Lebanon and the Issue of Force in Democratic Societies

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After widespread Hezbollah violence in West Beirut earlier this month, things seem to have settled down. Bu the political problem at the core of this conflict remains, the legitimacy and weakness of the Lebanese state. David Schenker (WINEP) provides some background:

In early May, the Lebanese government, led by the “March 14” ruling coalition, objected to Hizballah’s telecommunications network and its control over Lebanon’s international airport. The cabinet subsequently decided to remove the network and install an airport officer that was not sympathetic to the Shiite organization. In reaction, Hizballah cried foul and demanded that the government back down.

When the coalition stood its ground, Hizballah forces temporarily occupied Beirut. Nearly one hundred Lebanese were killed and 250 were wounded in the worst fighting since the country’s fifteen-year civil war that ended in 1991. After three days of fighting — which included Hizballah’s failed attempt to storm the Shouf mountain preserve of March 14 Druze leader Walid Jumblatt — the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) stepped in and enforced a de-escalation. However, in the face of Hizballah’s overwhelming military might, and the LAF’s unwillingness to protect national institutions, Prime Minister Fouad Siniora and his coalition capitulated to Hizballah’s demands on May 14, and revoked the cabinet decisions.

[Video of Hezbollah rolling through West Beirut]

Michael J. Totten (Contentions) opines:

A year and a half of mostly non-violent resistance yielded Hezbollah bupkis. After one week of murder and mayhem, the Lebanese government caved. The lesson for Hezbollah is clear: when things don’t go your way, take the rifles out of the garage, hit the streets, and start shooting people and burning down buildings.

In the comments thread, OAO notes:

[A]n even bigger problem is that the lesson that totten says nasrallah learned was also learned by all jihadis and terrorists in the ME: violence not only works, but works fast and easy. there is nobody with the guts to stand up to it.

I agree there is certainly potential for this to happen and it is incredibly worrying. But what is the likelihood of a similar form of political instability being replicated in other Islamic countries? Is the weakness of Lebanon’s national state unique?

Put another way, “guts” or will is part of the equation in defeating terrorists. So is capacity. Any state that allows (or is unable to stop) citizens, residents, or other civilians within its borders to use force to resolve conflicts is clearly weak. Such a state fails to meet the minimum definition of a state: a monopoly on the use of force and violence to solve disputes. The police fulfill this function internally and the army and other armed forces externally.

The state, including the police and army, is incredibly weak in Lebanon. The places where radical terrorists have been able to gain large footholds (if not control) are in these sorts of failed and weak states. I’m thinking of Afghanistan and Somalia in the extreme cases but even places like northern Sri Lanka where the Tamil Tigers operate or southern Thailand and parts of the Philipines where Islamist separatists and groups affiliated with Al Qaeda operate. These are lawless places where the state is largely absent, either through neglect, lack of resources, graft, corruption, or some combination of these.

Rather than focusing on the lesson that Sheik Hassan Nasrallah and Hezbollah learned or taught the Jihadis, we should examine the lessons that Hezbollah taught democratic states this week.

First, when terrorist organizations say they are ready, willing and able to use violence to achieve their aims we should be ready, willing and able to use “disproportionate” violence against them. Moshe Arens makes this point in his recent Haaretz op-ed (“A cease-fire with terrorism?”)

How to fight terror became the subject of endless discussions during that difficult time. As long as Israel seemed unable to find an effective answer to Palestinian terror, the defeatists in our ranks claimed that terror could not be defeated by force, while the more cautious argued that terror could not be defeated by the use of force alone. The implication was that Israel had no choice but to concede to at least some of the terrorists’ demands – that they must be given a “political horizon.”

But once the Israel Defense Forces and the security services began to seriously tackle Palestinian terror, following the massacre at the Park Hotel in Netanya in the spring of 2002, it quickly became clear that terror could be defeated by force. As a matter of fact, it could be defeated only by the use of force. The terrorists view any hints of Israeli willingness to give in to a portion of their essentially limitless demands as a sign of weakness, which only serves to encourage further acts of terror.

But Israel’s victory over Palestinian terror, which put an end to the daily bouts of suicide bombings, also induced amnesia in the minds of some of Israel’s leaders. The lesson was quickly forgotten. The shameful unilateral withdrawal from the security zone in southern Lebanon, which served to trigger the second intifada, was acclaimed by them as a great success that brought peace to northern Israel – until the wake-up call came with the Second Lebanon War. At that point, twisted logic took over the minds of members of the Olmert government, and they acclaimed the first defeat Israel had suffered in its entire history as a defeat of Hezbollah. Maybe they will finally get some sense into their heads when they see what Hezbollah, which they claim to have defeated, is doing in Lebanon these days. What a missed opportunity!

Second, we need to not only maintain the political will to defeat this enemy but also the capacity. When a state is able to mobilize the two (will and capacity) it can be capable of victory against terrorism. This the case even for a weak state like Lebanon, as the national government made clear when it defeated the Fatah al-Islam terrorists.

Third, we need to understand how an organization like Hezbollah was allowed to develop to the extent that it has. I’m not talking about poverty breeding terrorism. It should be clear to every democratic government that allowing armed organizations dedicated to your violent overthrow to operate openly, allowing them to solicit funds from foreign governments, and allowing them to essentially create a state within a state is absolutely unacceptable.

Read More:

Eric Trager: Contentions

Michael Young: Daily Star

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