An Exchange of Views about the Lebanon War
Monday, July 24, 2006
Wednesday, October 11, 2006
This is a long series of letters between me
and my long time friend and colleague Joel Rosenberg. I have considerable
respect for Joel's analytical skills, and he has many sources of
information. Philosophically we have wide areas of agreement. This exchange
of letters is, in my judgment, a good exposition of the different views
reasonable people might have about the Lebanon War.
The first part is an exchange of letters over a period of a couple of days, each of us responding to the other (although there was a bit of overlap.)
Begin with my short analogy about Crips and Bloods and Beverly Hills in View, and continue with the section on what I thought would be an appropriate response, then continue to the section on The Grave of The Hundred Heads.
As I'm sure won't surprise you, I've been following your discussion about the Hizbollah War, and was about to make a remark about Sherman's legacy, although you beat me to it. I would point out that Sherman didn't, as far as I can tell, spend a lot of time worrying about how putatively enlightened Georgians who didn't care for the Confederacy separatists would hate him and the North, or the consequences thereof.
I don't think there's any way that Israel can prevent new generations of Hizbollah. If that's the goal, then it's an insoluble problem -- fail to respond or respond too weakly, and it gives Hezbollah credibility and enables their persistence; no matter how much Lebanon is damaged, it's not possible to kill enough of them to eliminate new generations, just as there were both Georgians and Atlanta residents after Sherman torched the city. And cockroaches in my old apartment, no matter how many I stomped on.
I don't think that the elimination of Hezbollah is -- or ought to be -- the goal, as desirable as that might be. At minimum, in the short run, stomping on the cockroaches (and being seen to) is bound to have some effects . . . both positive and negative. But it's not an adequate solution.
Neither would be your thin buffer zone. (I'm aware that you're not proposing it as an adequate solution.) For obvious reasons, a buffer zone that's, say, five kilometers wide isn't going to be a serious obstacle to missiles with ranges far in excess of that. The Hizbollah counter to that is to continue what they're doing: getting longer and longer range missiles through their Syrian allies from their Iranian masters. Dry Bones cartoon - Terrorism, missile attacks, rockets hitting Israeli cities, Hizbullah, Hamas, Sunnis, Shias, Iran, Ahmadinejad, and Israel's two-front war in Lebanon and Gaza... When will this war end?<http://www.drybonesproject.com/blog/D06723_1.gif>
And while it's probably slightly preferable for the IDF to defend a line inside Lebanon rather than at the northern edge of Israel, there's an element of been-there-done-that. For a buffer zone to be useful, I think it has to go as far as the Litani (with forces prepared to strike increasingly far north), and that would require a lot more removal than anybody in Israel is contemplating, I think, much less planning.
All in all, I think it would be a good idea, if Israel were willing to help the South Lebanese Christians take the next step: secession in the South, population exchange with the north, and a new, thin state there. Anybody who thinks that Gaza might some day be a viable place should have no difficulty with Litani Lebanon. That said, I don't think that's anywhere in the cards, although there's a lot would be attractive about a pocket Lebanon with Tyre as its capital.
Regardless, the relative silence of the Arab states is very interesting. And pretty clear in its import.
Dry Bones cartoon - Terrorism, missile attacks, rockets hitting Israeli cities, Hizbullah, Hamas, Sunnis, Shias, Iran, Ahmadinejad, and Israel's two-front war in Lebanon and Gaza<http://www.drybonesproject.com/blog/D06716_2.gif> To back up for a moment, as I wasn't the first or only person to notice, both Barak's Lebanon withdrawal and Sharon's Gaza one were predicated either upon hopeless hopefullness, or a hard-headed plan as to what to do when Hamas/Hezbollah began to use the abandoned areas as launching sites (either literally or metaphorically): sufficient retaliation to achieve deterrence. (How much is sufficient? That's easy: enough that the Hamasholes/Hezbollards are deterred.)
Neither did that, of course. Ehud Barak was too earnestly courting Clinton (maybe there was a point there, particularly if Gore won in 2000) and State (I dunno why), and Arik Sharon was looking to an improbable legacy, hoping that, somehow, the horse would learn how to sing. (While I'm much more of a fan of Sharon than Barak, I will say that Barak had a better possibility of having his horse sing, as thin as it was.)
In the South, Israel's goal should be -- and probably is -- to seal off Israel from Gaza, respond with enough force to discourage some attacks and prevent others, and wait until there's enough political will for heavy counterbattery fire as the standard response to rocket attacks. It doesn't matter who rules Gaza; the demographics make it hopeless, and the Arabs of Judea and Samaria aren't going to open their doors for a flood of upwards of a million refugees, which wouldn't even lower the Gaza population to carrying capacity and would raise the population of Judea and Samaria farther above it. Even if the Egyptians didn't pen them in, there's not going to be an exit (I was tempted to write "exodus") of more than a million people across the Sinai to . . . well, I don't know where, either.
As I wrote in our discussion years ago, one premise of Oslo was Arabs from Gaza finding work in Israel; the Arabs of Gaza desperately needed (and need) low-skilled jobs, and Israel definitely can use some low-skilled labor. That was a dead issue then, and it hasn't come back to life.
Gaza's screwed. The only real longterm benefit of Sharon's withdrawal is that it distances Israel from it, to some extent. (Not from the blame for it, of course, but from the fact of it.) Instead of IDF forces guarding the Gaza settlements, there's IDF forces guarding the Gaza Fence... although I'm expecting (and hoping) that we'll see a larger dead zone to give the Arabs trouble tunnelling.
It's in the north that it gets interesting. If the Lebanese National Assembly was proportional, Hizbollah and the rest of the Shiites would have an even larger chunk of it than they do; the proportions are based on population figures from decades ago and/or whatever folks thought would put the Lebanese civil war on hold. That could be renegotiated -- politically or in the traditional fashion of the Levant -- and could go either way. Fanatical willingness to die is only useful against enemies that have some compunction about killing, and the Lebanese Civil War showed that that was largely absent there. (It's worth remembering that Sabra/Shatilla wasn't only not the largest massacre of Arabs by Arabs in Lebanon during the war -- Damour, Tel al-Zaatar, and Karantina were all much larger -- but not even the largest that year.)
The question facing the non-Shiites and the non-Hezbollah Shiites is, after the dust settles, going to be who they're more afraid of -- the IDF or Hezbollah. It's not at all clear to me who they should be more afraid of, but what matters is who they are. The worst thing for everybody involved -- except Hezbollah -- that Israel could do is let this end without either a Hezbollah humiliation or a Lebanese population that thinks that it's a close call, or is more afraid of Hezbollah. It was possible that it could have ended somewhat less bloodily until the first missile hit Haifa, but that's now an historical curiousity, not a realistic possibility.
If the rest of the Lebanese decide to shut down Hezbollah, they've got the resources to do it, although not easily nor other than bloodily. Far moreso than what sounds like the low three digits, which is the Lebanese body count so far. That wouldn't have been much of a blip on the radar screen during their civil war, not over two weeks.
Well, the Cedar Revolution, complete with hot Lebanese girls in their facepaint, did make for some nice photos. But it was built on a Concordat with Hezbollah, and it was only a matter of time until that -- quite literally -- exploded in their faces.
I guess they were hoping that the horse would learn how to sing, too.
