Wednesday, August 16, 2006

The Language of Winning and Losing

Iran, Syria, and Hezbollah have declared that Hezbollah won a great victory over Israel. The fact is that they got moved away from the border between Israel and Lebanon and most people would see that as a setback. Additionally, Lebanese and UNIFIL forces will occupy the void left by Israel as it pulls back to its previous border. But there is another fact and that is that Arabs never win wars against non-Arabs as we normally use the term "win." The best they ever do is survive. The Afghans on the other hand actually win wars against invaders. Ask the former Soviet Union if you can find it.

In general, the best Arabs have been able to do is survive wars against others. And, in that context since these societies need to see themselves as winning at least some of the time, surviving constitutes winning. Saddam Hussein won the first Gulf War because he survived it (more or less). His Republican Guards were badly damaged as the second Gulf War showed And, he got run out of Kuwait. But Iraq survived and he survived as Iraq's leader so he won. In fact, of course, the two "no fly" zones were created and UN investigators harried him so he ended up in pretty bad shape. Too bad Bush didn't take note of that and keep our troops in Afghanistan.

Now, Hezbollah, though pushed back from the border, still maintains it won a great victory and with respect to three criteria for "winning" of relevance to the Arab context, they did. First, they survived. Second, according to my morning paper, the Lebanese government has decided that if Israel couldn't disarm Hezbollah, they sure couldn't so they will be able to keep their arms. And, finally, they did something that Syria, Jordan, and Egypt couldn't do -- they fought as fiercely and as effectively as did Israel and stymied the IDF long enough to have survived with their arms intact. This last bit is of no small importance. Israel will think two or three or four times before it reacts with the kind of fury it did this time to the sort of military insult Hezbollah delivered that triggered the invasion. Hezbollah also has shown Hamas the way to deal with Israel. Dig in deep and get from Iran all manner of anti-tank weapons, missiles, and whatever else can be moved quickly that can also be used with deadly force.

I have a bad habit of reacting in a bipolar way to events that involve winning and losing including not just wars but also football games. Right now, I am on the depressed side of the scale in regard to the future of Israel. Now that they have been exposed militarily, they must either finish their Maginot line and find a way to make it defendable, something the French didn't figure out, or start negotiating with their Arab neighbors as equals. Israel is still relatively safe from invasion since Hezbollah did not win its "victory" by fighting in an offensive manner but by playing a purely defensive game. And, of course, Israel has its doomsday weapons, which, I suspect are all targeted on Iran.

George Bush has a "winning" problem of his own. How does he get us out of Iraq while seeming to win. Senator Aiken, a Republican from Vermont, suggested well before the end of the Vietnam war that we should simply declare that we won and leave. The New Republic has a nice bit on Bush taking just this position now. Of course, we didn't take the good Senator's advice when it was given and our departure from Vietnam was something of an embarrassing spectacle as helicopters lifted people off the top of the embassy in a desperate attempt to get people out alive.

Its too bad that the terminally stupid Saddam did not report to the UN that he had no WMD of any kind. His ego couldn't take such an admission because that would mean his great victory in the first Gulf War was an empty one. What good is a victory if you are left unable to kick some butt? I fear George has the same ego problem. The administration claims we can't leave because chaos will ensue. One might ask, of course, how that chaos would differ from the present chaos. Right now, the average Iraqi is less safe walking the streets than he was under Saddam. That is a very sad fact and it is the clearest possible signal that George has lost the Iraq war. The fact is that only the partitioning of Iraq -- actually the ratification of what partitioning has already occurred (by Shiites in Basra laying claim to the south and its oil revenue and the Kurds continuing a solidification of its control of Kurdistan, a process initiated by establishment of the Northern "no fly" rule. There will be continuing conflict because there will not be a meeting of the minds as to what this partitioned Iraq will look like. The Shiites themselves will not be of one mind since there will be oil rich Shiites and not so oil rich Shiites. The Sunnis will be odd man out since they will be left with part of Baghdad and the western desert. They will not be happy about that. So, the only real question is how many more Americans, Brits, and whatever other allies we still have there will die?

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Blogger Sean said...

I don't hear any argument at all yet, Hugh, though I'm curious to actually hear one out of you at some point. I see lots of statements made, and perhaps you find them self-evident but I do not. I suspect others feel the same.

Take for instance; "You are clearly an educated scholar, I have never denied that..". While the entry has been erased from LG's blog, thankfully, I do remember reading some of your statements that claimed quite the opposite. Filling LG's backside with smoke, given his feelings on smoking, may not be the best plan.

I'm interested in what you have to say Hugh, but my interest is directly proportional to the evidence that you provide for your views.

As for my own views on this entry, I will say this; Hezbollah seems to have taken a page from the Republican Hand Book, the one that says “No matter what the outcome, spin spin spin the results in your favor. The more insane your position, the less people will be able to refute it.” One may argue the definition of “winning” (though I remember someone trying to argue the meaning of “is” once, and getting in trouble for it), but the fact remains that such clear terms of “win” and “loose” hardly apply in this situation. No one is winning over there, and there are over 1000 corpses to prove that statement.

11:46 AM


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