Posts Tagged ‘lebanon’

More on Egypt

Why do we assume these protesters represent a majority of Egyptians?  If several hundred thousand Americans called for Obama’s resignation–as they have at a great many public events–no one calls for the President’s ouster.   But here we do, even though we know these primitive tribal people can be whipped into a frenzy on the basis of rumors and the most blatant propaganda and, furthermore, we have no reason to have any confidence what percentage of the Egyptian people they represent.

Why is our President so tergiversatious.  One minute he’s for Mubarak. Then the protesters.  Then the process.  Doesn’t his own ideology of pro-Third World nationalism counsel him the best thing to do is shut up? Indeed, in this instance, his instinctually anti-imperialist views accord with my own ethnocentrically-based anti-imperisalist and anti-interventionist views.  But it appears, as is often the case in his contradictions, that his ego is the trump card.

The media has concluded “Mubarak must go!”  Why believe them?  Musharraf stepped down in Pakistan, and the place is still a mess.  Little people-power revolutions occurred with great fanfare in Lebanon and Iran with mixed effects.  The former led to Hezbollah’s greater political power, but Lebanon, for various cultural reasons, is still a halfway decent place to visit.  Iran, by contrast, shut them down, as Mubarak seems resolved to do, and there the silent (or easily cowed) majority has accepted the legitimacy of this turn of events.

The worst case scenario of this situation in Egypt to me is as follows. One, US military traffic in the Suez Canal is not permitted.  And, two, out of misguided “outreach” and “idealism,” a Muslim Brotherhood dominated regime continues to receive billions of US Aid each year as ransom for not attacking Israel (as opposed to being a quasi-ally, as it has been for the last 30 years).

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Israel’s incursion into Gaza has the air of Kabuki Theater. We’ve all been here before. We’ve seen the Israeli armored vehicles sprouting menacing antennae and deadly antipersonnel weapons, the peacocking Hamas fighters and their impotent Qassam rockets, the dead Palestinian children and, in this case, the occasional dead Israeli civilian. The usual arguments have reared their heads about the need for diplomacy, restraint, proportionality, American “engagement”, European condemnation, the pressing need for a final settlement, and the like. None of these factors appear likely to change soon. The timing likely does have something to do with changes in the American political scene. The Bush administration has followed their habit of doing nothing diplomatically or publicly to embarrass their Israeli client. Why ask for permission when you know it’s forthcoming no matter what?  But even this factor likely will not change much under Obama.

The more interesting issue from my vantage point are Israeli tactics and strategy.

The Hezbollah War of two years ago had a superficially similar cause, effect, and strategy. There, in response to the capture of Israeli soldiers and continued rocket attacks–in other words, relatively serious nuisance-type threats that are far from “existential”–Israel launched a full scale war against southern Lebanon and various Hezbollah sanctuaries. Israeli followed the strategy of what may be called a deliberately disproportionate response–a strategy advocated by William Lind in response to the 9/11 attacks. However, when it was over, the final outcome was indeterminate. Israel got bogged down in the well-defended traps set by Hezbollah. Casualties quickly became an Israeli domestic concern.  The vaunted IDF proved less capable and aggressive than expected.

The operation had all the features of a hammer and anvil assault without the anvil, and the Hezbollah terrorists mostly disappeared north, disguised as civilians or otherwise. Hezbollah lived to fight another day, and when it was all over, their domestic power had increased.  Surviving the Israeli onslaught became translated as a victory in the Arab world. Normally this is a bit comic, as in the Egyptian reading of the 1973 Yom Kippur War. But, frankly, since Israel aimed to cut the Gordian Knot of Hezbollah terrorism in 2006, their survival rightly was also seen as a victory in Israel’s own eyes.

So what is different about the current attack on Hamas? Here too an ongoing problem exists from the standpoint of Israeli security: the continuing annoyance of rocket attacks from a neighboring state that enjoys diplomatic support on account of the tragic case of the Palestinian people, but that is governed (when it is governed) by the most extreme of extremist groups dedicated to perpetual war against Israel. Israel’s construction of the security fence, withdrawal of settlements from Gaza, and policy of embargo suggests that Israel’s strategy to date has been to weaken Hamas’ appeal among Palestinians, while also giving Israel space within which to defend itself and also to prepare a withering assault.

At the level of grand strategy, it appears the Israeli goal is limited, merely to weaken Hamas further, reduce their prestige in the eyes of Palestinians, and tidy up the situation as best as possible before the incoming Obama administration. To the extent this is about hearts and minds, the Israelis are focusing on the minds of the Gaza Palestinians by showing the futility of the current campaign of resistance. Israel rightly recognizes that big picture political goods like creating the Palestinian Authority and supporting democratic elections  and more mundane ones like humanitarian assistance won’t change the fundamental nationalist feeling of the Palestinians, but enough blown up houses, bridges, police stations, roadways, powerplants, and people might. There has been much analysis about the “Fourth Generation” aspects of this conflict, but it appears far more like the older 19th Century “punitive raid”:  a functioning state has engaged a disorderly, ungoverned province on its border, in effect collectively punishing it to create conditions for pacification.

