Geopolitics

A New Hope?

By Ryan McGreal
Published February 15, 2007

Fear will keep the local systems in line - fear of this battle station.
-- Grand Moff Tarkin, Star Wars: A New Hope

I've written before about the futility of aggressive, balance of power based approaches to foreign policy. Unless you're prepared to obliterate your enemy completely, subjugation and intimidation just don't work most of the time.

That doesn't stop bully states from using it again and again, to predictably disastrous results.

Two articles that crossed my screen today cast some light on this phenomenon. In the first, published today in Salon, a piece on the situation in Israel after last year's month-long war in Lebanon describes the failure of Israel's much-criticized exercise of military power to accomplish any of its objectives. [Note: Salon requires you to click through a banner ad before you can read the article]

According to Israeli military intelligence, Hezbollah remains firmly rooted in Lebanon and has successfully rearmed - the Iranian-backed Shiite militia now has even more missiles than it had before last summer's war. To many Israelis, it seems as if that war, and the destruction it brought, were all for nothing. ...

Several senior [Israeli government] officials acknowledged unequivocally that Israel lost the war against Hezbollah, and confirmed that this is a widely held view inside the Israeli government - despite many public pronouncements to the contrary by Israeli leaders.

This flies right in the face of Likud Party orthodoxy. For decades, the Israeli right-wing has argued that Israel needs to be able and willing, as Richard Perle argued in 1996, to:

contain, destabilize, and roll-back some of its most dangerous threats. This implies clean break from the slogan, 'comprehensive peace' to a traditional concept of strategy based on balance of power.

[Israel must also] change the nature of its relations with the Palestinians, including upholding the right of hot pursuit for self defense into all Palestinian areas and nurturing alternatives to [former Palestinian Authority leader Yassir] Arafat's exclusive grip on Palestinian society.

Perle's argument was based on the false premise that by beating the Palestinians hard enough, Israel would be able to pacify them, domesticate their aspirations, and convince them that passive acceptance would be less painful than active resistance.

Former Likud Party leader and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon expressed the same sentiment in 2002 when he said, "The Palestinians must be hit and it must be very painful: we must cause them losses, victims, so that they feel the heavy price."

With the election of Hamas and the ongoing insurgency in Palestine last year and the open presence of Hezbollah in Lebanon, the failure of this strategy is painfully evident.

According to the Salon article, many government officials and analysts in Israel are starting to blame the Bush administration's Middle East policy for the precarious situation in which Israel finds itself.

This year's annual report by Tel Aviv University's Jaffee Center blames "the American failure in Iraq" for harming Israeli security and recommending that the US withdraw sooner rather than later because "There is no Israeli interest being served by a continued American presence in Iraq."

What remains less clear is the extent to which those same analysts have recognized the the Bush administration's strategy in the Middle East parallels that of Israel. Just as the US tipped its hand by invading Iraq and lost the ability to threaten the use of power, so did Israel do the same when it invaded Lebanon.

Far from striking terror into enemies, these actions revealed the US and Israel as being merely human, as susceptible to resistance as any other human agency. If anything, they emboldened their enemies, who are now ready to call the US and Israel's bluff again.

At the same time, another development threatens to shift dramatically the underlying balance of power in the Middle East, further squeezing the US out of its former place.

The Times of London ran a remarkable essay today on a recent meeting between India, China and Russia:

Foreign ministers from the three emerging giants met in Delhi yesterday to discuss ways to build a more democratic "multipolar world".

It was the second such meeting in the past two years and came after an unprecedented meeting between their respective leaders, Manmohan Singh, Hu Jintao and Vladimir Putin, during the G8 summit in St Petersburg in July.

It also came only four days after Mr Putin stunned Western officials by railing against American foreign policy at a security conference in Munich.

They are maintaining that their approach is democratic, cooperative, and multilateral, all of which effectively undermine the Bush administration's authoritarian, coercive, and unilateral approach to global politics.

Of course, the situation is complicated. India has long struggled to find a comfortable balance between co-optation and isolation and China is deeply entangled in the globalized American economy.

Of the three, Russia is the most openly anti-hegemonic, but with Putin's authoritarian tendencies and Russia's history, it's not a stretch to expect that Putin really just wants a bigger piece of the action.

However, it's clear a new non-aligned movement is starting to shape itself, and it's also clear that the biggest impetus for these new relationships is the abandonment in the US of multilateralism, diplomacy, and fairness.

To paraphrase Princess Leia, the more the US tightens its grip, the more nations will slip through its fingers.

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Ryan writes a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. He also maintains a personal website and has been known to post passing thoughts on Twitter @RyanMcGreal. Recently, he took the plunge and finally joined Facebook.

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By nobrainer (registered) | Posted February 15, 2007 at 21:00:05

Best use of Star Wars in a political essay I've seen all week!

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By adrian (registered) | Posted February 16, 2007 at 09:12:50

Fascinating and insightful blog post.

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