Politics & Policy

Rewarding Depravity

Worse is always better for Hezbollah.

All the world lamented the Israeli airstrike in Qana that killed dozens of innocent children. All the world, that is, except Hezbollah. The terror group angrily denounced the attack, vowing revenge, but surely it celebrated over the horrifying collateral damage: Every dead child was of priceless propaganda value.

It is for Qanas that Hezbollah conducts its operations among civilians in the first place. It hopes that Israeli attacks will cause civilian casualties so that the Jewish state’s offensive will be delegitimized. It thus depends on a perverse logic whereby a civilized military force attempting to avoid civilian casualties at the cost of the effectiveness of its own operations is considered barbaric and is pressured to end its campaign — and the world perversely reasons right along with it.

This is one of the greatest asymmetries of asymmetric warfare. For a guerrilla force, worse is always better, even though the worse comes at its instigation. It seeks a widening gyre of death and destruction. “Promoting disorder is a legitimate objective for the insurgent,” David Galula writes in his classic study of insurgency warfare. “Moreover, disorder — the normal state of nature — is cheap to create and very costly to prevent.”

Lebanon is a case study in this insight. How much energy and money were expended on rebuilding Lebanon after its decades-long civil war, for it all to be thrown away in one morning by Hezbollah in a reckless act of war? The resulting destruction is Hezbollah’s responsibility, but it gains from it. Hezbollah wants a weakened Lebanese state so that the terrorist organization will have more freedom to work its will in the country, while it is Israel that needs strong Lebanese institutions that can squeeze Hezbollah’s private army out of existence.

It is easier, however, to destabilize a weak government than it is to bolster one, which is one reason the Bush administration’s Middle Eastern ambitions are being ground into sand at the moment. Bush wants to create something new, but the act of creation is tricky and onerous. Destroying is not. Pro-Iraq-war hawks used to say that the insurgency there was of limited appeal because it has no positive political program. Well, so what? It needs no agenda besides promoting a civil war. Mindless bloodletting in Iraq will block the creation of anything new, and that’s enough.

Lebanon was a fragile success story of the administration’s promotion of democracy. All the more reason for Syria and Iran to arm a private army there that has succeeded in fomenting war and threatens to bring that fragile project crashing down. For our enemies in the Middle East, destruction is good, brutality is useful and violent nihilism is the one true philosophy.

Defeating a guerrilla force — as Israel aims to do in Lebanon and the U.S. in Iraq — has been hard enough throughout history. But it becomes much harder when the terrorist insurgents are accorded the status of a legitimate army. It wasn’t long ago that insurgents and those aiding them were treated as pirates with no legal protections. In his forthcoming book Dangerous Nation, a diplomatic history of the U.S., Robert Kagan recounts what happened when an American ship running guns to rebels in Spanish-controlled Cuba was captured by the Spanish in 1873: “The Spanish colonial authorities swiftly executed the expedition leader, the ship’s American captain and an additional 51 passengers.”

At the same time that terrorist insurgents around the world are spectacularly demonstrating their depravity, the West has acted to give them more rights and to tie its own hands with unrealistic expectations of strictly limiting collateral damage. The Supreme Court has granted Geneva Convention protections to al Qaeda, part of a push to wipe out any moral and legal differences between civilized armies and terrorist bands. The outcry over Qana is directed entirely toward Israel by the “international community,” rewarding Hezbollah for deliberately endangering civilians.

Down this road is defeat for the West, and victory for the only people in the world hoping for more Qanas.

Rich Lowry is author of Legacy: Paying the Price for the Clinton Years.

© 2006 by King Features Syndicate

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