A few quick predictions; let's see how they stand up: there will be serious armored/infantry incursions into south Lebanon, probably getting close to the Litani, then driving back, trapping various Hezbollah operations between the northern and southern forces. That would leave the flanks and rear of the northern force exposed to the Syrians, but the IAF can handle Syrian adventurism. (The Israelis are making it awfully clear that they don't want to widen the war to Syria; I don't think they're stupid enough to really mean that they'd prefer to handle Syria on Iran's schedule, rather than on Israel's.)
When the smoke starts to clear, the smart money is that the smart money will go to reconstruction in non-Hezbollah strongholds. This will create friction between the Shiites and the rest. The Hezbollah strongholds in the Shiite neighborhoods were, of course, hit much harder than elsewhere; while UN aid will be frittered away in the traditional fashion (the first UN priority will be reserving expensive hotel space for the UN; the second will be building expensive office space for the UN), investment will happen mostly elsewhere. The Beirut Shiites won't like this; the Christians will. Everybody will continue to be mad about the port and airport being shut down, but that'll ease, in time. More or less. Largely.
Of course, the elephant in the corner is still standing there -- it's Iran, and their nuclear program. Clinton and Bush have both demonstrated that when American administrations talk about something being "unacceptable," the word, pace Inigo Montoya, doesn't mean what they think it means.
Ehud Ohlmert may find a very different definition of "unacceptable" with regard to an Iranian Bomb. And with the IDF having only about 125 jets that can reach Iran -- even if unopposed -- and the Iranians having learned from Osirak, there is zero, zip and no chance that the problem will be solved by the IAF using conventional weapons.
It's going to be an interesting time.
Hmmm... I left out the curious (relative) quiet in Judea/Samaria -- the Dry Bones cartoon last Friday may be on point (http://drybonesblog.blogspot.com/)
Dry Bones cartoon - War on the borders with Lebanon and Gaza<http://www.drybonesproject.com/blog/D06716_1.gif> Best to the family,
What would have been wrong with going to the government of Lebanon and asking for cooperation in finding the two kidnapped soldiers?
And with going in with command squads and taking counter-hostages, the rule being that we will negotiate, but the best you can get out of the deal is to be a bit worse than the status quo ante?
The KGB kidnapped about 20 when their diplomat was taken hostage. They did not treat them gently. At least some were relatives of the kidnappers. Behold, the Soviets got their man back.
Would not all of that be preferable to going to dropping leaflets on a village telling them to leave, and then bombing the convoys as they flee north, managing to kill a bunch of women and children?
You say that it matters not who governs Lebanon. Not long ago we were cheering the Cedar Revolution. I am confused. Is it simply that no matter who they be, there is no one in the Middle East that the United States will not stand back and allow Israel to destroy? How is that in the interest of the United States?
Was there even an attempt to be certain that the kidnappers were Lebanese Hizbollah and not Iranians? Or al Qaeda masquerading as Lebanese Hizbollah? I don't know. All I know is that there were no conferences with the Lebanese government. Just bombs and the re-destruction of Lebanon, and the wishful thinking of Weekly Standard that the Christians and Sunni are angry with Hizbollah and isn't this wonderful? The Lebanese Christians, Sunni, and Druze may have been angry with Hizbollah, but they hate Israel now.
And there are Arab Christians, Sunni, and Druz in Israel proper. Is this a provocation in hopes of provoking an uprising there?
My God, Joel. There are hundreds dead, Lebanon's economy destroyed, more to come, daily wailing burials on CNN --
Sharon would never have allowed this.
What is the best possible outcome of this situation? Write the scenario that makes anyone better off when this ends than they would have been had this been treated as a criminal action to be punished with reprisals confined to the region of the crime?
For God's sake, man, even the Grave of the Hundred Heads made of the village from which the attack was launched has got to be better than the entire destruction of the government of a neighbor state!
And of course consultation with the Lebanese government would have done no good; but that coupled with reprisals taken in Southern Lebanon against the people who, if not responsible, were at least involved, seems to me to make more sense than unleashing Hell.
In no particular order . . .
Counterhostages . . .
As you point out, it worked well for the Soviets, some years ago, but it only worked because they knew which clans were involved, and were willing to send home counter-kidnapped relatives (including, as I understand it, small children) in pieces, and to keep doing it. They did the first, so they didn't have to keep doing the second. We can argue about whether or not it's a preferable thing (I'll take either side of that argument), but the US wasn't willing to do that then, and Israel isn't now.
A trade would have been a Hizbollah victory, and would have done nothing about the underlying problem -- south Lebanon, just as it used to be Fatahland, is now Hezbollaland -- except aggravating it. Legitimacy in the Arab world is obtained by victory -- see Hama -- and with that comes political power, whether it's Arafat or Assad or Hussein ibn-Talal during Black September.
It isn't a sudden sense of human decency that has, say, the Saudis throwing up their hands and disavowing Hizbollah; it's a lack of a desire to be associated with defeat, and a fear of what a Hizbollah victory would mean for the Saudis own concerns about Hizbollah's Iranian masters.
Governing of Lebanon...
I think it matters a whole lot -- to the Lebanese and to Israel and, to a lesser extent, to the US; if I gave the impression that it didn't matter to me, it was a false impression -- who governs Lebanon. It probably matters more to the Lebanese than to anybody else, but it matters differently.
It's been -- so far -- in the Lebanese perceived interest that a Hezbollah-bound government is better than an alternative that doesn't tolerate its south being used as (among other things) a missile platform and staging ground against its neighbor (given what it would take to reach the alternative) -- not because most of the Lebanese prefer that alternative (although Hezbollah -- a decisive part of the Lebanese government, at present -- does) but because of what it would take to reach that alternative: the actual disarming of Hezbollah, and Lebanese control of Hezbollaland. That may be changing. Or it may not. We'll have to see; I wouldn't bet either way.
The Barak withdrawal was, as I've said, had as its premise not accepting a defeat in an attempt to secure Israel's northern border, but to secure it by the implementation of a UN resolution (always an at best unlikely hope), combined with a willingness to use force as necessary. As expected -- as I'd expected, certainly; I'm hardly the only one -- the implementation of the UN resolution never happened. (The Lebanese didn't take control; UNIFIL shared office space, sipped tea, and conspired with Hezbollah.)
The Cedar Revolution . . .
Yup, we -- certainly including me, and I believe including you -- were cheering it. It looked like Lebanon was taking steps toward becoming the first real Arab democracy, and I don't mind saying that the sight of the mobs (I called them "crowds" then) in the streets of Beirut parading for democracy far more than they were protesting against their Syrian masters quite literally brought tears to my eyes. Then again, so did Tienamen square; I'm sentimental.
But the Lebanese made a bargain with the devil -- with Hezbollah, this time, just as they had with Arafat a quarter of a century before: "do whatever you want with the Jews, just leave us alone." Israel chose to, for years, accept both provocation and preparation -- the ratholes that are being cleared in Maroun al-Ras as I'm typing, for example. Should they have continued to accept both in the hope that, for some reason (I'm not sure why), the rest of the Lebanese would have evolved out of their bargain with Hezbollah? There was, as far as I can tell, no sign of that at all. But I guess that there's some slim possibility that that might eventually have happened. Maybe.
The human cost . . .
