July 30, 2006
Cease-Fire to Nowhere
By DAVID BROOKS
There are victory markers strewn across southern Lebanon commemorating the last time Israel withdrew from that land. While reporting a piece for The New Yorker a few years ago, Jeffrey Goldberg would come upon them by the roads. It was like seeing the battle markers at Gettysburg or Antietam, he wrote.
One brightly colored sign, written in both Arabic and (rough) English, marked the spot where “On Oct. 19, 1988 at 1:25 p.m. a martyr car that was body trapped with 500 kilograms of highly exploding materials transformed two Israeli troops into masses of fire and limbs.”
Busloads of tourists would take victory tours and stop at the prominent sights. Before the current war, there were gift shops and, in at least one place, a poster showing a Hezbollah fighter lifting a severed Israeli head. It all testified to the magnetism of a successful idea: that Muslim greatness can be restored through terrorism.
Some people believe that terrorists are driven by desperation, but if you read the statements by Sheik Hassan Nasrallah and other Hezbollah leaders, it’s obvious that their movement has been inspired by opportunity and nourished by success. And the big news last week was that most of the world is calling for an immediate Lebanese cease-fire and another Israeli withdrawal.
If that happens, Nasrallah will be able to build another chain of victory markers. There will be a missile- launcher monument in Tyre. There will be a terror gift shop in Maroun al-Ras. Hell, he’ll probably build a suicide-bomber theme park in Bint Jbail.
Nasrallah himself will become a legend, and teens across the region will be electrified by his glory.
Many of those calling for this immediate cease-fire are people of good will whose anguish over the wartime suffering overrides long-term considerations. Some are European leaders who want Hezbollah destroyed but who don’t want anybody to actually do it. Some are professional diplomats, acolytes of the first-class-cabin fundamentalism that holds that “talks” and “engagement” can iron out any problem, regardless of the interests and beliefs and fanaticisms that make up the underlying reality.
The best of them have a serious case to make. It’s true, they say, that Israel may degrade Hezbollah if it keeps fighting, but it may also sow so much instability that it ends up toppling the same Lebanese government that it is trying to strengthen.
They point to real risks, but if a cease-fire is imposed now, there won’t be only risks. There will be dead certainties. If Hezbollah emerges from this moment still strong, it will tower like a giant over the Lebanese government. Extremist groups around the world will be swamped with recruits. Iran’s prestige will surge. The defenders of nation states and the sponsors of Resolution 1559 will be humiliated. Israel’s deterrence power will be shattered.
It is dead certain that this cease-fire will not last, any more than the cease-fires of ’78 or ’93 or ’96 lasted. And most important, the idea — that the Muslim renaissance will come through terror — will dominate the sky like the bright summer sun.
That idea is the key to the whole string of crises in this decade of jihad. Lebanon is a chance to show that the death cult is not invincible.
To its enormous credit, the Bush administration has kept its focus on that core reality, and it has developed a strategy to reverse the momentum: let Israel weaken Hezbollah, then build an international force to help create a better Lebanon.
Yet, having spent a week on the phone with experts and policy makers, I’d be lying if I said that I was optimistic the strategy will work. The renovation of Lebanon will require scaffolding, and the fact is the scaffolding of the West is corroding at every joint.
The U.S. lacks authority because of Iraq. Over the past few days, Israel has grown wary of getting into Lebanon, because it might have no help getting out. The Europeans, being the Europeans, are again squandering a chance to play a big role in world affairs. The “moderate” Arabs are finding that if you spend a generation inciting hatred of Israel you will wind up prisoner to groups who hate Israel more than you do. The U.N. is simply feckless.
The U.S. is right to resist the calls for a quick-fix cease-fire. But when you step back, you see once again the power of ideas. The terrorists are more unified by their ideas than we in the civilized world are unified by ours.