The Thinker

Ozymandias

In Egypt’s sandy silence, all alone,
Stands a gigantic Leg, which far off throws
The only shadow that the Desert knows: –
“I am great OZYMANDIAS,” saith the stone,
“The King of Kings; this mighty City shows
“The wonders of my hand.” – The City’s gone, –
Nought but the Leg remaining to disclose
The site of this forgotten Babylon.

We wonder, – and some Hunter may express
Wonder like ours, when thro’ the wilderness
Where London stood, holding the Wolf in chace,
He meets some fragments huge, and stops to guess
What powerful but unrecorded race
Once dwelt in that annihilated place.

–Horace Smith.

I am certainly no Middle East scholar. I suspect even if you grew up in the Middle East and earned a degree in Middle East studies that you would still be challenged understanding the current situation there. I believe that there are too many permutations between the nations, races, ethnic groups, religious groups, paramilitary groups and shifting alliances to understand the totality of the issues and conflicts. As if things were not confusing enough just in Iraq and Afghanistan, now we have this war between Israel and Hezbollah, the Shi’ite paramilitary group, which has blossomed into a larger war. Lebanon is now unjustly receiving the bulk of Israel’s fury.

Make no mistake. This is not a “police action”. This is not a “limited incursion”. This is a war. Israel has always seemed proactive when it comes to their national security, yet they were blindsided by this one. From their actions to date, it is clear they do not understand that the conflict has changed in a fundamentally new way and that the existence of Israel itself is now in serious jeopardy.

The capabilities of their enemies have morphed. In the last couple of decades, short-range rockets have become cheaper to make and easier to move around. In addition, those funding Hezbollah (which doubtless includes Iran) have dug deeper into their pockets. Hezbollah now has longer-range rockets that are reaching deep inside of Israel. Some of these rockets can reach twenty or more kilometers into Israel. They can be moved with relative ease and are often hard to detect. In a way, the Israelis are fortunate that most of these rockets are low tech. Hezbollah soldiers point, shoot and hope they are effective. So far, their effect has been more psychological than lethal. However, these rockets have killed Israeli citizens far from the front lines. Even if the Israelis could shoot them down, given the large quantities of them and the short flight time, it would be impossible to intercept them all.

Therefore, they are left to try to secure southern Lebanon by clearing it of all of Hezbollah’s fighters and missiles. This is already proving to be very daunting. It is a large territory. To secure it and hold it now requires a large and continuing military presence. Moreover, this territory is not desert. Much of it is wooded. Hezbollah is imitating the Vietcong by digging tunnels. This makes destroying all the missiles and removing all the Hezbollah fighters a very iffy proposition for Israel. Moreover, once they capture all this land realistically they cannot secure it indefinitely. They hope that some other armed force will keep it secure for them. If they return the land to Lebanon, there are no guarantees that Lebanon can keep the land secure.

It is unlikely though that Israel will succeed in controlling Southern Lebanon. On some level, I think they know this already. Therefore, they are blowing up much of Lebanon instead. The plan seems to be that if they bomb Lebanon enough, its government will start securing its Southern border. Yet it makes no more sense to expect Lebanon to secure its southern border for Israel than it makes sense for us to expect the Mexican government to keep illegal immigrants from entering our country through Mexico. The Hezbollah militia is far bigger than the Lebanese army is. Even if it had the means, Hezbollah and affiliated Shi’ite parties democratically control 35 of the 128 seats in Lebanon’s parliament. Hezbollah itself has 14 of these seats. Many Lebanese welcome Hezbollah. If Israel is serious about having the Lebanese government control its own territory, it is hard to see how destroying much of its infrastructure aids their cause.

In addition, they are working against their own long-range interests. The Israelis seem to suffer from cognitive dissonance. It amounts to if you hurt me, I will hurt you back ten times worse, and then you will learn never to bother me again. What actually happens, of course, is they leave people deeply traumatized, upset and eager for retribution. In short, they inadvertently sow the seeds for their own destruction.

Most likely Israeli partisans that read this will insist I am anti-Semitic and want to see the destruction of Israel. Aside from the obvious problem that pro-Israeli advocates just love to paint broadly with their anti-Semite brush, I am not stupid. It was not Israel that lobbed the first missile, but Hezbollah. All this is beside the point: the game has changed.

