July 28, 2006

What, will these hands ne'er be clean?

The Samarra bridge pushing incident, which has been written about extensively here, is a major item in Thomas Ricks' bill of indictment against the 4th Infantry Division, I see.

What I didn't learn until today was that the soldier from the same company who shot an Iraqi and then planted a gun on him later that same night was also acquitted on all charges in the end. Remarkable. Nate Sassaman's boys really could do no wrong, it seems.

Posted by BruceR at 01:35 PM

Precision weapons

It's about at this point that you unfortunately have to stop describing any military response as "measured."

Posted by BruceR at 01:14 PM

Mr. Spock is NOT a TOY!

No comment. Just liked the headline.

Posted by BruceR at 01:04 PM

UNTSO, part 3

I'm sorry, but I really have to try one more time to explain this.

The whole Pearson/UNEF/Nobel Peace Prize concept of peacekeeping is pretty simple to grasp. The international community puts a thin blue line between warring parties. They are standing in the way if one party starts shooting. Probably, some of the blue helmets are killed. The world condemns those deaths as an attack by one country on the will of the world. It is the threat of this coming condemnation for peacekeeper deaths that is meant to deter aggression, because it so clearly identifies the reckless aggressor.

(In the old days, such as in Sinai in 1967, it was expected for the country about to go to war to give the UN a clear indication that it would in advance, so that there was time to get the blue helmets out of the line of fire... at that point the aggressor country had fulfilled its obligation, and whatever other crimes it committed, couldn't be held responsible for those deaths. Obviously, in the 2006 Lebanon case, Israel gave no such warning.)

Now, you can think this is a pretty pointless concept in the current context, but it has worked in a few places, and probably doesn't deserve to be discarded entirely. But when national leaders who have lost personnel on UN service react by saying they don't understand why those personnel were there in the first place, what they're really saying is they place no value in old-style peacekeeping, or the deterrent effects it can produce, in the current situation or anywhere else. Denigrating the value of the kind of UN-based moral shaming that UNIFIL represented in Lebanon only reduces the likelihood it can be used in another locale in future. That's a great shame.

That said, the UN is doing the right thing today in pulling the UNTSO military observers in South Lebanon back within UNIFIL lines. They're only supposed to be deployed as close to the fighting as is safe, and clearly that wasn't the case where they were.

Posted by BruceR at 10:45 AM

The anti-UNTSO backlash continues

Claudia Rosett, in the National Review:

"And when operations of the U.N. itself have come under the spotlight in recent years, in some cases for behavior as egregious as pedophiliac rape by peacekeepers, or complicity in the kickback rackets of Saddam Hussein, Kofi Annan, and his entourage have rushed to impose the omerta in-house, while urging the rest of us to wait upon due process, refrain from rash comments, consider the larger picture and preferably just shut up and forget about it."

Yeah. Supporters of good militaries don't ever insist upon waiting for due process or considering the larger picture. Never.


It's still a highly debatable question whether UNIFIL has done any good since the Israeli pullout from South Lebanon in 2000. A skim through their situation reports from this period, collected here, is worth the effort. A couple quotes:

July-Oct 2000:

"However, near the Blue Line the [Lebanese] authorities have, in effect, left control to Hizbollah... The Government of Lebanon took the position that, so long as there was no comprehensive peace with Israel, the army would not act as a border guard for Israel and would not be deployed to the border... UNIFIL has not been able to persuade the Lebanese authorities to assume their full responsibilities along the Blue Line."

...the Secretary-General stressed the need for the Lebanese Government to take effective control of the whole area and assume full responsibilities there, including putting an end to continuing provocations on the Blue Line. Pointing to a clear sequence of steps spelled out in the underlying 1978 Security Council resolution 425 on Lebanon, he noted that after the restoration of the effective authority by Lebanon, both the Lebanese and Israeli Governments are to be fully responsible, in accordance with their international obligations, for preventing any hostile acts from their respective territory against that of their neighbour. "I believe that the time has come to establish the state of affairs envisaged in the resolution," the Secretary-General wrote in reference to resolution 425. Underscoring the need for the Government of Lebanon to assert its authority over the entire area from which Israel had withdrawn, the Secretary-General warned that otherwise "there is a danger that Lebanon may once again be an arena, albeit not necessarily the only one, of conflict between others."

January 2001-January 2002:

...the Government of Lebanon continued to maintain the position that, as long as there is no comprehensive peace with Israel, the Lebanese armed forces would not be deployed along the Blue Line.

January 2002-January 2003:

The Government of Lebanon, however, continued to maintain the position that, as long as there was no comprehensive peace with Israel, the Lebanese armed forces would not be deployed along the Blue Line...

July 2004-January 2005:

The continually asserted position of the Government of Lebanon that the Blue Line was not valid in the Shab'a farms area was not compatible with Security Council resolutions. The Council has recognized the Blue Line as valid for purposes of confirming Israel 's withdrawal pursuant to resolution 425 (1978). The Government of Lebanon should heed the Council's repeated calls for the parties to respect the Blue Line in its entirety...

UPDATE: So what's my point here? It's that according to UNIFIL's own roadmap, they were specifically *not* there to disarm Hezbollah after 2000. They were to affirm to the world the Israelis pulled out in 2000, then assist the Lebanese government in restoring its own military control of the area. But the Syrian-run, Hezbollah-leaning Lebanese government said that the Israelis had not pulled out, because of the Shebaa Farms canard, and so the point of the roadmap where they were supposed to reassert control over Hezbollah had not been reached, regardless of what UNIFIL and the UN Security Council said.

UNIFIL's job was to fill the *legitimacy* vacuum at the border until the Lebanese army showed up. The Lebanese army never did.

You can argue whether the Security Council should have reconstructed UNIFIL as a force with a more forceful mandate, but they never did, either. The troops on the ground were doing what they'd been instructed to do. It would have been reckless and pointless for them to challenge Hezbollah against the expressed wishes of the government in Beirut and without a redefinition of their mandate by New York.

The point is that, unlike on some of their other borders, in Lebanon Israel has been certified by UNIFIL as being almost entirely in compliance with all the relevant Security Council resolutions. They're the ones that have been playing ball. The Lebanese government (aka Syria and Hezbollah) is in steadfast defiance of the UN's will here. This did not change with the "Cedar Revolution," either. Their current PM, Siniora, is on record earlier this year saying he will never personally sign a peace treaty with Israel.

Now you can say this is all moot, because for Lebanon to live up to the terms of the agreement would have led to an overthrow of the government and possibly a civil war. And it might have. But that's not UNIFIL's fault: at some point in 2000 Lebanon (really Syria) gave an undertaking that they would rein in Hezbollah and they didn't.

We have to believe in the power of positive reinforcement, for countries as well as people. If we want countries to respect the will of the international community, that means we don't treat the side playing ball and the side defying us equally. Israel, up until a couple weeks ago, was the one playing ball with the Security Council's will in this locale. Lebanon was not. Actions (or the lack thereof) should be expected to have consequences.

Posted by BruceR at 02:35 AM