Hezbollah, Lebanese Democracy, and President Bush
by Stephen Schwartz
Hezbollah boss Hassan Nasrallah seems to have had trouble deciding just what happened in the recent border war between his forces in Lebanon and the state of Israel . On August 14, the terrorist proclaimed in a speech that his guerrilla army had won victory over the Israelis.
Of course, considering that Hezbollah took no Israeli territory and was incapable of repelling Israeli troops or stopping Israeli bombings, the claimant of success had to recognize various inconsistencies. In the August 14 diatribe, Nasrallah began by describing his alleged triumph as "a strategic and historical victory for Lebanon, for the resistance, and for the whole nation." But he went on to add that victory would not be complete until Lebanon was reconstructed; the Lebanese people, not Hezbollah, had won.
On August 27, less than two weeks later, Nasrallah announced a sudden change in perspective. The war had not, it seems, produced a victory after all; rather, it was a disaster. Nasrallah admitted, in a Lebanese television interview, "We did not think, even one percent, that the capture would lead to a war at this time and of this magnitude. You ask me, if I had known on July 11... that [kidnapping two Israeli soldiers] would lead to such a war, would I do it? I say no, absolutely not." Nasrallah went so far as to say, "the current Israeli situation, and the available indicators, tell us that we are not heading to another round." This last comment contrasted brusquely with the typical Nasrallah rhetoric, based on a repeated motif: "I do not even recognize the presence of a state that is called ‘ Israel .'" (From an interview with The Washington Post, February 20, 2000).
Why the surprising shift, reminiscent of the twists and turns of Stalinist politics in the defunct Soviet-controlled Communist movement?
Some supporters of Israel interpreted the change in Hezbollah's discourse as evidence of an Israeli win. J.J. Goldberg, editor of the Jewish Forward, reported in that newspaper's issue of September 1, "Taking Nasrallah at his word, Israelis concluded that they actually had regained their deterrence, the most critical item in their survival kit… Nor was that all… Hezbollah had dismantled 14 military outposts along the Israeli border near the disputed Shebaa Farms." Nevertheless, it is difficult to assert an unambiguous gain for the Jewish state, which suffered the revelation of civilian insecurity in the northern zone within range of the Hezbollah rocket assault, as well as strategic, tactical, and supply-train weaknesses in the Israeli Defence Forces.
So who, if anybody, won the July 2006 war?
If a single group emerges from the bloodshed of July with a clear advantage, it may be the anti-extremist majority among Lebanese, who express their enthusiasm for a democratic future. On the Lebanese website Ya Libnan, an unidentified Lebanese political leader commented, "it is so easy for Nasrallah now to say that he regrets what he did, after the whole country is in ruins and thousands were killed and wounded. What a miscalculation and poor judgment! He gambled by betting the whole country and Lebanon was the only loser… Nasrallah betrayed his country and should be tried for treason."
But in another sense, the winner in the Hezbollah-Israel battle of 2006 may turn out to be U.S. President George W. Bush, champion of the movement for popular sovereignty in the Arab and Muslim world. If anti-terrorist Lebanese go on to fully repudiate Hezbollah and consolidate their new system of popular sovereignty, the promise of democracy held out to the Middle East by our president will gain new credibility.
Mainstream media in the West insist on seeing the July war simplistically – either Hezbollah or Israel must be presented as having achieved a major advance, because that would seem to perpetuate an endless and irresolvable Middle East conflict. But in the end, the hero of the contest may be in Washington , and those who gain the most may be the democratic nations, led by America .