Are the tactics up to the job? Will the usual restraints on democratic nations’ military campaigns assert themselves? This remains to be seen. It’s not clear why this ground attack will work out better than the Lebanese adventure two years ago.  That said, there are some important differences that are worth mentioning, not least the small size of Gaza and the anvil in the form of the Mediterranean Sea.  The value of these factors remains to be seen.  It is possible, as in South Lebanon, that Hamas leaders will effectively hide underground where they are the de facto government and enjoy strong popular support, especially now as the “solidarity of the trenches” asserts itself. Other than further enraging Palestinians and other enemies of Israel and killing a few Hamas leaders, it’s not so clear that the outcome will matter in any long-term sense, particularly as the size, scope, and timeline of this invasion will almost certainly not be enough to crush Hamas in Gaza.

The use of ground forces suggests superficially that a more surgical approach is being embraced that cannot be obtained through bombing alone. After all, Israel could undoubtedly flatten Gaza based on every guess, hunch, and tip of a terrorist apparatus in Gaza if it so chose. But, like America, Israel’s commitment to “purity of arms” is often counterbalanced by its strong domestic concern for avoiding Israel casualties, and the latter goal usually asserts itself when a choice must be made between the two. There are probably more prosaic reasons for the ground invasion. The use of ground forces suggests that the Israeli military leadership has concluded some intelligence can only be gathered locally and that the costs of addressing targets solely from the air is not worth the diplomatic (and sometimes domestic) backlash. There is likely also a strategic advantage to the ground invasion: the use of tanks, APCs, and infantry (especially in the wake of their apparent misuse in Lebanon) tells Hamas and the Gaza Palestinians that Israel means business in unmistakable terms.

The grand strategy of patient attrition by the Palestinian resistance depends upon a view of the Israelis as typical westerners: decadent, impatient, likely to weary of the “colonial” struggle in Palestine, cowardly, etc. Israeli actions that contrast their own physical courage and competence with the nowhere-to-be-seen Hamas leadership may have some impact on the Palestinians, reminding them that these ineffectual rocket attacks on southern Israeli settlements are boomerang assaults that do far more harm to Palestinians. It’s noteworthy that for all the criticism of the Lebanon Campaign of 2006, things have basically quieted down there after the ceasefire.

If Hamas’ hands are tied by its own military weakness, Israel’s are tied too by its small size, the diplomatic criticism of European nations upon whom it depends for trade, and the voice of the Israeli left that will not countenance the ethnic cleansing tactics employed in 1948 and 1967. From the standpoint of Israeli security, a punitive raid is probably the wrong tool for the job, if that job is defined as ending Palestinian national aspirations and their resort to terrorist and rocket assaults. So, as in Lebanon in 2006, it remains to be seen which of the dual effects of this operation–killing some members of Hamas and reducing their prestige but also enraging numerous Palestinians and their supporters–is the more dominant outcome. In any case, this is one battle in a long war that will likely last much longer. The dominant strategic factors have not changed and will not change from this operation, unless Israel is willing to re-occupy Gaza for an extended period of time with the sole goal of rooting our the entire Hamas infrastructure. There is little reason to think that the Olmeri government and the Israeli people are willing to do so over a more-or-less containable threat of rocket attacks from Gaza.  So, even though this hammer has an anvil (unlike in Lebanon), it will not be wielded forcefully enough or for long enough to do the trick.

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Senator Joseph Lieberman writes today that we should get in the face of India, Russia, and China and shame them into reigning in Burma, with whom all three nations have good relations. And people think Bush is making America enemies around the world! This is typical of the Democrats’ post-cold-war foreign policy: the cause must be pure, with little relation to U.S. interests; the cost may be immense; the benefit (and likelihood of success) minimal; and then, and only then, will we know we are behaving authentically. Because only then will we know that our power is being used solely for humanitarian reasons. Liberals, in spite of their self-image as peaceniks, have a penchant for military intervention, so long as it’s done for the right reasons. Let’s not forget, Vietnam (1965-73), Korea (1950-53), Bosnia (1996), Kosovo (1999), Bay of Pigs (1961), Haiti (1995), and East Timor (1999) all happened on a Democratic President’s watch.

If one of these venture fails, we can rest assured that our purity of intention will make up for our errors. This is dangerous stuff, devoid of any natural barriers to excess. Bush is bad enough and also a kind of liberal: he combines a vague sense of interest with a messianic sense of mission that stresses democracy and human rights. But Obama, Lieberman, and Clinton are much worse: they forget the interest part and replace it solely with a good intentions policy, one that views “selfless” missions as more valuable because they prove to ourselves and the rest of the world that we are good people.

Almost all liberal foreign policy functions to discredit and apologize for the Western past. It is supposed to show we’ve “grown up” and are no longer mere imperialists. We don’t fight for ourselves but for others. Of course, we have an agenda, and it seems at first glance to be a kind of self-assured imperialism. But for liberal hawks that agenda is everyone’s agenda, because everyone wants democracy, free speech, MTV, homosexuality, CNN, globalization, outsourcing, abortion, etc., and the only reason they don’t have them now is because they’re oppressed. Remember how excited they were about the spontaneous rallying cry for the Iraq War “Democracy, Whiskey, Sexy,” as if our own standards on these matters were beyond criticism. Most important, liberal foreign policy functions to atone for the great stain of American inaction in the face of the Holocaust. Almost all their thinking is based on a set of principles that retroactively would have required our intervention in the European Campaign before December 7, 1941.

This is history repeating itself not as tragedy or farce, but as psychodrama.

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