March 31, 2009

Hezbollah Doesn't Have Wings

A few weeks ago Britain decided to unfreeze “diplomatic relations” with Hezbollah, and the nonsensical phrases “political wing” and “military wing” have been used to describe the Iranian-backed militia ever since. Britain now says it’s okay to meet with members of Hezbollah’s “political wing” while maintaining the blacklisting of its “military wing,” but these “wings” don’t exist in any meaningful sense. If Hezbollah were actually two distinct entities with separate policies it might make sense for British diplomats to do business with one and not the other, but that’s not how Hezbollah is structured. Of course Hezbollah’s fighters and members of parliament aren’t the same individuals, but Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah is the leader of the entire organization.

The Obama Administration knows better. One U.S. official wants Britain to explain “the difference between the political, social and military wings of Hezbollah because we don’t see the difference between the integrated leadership that they see.” “The US does not distinguish between military, cultural and political wings of Hezbollah,” another U.S. official said, “and our decision to avoid making such a distinction is premised on accurate available information indicating that all Hezbollah wings and branches share finances, personnel and unified leadership and they all support violence.”

Christopher Hitchens published a compelling piece in next month’s Vanity Fair wherein he compares and contrasts two rallies he attended in Beirut in February — one commemorating the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in 2005, and the other commemorating the assassination of Hezbollah commander Imad Mugniyeh last year in Damascus.

“Try picturing a Shiite-Muslim mega-church,” he wrote of the Hezbollah rally, “in a huge downtown tent, with separate entrances for men and women and separate seating (with the women all covered in black). A huge poster of a nuclear mushroom cloud surmounts the scene, with the inscription OH ZIONISTS, IF YOU WANT THIS TYPE OF WAR THEN SO BE IT! During the warm-up, an onstage Muslim Milli Vanilli orchestra and choir lip-synchs badly to a repetitive, robotic music video that shows lurid scenes of martyrdom and warfare. There is keening and wailing, while the aisles are patrolled by gray-uniformed male stewards and black-chador’d crones. Key words keep repeating themselves with thumping effect: shahid (martyr), jihad (holy war), yehud (Jew). In the special section for guests there sits a group of uniformed and be-medaled officials representing the Islamic Republic of Iran.”

Was the Mugniyeh rally staged and attended by Hezbollah’s “political wing” or its “military wing?” It doesn’t make any difference. The question doesn’t even make sense because Hezbollah doesn’t have wings.

Matthew Levitt at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy points out the absurdity of this kind of hair-splitting. “The European Union,” he wrote, “has not yet designated any part of Hezbollah — military, political or otherwise — although it did label Imad Mughniyeh, the late Hezbollah chief of external operations, and several other Hezbollah members involved in specific acts of terrorism.”

The European Union thinks the “military wing” of Hezbollah isn’t a terrorist organization, even while declaring its deceased commander Imad Mugniyeh a terrorist. How can a terrorist commander’s lieutenants and other subordinates not themselves be terrorists?

Read the rest in Commentary Magazine.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at March 31, 2009 10:04 AM
Comments

Michael, others,

Thoughts on this?

"Hezbollah uses Mexican drug routes into U.S."

http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2009/mar/27/hezbollah-uses-mexican-drug-routes-into-us/

http://tinyurl.com/cw98uj

Posted by: Paul S. Author Profile Page at March 31, 2009 1:57 PM

Mike, we negotiated with terrorists in Iraq. Repeatedly. As far as I know, we didn’t negotiate with AQI. But even then, if AQI members wanted to join the Awakening and throw themselves onto Team White Hat, I have a feeling we let them through.

Why don’t you ask General Petraeus - or David Kilcullen, who’s more accessible not being head of CENTCOM - if a policy of “no negotiations with any terrorists ever” is a) what he did in Iraq or b) in any way sustainable?

Why don’t you show some political courage and write something about whether we did, or did not, negotiate with terrorists, in Iraq?

By the way, who’s a terrrorist? If you kidnap people for money, are you a terrorist? If you shoot weapons at people without government authorization, are you a terrorist? If you blow up American Humvees, are you a terrorist? A lot of MSM folks have caught a lot of Iraqis in interviews admitting they used to do some or all of these things, and now they work for people that work for us.

