The Middle East in Crisis

July 28, 2006

As I write, Israeli troops are invading Lebanon on its southern border. No doubt this escalation will heighten the danger of a wider war, one that could involve other state and non-state actors in that region and draw millions of people into the fighting.

Israels generals, of course, would dismiss such a possibility, but in so doing they ignore the fact that armed conflicts cannot always be neatly orchestrated from command centers. History teaches us that war has a logic of its own that can easily confound the cleverest policymakers politicians and generals alike. Nevertheless, the war goes on with the full-throttled support of Bush and Rice, despite a growing world outcry.

This deadly and destructive war has killed hundreds, wounded thousands, and uprooted hundreds of thousands of people. The destruction of infrastructure from houses to hospitals, to transportation and communications systems, to power grids has been massive.

The lions share of death and destruction is occurring, of course, in Lebanon. Earlier this week, Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora said that the bombing sets back Lebanon 50 years.

The routines of life have been shattered in this small country that not that long ago was ravaged by civil war and an 18-year occupation by the Israeli army. Families are again grieving. Heartache and anger are everywhere. The dead are being buried. The normal rhythms of life will be slow to return to this devastated country. It will be an even longer time before images of this unnecessary bloodletting fade from collective memory of the Lebanese people.

The Israeli people are also burying their dead and tending to their wounded. But as precious as every life Arab and Jewish is, there is no equivalency in terms of the effects of this war on the two countries. How could there be? Hezbollah doesnt hold a candle to Israels military might.

Copying Bush administration policies

In prosecuting this murderous assault on Lebanon, the Israelis are not only copying the reckless policy and punitive methods of the Bush administration: unilateralism, use of overwhelming force, collective punishment of innocent people, and hostility toward diplomacy, multilateralism, and international institutions and law.

They are also bringing to the current battle the most sophisticated and powerful military weapons and technologies that have turned Israels armed forces into one of the most formidable military machines in the world, complete with everything, including nuclear weapons, something that no other country in the Middle East possesses.

Moreover, all this is steeped in the most outrageous forms of racism and great power arrogance.

Imperative steps

Given these dangers, what is imperative is an immediate cessation of hostilities on all sides, an emergency humanitarian relief for all the victims of war in Lebanon, in the West Bank and Gaza, and in Israel and the introduction of an international peacekeeping force under the auspices of the United Nations. This is in the interests of all the peoples of that region Israeli, Arab, Kurd, Persian and others and people of various faiths including Shiite, Sunni, Christian and Jewish. A cease-fire, which our own government has shamelessly prevented so far, would allow the outstanding differences that sparked this confrontation to be addressed, as they should be, diplomatically and politically.

Bush and Rice claim that an early cease-fire would work to the advantage of Hezbollah, but I dont agree with this claim. No one, including the Israeli people, will find peace and security in a protracted and escalating conflict. Indeed, every day that the war goes on will only inflame passions on all sides, delay a positive resolution of the immediate issues of contention, and indefinitely crush any hope of a durable and just peace in the Middle East. Again, a cease-fire, humanitarian relief, and an international peacekeeping force are the only sane course of action.

It is essential to distinguish between triggering mechanisms and underlying causes of this conflict. If we listen to U.S. and Israeli officials and the major media we are asked to believe that the war is simply reducible to the actions of Hezbollah.

Nowhere in their narrative is the decades-long occupation and annexation of the West Bank and Gaza or Lebanon. Ignored is the systematic denial of Palestinian rights and the unrelenting campaign to destroy the political and civic institutions and economic infrastructure in the West Bank and Gaza. Unnoticed is the contemptuous attitude of Israeli officials toward all the political representatives of the Palestinian people Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), Fatah, and Hamas.

Never mentioned is the daily humiliation that the Palestinian people have to endure or Israels efforts to frustrate their democratic will. Hidden away from public view are the assassinations of Palestinian and other Arab leaders by the Israeli army and intelligence. Completely missing is a picture of the illegal roundups, torture, and indefinite detention of thousands of Palestinians, including hundreds of children. And rarely said is that the rise of Hamas is largely explained by the intransigence of the Israeli government towards secular and moderate political forces the PLO in the first place.

We are told to put ourselves in the shoes of the Israel people and we should do so, but we must also put ourselves in Palestinian shoes. If we did, we would not only feel threatened, angry, and fearful as the Israelis do, but we would also experience insults, humiliations, invisibility, economic deprivation, systematic denials of elementary rights, abandonment by the international community, double standards when it comes to enforcement of UN resolutions, and the absence of a territorially defined and legally sanctioned place that the world recognizes as our home.

