by Michael Young
A perennial shortcoming in
This was the case in the run-up to the invasion of
The latest twist on this failing comes from the exchange now taking place in some American policy circles and the military over whether to engage Middle Eastern militant Islamist groups, particularly Hizbullah and Hamas. Last week, Mark Perry, author of a book advocating talking to Islamists, published a blog post on the Foreign Policy website saying that a recent "red team" report by senior officers in US Central Command had proposed a new approach to Hizbullah and Hamas. The officers cast doubt on the current American isolation of the groups, Perry wrote, and they recommended "integrating the two into their respective political mainstreams."
The officers also revived the idea of incorporating Hizbullah and Hamas into their government-backed security forces, arguing: "The US role of assistance to an integrated Lebanese defense force that includes Hizballah; and the continued training of Palestinian security forces in a Palestinian entity that includes Hamas in its government, would be more effective than providing assistance to entities – the government of Lebanon and Fatah – that represent only a part of the Lebanese and Palestinian populace respectively." (Italics in the original.)
Perry noted that while the officers acknowledged that Hizbullah and Hamas "embrace staunch anti-Israel rejectionist policies," they added that the two groups are "pragmatic and opportunistic."
Here was a controversial example of "thinking outside the box" on Hizbullah and Hamas, Perry opined. It was precisely the opposite. A bevy of Americans essentially made assumptions with no grounding whatsoever in the reasoning of either of the two Islamist groups. Worse, the officers lazily lumped Hizbullah and Hamas together, even though both have different aims and operate in significantly different political contexts. This was thinking made in
Let's start with the last point raised by the officers, namely the fact that Hizbullah and Hamas are pragmatic and opportunistic. Of course they are, but it's worth recalling Lenin in these instances. One can be pragmatic and opportunistic in the pursuit of firm goals (and opposition to
But let's be more specific. Hizbullah, at least its leadership and security cadre, is an extension of
When these groups see Americans, not least American soldiers, contorting themselves to justify flexibility toward militant Islamists, they assume, rightly, that their political strategy is working. And if a strategy is working, why do anything to overhaul it?
Then there are the specifics the officers raised. They appeared to be unaware that Hizbullah has spent years resisting integration into the Lebanese "mainstream" and army, yet they toss this out as a given. Hizbullah has no desire to integrate and never did. Rather, it seeks to neutralize the ability of the Lebanese state and the society to challenge the party's military autonomy. Hizbullah has largely been successful: it has great sway over the commanding heights of government and the army, especially its intelligence services. Similarly, Hamas will only integrate into the Palestinian security forces once it is sure that it won't be obliged to surrender its freedom of military action.
The officers' statement that American aid would be more effective if it went to integrated national forces in
Which leads us to another alcove in this secluded
That's the difficulty in the "talk to Islamists" scheme. It is entirely America-centric, built on an assumption that the obstacles come from
Michael Young is opinion editor of THE DAILY STAR.
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