Bombs and Politics
BEIRUT — Why, oh, why do people with access to really big bombs continue to think they can change people’s loyalties by dropping those big bombs on their homes and families?
Israel’s strategy in Lebanon is pretty clear now: Make the pain of “supporting” or “harboring” Hezbollah so great that the Lebanese will deal with the group. That was also the idea behind the attack on Gaza and Hamas as well as the so-called Bush Doctrine — the U.S. will make no distinction between the terrorists and those who harbor them. It’s also the hot air for the trial balloon often floated in D.C. regarding regime change in Iran: Bomb the mullahs and watch the pro-American youth embrace the _Pax Americana_!
Except… it almost never works. I mean, George Bush was considered barely qualified to make coffee at the White House in August 2001. (Remember that?) And then, boom, 9/11 hit and he’s suddenly the best wartime leader since Churchill. Was there a rethinking of American policy on the part of the masses and a call for changing those policies? Or even, dare I say it, removing the Bush Administration from office because the consequences of having a nincompoop in office had grown too painful? Hell, no! Americans rallied around the flag and the leader. In fact, the only incident that I can think of that involved bombs leading to the victims blaming their leaders and punishing them was … Madrid.
So why do Washington and Tel Aviv think Arabs would react any different? (Maybe a bit of cultural chauvinism?) Did the Iraqis turn on Saddam Hussein through 13 years of sanctions? No. Did the Palestinians turn on Fatah after the start of the 2001 _intifada_? That’s a negative. The Gazans this year? Nope. Will the Lebanese turn on Hezbollah? Not likely, and certainly not in the short term.
Another reason the “bomb ’em and they’ll love us” strategy won’t work here is that Hezbollah is not the PLO. An historical digression, if you’ll allow me: Israel invaded Lebanon in 1978 and 1982 in two attempts to dislodge the PLO from Lebanon, where it was using the country launch attacks on the Jewish state. The Palestinians had developed a state-within-a-state in the south, which was often called “Fatah-land.” (Sound familiar?) In 1983, Israel finally pushed the PLO out and Yasser Arafat and his followers fled to Tunisia. Still, the Lebanese war dragged on for another seven years as various militias — some supported by Israel, others by Syria and Iran — before finally ending in 1990 from exhaustion. Lebanon was shattered and Israel ended up occupying parts of the country for 22 years, spawning Hezbollah.
This is important. Hezbollah was not _started_ by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. It was _organized_ by them out of the disparate Shi’ite groups that popped up to resist the Israeli occupation. Iran helped merge them together, but they’re a Lebanese creation.
This means Hezbollah is an indigenous group, not a foreign body like the PLO was. Saying that Lebanon “harbored” Hezbollah is like saying the United States “harbors” white supremacists or anti-government militias. You probably hate them and despise their goals, but you can’t they’re alien parasites on American society. Like Hezbollah in Lebanon, they’re an integral if extreme part of the political and social fabric. Ending of expelling Hezbollah is akin to amputation rather than lancing a boil.
I’ve been in love with Lebanon since 2004 when I took a flat here and began immersing myself in the place whenever I could take a break from Iraq. In March, I settled here for the foreseeable future. I have a wide variety of friends, not just upper-crust Christians, and while I’m not a polling company, I think I have a decent grasp of the zeitgeist here.
Before this damn war, Hezbollah was losing support. It wasn’t draining, but it was ebbing. The political process was stuttering along, but it was moving. Many people here hated Hezbollah… Many people also loved it. The society was split but there was a consensus the problem had to be settled judiciously and politically because no one wanted another civil war.
When the first Israeli bombs fell, some Shi’ites even blamed Hezbollah. I met a guy in the southern suburbs last Saturday, just four days after things started. He’s a Shi’ite from Nabatiyeh in the south and hated Hezbollah. He thought they’d screwed up big-time. These days, when I talk to him, he says he hopes Hezbollah rips the Israelis apart. Another friend of mine, one of those upper-crust Christians, told me last night that as much as he hates Hezbollah, he hates the Israelis even more now.
The Lebanese are closing ranks in the face of an external threat, just like people all over the world do — with the exception of Spain, I guess. They’re no different from anyone else, and the same thing happened in the initial days of Iraq. The same pattern would play out in Iran, too, if this war gets that far east. The West has no monopoly on unity, patriotism and nationalism.
That said, unity rarely lasts. In the case of America, it led to a polarized public where the public debate seems to involve screaming “traitor!” when someone votes for a Democrat for the school board.
In the Middle East, things rarely stay at that level. Once that unity breaks, we’re left with civil war. (See, Lebanon, 1975-1990 and Iraq, 2003-present.) And in civil wars, lots of people die and the situation that needed to be fixed is usually worse. (Does anyone think Iraq is a more stabilizing force than it was?)
Which is why it’s important to end these things before they start.