...is, of course, larger than anyone would like it to be. Particularly the Lebanese. That said, by comparison with the Lebanese civil war, the last two weeks add up to a slow day -- it's barely up to Damour ... and that's a misleading comparison; the Pallies were hunting and killing civilians while avoiding fighters; the IDF is doing just the opposite. Given how much physical destruction there has been (whether or not you think it appropriate and/or justified is another matter), if the IAF hadn't been taking pains to minimize (not completely avoid, but minimize) civilian damage, the dead would be in the tens of thousands, not the low hundreds. (Easy illustration: the bombing of Hezbollah facilities in Beirut without first inviting the civilians to flee. That had the negative impact of preserving the Hezbollah who fled along with the civilians, but, remember that there are multiple tens of thousands in multiple neighborhoods there.) This won't be reassuring to the families of the hundreds; the point may not be lost in the families of the tens of thousands.
Rather than repeating myself, I'll refer you to my (frequent) comments on the Arab use of human body armor.
Consulting the Lebanese government . . .
. . . would have been, at best, pointless. I guess that Olmert could have asked the Lebanese ambassador in Jerusalem to visit him --
-- well, no, he couldn't. But listen to the Lebanese government: their onging claim is that they're utterly unable to control Hezbollah. In fact, it's not exactly news to them that Israel has wanted them to control their south and disarm Hezbollah; would a reminder of that, through, some intermediary, have been of some use? The only thing I think it would have guaranteed is that, because of the delay in closing the roads, airports, and port the kidnapped IDF soldiers would now be on their way to Tehran. As, of course, they might be.
Hostage exchanges . . .
The grim math of such exchanges has been well-established: the Arab terrorists expect -- and when such exchanges happen, get -- thousands of convicted and/or seized terroristsin return for bodies of IDF soldiers to bury. The message has not only been sent, but has been heard by the Arabs: murder Israelis, and Israel will do its best to grab you, and after a relatively short stay in an Israeli jail, you'll be returned as a hero in triumph in exchange for some bodies.
It's not a good idea, I think. It never has been. (Ron Arad's parents might disagree, of course.)
Rebellion in Israel . . .
Arabs -- Christian, Druze, Sunni, -- in Israel are vanishingly unlikely to revolt. (At least some of the soldiers killed in the kidnapping were Druze; as you know, Israel Druze, like Israeli Jews, are obliged to serve in the IDF.) Those Christian Arabs ijn Judea and Samaria along the Fence line who can are moving into Israel; they know where they're better off. There probably will be some suicide bombers among the Sunni, but few -- this war, from their POV, is largely between the Jews and the Lebanese Shiites because, well, from their POV, it is.
Have I missed anything except for what's to come?
What's to come . . .
Short run: Hamas and Fatah have announced a unlateral ceasefire in the South. If this actually happens -- I doubt it -- and is accompanied by a release of Corporal Shalit -- no indications of that, so far -- that could quiet things down there. Even without it, it might quiet things down there, for the time being. Hamas is quickly becoming aware of something that Abbas was smart enough to figure out ten days ago: that while things are hot in Lebanon, the CNN cameras will be elsewhere, and political pressure will not build up for Israel to lay off Hamas and the PLO. (That doesn't do anything in the long run about the demographics of Gaza or the futility of the Palestinian death cult, of course, but I'm limiting myself to the short run, here. For the long run: the demographic problem won't be solved while UNRWA operates; there's no sign that it'll ever be shut down.)
In the north, we're seeing that the IDF incursions into Lebanon are either deceptive or very limited; are they prepping the ground for a move to the Litani? I think that'll be necessary (but not sufficient) to break the Hezbollah hold on the South, in preparation for the medium run -- see below. (I think Olmert disagrees; it's his call, and, unsurprisingly, he hasn't asked me for advice. More experienced-than-he IDF military folks -- Olmert was an infantryman in the elite Golani brigade, until wounded; he spent the rest of his military career as a journalist -- appear to agree with him.)
Syria is indicating that they won't come in, which is, at least, good for Syria, and maybe for everybody else, too. Hezbollah's hopes, such as they are, are that the usual UN rescue will arrive, a la '56, '67 (two years before the founding of the PLO; there's another issue for another day), '73, and '82. My guess is that the rescue will arrive (see below), but not for a month or so.
If a wide strip of south Lebanon isn't to become a no-man's land (reducing across-the-border incursions into Israel and pushing the katyushas back), the Lebanese will need help. A UNIFIL operation won't do -- been there, done that. It'll have to be a multi-lateral force, probably based around a NATO command structure, but without US combat forces; blocking forces will have to be a lot more expendable than US privates are ...forgetting, for a moment, the lack of US infantry/armor divisions to be put there; it would be a bad idea, even if they were theoretically available; see Beirut in '82. US involvement to be limited to airlift. There'll be lots of stuff to airlift.
Best possibility: a force based around the FFL, with a brief to not interfere with national governments (Israeli or Lebanese), allowing the Lebanese, if they're so motivated, to actually take control of the area, while not, a la UNIFIL, acting as a screening force for Hezbollah. Things rarely work out the best.
It'll take at least a month to get the FFL in, assuming that the French will want to. (And they might -- not for the sake of making things easier for the IDF, but because of their affection for / attachment to Lebanon.) Figure longer for a different force, and expect that there won't be a brief not to interfere with Israel. Which argues, from the POV of Israel, for far more destruction of Hezbollah facilities than we've seen in the South.
Medium-long run: Hezbollah delenda est. Just as the whole Werwolf idea didn't, finally, have a lot of resonance for the Germans after WWII, it may be that the rest of the Lebanese won't want to support Hezbollah, either. Not out of love for hated Jews, of course, but out of self-interest. (Again, see Black September 1970 -- Hussein ibl Talal didn't expel the PLO because they were foreign -- the majority of his country was "Palestinian", but because they threatened his rule. 5000 dead in ten days.)
Longer run: Lebanon, as important as it is to the Lebanese, and to Israel, isn't the center of mass of all this. Jordan, as important as it is to the Jordianians, and to Israel, isn't, either. (Although it's worth noting that Hussein's son, Abdullah, is busy sitting on his hands right now.) Syria isn't.
Iran is. The west counting on Israel to be it's real-life equivalent of my MMC -- a la Osirak -- is a false hope; the IAF doesn't have the capability to settle the Iranian nuclear problem with conventional weapons.
1. How close does Israel think the Iranians are to having a nuclear bomb? (They've already got the capability to deliver it from Syria or Lebanon.)
2. How close are the Iranians to having a nuclear bomb? (Is the Dear Leader, for example, willing to sell them one tomorrow?)
Just for the sake of completeness, I'll add a third question, which I think is rhetorical:
3. are the Iranian mullahs eager to use a nuclear bomb against Israel?
Assuming -- as I am -- that US/UN diplomatic efforts to avoid that are going to fail, the long run is either really ugly, or far uglier, depending on whether 1 < 2.
Best possible outcome . . .
Well, you asked, and you asked for the best possible outcome, not a likely one. (The lion lying down with the lamb is possible, but only for a brief period of time; I'll exclude that.)
1. An interim international force in Lebanon, as suggested above, combined with a now-motivated Lebanese government, establishes control of the South; Hezbollah, in the long run, delenda est.
