Noah Pollak has an insightful piece on Barack Obama’s absurdly naive prescription for neutralizing Hezbollah in Lebanon. As we noted, Obama responded to the latest crisis in Lebanon with mushy talk about the need for electoral and patronage reform. David Brooks asked him, in effect, whether he really sees this as a solution. Obama, in Pollak’s words, doubled-down. According to Brooks’ report:
[Obama} said the U.S. should help the Lebanese government deliver better services to the Shiites “to peel support away from Hezbollah” and encourage the local populace to “view them as an oppressive force.” The U.S. should “find a mechanism whereby the disaffected have an effective outlet for their grievances, which assures them they are getting social services.”
The U.S. needs a foreign policy that “looks at the root causes of problems and dangers.” Obama compared Hezbollah to Hamas. Both need to be compelled to understand that “they’re going down a blind alley with violence that weakens their legitimate claims.”
Pollak notes that this is Samantha Power’s “prescription for combating Islamic supremacist groups, who, in the Obama/Power worldview, rise to power and retain political saliency because they seek to address the legitimate grievances of a ‘disaffected’ (Obama’s word) people.” Pollak’s critique of that worldview in this context is, I think, entirely persuasive.
I would add two points. First, Obama’s choice of language reveals the incoherence of his approach. He says that Hamas and Hezbollah “need to be compelled to understand that they’re going down a blind alley with violence that weakens their legitimate claims.” But compulsion entails force and/or coercision, and Obama won’t commit to either.
Obama’s sentence would make sense as a matter of ordinary English usage if he said these terrorist outfits “need to be persuaded” to understand things as Obama wants them to. But Obama won’t say “persuaded” because it would sound weak and foolish. By saying “compelled” he sounds foolish, but less weak. The larger problem, of course, is that Obama’s jawboning, including his salute to the “legitimate claims” of Hamas and Hezbollah, would only persuade them they are going down precisely the alley that serves their interests.
Second, how would Obama’s view of Lebanon translate to Iraq? Does he favor a high level of U.S. engagement to promote democracy, end corruption, and deliver services there? If not, why is it more important to be actively engaged in Lebanon? If so, will he maintain the troop levels needed to support this engagement, i.e., protect the folks who are helping “to deliver services” to the Iraqi people in order to peel off support for terrorists? Or will he leave them largely defenseless in their endeavors?