Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Israel's--and America's--Continuing Napoleonic Conundrum

In continuing this ongoing discussion based on references to Napoleonic analogies, let me offer a further example suggested to me: Napoleon's campaigns in Spain. (The original Napoleonic conundrum was the failure of the Russians under Alexander I to surrender after they had been, in Napoleon's opinion, defeated.)

Napoleon's campaign in Spain bears some eerie resemblances to our current efforts in Iraq. Napoleon felt the obligation to spread the benefits of the French Revolution to a country ruled by an autocratic tyranny, in the grips of what was, in his opinion, a medievalist and obscurantist religious establishment, in order to convert a potential foe into an ally. Conventionally, the French "won"--they occupied the country, deposed the monarch, found plenty of local collaborators--but were overwhelmed in the end by a guerilla insurgency that was then exploited by other powers (remember Wellington's Iberian campaign!) to help bring down the French Empire.

There are also implications for Israel in Lebanon. Guerilla fighters, as the the French learned in Spain, don't have to win; they simply have to stay alive and functional.

Again, I don't know what to do. There are plenty of pundits out there with "advice" but they don't have to live with the consequences. Should Israel turn everything south of the Litani into a free-fire zone and turn it into an uninhabitated wasteland to create a no-man's land to put some distance between its territory and rocket launchers? Could Hizballah have been bought off--the Saudis did it for themselves and the U.S. in the 1980s with great success.

Even more unrealistic ideas--massive population exchanges of sending Lebanon's Shia to Iraq in exchange for Iraqi Christians to come to Lebanon, recreating Lebanon as a majority Christian state? Ahmadinejad has already proposed relocating Israel in Europe (would he then support a massive return of Muslims out of Europe in exchange?) As I said, I don't know what to do for a viable long term solution. Is it enough only to get a cease-fire and get a process started without worrying about the long-term--what Philip Habib achieved in Lebanon in 1981-82?

By the way, in the upcoming issue of TNI, biblical scholar Robert Doran will be re-examining the Books of the Maccabees for lessons about insurgencies in the Middle East.

Nik--I don't always agree with your use of historical analogies but I do think it is useful to think historically. Too often in contemporary Washington we act as if the problems we face have never happened before and that there is nothing to learn from the past.
Let's remember one of the major factors in developing the guerrilla forces in Spain--Napoleon's feeble supply system and dependence on robbing the populace to feed the army. There was little resistance from the peasantry when the French first invaded Iberia, but months and years of brutal exploitation raised up a national movement.

Wellington had no problems with insurgents, in part because he was a logistical master. He brought or bought his supplies. The French stole theirs, and added added insult to injury by behaving licentiously.
Nikolas--didn't the tsarist general Skobelev say that the duration of peace is directly related to the number of people killed? Isn't this what we see now?
Nothing can be done by the US Government. We have to wait for a new government in 2008.
Richard--about Spain and insurgencies. Isn't the lesson there that the longer the French stayed they "wore out their welcome" and were forced to turn on the peasantry, as opposed to the British, who not only were paying for supplies but made it clear they weren't seeking to stay or to change Spanish institutions or way of life?
As I said before in this forum; this whole discussion is symptomatic of the problem: US involvement. Cutoff the foreign aid and disengae; let the warring parties exhaust their resources and thus be forced into a settlement. US support, in a conflict in which US has no dog, is madness.
3rd anonymous:

No doubt that was a factor, which is why I think we ought to pull our troops from Germany, Japan and Korea after 61 years(!) of occupation. Besides, we can find better things for them to do.

Another factor, of course, was that the English and Portuguese generally beat the French; winning makes for popularity. Still, the military-supply and civilian-treatment policies of the French revolutionaries (including Nappy), were a reversion to the worst of those followed in the Thirty Years War.

Even in the English Civil War, fought around the time of the Thirty Year, it was eventually determined by the Parliamentary forces that mistreating civilians was counter-productive. Probably part of the reason why Cromwell and Fairfax were so successful.
The problem for Israel is the trend of weaponry over time. Hezbollah has shown that it can deploy missiles more effectively than previously thought. If terrorists are able to continue to use Lebanon as a base, they will almost certainly have better missiles in the future. If not, most of the Islamic world will eventually acquire nuclear weapons and regional tensions in the Middle East will be on a much more dangerous trip-wire.

If Israel is to have a long-term future, the entire Middle East will have to accept a degree of religious and ethnic pluralism sufficient to tolerate minority nation-states. Right now, neither Israelis nor Americans in policy-making positions believe that a change of this magnitude is possible in a foreseeable timeframe and so their focus is on the short-term.

The difficulty here may not be the intractability of the regional situation as much as it is the inability of the United States to integrate the Middle East into a larger strategy for the world as a whole. Deadlocks are as much a reflection of the perceived alternatives as they are a reflection of their own intrinsic conditions.