People here are fond of talking about how “terrorism can’t be solved with a law enforcement model”. Maybe this is what they meant…

Posted by: glasnost Author Profile Page at March 31, 2009 3:28 PM

As a practical matter, the answer is, when a non-state organization gets roots into a society that are as deep as Hizballah’s roots, whether or not you bomb them before or afterward, you’re eventually going to have talk to them.

Terrorist groups are small enough to be arrested or killed. No one has any hope or plan of arresting or killing Hizballah out of existence. No one. No non-crackpots, anyway.

Thus, we’re going to talk to them. Like it or lump it. The alternative is a massive persistent, indefinite military action to annihilate them. It would probably kill about as many people as got killed in the 1982-88 Lebanon wars. And even then, there are no guarantees that it would work.

This country is getting a hard lesson in power dynamics. Those who are too hard to kill, get talked to.

Posted by: glasnost Author Profile Page at March 31, 2009 3:28 PM

I'm all in favor of talking to Hezbollah too - the way we talked to Japan on the deck of the Missouri.

Posted by: Gary Rosen Author Profile Page at March 31, 2009 11:55 PM

In spite of Obama's overtures, I don't believe that America will seriously engage Iran, Hizbollah, or Hamas, because it is simply not in America's nature to traffic with nations and ideologies that are so antithetical to its founding principals. Europe is a whore, let's face it. America is still closer to Teddy Roosevelt than it is to Neville Chamberlain.

What's more, none of those three groups will seriously engage America. In response to Glasnost's (again) specious comparison of the Sunni rebels in Iraq with Hizbollah, one could say that they were ipso facto not terrorists, by the very fact that they agreed to cooperate with the American regime. Al Quaida will never and can never cooperate, and neither, I believe can Hizbollah, at least not in its present form.

Posted by: MarkC Author Profile Page at April 1, 2009 10:46 PM

I hope you're right, Mark; I want to believe it. In America's heartland? Definitely. Washington, currently? I'm, at least, apprehensive. I'm waiting to see what "dialogue" opens with Hugo Chavez, for one---to his advantage, of course; I've followed the North Korean charade too long to not see who wins.

Posted by: Paul S. Author Profile Page at April 1, 2009 11:30 PM

Glasnost, am I mistaken in thinking you have denied being an apologist for terrorists, in the past? Or am I thinking of somebody else?

Posted by: programmmer_craig Author Profile Page at April 2, 2009 7:00 AM

"Glasnost, am I mistaken in thinking you have denied being an apologist for terrorists, in the past?"

Nothing encourages the intransigence of Hezbollah and Hamas more than Western apologists like glasnost making excuses for their savagery while demonizing Israel for defending itself from it.

Posted by: Gary Rosen Author Profile Page at April 3, 2009 12:10 AM

In response to Glasnost's (again) specious comparison of the Sunni rebels in Iraq with Hizbollah, one could say that they were ipso facto not terrorists, by the very fact that they agreed to cooperate with the American regime.

I like you, Mark. You make it possible to have conversation, because you try hard enough to use empirical observation that it gives me something to work with.

For example - you've found a coherent and realistic criterion to distinguish people we're working with in Iraq from Hizballah. Congradulations! That's progress from using a fictional gradient, like that they were just "insurgents", or that they weren't, in fact, engaging in widespread killing of civilians prior to working with us.

Unfortunately, by neccessity, it's dumb, because it can't be both accurate and non-dumb.

Why is it dumb?

one could say that they were ipso facto not terrorists, by the very fact that they agreed to cooperate with the American regime.

Care to take a minute, step back, and assess your criterion? They're not terrorists, because they cooperated with us? Terrorists are not terrorists when they cooperate with us? Mary mardigan, where are you? You sound like Hosni Mubarak or Bashir Assad. For a website built entirely on clear, if warped, moral distinctions, it sure is funny to see you get to here.

Look, non-state actors who deliberately kill civilians en masse are terrorists. We're working in Iraq with people who, prior to our deals with them, were terrorists. The best you can say is that part of our deal was that they would stop being terrorists in exchange for working with us.