Thus, any resolution of the crisis has to address at the negotiating table not the battlefield, not unilaterally the fundamental issue of Palestinian statehood and other longer-term causes as well as the triggering mechanisms that together fuel the tensions, anger, and deadly fighting that rise to the surface of everyday life across the Middle East.

No military solution

Without such an approach, the cycle of violence will continue with pauses of relative quiet periodically punctuated by fierce fighting in which one side may win the chimera of victory, but only until the next round of fighting. If the more than 50 years of violence and counter-violence have taught any lessons, it is that there is no military solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Of course, reaching such a resolution will not be easy. There are plenty of obstacles on all sides, beginning with the neoconservatives in the Bush administration and elsewhere, the right-wing section of the Israeli ruling class, and right-wing clerical and secular extremists in the Arab and Muslim world.

Much the same could be said about ending the occupation of Iraq, another U.S.-driven war that is causing death and chaos, and exacerbating tensions in the region, and will continue to do so as long as the occupation continues.

Nevertheless, saner forces can prevail; saner forces can win the peace; and saner forces can secure a just settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and compel the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq.

New fault lines

The current war against Hezbollah and Lebanon is bringing to the surface new fault lines between the Arab states, between Iran and some of its Arab neighbors, and between Sunni- and Shiite-led countries and peoples. Not surprisingly, the Bush administration is trying to exploit these fissures and has been successful to a degree.

The Bush administration, however, makes a mistake if it thinks that these new fault lines will hold up in the face of this relentless offensive of the Israeli military against the people of Lebanon. In fact, with each passing day the opposition will grow in the Middle East and in the world community, including among U.S. allies. Nearly everyone with the exception of too many members of Congress, Republican and Democrat alike is distancing themselves now from the callous and calculated policy of Bush and Rice to one degree or another, a policy that in effect continues and sanctions the bloody bombing and devastation of Lebanon.

Were the Israeli army to begin a full-scale ground war in Lebanon, which I think is unlikely, this fraying coalition that so far supports the Israeli military action would badly fracture along many lines.

Of course, the possibility of a full-scale invasion cant be ruled out altogether. Wiser heads do not always prevail and in this case, there are pressures from the most right-wing circles in Israel and the United States to engage Syria and Iran. Former Republican House leader Newt Gingrich and William Kristol, editor of the right-wing Weekly Standard, are making a case for a broader-scale offensive to radically rearrange the furniture in the Middle East in favor of U.S. imperialism which only goes to prove that the much-proclaimed democratization of the Middle East is nothing but a cover-up for establishing client states in that region in order to secure control over oil resources and the profits and geopolitical power that come from such control.

There is great disappointment, probably anger, in the ruling circles of the U.S. and Israel with the reaction of the Lebanese government and people. The Bush administration hoped that they would join the Israeli/U.S. front to liquidate the physical and political presence of Hezbollah, even if that might require another civil war on Lebanese soil. If in Vietnam the Nixon administration bombed the villages in order to save them, in Lebanon, the Bush administration is ready to incite a civil war in order to save the country.

Threat inflation

To rationalize these actions, the Bush administration and the Olmert-Peretz government recycle two ideological devices that were employed in the U.S. invasion of Iraq. The first is threat inflation. In other words, Hezbollah and Hamas are represented as a threat to the very existence of Israel. Once people buy into that notion then a massive and disproportional military response makes perfectly good sense.

But there is no threat to Israels existence. Its true that Hezbollah and Hamas deny in words the right of Israel to exist, and commit murderous acts against innocent Israelis, but neither one has the military wherewithal, given the enormous imbalances in military capacities, to drive the Israeli state into the sea. If an existential threat exists for anyone in the Middle East, it is, first of all, the Palestinian people.

The other ideological device is to conflate the opposition into a single and seamless bloc whose overarching mission is to visit terror on the rest of the world. We are asked to believe that this bloc of states and movements in particular, and Arab and Muslim people in general, have a nearly genetic hatred of and fierce desire to destroy our way of life and freedoms, all of which is outside of history, politics, colliding state and local interests, and longstanding grievances and inequalities.

In so doing the Bush administration strips the people of the Middle East of their humanity and removes the ground for diplomacy, negotiation, and peaceful resolution of outstanding conflicts. It also gives itself a cover to pursue its policy of unrivaled world domination, and gives the green light to its strategic allies, like Israel, to recklessly wield their own military might in the Middle East not to mention reinforces to the extreme racist stereotypes and racial profiling and the curtailment of democracy in our land. Given the awesome power of new military technologies and weapons conventional and nuclear humankind must reject this invented and false vision of the world and impose a new logic of peace, justice, and respect for national sovereignty on the Bush administration and, for that matter, all states and movements in the world.

