state” model. Tottrn continues,

But democratic Lebanon cannot win a war against Hezbollah, not even after Hezbollah is weakened by IAF raids. Hezbollah is the most effective Arab fighting force in the world, and the Lebanese army is the weakest and most divided. The Israelis beat three Arab armies in six days in 1967, but a decade was not enough for the IDF to take down Hezbollah.

Totten is a pro-Iraq War writer who, earlier this year, traveled around Iraqi Kurdistan and blogged (for an enthusiastic rightie audience) about all the good results of the Iraq War. His reports on the (pro-American) Kurds were linked to and praised all over the Right Blogosphere. Unfortunately for Mr. Totten, he has lived in Lebanon and has befriended flesh-and-blood Lebanese. When he spoke out against the bombing of Beirut the righties turned on him like a school of piranha on fresh meat. Mr. Totten had to close his blog comments.

(Meanwhile, Condi flaps about saying things like “I have no doubt there are those who wish to strangle a democratic and sovereign Lebanon in its crib,” even as she obstructs a cease fire to give Israel more time to strangle a democratic and sovereign Lebanon in its crib.)

Totten says that by destabilizing Lebanon, Israel is setting itself up for having a failed state on its border. And if Lebanon becomes a failed state, Israel will have accomplished Hezbollah’s purpose. Totten’s analysis may be oversimplified, but I suspect he’s being realistic.

Certainly Israel has a right to defend itself, and certainly Hezbollah’s aggressions toward Israel touched off the conflict. But it is becoming increasingly clear that Israel cannot eliminate Hezbollah through military means, and the end result of the current military action could very easily make the security of Israel more precarious than it was before. Seems to me it would have been in Israel’s interests to find ways to support Lebanon’s democracy and the 60 percent of the Lebanese who are not Shia. Perhaps at some point in the future Israel could have found ways to help Lebanon disarm Hezbollah, especially since a large part of the Lebanese — possibly a majority — wanted Hezbollah disarmed. But that’s a possibility Israel has crossed off the list.

Once again, we’re looking at the limitations of military “solutions.” Military aggression is not the all-purpose remedy for all foreign policy ills. It has very limited applicable use, in fact, and it’s risky — there’s a high incidence of unfortunate side effects. This is not to say that having a big, scary military that intimidates one’s enemies is a bad thing; not at all. It does mean using that big, scary military wisely. It should be only one of many tools in the foreign policy toolbox. It’s not an all-purpose, the-only-tool-you’ll-ever-need tool.

Juan Cole wrote yesterday that “Hizbullah is ratcheting up its kill ratio with the Israeli military toward 1:1, something no other Arab fighting force has even approached.”

Professor Cole goes on to describe Lebanon before the bombing:

I was in Beirut briefly in mid-June. I went downtown in the evening, where big LCD displays had been set up outside at the cafes, and thousands of people were enjoying the World Cup games. The young Lebanese, in jeans, were dancing to the new pop music of stars like Nancy Ajram and Amal Hijazi. Some had painted their faces with Brazilian flags. They were rooting for Brazil. The shops were full of fashionable clothing and jewelry, the restaurants tastefully decorated, the gourmet Lebanese food tantalizing. The bookstores were full of probing studies and intelligent commentary. The Syrians were gone and there was a lighthearted atmosphere. The snooty nightclubs at places like Monot street were choosy about who could get in.

I went to see publishers about my project, of publishing the works of great American thinkers in Arabic. Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Susan B. Anthony, Martin Luther King. They mentioned about how the US did not have a good reputation and maybe not many readers would be interested. I said, maybe that is changing. Washington supports the new government, after all. We are your well-wishers. [emphasis added]

The professor is no supporter of Hezbollah:

I haven’t complained about the Israeli border war with Hizbullah. I’m not sure it is wise, and I don’t know how many Israelis Hizbullah even killed in, say, the year 2005. Is it really worth it? But I don’t deny that Hizbullah went too far when it shelled dozens of civilian towns and cities and killed over a dozen innocent civilians, even in reprisal for the Israeli bombing campaign. (You can’t target civilians. That is a prosecutable crime.) That is a clear casus belli, and I’d like to see Nasrallah tried at the Hague for all those civilian deaths he ordered. The fighting at Maroun al-Ra’s and Bint Jbeil was horrible on all sides, but it was understandable, even justifiable. The fighting itself isn’t going to lead anywwhere useful, though, and it is time for a ceasefire and political negotiations–the only way to actually settle such disputes.