Negotiations with Hizballah operate on essentially the same principles. The problem is that our political conversation, not to mention our legal and regulatory structures, are not really ready to handle that.See, an unofficial criterion of terrorist was that they tended to be small, isolated, and secretive vanguard elements, rather than poltiical mass movements. That's why the British government is giving Mike a big hypocrisy target. We can't use the same rules, or the same tools, on political mass movements that we use on splinter cells. The last decade has been a slow and painful process - for some people - of figuring that out.

Mike knows it too, which is why he has cleverly avoided saying something as direct as "no negotiations with Hamas". Whether or not there are wings is sort of a question of emphasis and semantics. I don't neccesarily disagree, but it really doesn't matter.

Posted by: glasnost Author Profile Page at April 4, 2009 7:56 AM

Glasnost, am I mistaken in thinking you have denied being an apologist for terrorists, in the past? Or am I thinking of somebody else?

What the fuck is an apologist? Do you hear me apologizing? I suppose I'm justifying the behavior of the British government. Am I an apologist for the British government? Or is that just an inherently dumb as shit terminology to begin with?

Everyone's behavior can be justified. And analytically, should be. You can always go back, after having reviewed the reasons why people do things, and condemn them for it anyway. In fact, that's what's known as an "informed moral judgement". Rather than say, knee-jerk vigilantism.

Posted by: glasnost Author Profile Page at April 4, 2009 8:00 AM

Look, non-state actors who deliberately kill civilians en masse are terrorists. We're working in Iraq with people who, prior to our deals with them, were terrorists. The best you can say is that part of our deal was that they would stop being terrorists in exchange for working with us.

Some of the terrorist/insurgent Iraqi decided to turn against al Qaeda because they were fed up with AQI's Saudi charm. Turning on their Saudi/"foreign fighter" friends was their idea. We were just smart enough to decide to work with them. Since the "insurgents" had been working with al Qaeda, they also knew how to get rid of them.

It was also a good idea to work with them because if we hadn't, the Iraqi insurgency would have not have joined a central government, and would have turned into a warring tribal/vigilante militia. It may still, but we have done our best to prevent that.

Of course, since Saudi Arabia was supplying most of the al Qaeda fighters, it would have been more efficient for us to force the Saudi leaders to stop their war against us. But, since the Saudi royals are our generous and friendly "moderate allies," we'll never do that.

Negotiations with Hizballah operate on essentially the same principles.

No they don't. In this absurd war we're fighting, the Saudi terrorists are on "our" side. Hezbollah/Iran terrorists are on "their" side. When Britain offers to negotiate with "their" side, they're essentially surrendering. They're not asking them to share any real intelligence information, and they're not expecting Hezbollah to do anything useful, like assassinating Iran's intelligence agents.

Britain is just planning give Hezbollah lots of money and legitimacy, and they are not asking for anything in return. As a result of this empowerment, Hezbollah will continue to bully Lebanon, Israel and Britain.

We all have the same deal with the Palestinians.

Posted by: maryatexitzero Author Profile Page at April 4, 2009 9:26 AM

Hezbollah doesn't have seperate wings. There is one wing lead by Sayed Nasrallah, may peace be upon him.

We should try to negotiate with both Khamenei and Nasrallah. If it doesn't work, it doesn't work.

Posted by: anand Author Profile Page at April 6, 2009 10:50 PM

What is so wrong about negotiating with Nasrallah. Nasrallah and PM Maliki have been close friends for decades. Can't we ask Maliki/Dawa, or Hakim/ISCI (both of which are Nasrallah allies) to help facilitate negotiations between America and Hezbollah?

I know Craig disagrees with me on Hezbollah. What about everyone else? We should negotiate with Hezbollah is to determine what is possible . . . negotiations need not be about concessions.

As part of the negotiation process, we might consider actions to increase our leverage. If Hezbollah doesn't offer us a good deal, we don't settle with them. What is the downside?

Now let me ask a question:
Which poses a greater threat, Saudi Arabia or Hezbollah? Since Saudi Arabia and Hezbollah are enemies, can't we conceivably explore collaborating with Hezbollah against AQ linked networks? We know that AQ, Osama Bin Laden, Zawahiri, Lashkar e Toiba and the rest of the Punjabi Taliban, detest Hezbollah and say the nastiest things about it. Might this not present an opportunity?

Posted by: anand Author Profile Page at April 6, 2009 11:01 PM
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