Thursday, July 27, 2006

Disarming Hezbollah: either way, the punishment is war

The war in Lebanon has dominated the news, the blogosphere, and the thoughts of so many people, including myself.

The mind casts about for a solution. Indeed, there must be a solution right?

Some blame the usual targets, Israel and the US. The UN has come in for criticism as well, and rightly so. The government and people of Lebanon, who have failed to root out Hezbollah and in fact have often lauded it, bear some responsibility.

But there is little doubt in the minds of most thinking people that the lion's share of the blame falls squarely on the shoulders of the black-clad puppeteers behind the action, Iran, and their henchmen and disciples, Hezbollah, as well as their Syrian middlemen. The penetration of Hezbollah into so much of Lebanon has been a slow but steady one, and by now the entwinement is so thick and tangled that it's hard to see how it can be undone without terrible destruction of innocent people, and the destabilization of the country. Some of this has already happened.

But the mind searches for solutions, because the possible outcomes are so dreadful to contemplate. This morning, while casting about for the views of others, I came across this piece by Michael Totten.

The peripatetic Totten was in Lebanon fairly recently, a long sojourn in which he reported on what he saw there. What's his solution? Unfortunately, he doesn't have one. What he offers is a certain perspective, and it's not a comforting one.

Here's Totten on the topic of disarming Hezbollah, describing what he saw in Lebanon a few months ago, when neither he nor anyone foresaw the exact course of events to follow:

Many Lebanese Christians, Sunnis, and Druze were getting so impatient with the impasse over Hezbollah’s weapons they threatened to reconstitute their own armed militias that were disbanded after the war. Peaceful and diplomatic negotiation over Hezbollah’s role in a sovereign rather than schismatic Lebanon was not going to last very much longer. Once the rest of Lebanon armed itself against Hezbollah, a balance of terror would reign that could explode into war without any warning. That was the danger. That was the nightmare. That’s why Hezbollah had not been disarmed...

Totten saw the peace in Lebanon at the time as an uneasy and temporary one. Despite whatever polls might have said about Lebanese support for Hezbollah, he saw the people as more frightened of its power than approving. Of course, we have no way of knowing how representative Totten's informants were, or whether his impressions were skewed by seeing a small sample of the Lebanese people. But still, he was there, and did his best to learn what was really going on.

Now, Totten says that in the heat of this war the Lebanese are angry at the Israelis. Temporarily:

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.

This will not last.

Totten makes a prediction about what will happen after. His "after" assumes (as I think it is correct to assume) that this particular episode, the hot war with Israel, will not end with the eradication of Hezbollah in Lebanon. He writes:

My sources and friends in Beirut tell me most Lebanese are going easy on Hezbollah as much as they can while the bombs are still falling. But a terrible reckoning awaits them once this is over.

Some Lebanese can’t wait even that long....

My friend Carine says the atomosphere reeks of impending sectarian conflict like never before. Another Lebanese blogger quotes a radical Christian war criminal from the bad old days who says the civil war will resume a month after Israel cools its guns: "Christians, Sunnis and Druze will fight the 'fucker Shia', with arms from the US and France."

For those who want Hezbollah out of Lebanon, this may sound like a solution. Totten addresses this idea:

Israeli partisans may think this is terrific. The Lebanese may take care of Hezbollah at last! 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....

To Totten, Lebanon has been essentially powerless from the start. It had one of two choices: war or accommodation. Since the war against Hezbollah was unwinnable by the weak and divided Lebanon, it chose the latter.

But there's no accomodation possible with a force such as Hezbollah. Know your enemy; accomodation only buys them time, I'm afraid.

And, in the end, Totten also seems to be saying this. He has great compassion for the dilemma the Lebanese people faced, and still face:

Israel and Lebanon (especially Lebanon) will continue to burn as long as Hezbollah exists as a terror miltia freed from the leash of the state. The punishment for taking on Hezbollah is war. The punishment for not taking on Hezbollah is war. Lebanese were doomed to suffer war no matter what. Their liberal democratic project could not withstand the threat from within and the assaults from the east, and it could not stave off another assault from the south. War, as it turned out, was inevitable even if the actual shape of it wasn’t.

The quote that struck me most forcibly was this, which bears repeating:

The punishment for taking on Hezbollah is war. The punishment for not taking on Hezbollah is war.

It immediately brought to mind a statement by Winston Churchill, he of the silver tongue, when speaking about a similar accomodation sought by the militarily weak British and French prior to WWII:

Britain and France had to choose between war and dishonor. They chose dishonor. They will have war.

And please, spare yourself the trouble of informing me that the situation isn't quite analogous. I know it's not. But the similarity is this: sometimes what seems like a choice is no choice at all. When dealing with certain enemies bent on destruction and conquest, how can one avoid battle? Sooner or later, the conflagration will erupt. And is it better in the end for it to erupt sooner rather than later, when the enemy is stronger and more deeply entrenched?

The punishment for taking on Hitler was war. The punishment for not taking on Hitler was war. World War.

In the middle of all of this, into my head popped some lines by the ancient Persian (Persia=Iran) poet Omar Khayyam. Somehow they seem apropos to the feeling of futility and confusion, of powerful forces working in mysterious ways that can't be foreseen.

Omar, a fatalist, didn't believe very much in the ability of human beings to control their own destiny. He wrote, so long ago, that:

We are no other than a moving row
Of Magic Shadow-shapes that come and go
Round with the Sun-illumined Lantern held
In Midnight by the Master of the Show;

But helpless Pieces of the Game He plays
Upon this Chequer-board of Nights and Days;
Hither and thither moves, and checks, and slays,
And one by one back in the Closet lays.

I'm not ready to subscribe to the level of fatalism of Omar Khayyam. But it does seem right now that the people of Lebanon are "but helpless pieces" in a game being played--if not by the Master of the Show, then by the puppet masters of Iran.

And this verse of Khayyam's, with its strangely prescient geography ("Naishapur," Omar's birthplace, is a city in what is now Iran; and "Babylon" is the ancient word for Iraq), seems apropos as well:

Whether at Naishapur or Babylon,
Whether the Cup with sweet or bitter run,
The Wine of Life keeps oozing drop by drop,
The Leaves of Life keep falling one by one.

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