Posted by: sean | August 29, 2006

Disarming Hizbollah

In Sunday’s Magazine in the Times, there was an article on disarming Hizbollah, in which parallels are made to the situations in the Ivory Coast, Kosovo, the Congo and Northern Ireland. The point is made that disarmament cannot realistically be done by force (unless one is prepared and able to destroy the force) and that there has to be a good political and diplomatic framework that offers the militants a reason to disarm themselves.

Israel launched its air, land and sea attack on Lebanon with the goal, as Prime Minister Ehud Olmert put it, of “disarming this murderous organization”; in that regard, the campaign failed. How, then, could any lesser force succeed? Lebanon’s defense minister, Elias Murr, has defended Hezbollah and flatly asserted that the Lebanese Army “is not going to the south to strip Hezbollah of its weapons and do the work that Israel did not.” Neither will a U.N. peacekeeping force, however large. “You cannot impose peace on these people if they?re ready to fight you,” as a D.D.R. [disarmament, demobilization and reintegration] expert in the U.N.’s peacekeeping department puts it. “You need to be able to annihilate them, because they?re not going to lay down their arms voluntarily.” Even robust United Nations forces do not seek to annihilate their adversaries.

If Hezbollah cannot be forcibly disarmed, can some political arrangement induce the militia to disarm itself? This, of course, raises a question about Hezbollah?s aspirations: is it seeking to achieve through force a goal that can be attained through diplomacy, or through political activity? That this is in fact the case is the unspoken premise of United Nations Resolution 1559, passed in 2004, which sought to release Lebanon from the suffocating grip of Syria, and thus to begin a national dialogue that would ultimately lead to the incorporation of Hezbollah into Lebanese affairs.

I’ve said this before, but the only realistic way to get Hizbollah to disarm is politically and diplomatically. Israeli attacks on Lebanon only serve to strengthen Hizbollah’s raison d’être, showing that they do need a strong paramilitary force to defend Lebanon from another Israeli invasion. That the invasion might not have occured if it weren’t for the conflict is not really important: the conflict does exist. If Israel were really interested in getting rid of Hizbollah’s militia forces, then Tel Aviv would have to start another round of “land for peace” negotiations. The problem is that since Lebanon’s (and perhaps more importantly, Hizbollah’s) policy toward Israel is inextricably linked with that of Syria, the process would have to be much wider. This means that it wouldn’t be enough to just give back Lebanese territory; a peace initiative would have to include at least the Syrians if not the Palestinians in order to work.

This would be a lot of hard and complicated work; however, if Israel is really interested in peace, they’re going to have to start sometime. And the sooner the better.



  1. Sean, I have to repeat again that I disagree with you here. I simply do not believe that we have to take Hizbullah’s rhetoric so seriously, and I think it is just naive to believe that the organization is completly sincere in its intentions. Hizbullah’s reason-to-exist, on the surface, certainly *claims* to protect Palestine and Palestinians; yet, does this fundamentalist shi’ite organization truly care about the Sunni Palestinians? Are they really fighting for them? I don’t think so. No, just as it is with Iran, Hizbullah is very competent at yanking political strings based on self-interest. Yes, both Syrian and Lebanese foreign policy is inextricably linked to the situation in the Gaza Strip, but how legitimate are such claims in the first place? The answer is: not at all, even the Arab world’s interests are parallel to that of the west; namely, they are scared shitless of the Syrian-Iranian-Hizbullah axis ( Yet, your idealism is *probably* correct if you have the following logic: if the Palestine question is solved, then organizations like Hizbullah will lose legitimacy.

    Still, we’re at odds here. You mentioned before that Hizbullah is a “legitimate” and “democratic” organization in your previous post, although you conceded that you don’t necessarily agree with them. This sounds like apologist European-style multilateralism. Well, seen from this perspective, the natural conclusion to draw is obvious: we must all try to attempt a very wide multilateral negotiational framework, including Syria and perhaps Hizbullah (but this argument fails, since this would mean that Iran would need to be involved). It simply does not work that way. The point is that we’re talking about some whacked out fundamentalist organizations and governments here, and I frankly think that it is naive to think that we need to negotiate them based on mutual interests. No way, if we talk about appeasements and concessions with these guys, we’re talking about some stubborn fundamentalists who are only looking to make deals exclusively favorable to themselves. It’s a political and diplomatic impasse. Case in point: Iran. For all of these reasons, it is not wise to take Hizbullah’s rhetoric too seriously.

    If anything, Hizbullah should not have a reason to exist, they are a spreading cancer to us all.


  2. If by “apologist European-style multilateralism” you mean an apology for democracy, then yes. Whether we like it or not, Hizbollah is enormously popular and was democratically elected to the Lebanese government, just as Hamas was elected in Palestine. The US can’t have democracy and also decide who gets elected.

    It doesn’t follow that the logic behind multi-lateral talks with the regional powers (Hizbollah, Damascus and Tehran) “fails” because Iran would be involved. That makes no sense. The very principles of diplomacy are negotiation, which is the opposite of only talking to the people you agree with.