What was Israel thinking when it decided on a military solution to Hezbollah?

Philip Gordon relays the thinking of the Israeli political and military elite behind its inhuman and massive bombing of all Lebanon:

    ‘ According to retired Israeli army Col. Gal Luft, the goal of the campaign is to “create a rift between the Lebanese population and Hezbollah supporters.” The message to Lebanon’s elite, he said, is this: “If you want your air conditioning to work and if you want to be able to fly to Paris for shopping, you must pull your head out of the sand and take action toward shutting down Hezbollah-land.” ‘

In other words, Zbig was right that the Israelis have kidnapped the 3.8 million Lebanese and are holding them all for ranson, while breaking their legs from time to time to encourage prompt payment. The horrible thing is that the Lebanese could not do anything about Hizbullah if they wanted to. Their government is weak and divided (Hizbullah is in it, and the Bush administration and Ambassador Mark Feltman signed off on that!) Their new, green army only has 60,000 men, and a lot of them are Shiites who would not fight Hizbullah. Lebanon was a patient that needed to be nurtured carefully to health. Instead, it has been drafted and put into the middle of the worst fighting on the battlefield.

Then there is this: ‘ Brigadier General Dan Halutz, the Israeli Chief of Staff, emphasised that the offensive . . . was open-ended. “Nothing is safe (in Lebanon), as simple as that,” he said. ‘

In other words, Halutz, who is also said to have threatened ten for one reprisals, is openly declaring that he will commit war crimes if he wants to. Nothing is safe? A Christian school in the northern village of Bsharri? A Druze old people’s home in the Shouf mountains? A Sunni family out for a stroll in the northern port of Tripoli? He can murder all of them at will, Halutz says. And Luft gives us the rationale. If these Lebanese civilians aren’t curbing Hizbullah for Israel, they just aren’t going to be enjoying their lives. They are a nation of hostages until such time as they have properly developed Stockholm syndrome and begin thanking the Israelis for their tender mercies.

Adding fuel to the fire, Al Qaeda’s No. 2 leader, Ayman al-Zawahri, is calling for a holy war against Israel. Billmon comments:

It’s interesting that the first tangible sign Al Qaeda might have something to say about the most violent conflict between Jew and Muslim since 1973 came just one day after the House of Saud semi-officially defected from the anti-Hizbollah coalition. If I didn’t know better, I might almost suspect the two organizations were still playing footsie under the table — but that way lies paranoia and endless suspicion, and such emotions are totally out of place in a discussion of Middle East politics. Ahem.

Remember, earlier this week there were reports that the Bush Administration was leading on the Saudis to talk to Syria about Hezbollah, because the Bushies won’t talk to Syria themselves, because Syria isn’t nice. Once again, the simple neocon worldview, in which everyone can be neatly divided up into “friends” and “enemies,” is revealed to be, um, stupid.

Billmon links to this commentary by Bernard Haykel that describes the complex relationship and rivalry between Hezbollah (shia) and al !Qaeda (sunni).

Al Qaeda, after all, is unlikely to take a loss of status lying down. Indeed, the rise of Hezbollah makes it all the more likely that Al Qaeda will soon seek to reassert itself through increased attacks on Shiites in Iraq and on Westerners all over the world — whatever it needs to do in order to regain the title of true defender of Islam.

The Sauds are “friends” who may have backchannel influence with al Qaeda, our enemies. Hezbollah and al Qaeda are enemies, but a mutual enmity makes them provisional allies.

And this morning Condi, now in Malaysia attending a regional security conference, said she is “more than happy” to go back to the Middle East.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said today that she is “more than happy” to go back to the Middle East if it helps in resolving the Lebanon crisis.

Go back? Like she has more pressing concerns elsewhere?

Speaking at a news conference in Malaysia, where she is attending a key regional security meeting, Rice said: “I am willing and ready to go back to the Middle East anytime.

“I am more than happy to go back if my efforts can move towards a sustainable ceasefire that would end the violence.”

