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A Question About Intervention

Currently, two nations are being wracked by crises. In Lebanon, the terrorist group Hezbollah is taking over more and more of Beirut and the country in general, shoving aside the government (deliberately kept weak by Syria) and taking over in a slow-motion coup d'etat. And in Myanmar, literally tens of thousands are dead and more are dying each day after the devastating cyclone mauled much of the nation and the military junta that runs that nation refuses to ease its iron grip on power to allow other nations to assist its suffering people.

Lebanon reminds me of Afghanistan. There, after driving out the Soviets, the Taliban seized power from the other members of the fragile coalition that had won that battle and began not only a reign of terror against its own people, but turned the nation into a haven for terrorists in a chain of events that climaxed in the 9/11 attacks. It also reminds me of the Gaza Strip, where an absolutely unrepentant and unreconstructed terrorist organization took control of the government (such as it is, and through free and fair elections) and promptly began a violent purge of its enemies, a crackdown on its own people, and repeatedly reaffirmed (and demonstrated) its commitment to waging terrorist war -- while demanding to be treated as a sovereign state.

In Myanmar, the dictators seem to have the mentality of "we'd rather our people die than let our absolute control of them slip in the slightest." Their fixation on maintaining their power prevents them from allowing the desperately-needed humanitarian aid from flowing.

And in both cases, the United Nations seems content to sit around and wring its hands and say "tsk, tsk."

I find myself wondering if, in either case or both, a military intervention is called for.

In Myanmar, the obstacle is the government. The first plan that comes to mind to present them with a quiet note: "We're going to be bringing in relief supplies and workers, starting tomorrow. You can save face and welcome us, or you can oppose us and the next flights will involve forces who will destroy any and all military power you possess. If you continue to oppose us, we'll look into deposing you."

In Lebanon, the obstacle is the incredibly weak government. Lebanon has been dominated by Syria for decades, most of the time directly through military occupation. Hezbollah (Arabic for "Party Of Allah" -- they're Muslim extremists sworn to destroy Israel, if you've forgotten) has been a creature of Syria and Iran for their proxy war with Israel. A brief, all-out attack on Hezbollah by the US and our allies, justified under "enforcing UN Security Council Resolution 1701," could tip the scales and -- for the first time in close to half a century -- give the Lebanese people a chance to truly govern their own fate.

On the flip side, both of these efforts could be disasters. It'll be a long time before I -- or anyone -- can or should forget what happened the last time the US sent military forces on a "purely humanitarian" mission, with no US interests at stake. "Feed the starving Somali people" ended with the maimed bodies of US Rangers dragged through the streets of Mogadishu after a battle that cost the lives of 18 Americans and one Malaysian, the wounding of another 80 Allied forces, and the deaths of literally thousands of Somalis (at best estimate). On the long list of disgraceful deeds by the first (and, I hope, only) Clinton administration, that one ranks high.

And our history in Lebanon isn't much better. In 1982, we sent "peacekeepers" to Beirut. It worked out well -- if you define "peace" as "let's stop fighting and attack that guy over there." In the end, a suicide bomber killed 241 American troops (220 Marines, 18 Sailors, and 3 Army soldiers) and the United States fled the nation with its tail between its legs. Among the failures of the Reagan administration, I consider this one of the worst.

And both instances were cited by Osama Bin Laden (among others) as proof of the United States' weakness: all you have to do is bloody our noses a little, and we'll run away.

In both cases, the violated principle was the same: choose your battles carefully, and make damned sure you win. Because a loss in this arena means we will have to face many, many more battles in the future, as our adversaries will see the loss as weakness and seek to exploit it.

I honestly don't know if either intervention would be a good idea (defined as "achieving the desired results at an affordable cost, both in money and lives.") My gut instinct says "no" to Myanmar" and "maybe" to Lebanon.

I come down against Myanmar for the coldest of reasons: there is no compelling US interest to be served. Much like the genocide going on in the Darfur region of Sudan, there is very little to gain in intervening, and much to lose. The prime motivating factor seems to be "we have to do SOMETHING," and when the response to that is military action, it almost never ends well.

In Lebanon, the stakes are considerably higher. The world is running the risk of yet another nation falling to a terrorist organization. We saw that in Afghanistan, and we all paid the price of allowing terrorists to control the resources and credibility and status of a nation-state, and we're seeing that start to evolve in the Palestinian Territories. Plus, Hezbollah's goal is to wage war with Israel, as a proxy for Iran and Syria, and that could set off yet another major shooting war between Israel and its Arab neighbors, and that would be a very bad thing. Finally, as noted before, the US has a long-outstanding debt of blood it owes Hezbollah, and I feel fully confident in saying that the Marine Corps quite clearly remembers its last visit to Beirut, and wouldn't mind a chance for some payback.

