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July 28, 2006

States and Non-States
Posted by Michael Signer

At a Truman Project dinner the other night at an apartment in Woodley Park, over Armando's pizza and beer, we debated the Israel-Lebanon conflict.  We mirrored the country in our conflicting views.  Some agreed with Nancy Pelosi and other members of the Democratic leadership that Israel's response has been disproportionate.  Others felt that Hezbollah got what they deserved.

At some point in the discussion, it occurred to me to ask -- what is the difference between what Israel is doing now and what America did in Afghanistan?  Our national memory -- indeed, our history -- will be defined by Iraq, which happened only after a massively successful invasion of another sovereign nation.  We reflect too little on Afghanistan (this amnesia is another casualty of the rash and ill-planned venture in Iraq).

So let's talk about Afghanistan, vis-a-vis Israel's approach to Lebanon.

Here's what we do know -- in 2002, Afghanistan's legitimate state was being run by a religious sect that had taken on state-like dimensions.  The Taliban had become a state; they were the government of Afghanistan.  Because America deemed the Taliban's excesses and sanction of Al Qaeda an unacceptable risk -- and because the nation was aching for a proportionate and justified response to 9/11 -- we invaded Afghanistan, quickly and powerfully, with the goal of replacing the "state" of the Taliban with a more legitimate state.

There are similarities and differences to Lebanon.  Lebanon right now is very interesting, and distressing, analyzed as a state.  In the south, Hezbollah has essentially become a state-within-a-state.  The fundamentalist group has a quasi-monopoly on violence.  They provide social services and police functions.  Their members are further elected to positions in Lebanon's central government.  So you basically have southern Lebanon as a quasi-state that declared war (sort of, in its own ineffectual and limited way) on Israel.

In the post-Westphalian world, we want, and should want, states.  Yes, we want humane and democratic states, but those are second-order preferences.  The first thing we want is states.  States are good.  Speaking as a lawyer, it's like when there's a conflict between individuals in the United States.  Whether it's a traffic accident or a surgery gone wrong, you want lawyers involved.  You want arbiters who themselves are invested in some sort of common system of reasoning (members of the same bar, students of the rule of law) mediating between the chaotic passions of individuals who, left to their own devices, might just tear each other to shreds. 

Viewed through the state/non-state optic, this clarifies just why it's so important for Israel to de-legitimate Hezbollah's ability, flagrantly and cheerfully, to operate as a non-state actor assuming state-like powers in southern Lebanon -- just as it was legitimate for the United States to eject the Taliban -- a non-state-actor who was running a state, but not like a real state (that's a little knotty, but you get my point) -- from Afghanistan. 

We cannot accept a world where non-state actors become legitimate.  In Weber's famous definition, a government is that which has a legitimate monopoly on violence.  The crucial gray area has always been what "legitimate" means.  The Taliban's (or Hezbollah's) legitimacy is not your grandmother's legitimacy.  Especially as Iraq teeter-totters toward a status quo where Moqtada al-Sadr starts running his own state-within-a-state, and Pakistan's madrassas become more powerful and start providing more services, America -- the strongest country in the world -- ought to do all it can to make its investment in legitimate states as strong as possible. 

To the extent Israel's campaign against Hezbollah is also a campaign against Hezbollah's potential seizure of legitimate state power, then it's a good thing.  Every missile Hezbollah fires is one less threat against legitimate state power -- so if Israel succeeds in wasting Hezbollah down to no real hard military power, terrific.  To the extent that Israel's campaign backfires, and creates more political sympathy (and thus legitimate power) for Hezbollah within Lebanon, that's bad.  But at least this is an optic for better understanding the promise and peril of Israel's efforts. 


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Sorry but there are several problems with your premises. First, the Taliban was not a non-state actor but the government of a state. Granted it was hardly recognized but what else do you call something that holds a national capital, fields an army, enforces laws and sends ambassadors abroad (not always successfully)? Second, Hezbollah is part of the legitimately elected Lebanese government, holding (as I understand it) all the parliamnentry seats from the Bekkah Valley. Third, with the exception of not disarming Hezbollah, the current Lebanese government was highly functional and about as pro-western as it was possible to get in the Arab world.

Adding these all together, I think, makes the comparison to Afghanistan very difficult. I completely agree that we should strive for functional, legitimate states. No other power structures can substitute. But in a sense Afghanistan was easy. We could adopt an open policy of regime change and charge ahead to remove the Taliban. No nuance needed there. We could make the argument, increasingly supported by international law, that regimes like the Taliban were simply illegitimate and that questions of self-defense aside, they simply were not entitled to run Afghanistan back into the Middle Ages with impunity.

By contrast, we can't adopt a policy of regime change in Lebanon. Nor should we. Unlike Afghanistan the government is elected and there are many elements that would like to cast out Hezbollah and the vestiges of Syrian domination. But adopting an Afghanistan-type policy of regime change would be (and is, if that is the effect of Israel's actions) a disaster, precisely because it will not result in the strong state we desparately need. In Lebanon we need to deal with the fact that it is a divided country with Hezbollah a legitimate part of the political power structure. We should certainly seek to disarm and disband their militas. But the approach must be fundamentally different from in Afghanistan.

