Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Arrogance of Power

I have been struggling for the last few weeks to put fingers to keyboard in an effort to make some sense of the violent goings on around the globe. Immediately after my last post, numerous bombs went off on trains in Mumbai, India killing hundreds of people. I was filled with rage and anger. Rage at the cowardly bastards that carried out the attacks on unsuspecting innocent people and anger at the fact that the various intelligence assets there in India had not able to crack these plots before they happened. To be totally honest, I spent the next couple of days thinking that if the mainstream Islamic community around the world did not stand up to its' militant clans, the other peoples of the world might actually get it together enough one day to unite against them to indiscriminately wipe them out. The above statement obviously stems from the assumption that the perpetrators of the Mumbai bombings were Muslim extremists, separatists, terrorists, etc... Frankly, it is hard to imagine who else it could be.

Then shortly thereafter, the conflict between Israel and Hezbollah started. Israel too has been the subject of numerous suicide bombings, missile attacks, etc., at the hands of both Hamas from the Palestinian areas around the southern part of Israel and Hezbollah from the north from within Lebanon. Both India and Israel are involved in "low intensity" conflicts mainly originating from outside their borders; the Kashmir territorial dispute festers between India, Pakistan and other interested parties from within Kashmir and Israel and her Arab neighbors have still not been able to reach a lasting peace since the creation of Israel during the Arab Israeli war of 1948-1949. I suggest going to Wikipedia to get an in depth background on both conflicts.

My interest here is to look at how both countries are forced to deal with their individual situations in different ways. From the outset, let me admit that I often find myself jealous of the military superiority that Israel enjoys over its disorganized, badly trained, and ill equipped Arab neighbors. It seems that for every pound of flesh that Hamas or Hezbollah is able to extract from Israel, she is able to extract ten times more. Now I know that that sounds extremely primitive. But I too have seen firsthand the toll that terrorism and religious communalism exacts from a city and a population. I remember being on a train in Bombay that was being pelted with rocks and helped numerous passengers shut their window shutters and helped men keep the train doors shut while Muslim youth tried to board it to attack us in the aftermath of the destruction of the Babri Masjid in December 1992 by Hindu fundamentalists. Also, I was on a plane heading to Bombay on March 12, 1993 when 13 bombs went off in the city causing immense carnage and destruction. I will spare you the historical details (look up Bombay Blasts March 1993 in Wikipedia). Suffice it to say that the human toll of all of these events are immense and are always borne by those who have nothing to do with the nonsense that serves as the fountain of hatred from which these events flow.

Unlike Israel, India is constrained by numerous factors. First of all, her arch enemy has nuclear weapons which serves as a major deterrent despite India's advantage over Pakistan in conventional weapons. Secondly, India does not have a major enabler like Israel, namely the United States. India is flanked on her other side by China who has no qualms selling Pakistan advanced weapons and proliferating to it both nuclear and missile technology to keep Indian ambitions in check. And lastly, being a secular republic, she cannot be seen taking a heavy hand against the minority Muslim population and thereby tarnishing her secular credentials. This is despite the fact that she has the second largest Muslim population of any country save Indonesia; some of whom serve as aiders and abettors of extremists that come from outside of the country and foment trouble at the slightest provocation. These troublemakers of course do not appreciate that they have much more freedom and representation in India than they do in the most moderate of Islamic countries.

India has often threatened to use the doctrine of "hot pursuit" which is basically following the links back to where the terrorists come from - mainly from across the disputed Kashmir border - and destroying them and their sponsors. However, for the most part she has not carried through. I think that often leads to the impression of her being a "soft state". However, after seeing the Israeli response to the latest incursions by Hezbollah, I'm not so sure that her patience is not the more prudent course.

Although I completely understand and accept the notion that Israel has the right to defend herself; I do not see how destroying the infrastructure of Lebanon and killing so many civilians has helped her achieve more security. There is definitely no changing the hearts of those whom are hell bent on destroying her and even question the right of this Jewish state to exist. The greater disservice she has done to herself is to fall into the same misguided trap that America has fallen into. In trying to further the Bush doctrine of destroying your enemies before they destroy you, she has only emboldened her enemies and united those - the various Arab nations who are always at odds which each other- that are, at the best of times, completely suspicious of each other.

America also did Israel a great disservice. Instead of playing the wiser friend and convincing her to negotiate a quick cease fire and then work for a political solution to the pressing concerns of both sides, the powers that be in Washington were hopeful that Israel would deal a quick and decisive blow to Hezbollah and therefore diminish Iran's growing influence over the region. When Israel's "smart" weapons did not prove to be smart enough to avoid killing scores of innocents, even the American press which is blatantly pro Israel could not keep itself from openly questioning Israel's tactics and motives. When Sec. of State Condoleeza Rice coldly labeled wanton destruction of life and property by Israeli missiles as "the birth pangs of a new Middle East", she could not have known that Hezbollah would put up such fierce resistance. In the face of rising Arab unity and revulsion from around the globe to the images coming out of Lebanon, the US administration could do nothing but allow a totally unsatisfactory UN resolution to be born that neither disarms Hezbollah, leaves Israeli troops inside Lebanon currently, and still provides no clear deadline or vision as to when a robust international peacekeeping force will actually be deployed there. Meanwhile, Hezbollah, having survived the wrath of the vaunted Israeli Defense Forces, will now begin the task of rebuilding Lebanon with Iranian money, further entrenching itself in Lebanese society and winning the good will of the people.

What did Israel gain from this misadventure. Nothing. The cease fire does not even call for the mandatory return of the Israeli soldiers kidnapped and held captive by Hezbollah; the event that served as the catalyst for the beginning of this conflict. Hopefully, further negotiations between the parties and their various puppet masters will lead to a more permanent peace, but the history of this region and the quality of leadership in the world exhibited today do not give cause for optimism.

You may ask, "What course would you recommend"? I will take my guidance from Senator J. William Fulbright and his writings in his book The Arrogance of Power and as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 1966.

The attitude above all others which I feel sure is no longer valid is the arrogance of power, the tendency of great nations to equate power with virtue and major responsibilities with a universal mission...

The cause of our difficulties ... is not a deficiency of power but an excess of the wrong kind of power which results in a feeling of impotence when it fails to achieve its desired ends...

Fulbright surmises that the best that America (I would expand that to all peace loving and democratic nations) can do is to lead by example. Instead of forcing our ideals on others, we should provide a good example for other nations to follow when they are ready and in a form that conforms to their cultural values. Without getting too far away from the current discussion, I would propose that the above ideal as the only prudent course for any great power, whether they be a global power, like the US, or a regional power like Israel, or a budding power like India.

In summary, I believe that Israel was a greater threat to it's enemies when they were in awe of her and respected her than after this current war. That is not to say she should not have defended herself against Hezbollah. But in broadening the conflict and in trying to change the course of history by upping the ante in this conflict she has not gained any greater sense of lasting security. And this should serve as a lesson for India as well. Although grand terrorist acts like those of the Mumbai train blasts may inflame our passions, the response should always be fierce against the proven perpetrators but within the confines of what civilised societies have accepted as self defense. Using these situations as an excuse to "go on offense" and solve long standing issues outside of political processes can only lead to an ultimate mutual destruction.