Monday, August 14, 2006
Thoughts On Developments in the Middle East
I see two long-term losers beyond Israel and Lebanon.
The first is the “onward march of democracy.” Given the central role of semi-authoritarian states like Jordan and Pakistan in the war on terror — particularly after the foiling of the liquid-explosives-on-airliners plot — does anyone in Washington still want to pressure Amman, Islamabad, or any other friendly capital to continue pell-mell with democratization if the end result is to bring into government forces profoundly hostile to U.S. interests? Fuad Siniora’s heart may be in the right place, but with Hezbollah in his coalition his freedom of action is highly constrained. Does anyone want Pervez Musharraf similarly handicapped?
Iraq is the second loser. Like Lebanon, it too has a weak central government ruled by an unstable coalition cobbled together from ethnic and sectarian parties. Hezbollah has just demonstrated not only to like-minded elements like Sadr’s Mahdi army but to others like the Kurds that a well-organized, determined subnational actor can bypass the central government and unilaterally decide questions of the utmost importance for the entire state, not a particularly useful lesson for a country already on the eve of civil war. (On a side note, pro-Hezbollah demonstrations in Baghdad have not helped Iraq’s cause among the American public either.)
This war did not move the needle for anyone's strategic objectives; Israel, Lebanon, Syria, US, Palestinians, Iranians etc.
Russia picked up a few crums here and there.
USG has painted itself into a corner and does not have the time to pull itself out in its remaining time in office.
About Iraq: it was a gamble but was not so presented. I wonder if the President was aware that this was a gamble.
1. The international force won't come unless Hezbollah agrees to withdraw its armed men north of the Litani river. If there is any uncertainty about armed Hezbollah south of the river, foreign forces simply won't come and the war will resume.
This will raise the stakes for the international community if Israel won't accept a quagmire or a situation in which Hezbollah can resupply itself with rockets capable of hitting Israel.
Either Israel gets what it wants this time (armed Hezbollah pushed north of the river) or it gets what it wants after another round of fighting that brings a bigger scare of wider war in the Middle East.
2. If Hezbollah is forced north of the Litani river, this is very bad for Iran. To hit Israel from farther away, Iran would have to resupply Hezbollah with longer-range missiles that have an obvious Iranian origin. Iran must either play it safe and resupply Hezbollah north of the river with weapons that cannot hit Israel, or if it supplies longer-range rockets, Iran must accept the higher risk of a confrontation with Israel in the event the rockets are used.
If Iran is ready for all-out war with Israel and the United States, then it might resupply Hezbollah with longer-range missiles. But I think Tehran wants to get a supply of nukes before they risk a larger war.
3. Consequently, I think Israel may have bought itself peace on its northern border until Iran gets a nuclear second strike capability. Not a very good prospect in the long run. But it is hard to see the Lebanese border becoming a quagmire unless Israel allows Hezbollah to rain missiles on Israel from sanctuaries that Israel is unwilling to attack. That is simply not likely.
Israel does not have the infantry to control & patrol the area south of Litani.
Hizbullah is already south of Litani; it is called Shia Muslims.
Israel doesn't need to occupy the area south of the Litani. They need only to prevent the area from becoming the launch site for rockets into Israel.
If a foreign force can't or won't prevent rockets from returning to the area south of the river, and if Israel cannot do the prevention itself, then Israel will threaten to go after the suppliers. Unless Syria wants a war with Israel, it will halt the use of its territory for transshipment of missiles to Hezbollah south of the river, and Iran will have to make a decision about whether to resupply longer-range missiles to Hezbollah north of the river.
The Shias south of the Litani don't threaten Israel unless they have access to rockets. I don't see what set of circumstances would require Israel to acquiesce in the return of rockets to this area.
But we shall see.
How Not to Degrade Hizbullah
Larry C Johnson
Perhaps Israel will want to consider electing Forest Gump to replace Ehud Olmert. Since Forest fought in Vietnam, he understands the importance of a clear plan and objective before you commit your forces to battle. At least Forest knows, "Stupid is as Stupid does". After 34 days of fighting, Israel is occupying a portion of Southern Lebanon but has failed to accomplish its original objective of "destroying" Hizbullah.
Time to face the facts; Israel has punted and opted instead to settle for "degrading" Hizbullah capabilities. So, how did they do? Well, at the start of the invasion Hizbullah was firing less than a hundred rockets a day into Israel. Yesterday (Sunday) Hizbullah launched 250 rockets into Israel. I suspect Hizbullah was just plain worn out from lugging the rockets from their storage bunker to the launching sites. All of that lifting and shooting can make a terrorist tired. Here's a news flash for the IDF and the Bush Administration--if your adversary can fire more missiles/rockets after 34 days of combat then they did at the start your degradation campaign did not work. It is called "failure".
Maybe Barbara Bush can call her son and break the bad news to him. After Bush's dismal press conference today it is clear that no one has briefed the poor rube on the reality in Lebanon. He sincerely believes Israel won. How many more such "victories" can Israel endure and remain secure?
9/11 changed his fortunes forever.
Accused of allowing terrorist training camps to operate in Pakistan and not doing enough to stop their infiltration into Kashmir, he suddenly found himself indespensable to the US.
Since the needle of suspicion for terrorist havens and hatched plots point to his country, he has gone on an overdrive to fish out sleeper cells of the Al Qaeda who may harm US and UK interests.
On the other hand, he is demanding concrete eveidence despite hard facts of involvement of Pakistan based groups in the recent bomb blasts in India's Mumbai.
He knows very well that his mentor country, the US, believes his staying on as military dictator despite offering to step down many times for the sake of democracy, is essential for Pakistani cooperation in the war on terror.
