July 30, 2006

What’s Up with Lebanon?

Filed under: Israel, Politics — marcstober @ 9:41 pm

I’ve been wanting to write something about the war in Lebanon, but it’s been difficult to know what to say. On the one hand, it’s sad to see what’s happening to Beirut. On the other hand, it’s sad to see what’s happening in Haifa, and Israel’s actions are completely understandable and certainly justified.

I wish that the government of Lebanon would ask for peace. Peace, meaning not a ceasefire, but a normal relationship and a peaceful border. It does not seem like they have the ability, or maybe not the desire, to do so.

It seems that there are a lot of voices saying that Israel is not winning “hearts and minds” in Lebanon; that Lebanon’s recent moves toward democracy should be encouraged and Israel’s strikes will set things back. Inevitably these voices talk about the forward-thinking young Lebanese in Beiruit and the great new developments, cafes and nightclubs there. I don’t really think it’s the IDF’s primary job to win hearts and minds or Israel’s responsibility to support Lebanese democracy at all costs. Israel was attacked by forces operating out of a sovereign country, and that country is allowing those attacks to continue. While it’s great in theory that democracy is taking hold, it’s obviously not working yet, in that it doesn’t have control over an effective military and foreign relations. And as for the constant reports of cosmopolitan Beiruit–I don’t see how that matters. I don’t think anyone says that the cafes of New York or Moscow or even Paris are the key to a stable government, as compared to, say, strong institutions with support from the heartland.

For that matter, the whole concept of Hezbollah has me perplexed. Isn’t the idea that in a modern country, only the state has legitimate use of force, certainly against foreign powers? How is this in Lebanon even a matter of serious debate? It seems like this war is not just about Israel vs. Hezbollah vs. Lebanon, but about the surival of the whole concept of the liberal, democratic state–and I don’t mean in the American “blue state” definition of those terms but rather the idea of a sovereign state whose government is based on freedom and democracy, where people are pretty much free to do as they choose but rely on an elected goverment to create law and have the power to enforce it. (For further reading on this see this by Fareed Zakaria, which also makes me wonder if the whole red state/blue state thing could action be the right amount of choice so as to be good for democracy.)

The bottom line, then, is that this may be a fight for freedom and democracy, which may be something we’d rather not have to fight for, but is something worth fighting for when needed.

I would love on my next trip to Israel someday, after visiting other great places in the north like Haifa and Tsfat (Safed), to go spend a couple days on a side trip to thriving, cosmopolitan Beiruit. But until I, as a Jew visting Israel, can make such a trip as safely as going from the US to Canada, England to France, or even Israel to Jordan, it’s not peace.