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The Civilized World’s Dilemma in Dealing with Rogue States

Neither military action nor concessions are going to work entirely, but recognizing you have enemies is the first step in dealing with the problem.

by
Barry Rubin

Bio

August 26, 2010 - 12:05 am
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British public opinion was outraged after Khartoum fell and the subsequent massacre. Later British governments overthrew the Islamist regime and joined Sudan to its Egyptian dominion. That kind of behavior is derided today as imperialism.

A military response is no simple solution. It is expensive, long in duration, and causes casualties. Western news media will trumpet any misdeed or mistake. Moreover, since deep-seated social and structural problems are at the root of what might be called the “dictator regions of the world,” one does not see miraculous transformations. Also, given the new kind of asymmetric warfare, radical regimes and movements welcome the death of their people and destruction of their infrastructure as a means of gaining sympathy and mobilizing forces.

Israel, at times attacked from all sides, with a supportive population (public opinion criticized the government response to the Lebanon war in 2006 as too soft), insufficient international support, and little margin for error, has understandably adopted a policy of retaliation to maintain credibility. Generally, this approach has worked.

Nowadays, though, it is inhibited not so much by domestic factors but by an extremely low level of international backing, which would erode even further if Israel hit back too long or hard. In addition, Israel has no wish to retake the West Bank, Gaza Strip, or south Lebanon. And it knows that nothing it can do will end the conflict (through victory) or change the hearts of its enemies (through concessions).

That last point, by the way, is generally misunderstood by, respectively, the foreign right and left, both of which entertain fantasies on these points. Neither violence nor peace-making offers a full solution, yet deterrence and credibility really do work, at least for a while. True, Hezbollah and Hamas will want to fight again in the future but that future can be postponed; Egypt, Jordan, and the PLO were pushed by Israel’s military pressure out of the conflict (as much as that can happen), while Syria is too fearful to fight on its own account (thus using Lebanon as a human shield).

The Western situation is quite different. To put it bluntly, anything short of a September 11 attack can largely be ignored or dealt with through types of appeasement. Accepting some mid-level intelligence guy as payment for Libyan terrorism was a form of appeasement, as were the lessons drawn by Britain and Spain as a result of major terrorist attacks in their capitals.

If one brings in Third World democracies, India was powerless to deal with Pakistan which had obviously sponsored a huge terror attack in Mumbai. South Korea has its hands tied regarding North Korea; Thailand can’t do anything to counter support by at least provincial governments in Malaysia for terrorists in its southern region.

So where’s the line between going to war and letting aggressors walk all over you? One option is covert, deniable action. But even that seems out of favor in a West that prefers to turn the other cheek in the face of subversion, terrorism, and insult. It is bad enough when a contributing factor here is what might be called, in effect, an ideological fifth column. When that sector has a large measure of hegemony in academia, entertainment, media, and even government then traditional strategic behavior becomes close to impossible.

What then is the answer? A combination of things: having leaders who believe your country’s virtues outweigh its sins and think that its enemies are due more opposition than sympathy, clarity on the issues, a campaign to gain domestic support, verbal toughness, helping the enemies of one’s enemies, supporting one’s friends, sanctions, covert operations, and when necessary appropriate types of military action.

But first you need to know two simple things: you’ve got enemies and neither flattery nor apology nor concessions nor betraying your friends nor bashing yourself is going to change that fact.

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Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition, Viking-Penguin), the paperback edition of The Truth about Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan), and The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley). The website of the GLORIA Center is at http://www.gloria-center.org and of his blog, Rubin Reports, at http://www.rubinreports.blogspot.com.
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