2. The Lebanese government establishes control over Lebanon; not quite the same thing as above, but a necessary next step. No question: the Lebanese government has taken quite a hit, but, so far, the Lebanese Army has been left intact, and Hezbollah's ability to project force and its will has been seriously degraded. The other factions don't do this out of love for Israel, but of a combination of hatred for Hezbollah and self-preservation. Further international help is required -- but not through the UN. The Iranian money/weaponry/personel flow to Hezbollah, through Syria, is cut off.
3. The Iraqi government becomes able to take care of itself -- i.e. impose its will on at least the Sunni triangle, while Kurdistan gains more independence. (That's orthogonal, of course, to what's going on, but it's necessary, if not sufficient.) The US military presence draws down to minimal in 24 months or so, as President Clinton/Frist/whoever is able to withdraw most of it.
Maybe the horse will learn how to sing.
Serious question -- and forgetting, for a moment, that it won't be done -- if the IDF went in, hacked off all of the heads in the five nearest villages, and piled them up in the middle of the street, would that remove (or persuade others to remove) Hezbollah from the South? Would it even get the return of the two kidnapped soldiers?
I can't see how it would.
Nor do I but are you not missing the point?
If THAT won't do it, why will bombing the Lebanese airport? I ask seriously.
Joel, I haven't a clue as to what to do. I know they have to do something. But as Weizman and I agreed long ago (when he was President of Israel), they do not seem to be putting much thought into what they do before they do it.
(Joel quotes from one of my on-line comments)
"Of course, were I a Hamas strategist I would argue for the unconditional surrender of both Gaza and the West Bank to Israel. Here we are. Take care of us. CNN and Fox News welcome to come watch."
Sure. But that's because you're smart. (Actually, it's more because you're not stupid.) One of the meanest things that Sharon ever did to Arabs was the Gaza withdrawal, and note that it was protested by Abbas. I don't have a lot of respect for him, but he's not stupid.
As it is, Sharon surrendered Gaza to Hamas and to UNRWA, saying, in effect: "Here they are; take care of them -- but just make sure that they leave us alone." (Was it as much as 48 hours after the withdrawal that the Gazans trashed the greenhouses that Bill Gates bought for them?)
And Olmert -- like Sharon -- has been working toward surrendering most of Judea and Samaria to Hamas, as well. Maybe he even believes Jimmy Carter -- that giving them responsibility for actually governing will temper them -- but I doubt it. He's not stupid.
One way to look at the Kassam launches is a plea by the Gazans for Israel to come back in. (I'm sure that they don't see it that way, but . . . )
Joel neither you nor my other correspondents answer my point:
THIS IS NOT NEGOTIATION from the status quo ante. This is offering to trade hostages Israel would not otherwise have taken: villagers from the local areas where the offense took place. Bell Gardens kidnaps two Beverly Hills cops. BHPD take 20 Crips and Bloods and offers exchange. That's not encouraging them to do it again!
As to how do you know who is Hizbollah, you don't, but if Massad doesn't have some good ideas of which clans are involved in this incident then it certainly should know.
No one seem to be answering my point: the prisoners I have NOW are not for negotiation but you take hostages from me, I take MORE from you, and those but only those are negotiable.
Same as the KGB did except for carving off unnecessary parts.
And The IDF IS NOT avoiding civilian casualties.
They gunned down a whole caravan of refugees. Refugees who were fleeing because they were told to get out. Sounds like Lehi and the Stern Gang, doesn't it? That has got to be one of the most spectacularly stupid moves on the part of the IDF in history. And OF COURSE it was a mistake, but when you unleash Hell such mistakes are inevitable.
Alas, Lebanon has no Bedouin monarchical loyalists to expel the Palestinians and Hamas. If they did, they probably would have done it.
Perhaps we ought to send them covert money to hire mercs?
Maybe the Saudis are already doing it?
Lebanon at least used to have the remnants of a pretty tough fighting force: the South Lebanon Army. After a decade, roughly, there may be some of the old guys left.
But, yes, as I've been suggesting, Lebanon is going to have to clean its own house. My strong suspicion is the there's all sorts of help available, under the present climate, if they do. (The Saudis aren't fond of the Iranians or their hirelings; the foreign buffer force may end up being useful in that respect.) But it's not going to be pretty -- anymore than Black September was.
Shutting down the Lebanese airport has (at least) the following consequences (in no particular order of importance):
It seriously interferes with Iranian resupply of Hezbollah, both in terms of materiel and Iranian guard manpower.
It interferes with easy removal of Israeli hostages to Iran.
It creates costs for the Lebanese polity -- and serves as a warning of greater costs potentially coming. (Holes in runways are quickly patched; that's not so for other potential infrastructure damages. As I'm writing, Fox is reporting the first IAF attacks on Christian areas: the LBC broadcast towers were taken out. Again, that's quickly repaired.)
It may -- may -- put enough pressure on the Lebanese government to make it clear to Hizbollah that it's time to declare victory and retreat. Not likely, but possible.
If you're trying to suggest that it, by itself, won't result in the return of the hostages and the retreat of Hizbollah from the South, I'm in full accord; it won't.
But it's not happening by itself. The return of the IDF soldiers will not be accomplished by one military or other action, all by itself; neither will the removal of Hezbollah from the south.
As to what the Israeli gameplan is, it's not at all clear to me, yet. But this does not, to me -- and I may be wrong, but I'm not being disengenous -- have the feel of an improvisation, but of a campaign that's been taken off the shelf, and is being implemented thoughtfully... although without the willingness to seize the initiative of Operation Peace for Galillee. (Basically, as you know, Arafat's forces folded far more quickly than Sharon anticipated was possible, and retreated to the cover of the Beirut human body armor.)
The quick switch from an improvised company-level armor response (the commander on the ground acting) to the air campaign, combined with special forces insertion, followed by preliminary company-level armor moves, and now the latest incursion seems to me to be evidence of that.
What's next? I dunno; and I'm clearly capable of being wrong : last weekend, I would have -- and did -- guess that the IDF would be up to the Litani by now, and while I'm still guessing that that's in the cards, it's not coming nearly as quickly as I thought it would. It makes little sense to me for the IDF to fight mainly along the well-mined/boobytrapped border when it's possible to punch through, and have at Hezbollah from north and south.
I may be missing something, or I may, like all of the talking heads I've been watching, have been paying careful attention to the magician waving his left hand (letting Fox shoot footage of IDF tanks massing at the border? That's either very stupid or very clever, depending on what else is going on) while the right hand is doing something very different.
I don't doubt that one or more -- I'd bet on more -- caravans got hit. In some cases, it certainly had to do with Hezbollah troops/missiles fleeing in trucks and mixing themselves with the civilian population. (Not particularly surprising for a military force, such as it is, that thinks that some poor schlub's living room is the right place to hide a missile -- or fire it from. Use of human body armor is tough on the human body armor.)
In other cases, well, one of the dangers of being in a war zone is unfriendly fire, as well as friendly fire.
One of the reasons that soldiers are encouraged to dress distinctively and convoy themselves in identifiable military vehicles is that it makes it easier for the other side to avoid shooting civilians, if they want to. The Israelis clearly want to.
And, yup, mistakes do happen. How important will it be, in the long run? I dunno. The only reason that it's important -- except for those directly involved -- is the rarity of it, or if it encourages Lebanese civilians to stay instead of flee when the IDF calls them up on their telephones (!) to tell them that it's time to flee.
