The Sling and the Stone
Mark Steyn observed on a radio interview that what distinguished modern terrorism from the classic nationalist liberation struggles of the post-colonial period was not means but ends. Whereas the old liberation struggles sought to establish states in order to create their own society, radical Islamism takes over states to make them platforms for undertakings which transcends statehood. Radical Islam's ambitions are nothing so small as a state. They are after bigger game: a global caliphate or something like it. Osama Bin Laden was not interested in Afghanistan, nor Arafat in Palestine, nor was Nasrallah overly concerned about Lebanon -- these puny states were uninteresting except as launching pads for larger ambitions. Nor should we think they are overreaching. Matthew Stannard at the San Francisco Chronicle quotes a number of reputable military analysts who think that Hezbollah has just shown that terrorism can not only take on decrepit, failing states but even a powerful and modern one like Israel.
"I think it's something new, in that a non-state organization has undertaken a major, sustained, broad-scale, and so far, the successful military offensive against a state," said William Lind, director of the Center for Cultural Conservatism at the Free Congress Foundation, a Washington, D.C., think tank. "What changes here ... is that non-state forces are able to challenge states militarily -- and win."
These analysts do not mean to suggest that Hezbollah is tactically defeating the IDF, but defeating it strategically. It is gaining its political goals. And one of the most powerful weapons in the non-state arsenal are the cultural institutions of the states themselves: their mass media and international organizations of states like the United Nations.
"Military tactics are the art and science of winning battles," said Thomas Hammes, a retired Marine colonel and author of "The Sling and the Stone: On War in the 21st Century." "Military strategy is the art and science of winning wars," he said. In Vietnam, for example, U.S. troops can claim they never suffered a tactical defeat. Yet the North Vietnamese can rightly claim a strategic victory, because they achieved their political goals of unifying the entire country under their control, said Kalev Sepp, a counterinsurgency specialist at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey. ...
"The Israelis are currently winning militarily, tactically. But the strategic dimension is more significant," Gavrilis said. ... Hezbollah, on the other hand, appears to be far more focused on increasing its political power in Lebanon and its prestige in the Arab world, and perhaps of diverting attention from the political woes of its patrons, Syria and Iran, the analysts said. ... "Civilians have died in the battlefield before ... but the way that it's publicized changes the outcomes of conflict," Gavrilis said. "That is new."
The message coming through that global network speaks directly to the Arab public, the source of Hezbollah's political strength -- that it can take on the mightier Israeli army and keep the fight going, the analysts said. "Political will is a central component of any combat. Pictures influence political will," Hammes said. It is a lesson, he said, the United States learned in the Vietnam War and Israel in the first Palestinian intifada, or uprising, with its photos of boys throwing rocks taking fire from well-armed soldiers. "I really question why Israel didn't understand that in the first stages of the (Lebanon) war."
It's interesting to compare the political impact of the international reportage of civilian casualties in Lebanon with the nullity caused by similar events in Darfur. The Strategy Page reports that villages, refugee camps, and humanitarian organizations have been attacked and relief supplies plundered yet in such a pervasive and creeping way that news organizations have largely missed it.
Lack of security is preventing medical and food aid from reaching refugee camps in Sudan's western Darfur region. In the last two weeks, one aid group had ambulances attacked and one medical compound robbed. This group has been operating 17 clinics throughout Darfur but expects to close some of them. Because of the attacks on convoys and robberies on the roads, mobile clinics no longer travel to villages in Darfur. Over the last month several NGOs have reported an increase in incidents. Many of the NGOs are the first to learn of attacks on villages from survivors who manage to make it to the NGOs' medical facilities. That's why news of attacks literally "moves on foot" -- and the journalists and government sources pick up the reports from refugees and doctors, often days (or weeks) after an attack. The UN wants a force of at least 24,000 troops in Darfur, but the government continues to resist.