The US understands that his removal or end to his life by terrorists may usher in a fanatic regime hostile to US interests.
For that, terrorism can be defined and assessed differently : attacks on India, though condemned, do not warrant pressurising him to the extent he take steps like he has done for the US, to stop infiltration into Indian territory.
Like another former Pakistani general, Zia, who got what he wanted when the Soviets marched into Afghanistan, Musharraf, knows the US is convinced that terror mandarins are holed up in northern terrains of Pakistan and he needs all help and support to flush them out.
He knows very well that the US will push him to a point realising that he cannot really flush them all out without sacrificing himself to Al Qaeda's altar.
Irony of ironies, India will continue to be a victim of infiltration as long as US interests in the war on terror lie with Pakistan.
India has been a victim of terrorism in Kashmir fuelled by infiltrators from across the border. Our parliament was attacked, our financial hub Mumbai suffered many times and there was a clear attempt to disturb communal peace and harmony.
India has a distinct difference with Pakistan. Our Muslim population is second only to Indonesia, although majority of Indians are Hindu by faith. India had Muslim president's before and even now we have a Muslim as president. India cannot ignore the sentiments of this large minority. Pakistan was born secular, but over the decades turned Islamic. You cannot find representations of minorities in all walks of life like we do in India. You can still find enslaved non-Muslim labourers toiling for their landlords in the fields of Sindh.
When Pakistan tried to box itself in Islam only, India attempted over the years to try and preserve the basis of religions, instead of breaking down society in the name of religion. True, there were Hindu fundamenatlists who tried to disturb and distort, but the beautiful thing called democracy was always there to put the country back on rails.
Like the US, India cannot take proactive measures or resort to pre-emptive strikes following hard evidence of existence of terrorist training camps in Pakistan without triggering off what may eventually lead to a nuclear flare up. Both the nations are nuclear powers.
I meant the US interest in the region is allowing Pakistan to cock a snook and maintain double standards at the largest functioning democracy in the world, which is contrary to Wilsonianism, which has remained a key ingredient in US foreign policy from the early decades of the last century.
Here's my case: compare the Shia militant movement in the ME to the Sunni militant movement. Which of these is actually strategically wedded to incessant terrorist attacks against Western civilians over the past 10 years? Answer: The Sunni one, not the Shia one.
Now, one of these movements, the Shia - the militants are in democratic states and/or have direct control of the institutions which surround their population. They're the ones *not* launching terrorist attacks everywhere.
The other movement, the Sunni movement - the militants have power nowhere, they're all in Sunni states whose governments (mostly) cooperate with us. Few or none of the states are democracies, and look - here's where all the undetterable terrorists are coming from.
So, what's the *logical* case for backing off democratization? It's based on conflating the Shia and Sunni behavior and conflating the military threat of the Sunnis areas with the terrorist threat of the Sunni ones.
It's also based on a reaction to US failure in Iraq - but the lesson is not backing off *democracy*. It's backing off promoting it through *Western military occupations!*
Jordan W' 02
I don't think that being Sunni or Shi'a intrinsically makes one pro- or anti-American. Sunnis can be quite pro-American when it suits their interests, and Shi'as have no compunction about attacking U.S. targets. In the end, I think it still largely boils down to interests.
I don't mean to sound callous about losses of life. What I meant was that Britain was asked by the U.S. to hold in check its full response against the IRA and not to use all possible means. One could draw similar parallels with the UK with what you raised about India--presence of Irish in the country, growing acceptability of Catholicism in UK ruling circles, etc. but this did not lessen desire of Northern Irish Catholics to want to leave the UK.
Pakistan is not a help to India in war on terror but is help to US in fighting the global war so what I mean is that India is being asked to tolerate sins of Musharraf government because it is providing help that if Musharraf disappeared or was brought down would not be forthcoming and would not make situation for India any better either.
Democratization has to be institutional.
US & EU could play a huge role in some states to promote this without facing an antagonistic government as a result (they might get a pricky but manageable government).
I'd like to point out that US & EU never stood for this process over the last 50 years.
I think George Bush at least was moving in the right direction but he was trying to get there too fast and at the same time-antagonized too many states.
The loosers, as always, are the young people in ME and NA that will have nothing.
But an ally, sinful at that can be compensated in a different way rather than arming them with F-16's and other state of the art weaponry which inevitably will be used against India to good effect. Surely Pakistan would not be able to cock a snook so easily had the US not armed it to the teeth.
Since there is no Soviet threat at the moment, Pakistan has no need for such advanced warheads. Agreed they have to 'tackle' terrorists and flush them out, but do they need F-16's for that?
Most of the economic benefits and aid the US gave Pakistan was used for the purchase of arms and more arms.
It's that the Shia militants have states (Iran) or essential self-governance (Hizballah.. Iraq on the way) and thus are relatively deterrable. The Sunni militants do not control the countries they live in, and thus, what a coincidence, the anti-west terrorism we've seen since the 90's has been almost entirely Sunni.
The core ideas aren't super-radical - everyone already accepts that oil-propped despots in the ME are spilloff for anti-western terrorism - it's just another look at the different behaviours of the two communities based on their generally different governance circumstances and relationships to power. What you come out with is that the Iran scenario is preferable to the Al-Queida scenario.
And that the choice is more binary than we realize.
Jordan W. 02'
Iran is a functioning state.
It also succeeded where no other Mulsim polity had before: amalgamating the principles of Islam and the principles of Republicanism.
However, it will never evolve to be a liberal polity. It might become more democratic and less ardently religious though.