Thursday, August 03, 2006

Postmodernist geostrategy




















I've never been a great fan of post-modernist philosophy associated with Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault, Jean-François Lyotard and others with its emphasis on moral relativism and the "deconstruction" of "texts" and "narratives" about reality that are supposedly the invention of the powerful who dominate the "discourse," although I find myself using these and other terms that are popular with post-modernists in order to make a point. But I usually use quotation marks or do the "so-called" with my fingers during a presentation. So it was really fascinating to read this Perceptions: Israel’s Long-Term Battle in the New York Times today which basically proposes that Israel and the Hizbollah are engaging in a battle over the consturction of a "narrative" about their recent war:
Gidi Grinstein, a former Israeli negotiator and director of the Reut Institute, a research group, calls it the “90-10 paradox.” Israel can eliminate 90 percent of Hezbollah’s fighting capacity, but Hezbollah can still declare victory and claim that it fought the mighty Israeli Army to a draw.

“At the end of the war, they’ll have a narrative, and so will we,” he said. “It’s all about perception.”

Hezbollah will argue that it withstood three to five weeks of fighting with the region’s most powerful army, supported and equipped by the world’s most powerful army, that of the United States. In that sense, a long war is better for Hezbollah.

Hezbollah and its leader, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, will be hailed by many in the Arab and Muslim worlds as heroes and new Saladins, whose religious faith was transmuted into astounding bravery rarely shown by the huge Arab armies of the secular Arab states that fought Israel in the 1967 and 1973 wars.

Shlomo Avineri, a former Foreign Ministry official and professor of political science at Hebrew University, said Israel could never prevail in an Arab narrative. “If Israel had won in the first week, Hezbollah would say that it was a victory of the United States, which provided Israel the time, weapons and money.”

Israel’s problem is much more complicated, Mr. Avineri said, because “everything is likely to end in grays.” What will help define the real results, he said, is the mandate of any multinational force and whether it calls for disarming Hezbollah.

And this conclusion:
Much will depend on the diplomatic solution and what follows on the ground, Mr. Avineri said. “If Hezbollah continues to have freedom of movement and operation, the outcome is a failure for Israel. But if you have a regime that makes it very hard for them to operate militarily, it’s a different narrative.”

Mmm... I wish these guys (diplomats and military types) talk about what's really happening here: The use of propaganda including by lying and deceiving to "spin" reality. But at the end of the day, there is real reality--especially when it comes to outcomes of wars, and the use of the term "narrative" in this context assumes that such a reality doesn't exist and that it all depends on who succeeds in marketing his story. I don't buy that.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

Wouldn't it be great if reporters wrote sentances like this:

"According to a senior diplomat who wishes to remain anonymous because his reputation makes lying in public difficult..."

I too dislike postmodernism, yet I find myself using the argot and formulations a lot lately because people like Rumslfeld and the ideolgues operated in a very postmodern way.

Anonymous said...

In the battle to shape narrative, Israel is at disadvantage for many reasons. But it is ironic because Israel has the reputation for good PR, but that's discounted by the reality.

Also - In the shia narrative, losing is winning.

War Nerd has a take:

http://www.exile.ru/2004-September-04/war_nerd.html

He makes some points, but he is probably over the top for his own narrative/comic writerly reasons.

Bush is masterful at narrative - he makes everything bad about his bio work to his benefit and he uses everyone elses good qualities against them. People credit Rove, but that is part of Bush's narrative genius -

It's pretty clear that Bush gave a big wink and a nod (along with a lot of bombs) to the IDF to conduct this operation.

But the whole world thinks just the opposite - they think Bush was led by Israel. Even though Bush has been talking about war before he even ran for office.

Global Paradigms said...

well, you don't win wars with narratives. The Irish, the Poles and the Armenians had great narratives and they lost one war after another.

Anonymous said...

Ireland won - it took a couple of hundred years but England had to agree to pull the last troops out of the North in exchange for a fake decommissioning and being allowed to say they won. In the next twenty years the demographic shift will complete what Collins sought as his goal. Eighty years ago if you told people that Repb of Ireland would have a larger per capita income than the Brits , people would think you were crazy because back then Ireland was as poor as S. Lebanon. The Poles may still have their day in the Sun and look for Armenia to make a break for it sometime in the next century.

Anonymous said...

Though Ireland is winnng in stages (Home Rule, Republic, and of Brit Empire, Demograpics, etc), they did make the most of losing grandly - songs, festivals, parades, and all that stuff.

There is also a whole slice of thinking around Israel that has never been truly comfortable in the role of regional military superpower. Then agains, losing in that part of the world, is not an option.