When this war started my first thought was that Israel was just trying to shove the severity of the Hezbollah problem in the world's face, figuring (correctly) that Resolution 1559 would never be enforced collectively if there wasn't a fear that Israel would do so on it's own. But things are so out of control I'm not sure that's correct any more. Maybe there's still time for the US and others to realize the importance of a strong Lebanese state and that a flattening of its infrasructure isn't the way to bring it about. But I'm not holding my breath that this bulb will go off in Condi's head.

You are insane.

Have you noticed that Israel is *losing* this war?

Sorry..your premise and conclusion makes no sense because this....

"We cannot accept a world where non-state actors become legitimate." no longer true.

"Non state" actors or terrorist...are the world's new legitimate actors against "terrorist States".

History is replete with Terrorist "States", Occupiers, Colonizers, who have lost by being bled out pint by pint by "Non State" terrorist.

Neither we nor Israel can win a war and reconfigure the ME to our's non state actors are bigger and better than yesterday's ..we can engage and compromise and we can spend and die our way to failure.

There's an additional flaw to your argument. Hezbollah grew as a result of Israel's 1982 invasion of Lebanon. It received/receives support from Iran and Syria, but it is a legitimate indigenous Lebanese phenomenon, as shown by its support in elections. Its support is growing in the wake of this year's war, not only in Lebanon but among Arabs/the Middle East generally, bringing together Shiites and Sunnis. Israel seems to be purposefully trying to destroy the Lebanese state and insfrastructure. Not only is it illegal under international law to target an entire nation for the actions of a few (as Hezbollah's targeting of Israeli civilians with rockets is illegal), it is counterproductive to the ends sought of reducing terrorism, not to mention the broader goals of peace and security, for both Israel and the United States. Reducing the role of Hezbollah as a military force can only be reached by strengthening the Lebanese state, not by destroying it. Conversely, destroying it will only increase the role of militias. One would think that our actions in Iraq would have made that clear. If we haven't learned that, what have we learned?
A ceasefire and a UN peacekeeping force may not be an ideal option, but its the best option available. Finally, U.S. support for Israel's vastly disproportionate use of force is undercutting the security of the United States, increasing the likelihood of terrorist attacks, worsening our situation in Iraq, as well as our ability to work with other nations in the fight against terrorism and a host of other issues. Since when has a pragmatic approach to world affairs, one that strengthens the security of Americans, become something that Americans eschew--in the name of what? Democracyarsenal does not means using an arsenal to destroy democracy, in this case, a democratically elected government in Lebanon--it means the opposite. Hezbollah's low-scale attacks on Israel over the last six years killed 16 Israelis, according to the Israeli government. The point is not to say that that's negligible, but to ask what can stop it without worsening the violence? Hezbollah has not posed an existential threat to Israel, certainly not compared to Israel's assertion of its right to kill hundreds/thousands, destroy the infrastucture of a nation, and displace one-fourth of the population for the actions of a few. Support for Israel does not mean supporting or justifying its actions when they are wrong and wrong-headed, any more than being an American patriot means supporting our actions when they are likewise.

Comparing the Taliban with Hizbollah is entirely inaccurate. Islamic fundamentalism is about where the comparison ends. Totally different ideology, totally different political dynamic, totally different social and historical contexts.

The Taliban were almost universally hated in Afghanistan. Hizbollah is quite popular in much of Lebanon, not just among the Shia. Most Afghanis welcomed the US intervention. Safe to say almost all Lebanese oppose Israel's destruction of Lebanon.

The situation today is much more like Iraq in 1990, when we destroyed the entire civilian infrastructure of the country and then left the country to rot under sanctions.

That bombing campaign was supposed to be a lesson to other countries not to challenge the US. It was supposed to deter future aggressions on US interests in the region.

It was supposed to be a lesson to civilian populations of the Arab world that Saddam was a disaster and would bring them nothing but destruction and defeats.

That was about the time a little known religious freak named Osama Bin Laden started pathologically hating the United States and plotting against it.

Like Israel in Lebanon now, that bombing campaign was 95% punitive for the civilian population. What good did it do for America? What good did it do for the Iraqis? And what harm did it do to Saddam?

What has Israel acheived in this war so far other than to raise Hizbollah's stature in the Muslim world and expose itself and the US to ever greater opposition and hatred?

It's not about who we are, it is about what we do! And anything Israel does is counted as having been made in America.

States and non-states is political science jargon, let us talk about peoples and cultures and historical memories. Let us talk about dead women, children and men -- lives destroyed. Let us talk about the devastated land of Lebanon and its oil-polluted sea. The Hizbollah are Lebanese; they love their families and country, and defend it when attacked. Is it any wonder most Lebanese would now support these nationalists, in view of the destruction of their towns and cities, power stations and airports, hospitals, roads and homes by Israel's bombs? This discussion needs more anthropologists, historians and artists -- and fewer political scientists who pontificate about abstract collectivities and seem unable to see the peoples involved; flesh and blood individuals, families and communities who are being destroyed.

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