In the good old days of warfare, states or empires
on the offensive would flesh out the front lines with hired mercenaries or captured
opponents (or both). The results were often bizarre. Take, for example, the
Battle of Ankara
(1402), which pitted the proto-Ottoman Turks against an unstoppable Mongol force.
Those who died from the ranks of the former were mostly subjugated Serbs, whereas
many Turks had found service in the Mongol army. Similarly, when the Ottomans
turned on Constantinople
half a century later, a forced charge was carried out by Greeks and other captured
Christians, mowed down out of necessity by their own countrymen defending from
If there was no logic to anything other than the guiding hand of money and
oppression in those days, then in the last century there was (allegedly) no
other logic to war than the honor of dying for one's nation or cause. Yet are
we reverting today to the medieval conception of war, where only the illusion
(expressed in effulgent political speeches and the flag-draped coffin) of dying
for one's nation remains, a thin veneer over a much more sordid reality? The
aftermath of Israel's new war would seem to indicate so.
Hubris and the UN
The UN's failure to condemn a deadly attack on
its own personnel by the Israeli military, and its likely forced exclusion from
an investigation into their deaths, shows the awesome power that Israel has
to influence America in its role as a Security Council member. It also reveals
an unsettling bravado bordering on hubris.
You have to give the Israelis credit for one thing – at least they don't mince
their words. Take the remarkable statement of Israeli Ambassador to the UN Dan
Gillerman, who ruled out UN participation in an investigation by comparing
his tiny Middle Eastern state to the U.S. and some of its major allies: "[I]srael
has never agreed to a joint investigation, and I don't think that if anything
happened in this country, or in Britain or in Italy or in France, the government
of that country would agree to a joint investigation."
The problem with this reasoning, of course, is that the crime did not occur
in Israel, but in a foreign country, Lebanon, and the individuals killed were
also foreigners. More hubristic still was the controversial Israeli statement
that it had received "permission
from the world" to continue its conquest of Lebanon by the (non)result
of the Rome conference, where a strong and united international stand was again
sabotaged by American lobbying for Israel.
Even if the flamboyant statement is essentially true, it is one of those tactless
things that a diplomat really shouldn't say – unless, of course, he feels sufficiently
powerful to disregard world opinion, as Israel seems to feel itself.
A Peacekeeping Mission for Qualified Cannon Fodder
While it is not necessarily averse to a peacekeeping
mission held under the aegis of the United Nations, Israel wants something other
than the kind of ragtag, third-world UN contingents typically posted to conflict
zones. Killing the four peacekeepers the other day was a forceful message in
this regard. While any future armed mission could have a "mandate"
from the UN, says Israel, to meet their conditions it would have to be manned
by "someone else"; the world body's currently "hopeless"
peacekeeping force in Lebanon apparently "has never been able to prevent
any shelling of Israel, any terrorist attack, any kidnappings."
For Israel to be satisfied, the new peacekeeping force will thus have to be
"a professional one, with soldiers from countries who have the training
and capabilities to be effective." In other words, they will be de facto
front-lines soldiers for the Israeli army, recruited from the militarily strongest
ideally by the United States.
The murder of the four peacekeepers, followed by this statement, has an eerie
resemblance to the way it was in the old days of war; take the aforementioned
example of the Turks storming Constantinople. Then, the captive Christian soldiers
led the Turkish charge, rushing toward a certain death, knowing that the same
end awaited them were they to turn around to flee or to fight their captors.
The UN has now been put on notice: keep on keeping the peace as you have been
doing, and suffer the consequences. Or fight for us – and expect the same.
The Neocons Salivate
The Israelis' bold diplomacy, for lack of a better
word, reveals a high level of confidence that the U.S. will continue its unconditional
support. So far, there has been no change in this time-honored policy: not only
did the U.S. give Israel the green light to step up the war by doing nothing
to stop it, it used its influence to water down the UN's protest. So little
surprise that the world body is now making a
further observer pullout – you might call it a tactical retreat – from Lebanon.