Marxism and anti-imperialism

The role of Hezbollah (as well as Hamas) warrants criticism and even condemnation. Of course, it should be done in a particular context, but our appreciation of the difference between a colonizing and colonized people, our appreciation of the difference between an occupied and occupying state, and our appreciation of the asymmetry of power and its effects should not make us silent or neutral regarding Hezbollahs reckless and deadly actions.

Neither Hezbollah (nor Hamas) are national liberation movements as we have come to understand them. Their political kinship is to regimes and movements on the right rather than the left. Neither one speaks about transforming socio-economic structures and establishing a secular democratic state. Nor do we support their tactics in many instances or their internal role in the countries in which they operate.

Do they resist occupation and colonialism? Do they make difficulties for U.S. imperialism? Some say yes.

But to leave it here misses the mark. I cant imagine that Hezbollah didnt know full well what the reaction of the Israeli ruling circle and the Bush administration would be to the capturing and imprisoning of Israeli soldiers. While they might have entertained a range of response to their actions, one must (or clearly should) have been, given the ruthlessness of the Israeli ruling class, that Israel would respond militarily and fiercely. In any case, their actions were provocative.

This is not a Marxist approach, but then again neither Hezbollah, Hamas, nor other right-wing clericalist movements can be categorized as Marxists or on the left. In fact, in most countries they are at loggerheads with Marxist parties and movements. In Iraq and Iran, for example, right-wing clericalist organizations assassinate Communists as well as other left, progressive, and democratic forces.

Marxism never considers tactics abstractly. Tactics and their efficacy are determined by concrete circumstances. They are embedded in a particular set of political, economic, and social processes.

They cant be elaborated independently of a sober and objective estimate of the class and social forces at a national and international level. Marxism doesnt absolutize any one form of struggle as suitable for all occasions.

Nevertheless, there is a tendency in a section of the left to regard armed struggle as the only valid, legitimate, and militant form of anti-imperialist struggle, regardless of circumstances. It is almost as if picking up a gun ipso facto and irrespective of its tactical appropriateness and its effects is to be applauded.

While oppressed people have a right to bear arms, we dont advocate this tactic in every circumstance nor are we duty bound to support it when undertaken by others. Under no circumstances do we support the killing of innocent civilians.

Armed struggle is appropriate only if every form of peaceful mass struggle has been exhausted, only if it advances the democratic, class, and anti-imperialist movement, and only if, a majority of a people supports military means of engagement. Every movement working-class, democratic, anti-imperialist, and revolutionary must examine tactics from the following point of view: do they advance, do they strengthen, and do they unite the struggle? Do they create a better terrain on which the movement can advance its struggle against imperialism?

If this yardstick is employed, it is hard to conclude that Hezbollahs actions are anti-imperialist. Has the struggle for Palestinian independence been enhanced? Have the forces of imperialism been put on the defensive? Will this war create better conditions to end the occupation of Iraq? Will it facilitate the development and sovereign status of Lebanon and other states in the Middle East? Does it weaken the forces of reaction in Israel and elsewhere in the Middle East? Does it weaken the Bush administration, the main purveyor of violence? Does it make the world a safer place?

To my mind, Hezbollahs actions have done nothing to advance the struggle against U.S. imperialism or Israeli occupation and expansionism.

Hezbollah threw an easy pitch to the ruling circles in Israel and the U.S. And to no ones surprise they have jumped on it and ratcheted up their offensive to secure political dominance of that region.

Conditions of struggle have changed in the contemporary world, thus making the ground for armed struggle narrower and narrower.

The main obstacle to peace is the Bush administration and its policies. Directly and indirectly, U.S. imperialism has wreaked death and destruction in the Middle East and around the world. But the left and progressive movement cant be silent about provocations, no matter where they come from on the political spectrum and no matter how militant and revolutionary they sound. The task is not simply to stand up to imperialism, but to defeat it. And that cant be done by the left alone it will take strategy and tactics that will move millions and millions of people into struggle against imperialism. A first step is to win millions to impose a cease-fire on all sides, to end the occupation of Lebanon, the West Bank and Gaza, and Iraq, and to secure a just peace that protects the national and security rights of all peoples in the region.

Sam Webb (swebb @ is national chairman of the Communist Party USA.


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