But I'll suggest, again, that if the IDF wasn't trying to avoid civilian casualties, they'd easily be orders -- plural -- of magnitude higher.; they've already passed up (or put a hold on) assigned targets because, at the moment, there were too many civilians nearby.
Regarding my suggestion that Lebanon and the IDF hire a Swiss Guard to clean out Hizbollah from Lebanon:
A very good one, I think. I know Mad Mike Hoare is over the hill -- he's in his eighties -- but there's a fair number of ex-South African military types around (some of them longish in the tooth, granted, but look who they'd be up against) and it's worth remembering that the actual number of Hezbollah "fighters" in the south is only a small number of thousands. I don't remember (and can't find, at a quick googling) how many infantrymen Hussein was using in Black September, but my recollection is that it was a relatively small number, under the circumstances, for all the damage that they inflicted and the number of Fatah that they chased out. (The first attempt, using armor, failed.) Took six months, though, and the fatalities were on the level of the Lebanese Civil War, not the past couple of weeks.
Worth remembering that his first move on the PLO problem was to join them in February 1970. "We are all fedayeen," and all that.
Would it work? (In fiction or in real life?) Of all people who do that kind of speculative fiction, I'd be much more interested in yours or Drake's opinion than my own. (Although I think it's fair to guess that Drake would say that if it worked, it would be too mind-numbingly bloody to consider, except as a warning for the future, and in retrospect.)
And regarding my earlier complaint that no one was addressing my point that negotiation would be over newly taken hostages, not from status quo ante:
I'll try to answer it explicitly, although I'm not sure you'll find the answer useful.
I think the analogy fails; I think that the local Crips there both have a sense of their own vulnerability (as well as a false sense of invulnerability) that's very different from Hizbollah. I think that the Crips there (as well as our own franchise here -- yup; we've got 'em, too, as well as Vice Lords, Sur 13, MS whatever [I always think of Bill Gates] and one you may not have: the Bogus Boyz -- a gang for those who don't have sufficient social skills to make it in the Crips, Vice Lords, etc.) have a sense that they operate largely because the gloves are on on the other side, while Hezbollah doesn't. (If they did, they wouldn't have made their most recent boneheaded play.)
I don't think it would get that far. I think that if the Crips started considering kidnapping cops, they'd think that the gloves would be off, on the grounds that a combination of the LAPD Internal Affairs unit, the FBI, and the ACLU wouldn't interfere with the gunfire until it was all over. (I'm not sure that they're right, mind you.) I also don't think that the Crips have been (unwittingly, but over the long term) taught that an LA cop is a particularly desirable kidnap victim . . . unlike the Arabs who have been carefully taught than an IDF soldier (even if executed moments after) is a particularly desirable kidnap victim.
I think that -- assuming that Israel was willing to completely give up the morality of altitude -- the attitude on the other side would be to just add the new Arab "hostages" to the tab, and proceed along -- and only along -- those lines.
That said, the IDF is building a POW facility right now; who knows?
How far the Mossad has penetrated Hizbollah isn't at all clear to me (if it was, it wouldn't be far for long; if I can work it out . . . ) but my sense is that it's not nearly as far as they'd like. The days of Eli Cohen are, for good or ill, gone -- and it was a close thing then, even before it all fell apart.
As I said some years ago, it's pretty easy to tell when the IDF is serious: the artillery comes out. It's out, and the traditional mission of armor and infantry is now going on, smallscale: driving the enemy out to where the artillery can kill it.
Will it become larger scale? I think that's the way to bet.
But I digress.
Did you see this (in today's MAIL):
I hadn't; thanks for pointing me to it. I'm not as negative as he is, but, of course, I am in favor (and have been predicting) a fullscale (albeit temporary) invasion of southern Lebanon, to the Litani. The Israelis have consistently made sounds about how this isn't going to be that; they're either making a mistake or are fudging things.
Update, just before sending: the Golani brigade is apparently about to take Bint Jbail. They're moving north slowly, rather than breaking through. That said, Bint Jbail is pretty clearly cut off from resupply.
Or, see http://www.smh.com.au/news/world/israel-ready-for-ground-war/2006/07/23/1153593211293.html perhaps the issue isn't decided, yet.
Maybe a little of both.
But there will be a next round, regardless. If this doesn't end in a visible Hezbollah defeat, the next round's going to be a lot bloodier.
That said, the Lebanese appear to be beginning to get the point. There's no question there, I think, that they're scared of letting Hezbollah run wild in the future -- the question: are they scared enough to do enough about it? (That's not rhetorical; I don't know. Memories are said to be long in the region, but the Lebanese collectively have both ADD and memory loss; alternatively, it could be argued that '82 wasn't as important to them as they said it was.)
He's a professional military guy, and to call me an armchair general is to overstate my qualifications by a lot, but . . . if what he's describing is the plan, and not an improvisation (he clearly thinks it is an improvisation, and not a good one; whether I'm letting my hopes that it's a plan cloud my thinking isn't clear), the next step-but-one has to be a major ground invasion; Hezbollah has to be squeezed, hard, or it is a defeat. Nisrallah is the bin Laden of all of this -- if he's not killed, he's at least got to end up squatting in a cave somewhere, unless he flees to his Iranian masters.
The invasion, though, has to come before a UN blocking force is put in place.
From the arab point of view, a defeat that isn't bloody or decisive enough -- or one where a halt is called early -- is a political victory. That's why Hezbollah's supporters (the Syrians, the Iranians, the UN [I'm only slightly exaggerating there]) have been calling for an "immediate" cease-fire, a la '73. (It's worth remembering, not irrelevantly, what Sadat was doing when he was assassinated: he was celebrating the Egyptian "victory" in '73.)
Israeli intelligence is, as I was guessing just yesterday, not nearly as good about south Lebanon as it should be. Hezbollah is a lot harder to penetrate than, say, the Syrian government.
Where he's wrong is his suggestion that there can't or won't be a next round; if the IDF doesn't clear out Hezbollaland this time, they can next time. It will be a lot more expensive and difficult next time, unless next time is no longer than about a month away.
Your point about Black September is right, of course; after Arafat's attempted coup, Hussein had to either seize control, or go the way of his grandfather -- well, worse; his sons/brother wouldn't have been left alive.
He's right on Iran; that's where the center of mass is.
One Quick Thought:
If the quality of Israeli intelligence about the buildup in Lebanon -- and particularly south Lebanon -- is as bad as some folks seem to be suggesting*, that argues against the war being a mistake, rather than the other way around. After all, if it's that much worse after six years than thought, there's every reason not to wait until, under further cover, it gets even worse. (There is also, of course, every reason to improve humint in the area. Then again, it's hard to imagine that getting good intel out of Lebanon hasn't been considered important before.)
And that has some interesting implications about Iran and their nuclear program, too.
*There's been some muted cheering on of Hezbollah going on on the leftwing side of the blogosphere, and quite a lot of apparent cheer that the IDF isn't having an easy time on the ground.
And that is where we left off on Monday, 24 July, 2006
I have found this an illuminating exchange of views.
I posted two items, both in View The first:
I know too little about what is happening on the ground over there; but this doesn't seem an unreasonable analysis. I want it to be wrong. Alas, it's the analysis I had before we ever went in there; what I told what few contacts I had left in the Administration would happen if we did invade.
