Happy Monday

Not much going on. Except the heat, which broke last night. With cool wind, lightning, thunder, and rain. Ahhh, nice for such as us who live in big, Midwestern cities without air conditioning.

As I was typing the above, I noticed I went to write “thunder and lightning.” Isn’t that how it’s normally written? But doesn’t that ignore cause and effect? Funny that.

I’ve not much to add on anything else. Slow day here.

Getting It

David Ignatius is not my favorite Washington Post columnist. (For the record, George F. Will is.) But today, he writes about the pointlessness of the continued use of force by the US and Israel against Hamas and Hizbullah, noting that the groups — like Al-Qaeda — want that escallation.

Ignatius writes:

Israeli and American doctrine is premised on the idea that military force will deter adversaries. But as more force has been used in recent years, the deterrent value has inevitably gone down. That’s the inner spring of this crisis: The Iranians (and their clients in Hezbollah and Hamas) watch the American military mired in Iraq and see weakness. They are emboldened rather than intimidated. The same is true for the Israelis in Gaza. Rather than reinforcing the image of strength, the use of force (short of outright, pulverizing invasion and occupation) has encouraged contempt.

He is correct, though I would further add that by using force so often and the way they have, Washington and Tel Aviv have shown the parties how they can be beaten. Deterrence works best if the forces involved aren’t used, or are only used in instances in which they can achieve a quick, clear-cut victory. Glowering is much, much better than actual bombing. Once you are bogged down at war against a non-state enemy who can fight you to a draw (which is a victory), you’ve made your deterrence worthless. In Iraq, the US has blown its wad and cannot effectively defeat 30,000 or so Iraqi guerrilas. Israel has run rough-shod over the West Bank and Gaza for night on 40 years now, and has not been able to achieve any meaningful security. Hamas and Islamic Jihad still do their thing regardless of what the IDF does. Hizbullah, which didn’t exist until the Israeli occupation of Lebanon following the 1982 invasion, effectively tossed Israel out of Lebanon by inflicting very heavy casualties. Note how both Hamas and Hizbullah were able to yank the chains of the Israeli government after merely capturing three sojers?

A second point — obvious from Gaza to Beirut to Baghdad — is that the power of non-state actors is magnified when there is no strong central government. That may sound like a truism, but responding wisely can require some creative diplomacy. The way to blunt Hamas is to build a strong Palestinian Authority that delivers benefits for the Palestinian people. The way to curb Hezbollah is to build up the Lebanese government and army. One way to boost the Lebanese government (and deflate Hezbollah) would be to negotiate the return of the Israeli-occupied territory known as Shebaa Farms. That chance is lost for now, but the Bush administration should find other ways to enhance Siniora’s authority.

Except that strong statehood is impossible in all three instances here because outsiders — Israel and the United States — cannot convey what is needed most in state-building, which is legitimacy. In fact, any taint of outside involvement ruins legitimacy (and this explains the split over Hizbullah in Lebanon, since it isn’t legitimate in the eyes of many Lebanese). Only the Palestinians can make a strong Palestinian state, but attempts by Washington and Tel Aviv to boost the power of a friendly Palestinian Authority will automatically taint that authority. Same in Iraq. As for Lebanon, Hizbullah more or less repesents the country’s Shia, and many of those Lebanese who want to eradicate Hizbullah also want to do away with Shia communal power. So, the non-state actors will continue to have more legitimacy than the states.

In the Lebanon crisis we have a terrifying glimpse of the future: Iran and its radical allies are pushing toward war. That’s the chilling reality behind this week’s events. On Tuesday the Iranians spurned an American offer of talks on their nuclear program; on Wednesday their Hezbollah proxy committed what Israel rightly called “an act of war.” The radicals want to lure America and Israel deeper into the killing ground, confident that they have the staying power to prevail. We should not play their game.

Yeah, David, but the Bush Administration and the Olmert government are not smart enough and not confident enough not to play their game.

On The Bedside Table

I just got finished reading William Faulkner’s LIGHT IN AUGUST. An interesting, meandering telling of various lives in motion and what that may have meant to the people who led those lives. I’ll have to read it again sometime.

Right now, I’m rereading Gerald Suster’s HITLER AND THE AGE OF HORUS, which I may talk about later. I’ve read it several times, and it supposedly the occult history of Naziism. But i’m also reading Zora Neale Hurston’s MOSES, MAN OF THE MOUNTAIN. I like Hurston, and read THEIR EYES WERE WATCHING GOD late last year because, well, because it was there. Because I found an essay about her at Lewrockwell.com (where I write an occasional column) and thought that, since my wife had a copy (among her feminist literature), I ought to give it a read. I like Hurston, a lot. She manages to pack a great deal into very little language. More importantly, unlike most of her feminist author sisters in the 1960s and 1970s, she understands the fact that men and women do love each other. She understands how they love each other. She puts it into words well, too.

