Sunday, December 17, 2006
Robert Grenier, former director of CIA counter-intelligence:
Tacitly encouraging civil war is seldom wise, and particularly when the side with which one is affiliated cannot win. It should be obvious that American — and Israeli — interests are best served by a unified Lebanese state that has clear control over its people and its territory. We now know that Hezbollah is not going to be eradicated, nor its influence reduced.
So the only way of making the Lebanese government accountable is to encourage the progressive, moderating integration of Hezbollah into the political, social and military fabric of the state.
How could Washington help this happen? Well, for one thing, we should give up talk of greatly enlarging the multinational force in southern Lebanon, and convince the Europeans to do likewise. Fortunately, the plan to insert such a force this fall foundered when the French (wisely) decided they were not up to the task of disarming Hezbollah, although smaller numbers of European troops are apparently headed there soon. It is folly, particularly with lightly armed foreign forces, to try to get regional actors to do things that they see as fundamentally against their interests.
Second is to end the proxy battles between foreign powers. I don’t know what the Americans are telling the Lebanese government privately, but the public statements are disappointing. Last month the White House issued an official statement citing “attempts by Syria, Iran, and their allies within Lebanon to foment instability and violence” and insisting the United States would “continue its efforts with allied nations and democratic forces in Lebanon to resist these efforts.” In other words, we’re still trying to rile Lebanese sentiment as a wedge against our enemies in the region.
A far more genuine American commitment to Lebanon would focus on helping the parties to come up with a reasonable formula to redress the under-representation of Shiites in the power structure while getting greater government control over Hezbollah’s war-making capacity.
Make no mistake: Hezbollah is no friend to America. As a former United States intelligence officer, I know there are a few accounts yet to be settled with that organization. But Washington will never achieve its objectives in the Middle East — including its obligation to ensure Israel’s long-term security — unless it puts emotions aside and deals realistically with facts on the ground. Like it or not, Hezbollah is one of those facts. A less-than-pliable but strong government in Lebanon would be far preferable to no real government at all, which is what we have now.