To really secure Israeli citizens, a DMZ is needed. Since indefinitely occupying Southern Lebanon is not practical, the next step is to withdraw civilians from northern Israel and relocate them further south. Hezbollah has demonstrated that Galilee is no longer defensible. Unfortunately, even if Israel were to embrace this strategy, it would only be a stopgap measure. For rockets and missiles will get cheaper and more accurate. It is possible that within years all of Israel will be vulnerable to rocket attacks.

Israel goes after governments like Lebanon because they do not know what else to do. Perhaps it gives the illusion of doing something that will bring results. They have all the firepower they need to render most governments in the Middle East ineffective. Unfortunately, even if they can destroy the governments in Lebanon and Syria, that does not mean they have won this war. For they are no longer battling other nations. They are fighting paramilitaries. Anarchy is what paramilitary groups like Hezbollah prefer. If the state does not exist, their mobility improves. No central government is left that can constrain their behavior.

Although wars between nations are not yet obsolete, their days may be numbered. The future will see more of what we are seeing now: wars between states and paramilitary groups, or, in the case of Iraq, simply wars between paramilitary groups. Cheaper and more accessible armaments, some of it coming from our defense contractors, have lowered the cost of waging insurgencies and paramilitary efforts. Few nations can totally control what happens inside their own borders. Real control requires the overwhelming consent of those governed. The people who live in the country have to have an emotional commitment to their country to keep paramilitary organizations from having any traction. This loyalty to country must come before loyalty to ethnicity, religion or political cause.

One result of this trend will be the slow dissolution of the nation-state. My thoughts on this will likely be the subject of another entry. In brief, I believe the future will move either toward global anarchy or toward one world government. The nation states of today will eventually become as obsolete as kingdoms.

Whether Hezbollah and similar paramilitary groups understand this or not is beside the point. This is the new reality. What it amounts to is a country cannot effectively fight paramilitary groups using armies trained to attack other nation-states. Ready or not, the paradigm and tactics of modern war have changed. We are already learning this lesson painfully in Iraq. I am left to conclude that Israel simply has no future. I believe that in fifty years, maybe less, it will be a memory. Insurgencies and paramilitary groups will have nibbled it out of existence.

How do you counter a trend like this? I know I would hate to try to find a formula that would bring peace to Israel and its neighbors. Frankly, I do not think that one exists. What would help is a pragmatic vision of hope that all parties can latch onto. Perhaps what is really needed is not a Jewish state, but a Semitic state. Semites in this context does not mean Jews. It means the Semite race, and that includes the Palestinians, who are also Semites. There has to be consensus that all that live there must dwell together in peace and brotherhood, or no one can. It is hard to see how this can be achieved when the hatred continues to grow on all sides due largely to Israel’s latest actions in Lebanon.

Meanwhile, here in the United States, more than a few wacked out religious nut jobs are taking this conflict as a sign that Armageddon is near. They are nearly in rapture because they are convinced the Lord is ready to return. Soon they figure they will be occupying their reserved spots inside the pearly gates, for they are the true believers. Arguably, there are more than a few of these nutcases in the West Wing. From my perspective, it looks like Armageddon is already here. Only it is not quite what evangelical Christians had hoped. Armageddon appears to consist of eternal skirmishes, bloodshed, death, destruction and the sad defilement of the area that gave birth to our greatest religions. With each crime against their neighbors, sides dig in their heels further and refuse to learn any karmic lessons. Somewhere up there Allah, Yahweh and Jesus are watching, and they are crying.

 

2 Responses to “Ozymandias”

  1. 10:28 pm on July 25 2006, Neska said:

    Wow, I have just realized how much I missed your blog while you and the family were off on vacation. It is this type of entry that keeps me coming back. Well done, Mark, well done.

  2. 4:43 pm on July 26 2006, Frank Marron said:

    This was an interesting analysis on the state of the conflict in the Middle East. Although I cannot help but realize your insight, I also look to history as an indication of what has often materialized in past centuries. For example,in the past, nations such as Rome often militarily conquered and occupied foreign lands. After decades and centuriesof occupation, many occupied territories became “little Romes” where their citizens eventually cameto think and identify with their conquerors. This is perhaps what the United States such do in Iraq? After 100 years of occupation and a process of “Westernization”, Iraquis would perhaps be more receptive to a democracy? The same couldapply to Israel and Lebanon? There are no quick remedies, as your treatise points out. Things historically have taken decades or centuries.The modern mindset cannot think in terms of the long-term, but insists on solutions within 1 or 2 years, which is unrealistic.

    Frank Marron

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