Friday, August 04, 2006

That Was Then...

Robert Pape, a political science professor at the University of Chicago had an op-ed in the New York Times the other day on the Hezbollah-Israeli war, in which he argued that Israel will not win.
ISRAEL has finally conceded that air power alone will not defeat Hezbollah. Over the coming weeks, it will learn that ground power won’t work either. The problem is not that the Israelis have insufficient military might, but that they misunderstand the nature of the enemy.

Contrary to the conventional wisdom, Hezbollah is principally neither a political party nor an Islamist militia. It is a broad movement that evolved in reaction to Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in June 1982. At first it consisted of a small number of Shiites supported by Iran. But as more and more Lebanese came to resent Israel’s occupation, Hezbollah — never tight-knit — expanded into an umbrella organization that tacitly coordinated the resistance operations of a loose collection of groups with a variety of religious and secular aims.

The op-ed, continuing with this argument, follows the same theme as Pape's recent book, Dying to Win. In trying to prove that Hezbollah's suicide bombers were not motivated by Islamic fundamentalism to blow themselves up, Pape came up with data that showed that very few of the suicide bombers were Islamic fundamentalists.

I know Professor Pape from classes I took with him, and enjoyed his teaching and books a great deal - even when I disagreed with some of their arguments - but I think he's stretching to apply his arguments from his books into this situation where they don't fit as well. Hezbollah might have just been a loose-knit umbrella organization in the 1980s when they popularized the suicide bomb attack for other Islamic terrorist groups, but a great deal of evidence suggests that they have solidified into a much more unitary group now - or at least a coalition that has come to agree on political issues that are more than simply expelling all foreign forces like in the 1980s. They unified enough to run on a single campaign platform in the recent elections. They have become willing to answer to a single leader in Nasrallah and, most importantly, they have changed their military strategy from one of asymmetric suicide attacks to one of direct engagement with Israeli military forces using conventional weapons.

Of course, it could be that Hezbollah's strategy thus far has been more on the conventional side simply because the current military situation in Lebanon has been so fluid, leaving no real fixed Israeli military target for Hezbollah to target. The recent talk of an international force in southern Lebanon to keep the peace is, for this reason and reasons of history, a terrible idea. The international forces (American, French, Israeli) that tried the same thing in the 1980s ended up with hundreds dead and quick withdrawal, ceding victory to Hezbollah and their suicide attacks. The same will happen if a multinational force sets up shop this time. If a cease-fire is implemented, there will be no peace to keep, and Hezbollah will return to their "glory days" of the 1980s, doing what they do best. That is why the only solution now is for Israel to be allowed to completely destroy Hezbollah's military capability. Once that is accomplished, the Lebanese army should take over control of former Hezbollah-controlled areas. Nancy Soderberg makes the same point based on her experience at the UN in an earlier op-ed in the NY Times.
In any case, one cannot deploy a peacekeeping force until the questions of disarmament and sovereignty have been addressed. Unless the path forward is agreed upon, the peacekeeping troops are at best without a clear mandate and at worst can become pawns in the negotiations.

Second, no cease-fire will hold unless the root cause of the current crisis is addressed: the continuing presence of armed Hezbollah militia in southern Lebanon. Any solution will require a new security arrangement that not only disarms the Hezbollah militia but also mandates the deployment of Lebanese forces to the south, as well as a return of prisoners on both sides. Without such a deal, it would be folly to send in peacekeepers.
The recent US decision to arm and train the Lebanese army is a good first step in carrying out this course of action.

It won't be easy, of course, but there is no reason to be as outright pessimistic as Professor Pape. His book is well written and full of fresh, new insight that challenges conventional wisdom. This has the advantage of sparking controversy and debate on the consequences of foreign occupation. Nevertheless, he tries too hard to apply the insight in his book to the current situation, where it does not fit as cleanly - both because of the ways in which Hezbollah has changed in the 20+ years its been in existence, as well as the nature of the current military conflict in Lebanon. Pape's first book, Bombing to Win - another great book - is all about using air power to deny an opponent the ability to carry out its military strategy rather than simply punishing the citizens in the hopes that they turn on their government. Pape points out that it is inherently difficult to deny a guerilla force the ability to carry out its strategy, and that any attempt to do so becomes frustrated and eventually turns into a punishment campagn.

Pape is still treating Hezbollah as a purely unconventional, guerilla force - which, in some cases, especially their reliance on the support of local populaces, they still are - but Hezbollah has also made significant changes in their military strategy, turning from suicide bombings to fighting from fixed positions with conventional artillery and other weapons. The fact that Hezbollah still maintains some aspects of a guerilla force explains Pape's claim - which I believe to be correct - that an air campaign alone would not defeat Hezbollah and risk turning the military campaign into one of punishment alone. I do not share Professor Pape's pessimism that Israeli ground forces will inevitable fail, given the important changes Hezbollah has made in their war fighting strategy.