Published: Monday, July 24, 2006
'Failed states' reflect new paradigm
WASHINGTON In the mid-'80s, after I had been covering the post-colonial Third World for rather too many trying years, I began to notice some disturbing developments across the world.
Oh no, I said to myself at first, of course it cannot be true! We were, after all, the children of the euphoric aftermath of World War II, when we rebuilt the world for the good of mankind. America assumed that the dozens of poor states of Asia, Africa and the Middle East that had emerged from years of colonialist humiliation would stand tall as new, spontaneously born, independent states and we assumed that we would help them.
But slowly I began to realize, instead, that we were witnessing the first stages of a massive disintegration of fragile nation-states, or what today we call "failed states." At that point, I tried to put all my fears together in a lead piece for Encyclopedia Britannica, called "Our Disintegrating World: The Menace of Global Anarchy."
"What has happened in the 1970s and 1980s," I wrote, "is that the world is quietly but relentlessly being rent by a slow-motion disintegration. The components of this dangerous new world: tribes, clans, religious fundamentalism of every faith, city gangs, death squads, terrorist movements, guerrilla movements and other narrow and rabid self-interest groups." Then, ironically, I used Lebanon as the example of the disintegration at the hands of these "irregulars," which occurred when the careful compacts that ruled the power structures in that unfortunate land broke down in the mid-'70s.
So many years and so many of these conflicts later (Haiti, Somalia, Vietnam, Cambodia, Congo and Central Africa, Sierra Leon and Liberia, and now Iraq): What are we really seeing in the bitter fighting between Israel, the Palestinians and Hezbollah?
In his recent paper "On War," military strategist and teacher William Lind, who is virtually always correct, writes: "With Hezbollah's entry into the war between Israel and Hamas, Fourth Generation war (the military's term for guerrillas, insurgents or irregular warfare in general) has taken another developmental step forward. For the first time, a non-state entity has gone to war with a state not by waging an insurgency against a state invader, but across an international boundary."
Indeed, the whole syndrome moved up a number of notches over the last two weeks. Being able to smuggle 10,000 rockets and long-range missiles into Lebanon from Iran under everybody's noses, and being willing to strike into Israel's most precious and defended cities, Hezbollah opened a new chapter in this military saga.
Moises Naim, editor in chief of Foreign Policy magazine, attempted to characterize this moment in a recent column in the Financial Times: "There is mounting evidence that we live in an era when power is becoming more diffuse," he wrote, "when the barriers to acquiring it are falling ..."
The immediate problem is that nation-states, with their stubborn reliance on massive airpower and technological superiority, still do not get this new world. The Israelis are bombing the Lebanese army headquarters whom exactly do they expect to rein in Hezbollah, if not the army? The Israelis bombed Jounieh but it is a Christian town. What a flawless way to turn Christians, too, against the Jewish state.
For its part, the subservient American administration goes along with it all, basking in the absurd pretense that it cannot influence Israel. But it never has tried, and meanwhile an American general says that, well, we're going to need more troops in Iraq.
The fact is that neither country has any real strategy in the Middle East, except to bomb more and see what happens. Meanwhile, each bomb creates only more anger and eventually more insurgents, just like Lebanon in 1982, or Gaza, or the West Bank since 1967, or Iraq since 2003, or ... or ...
There are things to do. Not, as our president so grandly said, threaten Syria to make all the "s---" go away (ah, the inspiring eloquence of our leaders!), but to return to our noble past, when the U.S. was not a games-player but a power that stood for rationality and for negotiation between fanatics.
Universal Press Syndicate