CNN keeps running segments on the coming of the Apocalypse. Maybe the Apocalypse could get Condi’s attention for more than a couple of days.

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8 Comments

7 Comments

  1. Bulworth  •  Jul 27, 2006 @1:51 pm

    “Like she has more pressing concerns elsewhere?”

    Well, I hear she’s supposed to do a piano recital, and there’s probably shopping to do.

    “CNN keeps running segments on the coming of the Apocalypse…”

    I wonder when a Republican candidate for president (or even some other national office) will get asked in a public, preferably televised forum, about whether they think Jesus is coming back in their lifetime , and if so, what American policy should be to hasten that event, and whether they believe that a battle of Armaggedon will be fought in Palestine just before, and in order to make possible, the end of the world.

  2. justme  •  Jul 27, 2006 @2:11 pm

    Ok, well to start with the whole”Hezbolla started it” thing sounds like something a bratty little kid would say….Now lets be clear they are SOB’S…but lets not kid ourselves.Hezbolla didn’t just start attacking Israel for no reason…Israel was not just minding their own business when they fell victim to bully Hezbolla and had their lunch money stolen… thats mule muffins.Hezbolla is not just picking on nice sweet innocent Irsael, and I would dare to say that I do not believe for one minute Hezbolla ever acted against Israel un-provoked(for no reason).This is a real problem. How can anyone ever be an honest broker for peace and start by pointing the finger at one group and say”you started it”?I would like to remind everyone that it take two to tango and two to fight.
    Next, ask yourself, is it all right with you if Israel bombs innocents in every place they believe Hezbolla exists?Can they come here next and bomb YOUR neighborhood and maybe TAKE your land,claiming they are “securing it” or is it only ok as long as Israel stays confined to killing brown arab folks far away?
    Also, now I understand why bush wanted Syrian troops out of Lebanon so badly.Bush just wanted them out so Israel could move in.. removing those troops cleared the way…
    I tend to agree with Juan Cole on this subject.What should have been done was to build up Lebanons democracy … A stronger government COULD have stood up to Hezbolla.
    I recall ann coulter ranting that we should go to Iraq and convert all Iraqis to christians….perhaps we should go to Israel instead.I don’t know what book they read there, but it must not say “Thou shall not kill”…or maybe their book has an exceptions index to that rule…maybe it says”Thou shall not kill”and in the small print it says “Arabs not included”…
    I don’t give a rats ass who started it.I would be willing to bet those who have lost family in Lebanon don’t care either.We can point fingers back and forth until the cows come home , but that won’t stop innocent people from being killed over something they have nothing to do with.In my heart I think the sooner the entire world blames BOTH parties involved , the sooner we will find a solution.All of the world should be looking at Israel and Hezbolla with angry eyes.THEY TOGETHER are the reason innocent people are dying.Shame on them!

  3. Daniel DiRito  •  Jul 27, 2006 @3:48 pm

    While our democracy, in the hands of the neocons, moves towards using force to export and expand democracy, those we deem as extremists are using persuasion to democratically assume power. That, in my opinion, is perhaps the epitome of irony. Worse yet, it is an indication that our foreign policy is an unmitigated failure that may well alter the world order for decades.

    Read an analysis that discusses the implications of the current U.S. foreign policy and how the neoconservatives have simply leaped over the politics of conflict…here:

    http://www.thoughttheater.com/2006/07/alqiada_planting_the_seeds_for.php

  4. erinyes  •  Jul 27, 2006 @7:21 pm

    Yet another example of Leo Strauss’s monstrous followers and the theory of “creative destruction”, Shock ‘N Awe, part deux.

  5. Swami  •  Jul 27, 2006 @8:35 pm

    Limitations of military solutions makes me want to pose Dr.Phil’s notorious question to George Bush in regards to the situation in Iraq….”so, how’s that working for you?”

  6. Swami  •  Jul 27, 2006 @8:52 pm

    Frat boy never developed his listening skills. You can’t succeed in any area of human interaction if you can’t hear what the other guy is saying.

    Bush is just a step up from a buffoon. Yeah, you can call me an unhinged libera moonbatl but that doesn’t change the accuracy of my assessment.

  7. Preston  •  Jul 28, 2006 @3:36 am

    “Bush is just a step up from a buffoon.”

    You give him way too much credit.

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