Monday, July 17, 2006

Mideast stuff

The following editorial which quotes me, distributed by the Freedom View was published in several newspapers:

It’s important to step back and view the situation between Israel and Lebanon with some perspective. Despite the repeated images from the 24/7 cable news channels, which understandably emphasize destruction and explosions, Israel is not engaged in a full-fledged “two-front war,” at least not yet. It is dealing with guerrilla-style incursions undertaken by nonstate-sponsored terrorist groups that have some ties with governments (more on that later) but operate with a certain amount of autonomy — and mystery.

Israel in the past has fought conventional military wars and prevailed. This time, we haven’t seen troops massed on Israel’s borders or bombers taking off with payloads meant for Tel Aviv or Jerusalem. The conflict could escalate into a more conventional war and even pull in outside powers. The activity Thursday suggested the conflict is beginning to escalate into a significant military confrontation.

That said, as Leon Hadar, author of Sandstorm and contributor to the new book Peace in the Promised Land, reminded, Israel is facing — as is the United States in Iraq and Afghanistan — a dilemma too few strategic or tactical thinkers have yet confronted head-on: How do you deter nonstate terrorist or guerrilla entities?

Israel (and the United States) know how to execute a military campaign against an opposing military. Knowledge of how to confront and defeat unofficial or unconventional forces — asymmetric threats, in the jargon of the day, or “fourth-generation war” — is sparse. We don’t have a handy-dandy answer, but suggest it is long past time for military and political leaders to focus on the problem more intently.

Invading and occupying countries in which you suspect terrorists are operating has not proven very successful and can create a nasty backlash that ends up strengthening, rather than weakening, terrorist or insurgent groups. In fact, Mr. Hadar contends, Israel’s current problems are, in some ways, part of an unfortunate “blowback” from the U.S. invasion of Iraq with the stated purpose of implanting more democratic governments in the Middle East.

Having used democratic justifications for our actions, we almost had to celebrate regime change against the Syrian-backed regime in Lebanon. But the democratic process in Lebanon brought more political power — not control of the government, but participation — for Hezbollah, the Iranian-financed terrorist group. Hamas, labeled a terrorist group by Americans and Europeans alike, took control of the Palestinian Authority through democratic processes, and the United States had to swallow hard and accept it.

Should it be surprising, then, that Hamas and Hezbollah might feel emboldened to undertake cross-border guerrilla and kidnapping raids against Israel, toward which they still feel unremitting hostility? Or that Israel would seize on the occasion to pummel their foes with military strikes?

For better or worse, the United States has little ability to control events in the Middle East. Perhaps President Bush could invite the leaders of the other industrialized countries, meeting at the G-8 summit this weekend in Russia, to temper their criticism of the United States and move in and handle the problem themselves. That would be a satisfying “put up or shut up” proposition — but, unfortunately, not more likely to bring about a peaceful resolution than would U.S. intervention.