The Dialectics of Defeat
Antonio Gramsci, Selections from the Prison Notebooks.
"Above and beyond toppling the regime of Saddam Hussein and dismantling its deadly weapons, the driving motivation of a new American endeavor in Iraq and in neighboring Arab lands should be modernizing the Arab world."
Fouad Ajami, "Iraq and the Arabs Future", Foreign Affairs, February 2003.
"We shall struggle for the return of the hostages Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, a total cease-fire, the deployment of the Lebanese army in all of south Lebanon and the removal of Hezbollah from the region."
Prime Minister Ehud Omert, Speech to the Knesset, 17 July, Associated Press.
"We need to put Hezbollah out of business."
General Ido Nehushtan, Israeli General Staff, 17 July, Associated Press.
With the passage of one week, it is now possible to see a bit more clearly over the smoke and debris of the battlefield in South Lebanon and, indeed the Near East as a whole. A few things now seem evidently clear about the situation. First, that Hezbollah and its patrons in Damascus and Persia, have won, a massive political, psychological and diplomatic victory in the region. Think of the Tet Offensive, as a similar example from the recent past. Against both every expectation, and, historical precedent, Hezbollah, essentially, fought the Israeli war machine to a draw. For the first time, since the start of the Arab-Israeli conflict, the IDF, failed to destroy an Arab military force quickly and easily. The fact that the same Israeli army, which reached Beirut back in 1982, in seven days, was unable to conquer ten kilometers of border area, has put paid to the myth of the invincibility of the IDF. Something which in essence has been drummed into the heads of every Arab, and every Arab regime, since the Six Day War, has been smashed into a thousand pieces.
Second, the converse of the above victory, is the fact that Israel, and, its only ally the USA, have suffered an unmitigated diplomatic and political defeat. As has the USA's Sunni Arab allies in Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, all of whom were looking forward to seeing Hezbollah grounded into dust, by the IDF. And, all of whom verbally attacked both Hezbollah, for adventurism, for commencing the Lebanese war with Israel. The recent events in Lebanon can now also be said to have put the quietus, on the Bush regime's efforts to "transform" and "democratize" the Near and Middle East. Without getting into a debate as to the rationality or not, of such ambitions, all one can now say, is that such grand ambitions, which were quite held by many, both inside and, outside the American administration, at the start of the Iraq war, has now been most definitely laid to rest by the Israeli military failure in Lebanon.
The crowning example of the changed situation on the ground in the region was the 'victory' speech, given on the 15th of August, by the Syrian President, Bashar Assad, in Damascus. Assad fils, loudly and clearly proclaimed that the just concluded conflict was a victory over Israel and Washington, for Hezbollah, and its patrons in Damascus and Teheran. He also clearly stated his ambition to overthrow the current, pro-Western, anti-Syrian, government in Beirut, and, replace it with, a regime more amenable to Damascus wishes. But, what was most extraordinary, was the complete and utter dismissal of the current American government by Assad:
"This is an administration that adopts the principal of pre-emptive war that is absolutely contradictory to the principle of peace. Consequently, we don't expect peace soon or in the foreseeable future". 15 August, Associated Press.
So, Assad's regime, which for almost three years has been under fairly constant and intense American pressure, now feels fully confident, that the tables have turned; that it is the USA, and its Sunni Arab allies in the region (also lambasted by Assad), who are now under the gun. Rather than being able to look forward to regime change in Damascus, following the 'Cedar Revolution', in Lebanon last year, it now seems, that official Washington is trying to force itself to possibly swallow the humiliation of actually talking diplomatically to Damascus. Something which Bush fils, speech on the same day as Assad's, seems to indicate is not going to happen very quickly or easily. To reinforce the above narrative of events, is the announcement on Friday that the now embattled, Omert Cabinet, has now withdrawn indefinitely, its proposed West Bank 'disengagement' plan. While it could be argued that in the longue duree, this action will benefit both Israel and the Palestinians as a whole, in the immediate circumstances, it is just more evidence of the disarray, in the Western camp, following the defeat in Lebanon. And, of course Washington is now completely denuded of even the tatters of any type of Arab-Israeli peace plan or indeed a policy. And, of course, further east, in Iraq, the all but overt civil war between the Shiites and the Sunnis, goes on. The efforts of the American forces to contain the sectarian violence and chaos looking more and more futile, if indeed not hopeless. The pro-Hezbollah demonstrations in Baghdad, as well as the comments by the Iraqi Prime Minister, putting paid to any idea, that whatever regime may eventually, emerge in Baghdad, will necessarily adopt a pro-American, and or anti-Persian line diplomatically. A very important consideration, in light of the fact that with the threat of sanctions against Teheran, being considered by the United Nations Security Council at the end of this month, the attitude of the 'government' in Baghdad (if one may call it in fact such a thing) will soon assume great importance.
The historical 'lessons' that one may derive from the events of the last three years in the Near and Middle East, which the Lebanon War, is the final part is that by aiming to transform the region, in a mistaken assumption, that this would reduce if not eliminate the breeding grounds of terrorism, in point of fact has had the opposite effect. Like its Israeli partner, Washington by commencing, but not winning the war in Iraq, has opened up, asectarianbox of chaos, Muslim extremism, sectarianism, and terrorism, in not only Iraq, but now also in other areas of the region as well. With Hamas in the Palestinian areas, Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, and, even in Syria to a small degree, it seems that the beneficiaries of American policy are the very forces that US policy aims to hobble if not destroy. And, perhaps most importantly, what has been wrought by the American policy of 'overthrow' in Iraq has been the massive growth in Persian influence in the region. Fueled both by increased oil revenues, and, a heady sense that the Americans have overshot themselves in Iraq and the region as a whole, the Mullah's regime in Teheran, now seem themselves as being the driver's seat. With their proteges in Lebanon winning a major political victory, Teheran has even more reason to feel that things are moving in their direction. The 'demonstration project', that unofficial advisers to the Bush regime, such as Foud Ajami back in 2002-2003, hoped that the 'new Iraq' would become for the region as a whole has shown itself to be an utter and complete failure. Now, it is merely a matter of (in the words of the military expert Anthony Cordesman):
"the US may hav[ing] to think in terms of 5,000 American lives and more than $800 billion, five year plans, and only 50-50 odds of success at best".
And, that only to just salvage the situation in Iraq and Afghanistan. With the (now perhaps defunct) exception of the 'Cedar Revolution', in Lebanon, none of the hoped for, benefits that the Bush team posited back in 2002-2003, has come to pass. What has come to pass, we have already seen above. None of it is very pretty. Much of it, could have been avoided. So, you might ask that eternal Russian question: 'what is to be done'? That is something dear reader, that we will attempt to essay, in our next contribution, and, many more after that. If of course time and events allow.