Walid's Wanderings

Reflections on life, good-and-evil, family, humanity, and anything else that occurs to me, usually when I travel. Right now I am on a 6-year trip through Lebanon, the homeland I had never really lived in before.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

What to make of Hezballah

The actual news today is a rewind of past events. Beirut Airport opens on Tuesday, the American University of Beirut opens on Monday, and Hariri assaisl Assad today.

So let's dig deeper into more interesting topics from yesterday. Some say that Hezballah is a dangerous example for bad guys everywhere, others say that it is an example for good.

Fine words, but how does it work, really? Here is a quote that not many remember from Hassan Nasrallah, explaining in one sentence the strategy that led to success against the Israeli occupation in the 90's. "We completely centralized the decision to fire into Israel, and completely decentralized the decision to fire against Israeli forces within Lebanon." There you have it - simplest thing in the world, and words of greater wisdom than you probably realize to an organizational re-engineering scholar like myslef. (Yes, I get paid to write research articles on centralizign and decentralizing organizations.) By retaining central control on teh firing of missiles into Israel in teh 90's, Hezballah escaped being designated as an unruly gang of men with a greivance, who only wanted to hurt someone, anyone, on the other side. You know, like Islamic Jihad or Al-Qaeda today, and like the demon that negative media reports (Google Ann Coulter for examples) wants to paint all Arabs to be. By not being like that, Hezballah was able to convince rational policy makers in Israel of the reasonableness of withdrawing from Lebanon. But, by having a completely decentralilze force carry out the individual attracks against targets deemed legitimate by the central command and by the world at large, Hezballah also escaped the fate of all the Arab armies defeated by Israel and other organization infiltrated by Israel. True genius, as only a principle that can be encapsulated in one se4ntence can be.

Bottom line: Hassan Nasrallaht knows what to centralize and what to decentralize. This is a lesson anyone can learn. An insurgent in Nicaragua can use it as handily as a theocrat in Tehran or an election campaign manager in Ohio. In this last war, Hezballah was able to instantly order and instantly prevent missile attacks of any calibre agains Israel. Meanwhile, guerilla parties living for three days at a stretch on chocolate bars in the wilderness with no human contact continues to destroy tanks. Of course the training and logistics that allow this to work are nothing to be sneezed at, to say the least. But it's not my field, and more importantly not the topic of this piece.

So is this approach good or is it evil? I say that the one distinction between whether the Hezballah model helps the forces of Chaos, as Thomas Friedman calls them, or the cause of the undertrodden everywhere, and the Shiites theologists call them, can be also stated in terms of centralization/decentralization. The pivotal issue concerns the decision to actually enter into a state of resistance, i.e. to start a war. This decision cannot be centralized. If centralized, then one person decides that millions will suffer, based on one person's perception of the greater good of that half of the millions affected he calls his own side. This is a formula for the Mr. Jeckyl side of Hezballah, the evil twin that all democracies everywhere have every right to fear and to crush. But, it is entirely possible to have a decentralilzed process for deciding to entrust the conduct of war to a leader who knows which subsequent tactics to centralize and which to decentralize. This is democracy. If a democracy decides to go to war, then it can do a lot worse than choose someone like Hassan Nasrallah as a leader. In fact, even if you disagree with me, think: if Earth was under attack by superior but mortal aliens, whom would you rather have leading the reistance? Not Bush. But if a society gives anyone, even if it were mother Theresa, the power to solely decide whether war is to be initiated, then that society has lost its place among the civilized nations of the 21st centruy. Without a popular mandate that contains a mechanism for popular accountability of the leader, all sorts of bad things happen. Not always, but enough to make everyone who paid any attention in History class very, very wary.

I hope things work out along these lines, becasue a committed cantralized/decentralized hybrid of true democrats is the only thing that can defeat a possible empire led by aristocrats who only use democracy as a state religion.


  • At 20/8/06 11:38 AM, Blogger Elisa said…

    Hmm....except....that Mother Teresa wouldn`t decide to start a war.



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