I do not enjoy being right, and I continue to hope I was wrong. Unfortunately, I have had considerable experience at strategic analysis, and I haven't usually been wrong.
And the other an essay I wrote in View on July 31, 2006
The morning paper headlines tell of the 54 women and children, mostly children, killed in a bomb shelter by an Israeli air strike in Qana. Everyone acts as if the world has come to an end. Israel is roundly condemned. Governments call for an "unconditional cease fire".
I have been critical of Israel and will continue to be; but in this case, one wonders, what should they have done? Hizbollah is controlled by hard and cynical men who would joyfully trade 54 of their own women and children for this kind of publicity, and ten times that many if it would assure a cessation of the Israel offensive. It was no accident that they were using an area near a bomb shelter as their base of operations for firing rockets in the general direction of Israel. The difference between Hizbollah and the IDF is that the IDF generally hits its targets, but sometimes misses; Hizbollah cannot be said to have targets. They just fire their rockets in hopes that they will kill someone, but mostly in hopes of provoking retaliatory strikes that will kill their own people. In Qana they succeeded beyond their expectations; and while the public image will be of Lebanon mourning, you may be sure that if we could get cameras into the Hizbollah command center, you would see rejoicing.
Now the cry is for Israel to stop. Forfeit any gains made. "There can be no negotiations without an immediate and unconditional cease fire," which will, of course, allow Hizbollah to reform and regroup. In a word, Israel is to declare defeat and withdraw. The result will be to encourage Hizbollah to buy more and better rockets. If driven out of the South, the remedy is obvious: buy longer range missiles, find more refugee camps in which to base them, and fire more rockets at Israel. Wait for more IDF counterfire. Be sure the cameras are ready. And win another victory.
Many decry "CNN Victories" as meaningless. Not so. Each Hizbollah "CNN victory" brings in more recruits, and gathers more financial support. Each Hizbollah victory makes it easier to acquire more and better rockets.
Katyusha rockets are not classed as "weapons of mass destruction" only because they have almost no accuracy. They are an ineffective military weapon unless used in great numbers all at once for area bombardment. Otherwise they are merely targetless bombardment weapons. Those who condemn the Allies in WW II for high altitude night bombardment of cities as terror raids should have no trouble in putting Katyusha rockets in the same class, despite their relative ineffectiveness unless used in large numbers. However, they are cheap. They are easily acquired, and in small numbers easily hidden among civilian populations, in mosques, in grocery stores, in living rooms. "Hi Mom, what's for dinner. Oh. We have some new rockets!"
Israel now finds herself caught in the jaws. If they press forward for an actual military victory, dealing death, destruction, and defeat to Hizbollah, they will inevitably give over more "CNN Victories". There will inevitably be more scenes of dead children found in the rubble of bomb shelters. Each CNN Victory will assure thousands of new Hizbollah recruits, some from populations that had previously held Hizbollah in contempt. And at each stage there will be demands that Israel back off, stop the killing, declare an immediate and unconditional cease fire, negotiate: negotiate from a position of defeat, but now a worse position than before. And this will continue until either (1) Israel wins an actual military victory, or (2) Israel can no longer pay the price and face the pressure, which is in fact the most likely outcome.
And winning an actual victory will be very costly, and include a long aftermath of occupation either with conscripts or with paid soldiers hired from, probably, Russia, although there may be some other sources for recruits. Paid soldiers -- also known as mercenaries -- are expensive, if they are any good, and even more expensive if they are cheap but ineffective.
In a word: Israel, like the United States, is faced with the dilemma: Imperium or Republic. The United States has the luxury of hemispheric independence, energy independence, the possibility of withdrawal from the Middle East. Israel does not have that option.
And the options she faces now are stark and unattractive.
I would delight in having someone prove my analysis wrong.
Joel's response was:
I don't disagree much with your analysis -- although I wish I did.
Here is where I do disagree: I think that the "CNN victories" are pretty much guaranteed, regardless. While Arab terrorists are not, all in all, sophisticated folks, there has been a systematic and ongoing effort in agitprop, going back decades.
It wasn't Saddam Hussein, after all, who first pioneered the use of expendable human body armor and the crocodile tears when the human body armor is expended -- Arafat had it raised to a high art well by Operation Peace for Galilee, while posing with the diminutive human body armor (in other cultures, folks think of such as "children") in Beirut. And Saddam's arrangement with Eason Jordan about what would and wouldn't be covered -- on CNN -- was simply an echo of the same arrangements with Arafat that would be brought to a high art in the Arafatopian entity in Judea, Samaria, and Gaza. (Quick check: when was the last time that Dahlan's most excellent dacha appeared in Western phosphors?) And, of course, have recently been repeated with Hezbollah's guided tours of the outside of selected buildings in Beirut.
There's an old Hebrew phrase -- one of the few I know: "Ma hayomruh hagoyim?" (What will the Gentiles say?) Or, in other words, What will They think if we do THAT?
Where I admire -- and admired -- Begin and Sharon (among others) was that they were far more interested in the facts on the ground than in winning the CNN narrative. (With Sharon, though, it's pretty clear that he became much more interested in that question at the end. That was a weakness.)
It's also, I think, the time in history when that question should be less and less important. 911 was a wakeup call for the US. As horrible as it was -- and it was -- it was a taste with what our Israeli allies have been living with for decades, with each concession to Arabs making it worse. While the French don't understand why the US should be so angry about dead Americans and Israelis angry about dead Israelis, the French deeply and profoundly don't matter -- not unless/until they're willing to put Legionaires in the way.
Which brings me to the 2000 withdrawal from Lebanon. I've written on that before; I won't repeat myself. Part of it was a domestic political necessity: when the Israeli polity didn't support the necessity of the occupation of southern Lebanon, it was going to end, one way or another. (A US administration can ride out unpopularity until, at least, early in the next odd year, after the next even year's Congressional election; an Israeli government can fall with a vote of no confidence at a moment's notice. This is both bug and feature, for both kinds of governments.)
I was talking with an Israeli friend of mine earlier today. His take on the Lebanon withdrawal was that, well, since it had to happen (in his view) it bought six years of relative peace, and was about the best that could happen. That's not exactly a longterm view, but it's not a crazy one, just as -- in his view -- Oslo wasn't crazy. To paraphrase -- I wasn't taking notes, and this was in-person, not via email -- he said something like, "Well, there's always going to be problems until the Arabs stop hating Jews. The only issue is how to get through the next few years." And, in fact, along with all the rest Oslo was accompanied by an economic boom in Israel that quite nicely mirrored the economic decline in Arafatopia (for the obvious reasons).
To undigress, worrying about Arab reaction to pictures of dead babies is pointless. It's not the Arab street that's noted that at one of the dead babies was repeatedly recycled for photo ops, by the Green Helmet Guy whose longstanding job it is to wave the dead babies at the cameras; see http://eureferendum.blogspot.com/2006/07/who-is-this-man.html . Hezbollah, Arafat (well, not anymore...), Zarqawi (well, not anymore . . . ), Abu Whoever can always find or create photo ops.
In the medium run, the only militarily useful way to handle sophisticated deployment of human body armor is to remember that the Geneva Conventions specifically state that the presence of "protected persons" doesn't give military forces a bye: if not completely ignore it, step far back from the IDF policy. (Again, look at the bodycount -- even if all of the supposed civilians are actually civilians, as unlikely as it seems -- this is a preposterously low number of deaths for what's been going on.)
