Cutting through the bullshit.

Monday, 24 July 2006

Classic counterinsurgency

This morning I received this email from a colleague:

Hi, I have tried your blog but I cannot open it either. If it contains info on Palestine or Lebanon, it will be blocked by the Americans and their allies as I believe they do not want the common person to know about the real suffering of the children and other civilians in Lebanon and Palestine. Last night the American correspondent of Sky News said that 99.9% of common Americans who get their knowledge of international affairs from American media support the killing of Lebanese civilians (40% small children) and destruction of Lebanese civilian infrastructure by American weapons purchased by using American Tax Payer's money and supplied by America to the enemy of Lebanon for the sole purpose of destroying Lebanese infrastructure. The American leaders and their voters are sadistically enjoying the pain and suffering of the Lebanese infants and children and with broad smiles are telling the world that they donot want a ceasefire yet as they do not want their enjoyment and pleasure that they are deriving from the images of bleeding, burnt and maimed children and complete destruction of infrastructure (yesterday Sky News showed a six month old baby hit in the stomach and was bleeding profusely and was crying in agony, her 10 year old brother burnt by American supplied precision bombs, her father killed and her house destroyed). I believe the majority of Americans brought up watching Hollywood’s Horror films (which sadists enjoy watching) consider the real killings of children in Lebanon a scene from a Hollywood scare movie. As sir Richard Attenborough once said “these horror movies have taken away the ability of persons of low I.Q to get shocked”. It is therefore not strange to me that not a single American gets shocked by the images of suffering children. I get extremely upset when I see Israeli children being hit by rockets since these children have nothing to do with the conflict. By the way the American precision bombs have killed 10 times more civilians as compared to home made Hezbolah rockets (this comparison shows that the civilians are being deliberately targeted by the precision bombs).

I believe untill we have balance of power in the world, the unarmed civilians of states that are weak militarily would be killed, maimed and burnt alive by the aggressors. The weak nations of the world would have to wait till Russia wakes up and rebuilds its lost might and China and France decide to stand against the oppressor. This, in my view would not take longer than five years. By that time we may also have sane leadership in the US. Till then, the Palestinians, the Lebanese, the Iranians and the Syrians should abide by the orders of the only super power present in the world today and not try to infuriate it or its allies in any manner, otherwise they will meet the same fate as did the Afghans, Iraqis, Palestinians and Lebanese.

And here is my response:

First of all, Sky News is a Murdoch organ, so I would definitely not believe anything they report. As for the figure of 99.9%, I am skeptical. I start out skeptical about statistics, and I think I know enough about collecting statistics to have sound reasons for this, but a report on Sky, and particularly when the figure is that high, makes me much more dubious. Furthermore, that is just the proportion of those who rely on the mainstream media for information. It wouldn’t be anything like a majority, but an increasing proportion rely on other sources. America purports to be a democracy, but then so does Pakistan, and Israel. So I wouldn’t be too quick to place the blame for US government policy on the American people, although they certainly have to take some responsibility for where their tax dollars go. If the statistic you cite has any significance, it is that those who are deluded through manipulation of their opinions by the mainstream media are the ones who support the bombing and invasion of Lebanon. So it’s not entirely their fault. Even in the US, not everybody has access to the internet and some people have no choice but to rely on Fox and the like for their information. It’s not really an excuse, but it’s a partial explanation.

That said, the US government, which certainly does not represent the views of the American public when it comes to Iraq, bears significant blame for the whole fiasco. Some commentators are citing the current ‘crisis’ as irrefutable vindication of Walt and Mearscheimer’s hypothesis that the tail wags the dog and the US just falls into line behind whatever insane adventure Israel decides to undertake. Others claim it as irrefutable evidence that W&M were completely wrong and that it is the US that calls the shots and has specifically directed Israel to do this now. My own view is that the interests of the US and Israeli ruling classes are so similar and so integrated with each other, that they typically come down on the same side. But certainly, insofar as there is shot calling going on, it would have to be the Yanks who set the agenda, or at least have a veto over Israeli plans. This particular plan was shared with the US about a year ago, so there is definitely no question of the capture of the soldiers on 13 July being anything other than a pretext. And some sources reckon the captured soldiers were captured in Lebanon, where they had made a raid into Aitaa al-Chaab village near the border.

One thing that I have found astonishing about a lot of the coverage is the way in the course of just a few days, they have managed to reverse the order of events, so that the decimation of Lebanon’s infrastructure has now become retaliation for Hizb’allah’s rocket attacks, when in reality, the Israeli bombing preceded the rockets. People forget so fast! Of course not many people have forgotten that the Israeli Army kidnapped two Palestinian civilians inside Gaza the day before Cpl Shavit, whose name everyone knows, was captured at Keren Shalom. That’s because hardly anyone even knows it. The media have been incredibly cooperative with the Israeli propaganda machine in deciding when hostilities began, so they can just airbrush the immediate provocation out of the picture, even if they occasionally do mention the 9000 Palestinian prisoners the Israelis are holding at present.