Unconditional American support for Israel will continue so long as its main
U.S. government backers, the neoconservatives, remain powerful. The smell of
fresh blood has apparently revitalized them, and it is clear that they are now
seeing their chance to bring about the long-desired
goal of a region-wide war for the sake of "democracy" and "freedom."
Jim Lobe described it
recently as "a deliberate campaign by neoconservatives and some of
their right-wing supporters to depict the current conflict as part of global
struggle pitting Israel, as the forward base of Western civilization, against
Islamist extremism organized and directed by Iran and its junior partner, Syria."
Verily, these very words found themselves in the president's mouth on Friday,
when he was meeting with Tony Blair to decide the fate of the Middle East. "In
Lebanon, Hezbollah and its Iranian and Syrian sponsors are willing to kill and
use violence to stop the spread of peace and democracy," said Bush.
It is clear that the neocons, having won over Bush and Rice, are savoring this
chance to reshape the whole Middle East in one fell swoop. They are thus not
eager to stop the current war. The
president is happy to oblige. "The Middle East is littered with agreements
that just didn't work," says Bush. "And now is the time to address
the root cause of the problem. And the root cause of the problem is terrorist
groups trying to stop the advance of democracies."
The real "root cause" is not the obstruction of "democracy."
The real problem is war. Fighting that just leads to more death and yet another
generation of hatred is hardly a basis on which to build the lasting peace they
are so optimistic about. By failing to demand an immediate cease-fire, Bush
and co. are not advancing the cause of democracy one iota. But they are abetting
the working of warfare.
The Many Pitfalls of a Peacekeeping Force
Peacekeeping forces are feel-good ideas that conjure
up hopeful images in the minds of credulous Western populations. Even talking
about the possibility of having one helps remove the pressure to conduct rapid
and successful diplomacy.
It is also clear that the Israelis are using such a "concession"
as allowing in a peacekeeping force as a kind of stalling tactic. First of all,
it will take days if not weeks to negotiate what sort of force will be sent,
and which countries will participate, especially if it is not going to be sent
from a preexisting alliance such as NATO, with its set protocols and harmonized
operations. After that, preparing the soldiers and packing them off will also
take time. And all of this presumes that there won't be at the same time some
other major world event, some wider crisis in the region or elsewhere that diverts
attention from Lebanon. So it becomes hard to predict exactly how much of the
country will be left at that stage.
It seems that there is very little in it for anyone. The Europeans, their typical
by Jacques Chirac, don't want to touch it, at least not as a NATO mission.
both a strong ally of Israel and a Muslim state, is open to the idea, but only
if the mission has a UN mandate and only if a clear cease-fire is in place.
At the same time, however, the Turks have 260,000 troops locked down in the
southeast of their own country, fighting Kurdish rebels, with talks of taking
the fight to northern Iraq as well.
A peacekeeping mission would not augur well for other Muslim countries, who
would no doubt quickly be labeled partisan by the IDF. If peacekeepers from
Austria, Canada, China, and Finland can be killed because Hezbollah was allegedly
firing from their neighborhood, how long would it take Israel to declare Muslim
peacekeepers collaborators and bomb them too? And then what sort of reaction
could be expected from their home states?
American participation would not be beneficial for either America or Israel.
It would increase anti-Semitism among those who malevolently depict the Jews
as all-powerful. America's non-criticism of Israel is already increasing
anti-Americanism in the Muslim world. And, if the force is made up largely
of Europeans (even easily dispensable Eastern ones), it will seem to give credence
to the rhetoric
about crusaders espoused by al-Qaeda.
In short, such a mission could only bolster the
ranks of al-Qaeda, making Lebanon a magnet for terrorists from around the
world. Only bin Laden, the neocons, and the End-Timers
could relish such a scenario. For everyone else in the region, it is likely
to result in (to paraphrase an
injured Israeli soldier) "hell on earth."