Guest Commentary: Military might cannot win a war of ideas

Aug 1, 2006 at 8:11 pm


linda george and catherine mcgeeney
linda george and catherine mcgeeney
Almost five years ago, the whole world stood with the United States in mourning over the deep losses we suffered at the hands of terrorists. We declared the Global War on Terror and vowed to banish this threat from our shores. How have we done since 9/11?

According to a report co-sponsored by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and the Center for American Progress, the risk of another attack of similar proportions in the United States over the next decade is about 80 percent. This survey of 100 prominent foreign policy experts concluded, “Bush and his team have had a totally unrealistic view of what they can accomplish with military force and threats of force.” Eighty percent of the experts also believe that terrorism can only be defeated through a “battle of ideas” that counters radical Islamic ideologies.

But how can we win a battle of ideas globally when we can’t even conduct an honest dialogue at home?
According to our mainstream media, the unfortunate abduction of an Israeli soldier, Cpl. Gilad Shalit, sparked the current violence in Gaza. But we’ve read very little of the abduction the day before of the two Gaza civilians — a doctor and his brother — that prompted the abduction of Cpl. Shalit, and nothing of the almost 9,000 Palestinians currently being held in Israeli prisons without due process. We’ve read of the two Israeli soldiers who were abducted in southern Lebanon that prompted the Israeli invasion of the country. But we’ve read little about the three Lebanese soldiers who were abducted and have been held for some time in Israeli prisons — and very little of the previous prisoner swaps Israel conducted with Hamas and Hezbollah.

The strategic decision that Hezbollah made to militarily challenge Israel has been devastating to the Lebanese people and their country. Even more horrific, though, is the decision Israel made to attack Lebanon without regard for civilian loss of life — to bomb the roads leaving the villages, and then to drop fliers warning citizens of impending attacks, leaving them no roads by which to escape. And unconscionable is the United States’ decision to vote against the United Nations resolution demanding that Israel cease the bombing of Lebanon. The blood lies on many hands — but unfortunately, it’s the Lebanese who are left to bury their dead, and who once again must rebuild their country.

Initially, much of the Arab world was outraged at the actions of Hezbollah. But as the death tolls rise and Israel continues to relentlessly bomb Lebanon, the tide has begun to shift. According to an article published in The New York Times on July 27, Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah became “a folk hero” over the first two weeks of bombing. Israel’s violent actions are pushing even moderate Arabs into the welcoming arms of Hezbollah. Even our allies are questioning our position. Lebanon is a fragile democracy that can, with the right encouragement, be the beacon for a moderate Middle East. The United States has trumpeted the elections in Iraq but is now creating — via Israel — a severe threat to the stability of the democratic government of Lebanon. It is undermining its own efforts to democratize the region.

Violence begets violence. The destruction that the Lebanese are living through yet again, and the oppression that the Palestinians are subjected to daily, and the walls the Israelis have put up that separate families — these things will continue to fuel extremist groups. We’ve read little of it, but Hezbollah was created in response to the 1982 Israeli occupation of Lebanon. How can Israel and the United States be so shortsighted to believe that such an organization — born of a resistance to violent occupation — can be bombed out of existence?
How would the terrorist groups be affected if the United States supported a Palestinian state with viable borders so Palestinians could thrive and rebuild their lives, rather than suffer and join terrorist movements to quell their pain and exorcise their desperation? What if Israel exercised restraint in defending herself instead of killing more than 500 innocent Lebanese?

This is about ideas, not military might.
Israel needs a better solution than the weapons and money the United States is providing her with — we are, in fact, selling the Israelis short to give them only those tools of destruction. The Palestinians and Lebanese, too, need a better solution. Just as Americans saw two towers crumble almost five years ago, there’s much more to be lost.

Linda George is a second-generation Lebanese American living in Louisville. Catherine McGeeney, her oldest daughter, is a recent University of Notre Dame graduate who is currently living in Chicago. Contact the writers at [email protected]. Disclosure: The writers are relatives of staff writer Stephen George.