I think you are completely mistaken to assert that the US arms Israelfor the sole purpose of destroying Lebanese infrastructure’. For one thing, those arms are also used to destroy Palestinian homes and infrastructure, to bomb PA offices, to fire missiles at ‘suspected terrorists’, taking out a dozen civilians in the process, as if there were any excuse for extrajudicial execution under any circumstances. And don’t forget about shelling the beach in Gaza. But the main reason the US arms Israel is because Israel’s main function is just to be there, right in the Arab Middle East, armed to the teeth and to all appearances vicious and crazy. Sort of like a Doberman straining at the leash. It’s supposed to keep the oil producers in line. In the current context, however, I’m pretty sure the Israeli and US strategists have some devious plan that extends way beyond destroying Lebanon’s infrastructure. I’m sure the Israeli military wants revenge after their ignominious expulsion from Lebanon at Hizb’allah’s hands in 2000. But that would be a tertiary motivation at best. The Israelis definitely would love to have access to the Litani water, if not complete control. I fear that they have Syria in their sights and wouldn’t rule out an air strike on Iran. But the fact is that my mind doesn’t work in as underhanded ways as theirs and I hesitate to speculate about their real motivation. Maybe they are just ‘pushing the envelope’ to see just how much they can get away with. The so called Arab street is very pissed off at the Saudi, Egyptian, Jordanian…governments’ supine posture and explicit condemnation of Hizb’allah. Who knows where that might lead and whether it is part of the Machiavellian plan, or an unintended, but predictable and almost certainly predicted, consequence? ‘Destroying Lebanese infrastructure’ is a means to an end. I doubt if there is more than a handful of people anywhere who would mistake a news report for a Hollywood movie.

The significance of the numbers killed on each side is really more in the proportions than in the absolute values. Nearly all those killed by the Israeli bombing have been civilians, while about half of those killed by the Hizb’allah rockets have been military. The two Palestinian children killed near Nazareth were playing in a swimming hole near Israeli arms manufacturing facilities. The Palestinians of northern Israel are effectively human shields for these weapons stores. Precisely what the Israelis accuse the Palestinians of doing, with a straight face. Furthermore, you don’t see footage of ‘Israeli Arabs’ huddling in bomb shelters in Nazareth. That’s because none were built in areas where mostly Palestinians live. Anyway, what this suggests is, as you mention, that the Israelis appear to be specifically targeting civilians. What always gets glossed over, if mentioned at all, is the number of wounded. Everyone knows you can do more damage in combat by wounding than by killing. A kill gets rid of one enemy combatant. A wound disables at least three temporarily and makes demands on many others. In this case, it stretches the health facilities beyond breaking point, those that survive the bombing and have power and supplies, anyway. Other than that, I think all the numbers killed and so forth actually prove is that Israel can hurt a lot more people with scores of tonnes of ordnance than Hizb’allah can with a couple of hundred short range rockets.

Before 1989, we did have a balance of terror, and I can’t see that it saved a lot of people from suffering. Wars raged throughout the 80s in Angola, Namibia, all over Central America, just to name a few, not to mention Palestine itself. If China manages to challenge the US’s economic hegemony, it is not inevitable that this would lead to military conflict, or even military competition. Japan did very well economically against the US for half a century while it was defenseless. That said, China may be what this is all about. Certainly the invasion of Iraq was mainly to gain control of the world’s second largest supply of petroleum so that supplies to America’s economic rivals were under US control. And that’s certainly what the saber rattling against Iran is about, too. I think Iraq was more generally directed against Japan and Europe, as well as China, none of which have sustainable supplies of oil of their own. So if the US controls the spigot in Saudi Arabia and Iraq, it has its competitors by the short and curlies. But I think Iran is more specifically about China. Anyhow, if China could and did challenge the US, it would certainly not be to ‘stand against the oppressor’. It would be competition between two oppressors.

The US has never had sane leadership in the sense I think you mean, and I doubt if there’s any prospect for that in the future. Of course, they are probably quite sane in pursuing their own objectives. In Bush’s case, one of these would seem to be to gut the constitution and concentrate all power in the executive. But more importantly, I think he wants to guarantee the continued profitability of US capital and the thinkers who are influential with his regime believe that this entails ‘full spectrum dominance’ militarily. And they have identified non state resistance movements, what they like to call ‘terrorists’, as a barrier to their coveted dominance. As Mao observed, guerrillas are like fish swimming through the sea of the population. Accordingly, counterinsurgency has always involved ‘draining the sea’, by eliminating, moving, or concentrating (in ‘strategic hamlets’ and the like) the population thought to be supportive of the resistance. The operation against Lebanon makes reasonably good sense in the context of counterinsurgency operations. I’m pretty sure that Israeli strategists don’t actually believe that attacking the Lebanese population will make them turn against the Hizb’allah resistance, which at this stage has become their only defence, or encourage the release of the captives. It’s never worked before.

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