But do we have the resources to commit to such an action? Would it achieve what we want -- a decimation of Hezbollah to the point where the Lebanese government could stand on its own and shake off the domination by Syria and Iran? And could we count on the support of the UN and the world community to back us as we enforced that Security Council Resolution?

OK, that last one was a joke. No, I'm not seriously thinking that might happen. In fact, I could pretty much write the Resolution that would be put forth condemning the US for its actions in supporting a legitimate government against a terrorist organization, and I'm sure you could, too.

As I said, I don't have a solid opinion on either matter. That's why I'm inviting you folks to offer your opinions in the comments. (But refrain from partisan hackery, please -- this is a question about United States policy, not a Democratic/Republican position. The disemvowelling tool is ready at hand for use against those who will use this as an excuse to bash their political opponents. As I pointed out above, using Clinton and Reagan, neither party has a great record on this one, and I'm looking towards the future, not interested in rehashing the past.) But I do know that the problems of Myanmar and Lebanon are not unique, and are likely to recur in other nations in the future. I believe we need to think very carefully about how we want to handle these types of crises -- both today and tomorrow.


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Comments (12)

If we had competen... (Below threshold)
dr lava:

If we had competent leadership these things might be possible.

Did we "save" Iraq?

Did we "save" Afghanistan?

Much as I'd like to say we ... (Below threshold)

Much as I'd like to say we SHOULD go in, we probably shouldn't. No matter what we do, it'll be twisted around by those who should know better.

What's damned sad is that there's no other country or organization that CAN do the job. The UN's been reduced to a joke, and there's... um... no one else at all with the resources (either in personnel, equipment, or logistical support) that can handle it.

I feel tempted to indulge in partisan political hackery here... but I won't, except to point out that if the media didn't automatically side with the enemy, the job would be a lot more likely to succeed.

I did not have dr lava spec... (Below threshold)

I did not have dr lava specifically in mind when I wrote my warning.

In retrospect, I should have.

He reminds me of a very small dog, eager to mark his territory by pissing on the furniture: inordinately proud of himself, but only ruining the value of whatever he deigns to leave his mark upon.

J.

Before we can determine wha... (Below threshold)
Mac Lorry:

Before we can determine what U.S. policy should be in such matters we need to examine what we learned, if anything, from our efforts in Iraq. What we learned is that the U.S. military can easily defeat the military of any 2nd or 3rd world nation. We also learned that the U.S. is unable to defeat the determined resistance of the people of such nations given the tactics the U.S. is willing to use. The third lesson we learned is that the U.S. electorate doesn't have the resolve to tolerate a protracted nation building expedition let alone one that would require some modicum of personal sacrifice. The last lesson we learned is that the U.S. is full of saboteurs, many of whom are in the MSM, Congress and our universities.

Given these lessons we should stay out of Lebanon, but be ready to back Israel to the fullest extent possible when they go to war with Lebanon. At some point Israel may need to unleash it's biological weapon, which only effects adult Muslim men causing a large percentage of them to become gay.

Given these lessons we could threaten the government of Myanmar, and maybe something like that has already been done as I see on the news that Myanmar is now accepting aid. However, it may be short sighted to interfere with the consequences of such a disaster as their rice crop was destroyed and there's little extra rice available in world. Sure, the world could stop converting food to fuel, but then Al Gore says people in places like Myanmar are just going to die anyway when sea levels rise by 10's of meters. Or that according to Al Gore, the use of fossil fuels caused this storm in the first place, so diverting food from fuel would just cause more such storms.

Well I hope that's not too political, but in my defense U.S. policy is political. I also see this piece is filed under Politics

If the consideration is dea... (Below threshold)
JFO:

If the consideration is dealing with terrorism the reality is that we are almost alone in terms of intervention. How do we pick and choose which countries to intervene in? You're right that the UN is probably not going to get involved. And if it did what real ability does it have to military intervene?

The other reality as I understand it is that our military is stretched to its limits. As a practical matter what can we do? I wish I had those answers but then that's what the President, whomever he or she is going to be, gets paid for. I don't envy whomever it may be.

I don't think that the GWT will be won in the long run until the rest of the world wakes up and comes to grips with it. I don't see it as a battle we can win alone. Not a very optimistic view but it's how I see it.

I do agree with Mac Lorry that we should be prepared to back Israel in whatever way we can - except of course for unleashing of the dreaded sex change weapon.

OK, who the hell is imperso... (Below threshold)

OK, who the hell is impersonating JFO, and ruining his hard-won reputation as a trolling asshat by speaking so reasonably?