You are certainly right in that the good options aren't obvious, and that miracle solutions aren't immediately forthcoming. But with some clear thinking, you can see solutions. What's the best thing that happened to the Middle East in the past 5 years? The Cedar Revolution. It didn't solve the Hizballah problem, no. It was just one step in a very slow process that would be the consolidation of Lebanon as a real state - which would eventually solve the problem of Hizballah's autonomy, not to mention its violent capacity. The problem is not Hizballah's beliefs or its weapons, but the fact that it's using them on Israel. Syria is just as nasty and has better weapons, but two months ago, there was no immediate problem. You always have to solve the immediate problems before you can work on the bigger, vaguer ones. So, yes. Get a cease-fire, with or without the return of hostages on either side. Get it now.

Now, why did the Cedar Revolution work so darned well? It was the natural Lebanese reaction to Syrian overreach. Hezballah overreached in its incursions, but the backlash against it is disrupted by two things - a) the lack of a legit Israeli-Palestinian solution and b) the Israeli disproportionate counter-reaction. Assassinating Nasrallah would have been a decent response. Bombing Beirut is a poor one. The way to solve Hizballah is to absorb the pinpricks it can dish out, retaliate specifically if need be, avoid collective punishment at all costs, and wait for the backlash to swing against it.

This isn't happening, because Olmert cares most about looking good to the agressive instincts of the populace he represents. And Nasrallah cares most about the same thing for his people. That's why the US has a potential productive role in the first place. Instead, we're ready to go hand in hand with Israel to achieve pointless tactical victories - the destruction of replacable missiles and militants - while, as you mentioned, the strategic situation festers.

Jordan Willcox '02
Jordan Willcox '02:

The President just wrote-off the Cedar Revolution.

He confirmed that Israel is more important that US.
david billington:

How can US "integrate ME integrate the Middle East into a larger strategy for the world as a whole" when that is against the interests of both Russia and China?

More broadly, when the status quo is not acceptable to many centers of power in ME, how can peace interests bee created and nurtured?

My impression has been that there is no grand strategy here by US, rather tactical responses that momentarily increased her power.
Anonymous 6:58,

"How can US "integrate the Middle East into a larger strategy for the world as a whole" when that is against the interests of both Russia and China?"

Russia and China (and America) operate as if the long-term is an open-ended extrapolation of present conditions and perceptions of interest. But such an extrapolation is unlikely to happen over the next thirty years because some great powers will rise (China, India) and others will fall relatively (America) and absolutely (Russia). The net result will be a more intense global multipolarity that will make everyone less secure, as will the likely spread of nuclear weapons to thirty-plus states over the same period.

A long-term strategy for the United States is to seek a two-tiered system of Eurasian security in which (1) all seven recognized nuclear powers plus any other nuclear and would-be nuclear states would be invited to join a global aerospace defense after it has been constructed over the next two or three decades, and (2) terms exist for the admission to NATO of all Eurasian states over the next five to ten decades. Critics will object that if such a system is not practical today, it will never be possible at all, to which the response should be to let public opinion in all of these countries decide first its desirability and then its practicality.

The Middle East in this long-term plan would be absorbed gradually into a larger Eurasian security system that renders missile arsenals inoperable, provides permanent and overwhelming alliance support for states admitted to the expanding system, and ultimately shares military command. The United States will have to relinquish supreme command at some point for this to work.

Obviously if America or the other major nations do not accede to a system of this kind, then the present drift of the world will continue, the trend of multipolarity and proliferation will continue, and the world will deal with the consequences. But if you want a long-term strategy that treats Eurasian security as an end-game and not (as it is now) as a middle-game, I don't think you can avoid thinking along these lines.

If it is true that the policy of the United States and other countries is overly tactical, then the alternative is to reach a wider public opinion with a constructive vision of the longer-term.
David Billington:

I your have nailed it on the head: "the present drift of the world will continue, the trend of multipolarity and proliferation will continue, and the world will deal with the consequences."
When you repeat catch phtrases like "some great powers will rise (China, India) and others will fall relatively (America) and absolutely (Russia).", please,
have in mind, that it is only one state ("power", "nationa", whatever) now, namely, Russia, which can bring US back into a pre-Stone Age phase (at terrible price, true, but when Russians bothered about prices if it comes to that) together with all its military infrastructure (i.e., Europe).
And, most interesting and important, will ever be so.
With new, fiction like, or, non-military seemingly,
technologies. Disparities in so-called assymetric weaponry, technologically and scientifically, is at least 40 years ahead of any would-be superpower.
Practically, unbridged, if "such ready things" not transferred or leased for some purpose.
Whatever is published or shown is to be treated as good old plausible legend-cloacking since 2003, and since the lessons of "benevolent unipolarity" were learnt.
Yrs., AB
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