Saturday, November 25, 2006

The Politics of Naivete

David Ignatius of the Washington Post means well. He feels heartsick at the "politics of assassination" that currently rule the Middle East. It's not surprising that he looks to abstractions and institutions-as-ideals for solutions.

Unfortunately, his approach suffers from a lack of reality. In his effort to generalize, he misses the context in which the violence occurs.

For instance, when he says:
This is a time of convulsive change in the region, and many doors are being pushed open. Syria has an opportunity to leave behind its drab Cold War trench coat and become a modern, prosperous Mediterranean nation; Hezbollah, the militia that represents Lebanon's dispossessed Shiite population, has a chance to lead its followers into political power and prosperity. But they won't realize these opportunities so long as the politics of assassination rules the region. If Syria and Hezbollah keep brandishing their power like a grenade, it will ultimately blow apart in their hands.
He misses the reality in which both Syria and Hezbollah operate. Syria has long sought to destabilize Israel and re-secure the Golan Heights. The occupation of Lebanon has helped Syria to pursue this strategy. How? Their pernicious influence weakened the Lebanese in the North while allowing Iran-supported Hezbollah to concentrate its power in the south. Lebanon thus became a proxy-server for Israel's enemies--right on her northern border.

Speaking of Hezbollah, this same "militia that represents Lebanon's dispossessed Shiite population" provoked Israel into invading Lebanon by abducting IDF personnel--in Israel! Hezbollah already had a prominent role in the Lebanese government. Why would this representative of the people defy their own government and drag their Shia followers into an unwinnable war with Israel? Because they could pose as the true deliverers of Lebanon from the Satanic West. They cultivated the image of the defiant defender against Israeli aggression, even as they lost engagement after engagement. Their tactic placed the Lebanese government in the untenable position of having to either support their terrorist tactics or leave their southern populace at the mercy of the IDF. The government's inept handling of the crisis may have caused many Lebanese to rethink their support. Who else in Lebanon remains, especially for the Shia, but Hezbollah?

That serves both Iran and Syria's interests. Bashir and the Mullahcracy want to become the counterpoint to US and Israeli influence in the Middle East. Destabilizing Lebanon puts Israel on her heels and may give the US pause should an administration seek to invade Tehran or Damascus. Never mind that no credible policy-maker even suggests the likelihood of such a move in the near future. The perceptions of the powers behind the Syrian-Iranian axis drives their policy.

They clearly will use any means necessary to enact their policy. The recent assassination of Mr. Gemayel may be an example. His death--along with another attempted assassination--would have collapsed the government that will approve a UN Special Tribunal. The world in general--and Damascus in particular--expect the Tribunal will prove Syria masterminded the recent political assassinations that plagued Lebanon. Syria will not let this happen.

Mr. Ignatius is right when he says that Syria and Hezbollah's brandishing violence will ultimately backfire on them both. The power-brokers in each don't understand that. They've never had to account for the blowback their politics of violence has caused. Until they do, they'll continue to do what they've done.