Human body armor is only of value when it works -- the courtyard around a school, a mosque, city streets, villages, homes as ammo dumps, UN "Observer" stations are only useful to Hezbollah as long as Israel lets them be.
So: don't worry about what can't be solved. I don't see how the Arab street could possibly hate Jews more, and remember that, collectively, these are the most easily and cynically manipulable people (when it comes to lighting them off to violence) that there are on the planet now -- and if anybody doubts that, remember how easily a few Danish mullahs were able to set off waves of violence and murder with a few cartoons.
Trying to get rationality or calm from the Arab street is pointless, as is worrying about hate driving Arabs to murder Jews; there's going to be ample gasoline for that, at least as long as Israel survives. It isn't a lack of hate that brought down the number of suicide bombers, nor was it the fantasy about the maturing of Hamas that -- I don't know why -- State was arguing was going to happen.
It was the wall. It is the wall. And it's response beyond the wall that's unacceptable . . . to the people beyond the wall.
The wall in Lebanon, as I've said, needs to be at least up to the Litani, and you're right that that wall needs to be manned -- by soldiers not only willing to expend their lives to defend it, but to strike beyond the wall. I don't think that ex-Soviets would do, but, as I've said, there are the remnants of a very tough pocket army in Lebanon, and when the next round of the Lebanes civil war kicks off, there will be more recruits. Jumblatt may -- he's tricky, so there's no guarantee -- show his hand, and while Michael Totten far too often buys into local mythology, he's been clearly horrified at the implications of Shiite Hezbollard holding Druze civilians in their villages as human shields.
In the long run, the wall in Lebanon has to be manned by Lebanese. They're the ones with the real interest in it, and that interest will only increase, in some segments of the population, as Hezbollah's recklessness brings with it more death and devastation. I doubt that Lebanon has, yet, suffered enough death and devastation to make the non-Hezbollah Lebanese fear the IDF more than Hezbollah.
There's only one cure for that: victory.
I'm in favor of victory, myself. Not my call -- but it's worth noting that more and more Israelis are coming to the conclusion that there isn't a substitute. It's getting late in this round for the massive IDF incursion into the south that's -- at a minimum -- necessary for that. But it's not impossible, and, of course, there will be another round.
The thing that everybody who looks at this has to remember is this: if Hezbollah isn't defeated, the next round, or the one after next, is going to be far more bloody for the Lebanese.
Sucks to be them, I guess. Then again, making a deal with the devil has never been a good policy . . .
. . . .
As to Iraq, it was always a gamble -- could Iraq synthesize a democracy? I think the evidence is that the Kurds can, and the rest can't . . . despite some small number of very real small-d democrats in Iraq. The implications of that are obvious -- let Kurdistan cut itself loose (the Turks lost much of their juice on that issue when they wouldn't even be bribed to let US forces launch from there), and establish a stable presence next to Iran.
August 13, 2006:
Subject: Sometimes, it sucks to be right...
As I'm sure Ralph Peters is thinking. In terms of what the Israelis were doing, it's clear that he was right, and I was wrong. Ditto for your argument that if the Israeli government wasn't willing to do the damn job (I'm abridging and paraphrasing), it didn't make sense to respond seriously.
Wish it were the other way around. And not particularly because I like to be right.
As Joel Rosenberg recently said, sometimes it sucks to be right. This is one of those cases. My definition of winning a war is that you are better off at the end of it than you would have been had you not gone to war. Under that definition, Israel has lost rather badly.
What was won was the elimination of a few hundred to a thousand Hizbollah insurgents and their supporters. How many of those were expensive highly trained fighters and how many were cannon fodder is not clear; but it is clear that Hizbollah has not lost anything that can't be replaced.
What Israel has lost is far greater. First, they have lost the opportunity to make alliances within Lebanon. For the first time since the tenuous but astonishingly stable partition of power back in the Eisenhower days, when a (bare) Christian majority shared power with Druze, Sunni, and Shiite minorities, there is a consensus in Lebanon among the Christians (now a decided minority due to emigration), Druze, Sunni, and Shiites: they despise Israel, and have no incentive to make alliance with the Israelis against their internal rivals. Druze, Sunni, and Christians all have good reason to despise Shiite-dominated Iran-supported Hizbollah; but that's subordinate now. All the pride of the Cedar Revolution is gone. Lebanon hasn't even the faintest basis of order or claim to be an orderly state. They have been humiliated, their infra-structure damaged or destroyed, and far from being liberated from Hizbollah thugs they have no choice but to turn to Hizbollah and Iran for help in rebuilding.
Sure. The West is going to come into Lebanon and undue the damage Israel did. Real Soon Now, as the citizens realize just what they are being asked to do, and why they must do it. I would not, were I a Lebanese Sunni, hold my breath waiting for Western aid in rebuilding my small business or repairing the roof of my house. I would not, were I a Lebanese Christian, hold my breath while waiting for Western troops -- German? Somali? Irish? Turkish? Central African? Nigerian? Italian? French? -- to come in and restore order while Hizbollah militia patrol the street in front of my house. I might join a Christian Militia in the hopes that my militiamen would be able to replace Hizbollah on my block or in my street. On the other hand, my Christian militia weren't able to protect me from Israeli bombs and shells. Hizbollah drove Israel out of Lebanon. I may have some skepticism about this claim, but I won't say that openly, and after all, Israel did leave, Israeli shells are no longer falling in my village, I can bury my dead and try to scrape up the bits and pieces of my life, and Hizbollah is still here, still planting missiles in the middle of the village.
And Hizbollah now has new recruiting grounds. People who used to be neutral are now pro-Hizbollah. People who used to be Israeli allies are now either neutral, or gone, or very hard to find.
Paranoids generally turn out to be right: after a while everyone really is against them. Israel treated every Lebanese as an enemy. They now have no choice but to regard every man, woman, and child in Lebanon as hostile.
When Hizbollah deliberately provoked Israel by killing eight IDF soldiers and kidnapping two, the Israelis had choices:
The first three of those alternatives were supportable. The third might have been the best of the lot. Alas, they chose the fourth. I understand why, given the exigencies of Israeli politics, they started with purpose #3 and drifted into #4; but understanding is not approval.
And Lebanon will continue to deteriorate.
Incredibly, given the course of the Iraqi War, there are those in the Administration who counsel the invasion of Syria.
The Army is deteriorating. Veterans are not reenlisting. Reservists are being sent in for extra tours of duty. The National Guard is being sent in.
And the neoconservatives want us to expand our commitments.
Syria is an ally of Hizbollah on the "enemy of my enemy" principal, but Bashir Assad and Syria don't have to be our enemies at all. They have no stake in a Hizbollah victory. All we have to do is make it clear that we are not going to invade and change the regime. Syria, like Lebanon, is a mishmash of cultures and factions, held together at the moment by a non-religious dictatorship.
We have made a deal with Qaddafi in Libya. He doesn't have to like us. He doesn't have to love Israel. All he has to do is stop making trouble. Go neutral and stay that way, and all will be well. He got the message. Bashir is smarter than Qaddafi.