    I think if you were to look at the policies of Syria, Iran and especially Hizbollah, you’d see that most of these actors are very pragmatic. And as far as Iranians wanting to make a deal that is favorable to Iran, that’s what negotiating is: trying to broker a deal that is favorable to one’s own interests. And I find it pretty laughable that anyone would say that we’re at a “political and diplomatic impasse,” when the US refuses to even meet with any of these groups. How can you be at an impasse when you won’t even negotiate? At the end of the day, the US asks other parties to concede key points as a condition to negotiations, which is like telling you that I’ll only agree to negotiate with you about the price of your car if you agree to sell it to me for less than $1,000 dollars. Again, that’s not negotiation, it’s dictating orders.

    Finally, dismissing these key actors in the region as “whacked out fundamentalists” is irresponsible and foolish. If you were familiar with Nasrallah’s rhetoric, you’d find that he is very short on fiery bluster and so generally says what he means and does what he says. So this kind of remark is irrelevent at best and a dishonest excuse to not negotiate at worst.

    If you think that diplomacy is not the answer but still think that Hizbollah has to be armed, then you should be for invading Lebanon to annihilate the entire organization in a guerilla war. I don’t think that you believe that that’s what needs to be done.

  3. Let’s clear out one fundamental ontological divide before I proceed. The fact of the matter is that I disagree with you that Hizbullah is legitimate. Yes, whether we like it or not, Hizbullah (like Hamas) enjoys enormous popularity, and more than anything, they have been formally elected into political power. However, what kind of legitimate political party is allowed to have an independent military wing? This is the equivalent of Buchanan’s independent party or the state of Florida shooting missles at Cuba – state-sanctioned, may I add -, just because they disagree with the lack of hard US military positionality on this island. The reason why Hizbullah enjoys so much military autonomy within Lebanon, then, is not that they are democratically “legitimate”, but rather the state of Lebanon has been trying to spread the diffusion of responsbility to one crazy group, simply since the state refuses to be accountable for Israel’s occupation of the borderlands. And to add confusion, Hizbullah is not necessarily a domestic-contentious actor (although time may prove them to be. I’m sure many people there are sick of such unabashed militants). Thus, because you consider Hizbullah as already legitimate (which I regard as an apriori fallacy), we won’t agree to anything. But I can certainly question your logic after this ontological point of departure (Hizbullah is not legitimate, although they have been legitimized, no matter what). Still, as a word of caution, the curse of analyzing the middle-east is nearly impossible, given that the “nation-state” concept refuses to make clarity there.

    OK, if you have any ideas about how to negotiate with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a young despot (he could be in power for many years) who does not feel ashamed to pontificate about his dreams of a Middle East without an Israel, who wags his tail at the West about the off & on need for a nuclear-weapons program, and who has been funnelling resources (talk about soft money?) and arms to Hizbullah, then I’m all ears. “Erasing Israel off the map” may sound cute, but let’s just say there’s a little room for pragmatic cynicism here. This guy is dangerous and he’s not open to negotiation (unless it means opening up the oil market).

    Ahmadinejad’s use of rhetoric, by the way, is far from “pragmatic”. His language is full of fairy tale BS with all these words of honor, revenge, God, and what have you. The Chamberlin thing just does not work with such dangerous visionaries. History is a good lesson here.

    Again, I’m at odds with you in terms of how we *frame* the situation in the first place. Your apriori understanding that Hizbullah is legitimate just does not cut it for me. Hizbullah is NOT legitimate. Yes, I often consider liberal European media to be very apologist and muddied, which you may be suspectible to. Eurocentric hands have never done any good for the world. Nationally-sanctioned agreements to distribute a French-German High School Propoganda Textbook (US + Soviet=Morally Equivalent, the EU as the “New Democratic Hope”) aside, stubborn ideologies often serve as the principal major block for any form of negotation, and of which always preclude real conditions. No need for explanation here.

    Of course Hizbullah must be disarmed somehow. There are many options in front of us. The worst thing to do, however, is to treat the organization as “legitimate” in the first place; doing so would allow them a spot on the negotiating table, and therefore will they achieve further legitimacy. No, if anything, there must NOT be negotiation with these irresponsible, stubborn, violent fools. Rather, there must be aim to *deligitimate* them in the first place. If it further means *deligitimizing* Israel’s recent actions, I also won’t oppose.

    As the dust settles, we’ll finally see how far Hizbullah’s hard power capacities have been damaged. Yes, they are providing indispensable social-services in Southern Lebanon at this moment. They are performing at a capacity only dreamed by all of these NGO-do-gooders out there. But, if anything, the state of Lebanon, the US, the UN (but not Israel), must find a way in which all can to do even *better* than them. In my opinion, then, the entire matter rests on both the *social* and *economic* reconstruction of Lebanon, without the aid of Hizbullah.

    However, we all know that Hizbullah is itching to shoot when they feel it’s the right time. Confusion is their greatest political resource. Meanwhile, the UN, the US, and Israel are all giving Hizbullah way too much agency (through the quasi-mechanism called silence) at this very moment. If we require competition for Lebanon’s civil society, then allons-y (with Hizbullah and Iran pushed out of the picture).

    For all of these reasons, any attempt to construct a hypothetical multi-lateral design as a means to disarm Hizbullah just does not pan out.


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