[Marxism] Marine officer: we should learn from Hezbollah

M. Junaid Alam junaidalam1 at gmail.com
Fri Aug 11 23:25:32 MDT 2006

Well, you don't see this every day. The  fellow seems hopelessly confused.
His thesis is that US occupation forces should learn to embed themselves
among the populace in Iraq just as Hezbollah has embedded itself with the
Lebanese Shiites! Of course there's the whole problem of *being* the foreign
occupying army rather than defending the natives against it...seemingly lost
on the guy.
*Learning From Hezbollah*

By Brian E. Humphreys
Saturday, August 12, 2006; A21

>From my first day in Iraq as a young infantry officer, I was struck by the
huge perceptual gulf that separated us from the Iraqis. My first mission was
to escort a civil affairs team assigned to supervise the rebuilding of a
local school. After tea, smiles and handshakes, we departed and were
promptly struck by a roadside bomb. Our modest efforts to close the
perceptual gulf, exemplified in our smile-and-wave tactics and civil affairs
missions, seemed to my mind well-intentioned but inadequate.

At a deeper level, the motives of the local populace remained largely
invisible to us, as people smiled one minute and attempted to blow us up the
next. We knew little or nothing about their grievances and aspirations, or
where the political fault lines ran in the cluster of small cities in the
Sunni Triangle we were tasked with pacifying.

We experienced many periodic spasms of violence that seemed to come out of
nowhere before disappearing again. Of course they came from somewhere, but
it was a somewhere we didn't understand. In a battalion of more than 800
men, we had one four-man team assigned to interact directly with the local
population, and even this team was frequently sidetracked to deal with
routine translation duties or interrogations.

Perhaps understandably for a conventional military force trained to focus on
the enemy, our primary intelligence focus was on the insurgents. Much less
attention was paid to the larger part of the population. Although we were a
visible and sometimes forceful presence, I'm not sure we were a truly
influential one.

Now, watching the latest news dispatches from Lebanon, I find myself
comparing our efforts to introduce a new order in Iraq with Hezbollah's
success as an effective practitioner of the art of militarized grass-roots
politics. Frankly, it's not a favorable comparison -- for us. Hezbollah's
organizational resilience in the face of an all-out conventional assault
shows the degree to which it has seamlessly combined the strategic
objectives of its sponsors with a localized political and military program.

Using the grass-roots approach, Hezbollah has been able to convert the
ignored and dispossessed Shiite underclass of southern Lebanon into a
powerful lever in regional politics. It understands that the basic need in
any human conflict, whether or not it involves physical violence, is to take
care of one's political base before striking out at the opponent.

As many informed observers have pointed out, Hezbollah has engrafted itself
to the aims and aspirations of the Lebanese Shiite community so completely
that Israel cannot destroy it without also destroying the community, with
all the attendant political and moral costs. It is the willingness of women,
children and old men to support Hezbollah and its political program at the
risk of their lives that gives the organization power far beyond its
military means.

Whatever the objective truth of Hezbollah's motives, its many supporters in
southern Lebanon believe fervently that it is their organization, not an
Iranian surrogate. Few if any American units in Iraq have achieved anything
close to this level of success in winning the support of the local
population. (Of more concern is the fact that few Iraqi security units or
political leaders appear to have done so, either.) Commanders have come and
gone, elections have been held, Iraqi soldiers trained, all manner of
strategies for dealing with the insurgency attempted -- but with only
limited and localized successes. Hezbollah's success among civilians in
Lebanon, which is only reinforced by a ruthless pummeling from a reviled
enemy, contrasts sharply with the continued fragility of the much more
modest U.S. gains in Iraq, achieved at a much higher price.

The lessons should be clear. To engage in insurgency or counterinsurgency --
fancy terms for grass-roots politics by other means -- one must be willing
and, most of all, able to work in the underbelly of local politics, as
Hezbollah has done in Lebanon. It is the politics of getting people jobs,
picking up trash and getting relatives out of jail. Engaging in this
politics has the potential to do much more than merely ingratiate an armed
force with a local population. It gives that force a mental map of local
pressure points and the knowledge of how to press them -- benignly or
otherwise -- to get desired results.

Some may say that this is just standard insurgency-counterinsurgency
doctrine. True, but one has to ask why Hezbollah has been able to pull it
off in Lebanon, while young Americans continue to endure a host of nasty
surprises in Iraq.

M. Junaid Alam

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