No Exit

NO EXIT….Think Progress has posted an excerpt of an interview that Richard Armitage did with NPR today. Armitage, who served in the Pentagon during the Reagan administration and was Colin Powell’s #2 in the State Department until he left in 2005, talks here about Israel’s last intervention in Lebanon, which began in 1982 and lasted not the promised few weeks, but 18 years:

Well, I remember with stunning clarity one of our Israeli interlocutors sitting in my office, telling me that, “Don’t worry about this peace in Galilee operation. We understand our neighbors very well. We understand them better than anyone. We know all the dynamics of the situation in Lebanon.” And that turned out not quite to be the case.

I suspect that people in government now are also hearing that from Israel. Don’t get me wrong ? if I thought that this air campaign would work, and would eliminate Nasrullah and the leadership of Hezbollah, I think it would all be fine. But I fear that you can’t do this from the sky, and that you’re going to end up empowering Hezbollah, and perhaps introducing a dynamic into the body politic in Lebanon that will take some great period of time to recover from.

I suspect that this is correct, and I confess that I find it inexplicable. The fact that George Bush, for example, miscalculated the war in Iraq is understandable: he had no relevant experience to guide him and wasn’t the kind of person to listen to those who did, like Colin Powell and Eric Shinseki. Likewise, the fact that the U.S. military initially showed no interest in fighting a counterinsurgency in Iraq is also understandable: it’s not the kind of war they’re set up to fight and it’s not the kind of war they’re very interested in learning to fight. Neither case is excusable, but they’re both understandable.

But if there’s any country in the world that should understand the nature of war against a guerrilla organization, it’s Israel. Wanting to give an enemy a bloody nose is one thing, but they can’t possibly have believed that an air campaign would do lasting damage to a broadly-supported indigenous guerrilla group like Hezbollah. Nor could they have seriously entertained the notion that they could bomb Beirut around the clock and create free-fire zones in southern Lebanon and still retain the sympathy of any substantial bloc of the Lebanese citizenry. Nor, having been the proximate cause of the rise of Hezbollah in the first place, could they have had any illusions about what effect a major war would ultimately have if it failed to utterly destroy its target.

But apparently they did. And now they don’t know how to get out.