Tuesday, July 18, 2006

More on the Lebanese horror.

This Middle East thing keeps getting further out of hand. Apparently, Israel was responsible for rejecting the idea of sending UN peacekeepers (or, more accurately, a UN-backed military force) into Lebanon to stop the whole mess in its tracks. Let me also point out this (accuracy cannot be confirmed, but it's all too believable). Apparently, Israeli kids are being encouraged to scrawl unpleasant messages on rockets which will then be sent into Lebanon -- some of which, of course, have killed Lebanese children.

Glenn Greenwald brings the goods, though, on what's really going on here. However, his number (3) contains a pretty serious moral error. I'll reproduce the whole section here:
One of the things I dislike about those who venerate U.N. Resolutions and international law is that it always seems so selectively emphasized by whoever is wielding them. Whatever else one wants to say about Israel -- meaning, leave aside the long list of alleged sins -- it is simply the case that there is a U.N. Resolution, 1559, which calls for the Lebanese government to exert full control over all of its territory, and independently, for the disbandment of Lebanese militias, including Hezbollah.

Neither the Lebanese Government nor Hezbollah are in compliance with that Resolution. And since its enactment, Hezbollah has used its position near the Israeli border to fly drones over Israel and to shoot rockets into Israel (before the outbreak of the current conflict). Shouldn't those on the Left who believe in the supremacy of international law and U.N. resolutions be unequivocally condemning Hezbollah, which ought to be disbanded if U.N. Resolutions are complied with and who, by definition, are guilty of war crimes for engaging in these acts in violation of those resolutions? Regardless of the acts of Israel, how can anyone who claims to be a believer in the supremacy of international law in any way justify the acts, or even the existence, of Hezbollah?
I don't, off-hand, know of anyone who seriously thinks that it's okay for Hezbollah to exist. However, where Greenwald goes wrong is in his presumption (unstated) that the Lebanese government can do anything about Hezbollah. My understanding from perusing around the web, particularly Juan Cole's blog, is that Hezbollah is a massive political, social, religious and military organization, backed largely by Iran. The Lebanese government has pretty much lost control of the southern portion of the country (that borders Israel) to Hezbollah, and doesn't have the might (nor the political will amongst its people) to unilaterally smash Hezbollah out of existence, and take back the country. (So, de facto although not de jure, Lebanon doesn't border Israel -- a Hezbollah-controlled state does.) As I have said several times before, "ought" implies "can" -- that is, obligation requires ability; therefore, lack of ability undercuts obligation. I can't be obliged to do what I can't do; similarly, Lebanon cannot be held responsible for failing to deal with Hezbollah if it is simply unable to do so.

Given that Lebanon can't deal with Hezbollah, though, one has to wonder why they haven't asked (if they haven't asked) for assistance, and why they haven't been given (if they haven't been given) international help in putting down Hezbollah. I can think of two big reasons.
  1. Neglect or indifference
  2. Fear
I'll deal with these in reverse order.

Fear is a big one. Lebanon is likely afraid of retaliation from Hezbollah, and from Syria (whom they border on the east and north), and also potentially from Iran. It's entirely possible -- indeed, probable -- that they are sufficiently afraid that they are unwilling to even ask for aid. Now, that doesn't justify not asking, but this weakness of the will might go some way towards explaining it. Similarly, countries that could aid Lebanon -- the US, the UK, France, even Canada -- probably haven't for fear of getting dragged into a massive conflict in the Middle East. Again, this isn't justificatory, only explanatory.

With regards to neglect or indifference, it's, again, quite plausible that the countries that could have helped Lebanon put down Hezbollah have been more concerned with other interests, both domestic and international, and have simply overlooked the problem. This is, it seems to me, an unfortunate constant in international politics.

So, then, the explanation for why Hezbollah still exists is some combination of inability to do anything about it (Lebanon), fear of reprisal (Lebanon), fear of getting too involved (everyone else) and neglect (everyone else, and possibly Lebanon, too).

It's important to note, though, that none of these excuse Lebanon nor the international community -- these are prudential, not moral, reasons (put very briefly: to be a moral reason is to be in accord with some moral value, and there is no positive moral value to weakness from fear and to neglect). However, they do show that it's a mistake to criticize Lebanon, as Greenwald does, for not dealing with Hezbollah as they were required by the UN Resolution. Prudential reasons seem to be trumping the legal reasons (and the weak moral duty to obey the law), and being given undue weight against the moral reasons.

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