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.