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"America has two great dominant strands of political thought - conservatism, which, at its very best, draws lines that should not be crossed; and progressivism, which, at its very best, breaks down barriers that should never have been erected." -- Bill Clinton, Dedication of the Clinton Presidential Library, November 2004

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Sunday, July 16, 2006


No good unilateral options

posted by Aziz P. at Sunday, July 16, 2006 permalink View blog reactions
The bottom line is this. Lebanon has only two options: wait out the continuing collective punishment being meted out by Israel, or try to wrest the southern border from Hizbollah. The former means willingly allowing the Lebanese people to be pawns of Hizbollah and Israel's deadly test of wills. The latter means risking civil war of the type that ripped Beirut asunder for long years in the 1980s - a chaos that gave birth to the very forces that plague stability today.

The bottom line is this. Israel has only two options: continue the present cycle of escalation, towards certain war with Syria, and ultimately Iran, or to stand down with a cease-fire. The former is a conflagaration that Israel cannnot win nor embark upon unless they are prepared to use their nuclear capabilities for a strike on Tehran (for they simply lack the ability to threaten Iran with conventional means). The latter means that the only route to securing their soldiers' release - soldiers who will no doubt be executed if they escalate the conflict regardless, and in pursuit of whom Israel has already sacrificed many more soldiers and Israeli civilians' lives - by agreeing to the prisoner exchange that was the ultimate motivator for the Hizbollah kidnappings.

Hizbollah faces no stark choices. They can act with impunity; it is the civilians of lebanon who pay the burden, not them. The best possible outcome would be for Israel to stand down and Lebanon to take the border. But these involve domestic risks; for Israel, a loss of political face, for Lebanon, a loss of hard-won stability. But surely a promise of support by Israel for Lebanon's stability - especially to ward off resurgent Syrian influence - could help reduce the risk of civil war? and surely determination by Lebanon to secure the border would be the political cover that PM Olmert needs?

Of course, negotiations to come to such an agreement requires diplomatic leadership by the United States. At present, that is sorely lacking.


i think the games theory trade-off for the israeli soldiers is the reduction or destruction of hizbullah in lebanon. GW and Condi think the Iraelis can do it--the UN veto on the cease fire is evidence.
i agree that this is a prisoner swap gone wrong, but the payoff weights have radically changed.
there are rumors of a failed shadow negotiation last year--hizbullah kidnapped the soldiers to up the payoff and force the exchange.
i think Samir Kuntar was the deal breaker.
Iran said it would defend syria, not lebanon or hizbullah if attacked.
why isn't iran making noises about defending lebanon?
it is hizbullah's move, and it is an evolutionary game now. their survival is at stake.


Samir Kuntar.


and aziz, think of it as return for value, cost performance tradeoff. the israelis and americans both see the destruction of hizbullah as worth the cost in civilian lives. perhaps it is future projection, and the cost in civilian lives is cheaper if paid now. i haven't seen the sims. ;)
but believe me, the sims are running.
as long as Iran doesn't jump up and declare alliance with lebanon, the Israelis are free to give the destruction of hizbullah their best shot. even the arab league is divided--that hardly argues for planning.
hizbullah has miscalculated.

that is, of course, not how i feel personally about this.
i blame god.


good god. Kuntar is a demon. He should not be released, agreed.

However, this is the value of diplomacy; negotiation can do a lot to sort out these details. it isnt surprising to me that Hizb would start negotiations at a maximal position - after all, they probably expect to be bargained down.

Regardless, my prescription above does not include prisoner releases, as it s solely a function of Israel and Lebanon and removes Hizbollah from the equation.


aziz, the window of opportunity for the destruction of hizbullah is not infinite.
the arab populace is vehemently against the Israeli action in leb.
read the father of aardvarks.
also here.
but the Israelis are going to devote their best effort to the destrction of hizbullah until world opinion calls them off.
this was a miscalculation on hizbullah's part, and took everyone by surprise.
the Israelis are good at games theory, and highly opportunistic.
or they would not have survived this long.


as it s solely a function of Israel and Lebanon and removes Hizbollah from the equation.

then where is the payoff for Israelis?
their wish is to remove hizbullah from the equation permanently.
and because hizbullah miscalculated, they have the chance.

to change the outcome of this play, you must change the payoffs.


matoko, did you read my post? the payoff for Israel in working with lebanon to secure the southern border is the removal of Hizbollah.

and yes the window may be short - which is why diplomacy must begin NOW to get the israelis and the lebanese to the table, get the israelis to cease fire, and give the lebanese time to get prepared for war against hizbollah.


the payoff for Israel in working with lebanon to secure the southern border is the removal of Hizbollah.

hmmm...if i were Israel, i would say, a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.
why should Israel trust lebanon? they were too weak to even disarm hizbullah per UN regs. hizbullah is part of the leb government. didn't you see the yellow flags in support of the kidnaps? think that would result in leb civil war.
and anyways, that is the same cease fire deal the UN will eventually broker.
why not destruct hizbullah as ferociously as possible while the window of opportunity exists?



I have to agree with Matoko. Agreeing to a premature ceasefire (i.e. before Israel has had time to strike all the Hez targets they want -- for surely they have a list?), is risking a return to the untenable status quo, for Druze & Christian Lebanon by themselves do not have the strength, and besides the demographics are turning ever more against them. As the news reported today, the best proposal is probably bringing in NATO, since only armies with modern, functioning human and technical systems can be trusted to enforce a neutral zone south of the Litaki river. Diplomacy is just empty words unless there's something real on the table.


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About Nation-Building

Nation-Building was founded by Aziz Poonawalla in August 2002 under the name Dean Nation. Dean Nation was the very first weblog devoted to a presidential candidate, Howard Dean, and became the vanguard of the Dean netroot phenomenon, raising over $40,000 for the Dean campaign, pioneering the use of Meetup, and enjoying the attention of the campaign itself, with Joe Trippi a regular reader (and sometime commentor). Howard Dean himself even left a comment once. Dean Nation was a group weblog effort and counts among its alumni many of the progressive blogsphere's leading talent including Jerome Armstrong, Matthew Yglesias, and Ezra Klein. After the election in 2004, the blog refocused onto the theme of "purple politics", formally changing its name to Nation-Building in June 2006. The primary focus of the blog is on articulating purple-state policy at home and pragmatic liberal interventionism abroad.