America has interests in the Middle East, but protecting those interests does not require that we invade and transform all regimes there. We have an interest in preventing the spread of chiliastic Islam, of fostering secular regimes like Turkey -- and Syria. Syria is not pleasantly governed, and is certainly no democracy -- and so what? Bashir does not seek to expand his rule, nor to support subversion outside his borders. Bashir actually would profit from stability in Iraq. Syria has long had what it considers a legitimate claim to Lebanon, and is not likely to give that up. Syrian agents will probably continue to operate in Lebanon.
We have accomplished diplomats. We have mutual interests with Syria. One would think that enough.
Commentary by Joel Rosenberg
Unfortunately, I agree with the thrust of your V/view. Israel is clearly not better off right now than it was at the beginning of the war -- neither, of course, is Lebanon, and perhaps Hezbollah's "victory" is rather more winning the narrative than winning the war.
But, no question: Israel lost. (And I say this both regretfully, and despite having considered Daffyd's arguments to the contrary. )
The best possible result -- for Israel and the US -- would have, as I'd argued earlier, having a "robust" ( i.e. "real") blocking force in the south of Lebanon, centered around the entirely expendable French Foreign Legion. I don't accept much of the mythology around the FFL, but there's no doubt that they're a good, and extremely expendable, infantry force, and once they'd engaged with Hezbollah, they'd not have listened to pleas from CNN talking heads about "proportionality."
But, once again, the French outmaneuvered the US State Department -- they promised a lot, and are delivering 200 engineers, and offering to run things. Not exactly a win. There are lessons here for both Israel and the US administration; I don't quite despair of the administration ever learning them, but close. (Among others: bring a longer spoon when dining with the French. Make promises deliverable only after the French have delivered actions, not promises. Remember that there was a time when Hitler could have been stopped by a single French division, but he wasn't. Require that any diplomat negotiating with the French peruse every single cartoon involving Lucy, Charlie Brown, and the football. Etc. )
A variant of your third option was, I think, possible -- Hezbollah delenda est at least in the south, stopped only if and when others were willing to step in and disarm Hezbollah. Obviously, that's not going to happen. This round. (Whose problem, I ask rhetorically, should it be if southern Lebanon must become a no man's land if it's not going to be Hezbollah-free?)
That said, it may not be quite as bad as it appears. (It is, however, bad.) There were lessons in this, and if they're learned, the next round -- and, since Israel survived (not that that was really in doubt in this) there will be a next round -- may be a win, if they're learned. Among them:
* Yes, Israel must treat the Lebanese as the enemy, if only because they harbor Hezbollah. (Actually, they do rather more than that, by and large. That's unlikely to change in the near term.) Lebanese, either singly, by community, or collectively, can become allies only when they act as allies, rather than largely privately exhibit some sympathy or, as is more generally the case, exhibit a loss of putative former sympathy. Rhetorically: to what extent should a combatant allow their opponent to use an enemy population as human body armor?
* Armies are, as many (you and I included) keep saying, good for two things: killing people and breaking things. If you want military force to have useful political results, the military has to be able to kill the right people in enough quantity, and break the right things, ditto. "Bombing them into submission" will not work on those who either can't or won't submit if bombed. The habit of southern Lebanese allowing their homes, schools, hospitals etc. to be turned into Hezbollah launch/storage sites must become the problem of the Lebanese next time around. Trying to win the CNN narrative by using infantry where artillery (term used generally, to include air power that doesn't restrict itself to smart bombs) should be used was a mistake; the utility of smart bombs requires very specific intelligence that wasn't always available, and never will be widely enough available. Bint Jbeil and Qana, to pick the obvious examples, need to be flattened next time -- it's more important for military leaders to study the terrain and the roads than the press reviews. Smart bombs are a special case (and utterly wonderful where they're applicable) not a general solution.
* "Land for peace" is a loser of a formulation. It arguably didn't work with the Sinai (I'm one of those few who thinks that, all in all, Camp David was a mistake for both the US and Israel, although certainly not the disaster of Oslo), and it inarguably didn't work with the retreat from South Lebanon under Barak, or from Gaza under Sharon. The area the Lebanese call "Shebaa Farms" is of at most utterly trivial military importance to Israel, but trading it for promises is pointless, and should be a nonstarter. The Golan is of great military importance to Israel, but trading it to Syria for promises is pointless, and should be a nonstarter.
* Patton's observation that moving fast, far, and hard has not been overtaken by changes in technology. In the next round, Israel has to move far and fast while mobilizing, not ratchet things up slowly. Damaging Lebanese infrastructure to prevent the resupply of Hezbollah in the south only makes sense if the IDF is going to capitalize on the lack of resupply, and that means forcing Hezbollah out of their holes. Blowing up bridges, etc., has no military utility (political utility is another issue, but not nearly as clearcut) if the IDF isn't going to capitalize on the destruction. The sensible purpose is to interfere with resupply, and if it has the political side-effect of motivating the Lebanese, that's fine, but optional.
* Fighting along a defended line is not the way to break a line defense. It never is, and never will be.
* Assymetrical warfare has, well, assymetries; Israel, like the US, needs to learn to capitalize on the assymetrical strengths, rather than accept the enemy's conditions of contest.
* Next time? It won't happen under Olmert, but his bumbling was not, alas, Columbo looking clumsy while being clever; thankfully, he's on his way out. Cleverness isn't required -- steadfastness and aggressiveness is, and while he's no Arik Sharon, Bibi Netanyahu may -- may -- have figured that out. Next time: "respond disproportionably but over the whole of Lebanon, coupled with military invasion, going in for the long haul with the goal of clearing many areas of Lebanon of Hizbollah influence; make it clear that the war is against Hizbollah, not against Lebanon; make it clear that the war aim is to destroy Hizbollah, and when we are done Lebanon will be free of Hizbollah." The response needs to be proportionate to the goals and the problem, not to the most recent provocation/aggression. (The US should not have gone to war with Japan if one attack on Pearl Harbor was the only issue -- and, of course, it wasn't, and even then it was "Germany First.")
* And, as always, keep the eyes on Iran. They didn't spend the millions on missiles for this fight; it was just a short distraction. The center of mass is there, and in their nuclear program, and if that isn't going to be stopped by diplomacy (and it isn't), then the question becomes what the meaning of "unacceptable" is, and what the alternatives are.
I do think that we're going to see nuclear weapons used within the next five to ten years, and it's worth thinking about, in advance, who we're less bad off are the first ones using them.
As to Syria, I'm more optimistic. As you suggest, Libya got the US's point: "we may not be able to make you over in our image, but we're not going to try. Cool it, or we kill people and break things." Baby Assad may not be as smart as Kaddaffi; if he's killed and Damascus is smashed, his successor may be wiser. Or, if not, his successor's successor . . .
Which brings us back to Iraq. As you know, I was always skeptical of the likelihood of creating an Arab democracy there (or, for that matter, anywhere during our lifetimes, or our grandchildrens'). But that didn't, by itself, militate (so to speak) against the destruction of the Saddam regime; it argued against the Other Powell Doctrine: "You break it, you bought it." An Empire does not have to turn every enemy into a satrapy, or an ally.
As I said back during Gulf War I, we were (and, amazingly, still are) at the right historical moment to solve the problem of Kurdistan, and end up with an actual ally in the region. Letting Iraq be split into three (or more) parts is going to be hard on the few small-d democrats in the south, but it's not like civil war is going to be a bargain for them either.