Modern terrorism is able to exploit not only the spotlights but the shadows of the Western media. And it is largely invulnerable to armies. Not that a UN force of 24,000 or 240,000 would make any difference to Darfur. If the San Francisco Chronicle's thesis has any validity then modern terrorist organizations like Hezbollah, al-Qaeda, Fatah or Hamas are resistant to the armies of nations in very fundamental ways. And to the clownish parody of a modern army which any UN force represents terrorism will be most resistant of all. With that background, its interesting to examine the latest proposals for a ceasefire in Lebanon. The AP reports:
The Lebanese prime minister rejected a U.N. cease-fire plan backed by President Bush, demanding on Monday that Israel immediately pull out from southern Lebanon even before a peacekeeping force arrives to act as a buffer between Hezbollah and the Jewish state. Prime Minister Fuad Saniora's stand, delivered in a tearful speech to Arab foreign ministers, came on a day in which 49 Lebanese were killed — one of the deadliest days for Lebanese in nearly four weeks of fighting. His Cabinet, which includes two Hezbollah ministers, voted unanimously to send 15,000 troops to stand between Israel and Hezbollah should a cease-fire take hold and Israeli forces withdraw south of the border. The move was an attempt to show that Lebanon has the will and ability to assert control over its south, which is run by Hezbollah, the powerful Shiite Muslim militia backed by Syria and Iran.
This single paragraph contains examples of all the contradictions which modern diplomacy and political science is unsuccessfully struggling to extricate itself from. A non-state (Hezbollah) at war with a foreign state (Israel) has voted to deploy the forces of a nominal state (Lebanon) to police itself, while taking orders from two foreign states (Syria and Iran) for the purpose of preventing more civilian casualties in a conflict it began until the forces of international states can interpose themselves between the forces of a foreign state (Israel) they have sworn to destroy and themselves (Hezbollah) under terms which in any case they have no intentions of respecting. To international diplomats that makes sense. In contrast, when "in Texas, Bush said any cease-fire must prevent Hezbollah from strengthening its grip in southern Lebanon, asserting 'it's time to address root causes of problems,'" his remarks are dismissed as the ignorant ramblings of an unsophisticated simpleton. But maybe it is really the diplomats who are lost, prisoners of their own paradigm, unable to make the mental shift necessary to defeat non-state enemies except of a very limited and friendless kind. David Byrne describes some of these friendless non-states in his article American Madrassas.
Saw a screening of a documentary called Jesus Camp. It focuses on a woman preacher (Becky Fischer) who indoctrinates children in a summer camp in North Dakota. Right wing political agendas and slogans are mixed with born again rituals that end with most of the kids in tears. Tears of release and joy, they would claim — the children are not physically abused. The kids are around 9 or 10 years old, recruited from various churches, and are pliant willing receptacles. They are instructed that evolution is being forced upon us by evil Godless secular humanists, that abortion must be stopped at all costs, that we must form an “army” to defeat the Godless influences, that we must band together to insure that the right judges and politicians get into the courts and office and that global warming is a lie. (This last one is a puzzle — how did accepting the evidence for climate change and global warming become anti-Jesus? Did someone simply conflate all corporate agendas with Jesus and God and these folks accept that? Would Jesus drive an SUV? Is every conclusion responsible scientists make now suspect?) Awareness of the rest of the world is curtailed — one can only view or read that which agrees with the agenda.
Byrne's horror at Jesus Camp perfectly illustrated what Mark Steyn called the single greatest weakness of Western culture: its ability to draw a moral equivalence between anything and everything; between a terrorist camp with explosives and machineguns and a summer camp in North Dakota. It is really an inability to see anything in due proportion. Kofi Annan's assertion of "disproportionate response" by Israel against Hezbollah really makes no sense in world where an equivalence operator can be inserted between any two operands of whatever value. And the consequence of the fallen calculus of international relations is the tactical and strategic equivalence between a democratic state and terrorist non-state; the parity between barbarism and civilization.