July 30, 2006
A Futile Little War
A little over two weeks into the conflict's current incarnation, it is safe to say the following: Hezbollah has already kept the Israeli Army busy longer than the army of any Arab state in the past several decades; the standing of its leader, Hassan Nasrallah, is likely to rise. The disarming of Hezbollah - the group widely believed to have been behind the slaughter of the U.S. Marines back in 1983 - appears remote.
Yep. This 'accidental' war (as The Economist recently put it) will end up having proved something of a disaster for all parties involved save, perhaps, Hezbollah. Israel will not have eradicated Hezbollah (a totally unrealistic war aim, regardless, Krauthammer and Co's reckless imbecility aside), the United States has complicated its regional position immensely, and, as Cohen points out, the Cedar Revolution lies in ashes. Was the IDF action worth hundreds dead, thousands wounded, massive flows of internally displaced and refugees numbering in the hundreds of thousands, an environmental disaster unprecedented in Lebanon's modern history, and the scuttling of Lebanon's tenuous movements towards emergence from an oppressive Syrian yoke? All for, at the end of the day, a deal on Shaba Farms, the return of the two soldiers (probably in the context of a prisoner exchange anyway), French and other troops on the Lebanese-Israeli and Lebanese-Syrian borders (gee, wonder how porous that latter one will be?), and some (likely mostly chimerical) 'disarming' of Hezbollah?
Well no, of course not, this was more by way of an ill-advised temper tantrum than a serious military operation, as Arik Sharon would himself admit, if only he were aware of the disaster underway. Sharon would have recalled previous Lebanese quagmires and would have well understood (aided by the wisdom of years and the lack of any need to prove himself) that resort to airpower, in the main, cannot succeed in this context, with the specter of hundreds and hundreds of civilian deaths earning Israel international opprobrium in every world capital (save Washington), and that there is no real, sustained post-'82 appetite in Israel for a massive land incursion regardless, not least given the ultimate futility of same. No, Sharon would likely have chastised Ehud Olmert for his impestuous over-reaction, one so helpfully fanned on by myopic strategic blunderers and amateurs in Washington, both in policy and journalistic circles.
Walid Jumblatt, the irrepressible Druze survivor, puts it well:
From his hilltop citadel, Walid Jumblatt was a worried man Saturday. In Lebanon's Byzantine, ever-shifting politics, the leader of the country's Druze community has emerged as one of Hezbollah's harshest critics. But a savvy veteran, he understood the arithmetic of the Middle East these days: In war, survival often means victory. And after 18 days of the conflict with Israel, he was bracing for what Hezbollah's survival would mean for a country seized with volatile uncertainty.
Sound familiar? Baghdad becomes 70s era Beirut, and Beirut, perhaps, will go full circle yet again, and join Baghdad in the quasi-civil-war stakes. We're not there yet, of course, and let us at least hope Condi will belatedly nail down a cease fire in the next 5 or so days, so that we can do our best to stave off greater chaos, including the specter of such a Lebanese civil war. If adults had been at the helm, and people weren't chattering on about "root causes" and "birth pangs" like cocksure, naive pimpled adolescents, we wouldn't be in this mess, having instead sought an immediate cease-fire in early days, and asked the Israelis to restrict their military retaliation solely to actual Hezbollah military targets in the south, and very select strategic targets elsewhere. But no, adults weren't at the helm, and the consequences have been rather devastating. This appears to have been, in the main, an unmitigated blunder, save I guess, for the comfort that cross-border kidnappings and rocket attacks will no longer occur under the watch of the multinational force (well, at least for a spell, as we'd have to talk seriously with the Syrians and the Iranians, directly and indirectly, respectively, to effect any long-lasting dimunition in Hezbollah's power). But such a result could have been achieved regardless, without the severe over-reaching of an Israeli military campaign that has set back Lebanon (and increasingly the region) many years.
David Brooks writes:
Many of those calling for this immediate cease-fire are people of good will whose anguish over the wartime suffering overrides long-term considerations. Some are European leaders who want Hezbollah destroyed but who don’t want anybody to actually do it. Some are professional diplomats, acolytes of the first-class-cabin fundamentalism that holds that “talks” and “engagement” can iron out any problem, regardless of the interests and beliefs and fanaticisms that make up the underlying reality.
But there are "dead certainties" also, alas, if the Israeli offensive continues. Hezbollah will not be conclusively defanged regardless, as they enjoy too much support among a good 30-40% of the country's populace, and the central government will continue to get weaker and weaker by the day, and the risk of pan-Iraqi re-alignments leading to a heightened insurgency against US forces in Iraq will grow, and the Egyptians and Saudis will increasingly align themselves with forces of reaction in the region, rather than Western-style moderation. The diplomats are not engaged in any "first-class-cabin fundamentalism" to speak of, they are engaged in cold, practical realities, and they realize that there are no panaceas or tidy, neat solutions to be had, if only we allow the war to go on, so they are instead (wisely) seeking to stem this futile bloodshed. The only real "dead certainties", finally, are that many more innocents will perish for no good reason (perhaps Mr. Brooks intended a grim pun, of sorts?) if we follow the prescriptions of the David Brooks's and Charles Krauthammer's (the former infinitely more reasonable and compelling, but lately appearing to have lost the "incrementalism" in the "neo"). More on all this soon.
UPDATE (Sunday AM NYT): British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett on the horrific loss of civilian life in Qana overnight: "quite appalling". Ironically, this attack reportedly took place around the time Condoleeza Rice was meeting with Israeli defense officials and calling for maximum efforts to avoid civilian deaths and exceed utmost caution in target selection. The Lebanese now don't even want Rice to come to Beirut (not suprisingly) unless she calls for an immediate cease-fire (which she still hasn't), and there are reports that after another day of meetings in Israel she will return to Washington to work on a UN Security Council Resolution. The Qana attack makes her task much harder, and emotions are getting increasingly raw, with pressure on the governments in Amman, Riyadh and Cairo to take a stronger anti-Israeli stance now certain to mount considerably, and the risk of miscalculations with regard to potential fighting between Syria and Israel perhaps mounting materially (though still unlikely, all things considered). Needless to say, Condi's presence in Israel during this attack (an unfortunate coincidence, you might say) is another shattering blow to America's image in the region. Karen Hughes, take note.
Posted by Gregory at July 30, 2006 04:43 AM
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Gregory Djerejian comments intermittently on global politics, finance & diplomacy at this site. The views expressed herein are solely his own and do not represent those of any organization.
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