MOSES is not quite that kind of book. The writing style is not so intense. Hurston definitely comes across as someone who doesn’t much like government. I love the way she has Moses consider state power. This is a conversation between Moses and Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, sometime before Moses is called to free his people:

“Those people, I mean those Hebrews, need help, Moses. And besides, we could convert ’em, maybe. That really would be something — a big crowd like that coming through religion, all at one time.”

“I don’t say it wouldn’t. But I don’t want to be the preacher. I’m through trying to regulate other folks’ business. There ain’t no future to it at all — just a whole lot of past. If you find a cow stuck in the mire, and pull her out, she’l hook you sure. I just want to practice up on all this new stuff I learned [magic].”

“Get them folks out of Egypt and use them to practice on, why don’t you?”

“How am I going to do that, Jethro? Pharaoh is getting too much benefit out of those Hebrews. He wouldn’t let them leave. And another thing, why should they trust me? They don’t know anything about me. They wouldn’t believe I meant them any good. They wouldn’t follow me.”

“You could try. It would make a mighty big man out of you, Moses, if you did. You could even be King if you wanted to.”

“I don’t want other folks’ property enough for that.”

“You wouldn’t have to call yourself a King. You could just sort of rule along without taking on the title.”

“Jethro, it’s not the title I am afraid of, it’s the thing itself. It makes no difference what he calls himself, kind or ruler, who sends young mean out to be killed and takes the people’s cattle away from them. Titles ain’t nothing but nicknames.”

The book is full of this kind of thing. She understood what Caesar — I mean, Pharaoh — was all about. She had no illusions. World needs fewer people with illusions about what government truly is.

All This Useless Power

Israeli sojers have invaded and occupied portions of Gaza and now southern Lebanon. All this in response to the capture of Israeli sojers. Three, to be precise. In response, nine Israel Defence Force sojers died in Lebanon. I do not know how many have been killed — if any — in Gaza.

One may look at Israel, with its armored divisions and brigades, its air force, its precision-guided weapons, its hierarchies and sense of duty and all its men, machines and bombs and think: my, but that’s powerful. But it isn’t. Like the United States, Israel is not powerful. All of that supposed power is actually useless and meaningless.

Nazih Ayubi, an Arab (Syrian, I think) academic wrote a mostly imponderable book called OVERSTATING THE ARAB STATE. (I had to read it for a course at Georgetown.) One of the points he makes, as he evaluates states and statehood in the Arab world, is to note that Arab states aren’t terribly strong, but they are very fierce. That’s an important distinction. Strong states, according to Ayubi, don’t need the trappings of force that fierce states need in order to project the “image” of power. It’s been a long time since I read Ayubi’s book, and I’m not sure I’m recalling the concept right.

Right now, we see the United States and Israel engaged in military action against more-or-less stateless and loosesly organized actors in Iraq, Gaza/West Bank and Lebanon. It ought to be that the states, with their arsenals, treasuries and nearly bottomless resources, ought to easily come out on top, given they are fighting a handful of people connected only by shared ideology and who must pass the hat to raise money (and yes, sometime get gifts from friendly regimes). Clearly the partisans of these two states believe that with enough force, their enemies will be cowed into submission. To understand who their betters are, and that they are beaten.

But it isn’t working that way, is it? The United States has been singularly unable to work it’s will on Iraq, and despite military operations that have killed dozens of Palestinians in Gaza, Israel is no closer to getting its sojer back. The Israelis could tear Lebanon — and Syria — apart, it still won’t matter much. Israel and the US are not strong states, but they are fierce ones. And fierce states fail, because power and strength are much more than merely how many divisions and intercontinental rockets you have tucked in silos (ask Moscow about that one). The initiative belongs not to the well-organized states, but to the stateless groups, who are at this moment winning on points and likely to end the game on top. State force and violence is pointless, because it cannot accomplish what its believers hope it will. Resistance is too easy , too cheap and gains too much, and the alleged power held by the powerful too finite, too expensive and much too limited.

Israel is a doomed state. Not today, not tomorrow, not a decade from now. But Israel likely cannot and will not surive to 100. Which is fine. All its Jewish residents can come live in the United States, a United States that by then will hopefully have been dispossesed of its global empire and “responsibilities” and settled down to become a normal country. Only then, when it does not seek to dominate, engineer, guide, save or rule the world, will America be safe and strong again. Only then.

Not Dead Yet

Hello everyone (to those few readers out there who might be in any way interested), I apologize for not having blogged in at least a fortnight, but my wife and I have been busy moving to Chicago, hauling lots of boxes of books up flights of stairs (fun, that) and getting settled in. Well, now we are settled (more or less) and I can get back to things.

Got DSL today. I liked how SBC/AT&T did this. The original promise for phone/DSL was late Monday, and we had a dialtone Monday morning. But the automated phone call I got Friday afternoon promised DSL hookup for Wednesday. It became active sometime late Tuesday, which is better than I thought it would be but not as good as they originally promised. Splitting the difference, I suppose.

Jennifer and I live in Hyde Park, in an apartment owned by the Lutheran School of Theology, where I will be working on a Masters of Divinity this fall. We’re beginning to get a feel for the neighborhood, and I can see they need a decent bike shop. Because there doesn’t appear to be one here.