Monday, August 14, 2006

A Pyrrhic Victory

At least as of lunch time today, the very tenuous ceasefire in Lebanon seems to be holding. However, the agreement between the parties is likely fatally flawed and incomplete, as AJ at AmericaBlog discusses:

The resolution only addresses the Israeli soldiers and Lebanese prisoners issues in what's essentially a preamble section, and fails to outline hugely important factors including timing of troop movements (both in and out), defining acceptable military action, rules of engagement for foreign troops, and Shebaa Farms. It's a tenuous agreement at best. It's also worth noting that this is exactly the kind of agreement that the Bush administration insisted it wouldn't support back when the conflict began. The administration said it would only back a resolution that established an "enduring" cease-fire, one that actually resolved issues rather than postponing them. While I'm happy that 1701 passed, and that the U.S. supported it, it's worth noting that our foreign policy apparatus failed utterly to achieve its aims. American power and prestige continues to suffer due to ideological and strategic deficiencies.

I join AJ in being glad that this agreement passed, but I'm not terribly optimistic towards the future either. I see little reason that Hezbollah will stand an extended Israeli presence south of the Litani, nor do I expect that any nation will be interested in putting enough blue helmets on the ground to secure the situation. After all, the two main brokers in this agreement, the United States and France, have little incentive to staff a peacekeeping force. The French no doubt remember only too well the lessons learned from their colonial adventures in Lebanon and the U.S. is too tied down in Iraq (not that you'd guess it from watching any major U.S. news outlets).
The inevitable question that begins to arise after a ceasefire like this takes hold is who really won the war? Of course, we know who lost it. An estimated 1,500 Lebanese and Israeli civilians paid the ultimate price for this ideological clash, and likely more Lebanese casualties will be discovered as the refugees return home. The infrastructure of Lebanon has been largely destroyed, undermining an already shaky democracy and weak economy. On the other side, Israel has demonstrated in Lebanon, just as the U.S. is busy demonstrating in Iraq, that full military mobilization is not the most effective way to fight the kind of guerilla war Hezbollah likes to fight. One of the largest failures of neoconservatism is to internalize the lessons of Vietnam and Latin America. Israel has failed to evolve its military to meet the changing tactics of the threats it faces. Conventional warfare of the kind in which Israel and the U.S. prefer to engage is rapidly becoming an anachronism.

As much as I hate to say it, the winner of this conflict may very well be Sheik Nasrallah and Hezbollah, if it's truly possible to "win" a war of this kind. Hezbollah demonstrated to the world that it could withstand the firepower of the IDF, long the most powerful military in the region. Hezbollah also demonstrated that it could carry out its heinous attacks against Israeli civilians regardless of the damning being done by the IDF to Lebanon. At no time did it become apparent that Hezbollah's actions were in any way being hampered by Israel's invasion. Hezbollah also scored itself a PR victory, taking clear advantage of Israel's penchant for hitting civilian targets.

This is not to say that Hezbollah is not clearly a bad actor in all of this. Lest we forget, it was an incursion by Hezbollah, the killing and kidnapping of IDF soldiers, that led to this tragedy. While Hezbollah may have been trying to move beyond its terrorism background towards more political legitimacy, it's hostility towards Israel remains unabated. Nor is there any reason to believe that Iran will not help build Hezbollah back to fighting strength. Unfortunately, Israel's gross over-reaction to the initial Hezbollah incursion has given Hezbollah exactly the proof it needed to justify its militant ways and gain wider support on the Arab street.

So what we're left with is the status quo, once again. If Israel withdraws quickly behind the Blue Line, Hezbollah will likely resume its military control over the south of Lebanon, only this time with likely even more public support. If Israel lingers in Lebanon, it likely faces the same guerilla insurgency that drove the IDF out in 2000. Either way, the death toll for both the Lebanese and the Israelis will continue to climb, nothing will have been resolved and the U.S. will become even further marginalized in international opinion because of its inability to play a significant role in the Middle East.

No one wins a war like no one wins a natural disaster. But everyone loses...

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