That's it in a nutshell: two questions. "Can we intervene?" and "should we intervene?"

And neither are easy to answer.

J.

I woke up on the right, no ... (Below threshold)
JFO:

I woke up on the right, no no , I mean the left side of the bed today!

Yes to both but not by inva... (Below threshold)
RickM:

Yes to both but not by invasion. Extremely surgical, perhaps by assassination wherever possible. We target the top of Myanmar, Hamas, Hez, JI, Iran, and Syria. One strike each, all at the same time so they cannot scurry to their little rabbit holes or bury themselves under their children they seemingly have very little regard for. After that we open the door to dialog. Those who want to seriously talk, we talk. Those that don't, strike a second time, regardless of where they are and then open the door to dialog. If we can't reach the leaders, take out what they value most. A palace here, a refinery there. Oh look, a mosque! Repeat as required. No person is sacred, no place is sacred. Those have more "Holy" places than the Vatican and every ammo dump is either a mosque or a hospital. Screw certainty about targeting, go with the 80 percent.

No matter what we do, or not do, we will not be treated kindly by the press, the global collection of tin pot dictators, the press, or the politicians more interested in power and re-election than with what is best for the U.S. If we act we are imperialists, if we don't we are cold, heartless capitalists. So let's do it on our terms and screw world opinion.

Oh, and show the U.N. the door. It ran out of value decades ago.

The first thing we must put... (Below threshold)

The first thing we must put aside is the fiction that any course of action (or inaction) can shield us from loud, vicious and hateful criticism. Intervention will be criticized as imperialism; non-intervention will be criticized as callousness and racism. So we have to look at each situation in terms of our national interests and our national capabilities.

In Myanmar, we have no national interest, but great capability. We have not only private aid groups, but the Navy standing by to send in all the aid they can. This is not, and need not become, a military situation. We should simply sit offshore with all our aid and every day be loudly saying what we have available and that as soon as the government will let us bring it in directly to the populace, we will do so.

In Lebanon, we have a great national interest (preventing Lebanon from becoming a united terrorist state as an Iranian proxy), but little capability. A land invasion would take more forces than we could sustain, and though we could call up reserves and the Guard for the duration, we don't want to do that because it would break the volunteer military. (I do not mean "break" in the sense that the anti-Iraq campaign folks mean it, but in the sense of the military becoming combat ineffective as the volunteers stop volunteering.) We could potentially use SOF and air/naval power as we did in Afghanistan to support the Christian militias, but there are two problems with that. The first is that the Christian militias do not appear to want to fight. The second is Israeli history in southern Lebanon after 1982. I think in general that supporting Israel in dealing with Lebanon (and extending that explicitly and publicly to at least Gaza) is the right approach.

I like RickM's way of think... (Below threshold)
Oyster:

I like RickM's way of thinking.

Plausible deniability.

The approach for situations... (Below threshold)
Knightbrigade:

The approach for situations such as Myanmar or Somali should be a BIG NO!!!

We/USA step up to give AID to any and ALL whenever any crap happens..that's fine..
To have to FORCE or FIGHT to GIVE AID to ANYONE is stupid. ex:(Here Jay I'm gonna give you $1000, now you better TAKE it or I'll beat you silly!!)
Offer aid fine...with the stipulation take it or leave it...
I know I know..it's for the CHILDREN!! Well if that country does not care about it's children/citizens, that's a whole other issue to be addressed separately. WE would be trying to address the current AID needed..take it or leave it.

Now the tougher situation. Countries like Lebanon or Iraq where dirtbags are hidden amongst the population, along with most of the fighting in urban areas is a huge problem.

With a conventional open war, NO country could beat us. Urban gorilla war on the other hand is a pain in the ass. The fact of a hard to identify hit and run type of enemy, IED's, along with high risk of collateral damage when we respond makes this type of warfare highly undesirable for ANY reason.
Now a covert approach I'm all for....if a good plan is drawn up and executed..GO for it!!

To sum up..OFFER AID, but on a TAKE IT or LEAVE IT basis.

Military use. Avoid urban occupation and brawls at all costs. Use covert to meet objectives if needed. Otherwise save the big hammer for COUNTRIES that need it.
cough* cough* Iran...

We could intervene d... (Below threshold)
Arthur:

We could intervene decisively in Lebanon without commiting (scarce) ground troops. The Air Force and Naval Aviation could bomb targets pinpointed by the Lebanese govt. Assuming the Lebanese govt. had the willpower to fight Hezbollah, the extra fire-power from our air power would make a difference - similar to what happened in Afghanistan in 2001. Of course, Israel could do it just as well - if the Lebanese govt. felt desperate enough to ask them. I'd prefer that option.




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