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Learning from Hezbollah

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The recent war in Lebanon was devastating on many levels, from the loss of human life to decimated infrastructure to massive ecological destruction. The long oil slick that rivals the Alaskan Valdez spill and has engulfed much of the beautiful Lebanese coast provides a sickening reminder of the aftermath of war - everything is affected by the black ooze.

While Hezbollah's hatred of Israel and terrorist activities certainly bear partial responsibility for the war, I also think we have something to learn from what they did in the aftermath of the pummeling. Instead of focusing all their efforts on a losing fight with a superior army, Hezbollah moved rapidly into the devastated areas of Lebanon with Iranian money and committed manpower to start the rebuilding. Money that could have been spent on more guns and rocket launchers instead went to families that lost homes, who received an average of $12,000 apiece. Hezbollah's response to the damage has been noticeably more efficient and effective than the government's.

The result? A groundswell of popular support for Hezbollah in Lebanon and throughout the Arab world.

What this means is that, after some $1.6B of Israeli military expenditures, the destruction of Lebanon's infrastructure, and massive loss of life, Hezbollah came out stronger than they began as an organization. Even from a coldly calculating military view, Israel has had a lousy return on investment. And it illuminates the problem with "fighting terrorism" in the way America and Israel have largely tried to do - with stunning displays of force and military dominance. In an age in which stories circulate at Internet speed and global media networks feed on images of devastation, those who aim to "shock and awe" must understand that "shock and awe" quickly turn to "horror and hatred." Images of devastation affect us in a deeply emotional way and it is difficult to see the purveyor of massive destruction as righteous for long.

A similar pattern has played out in Iraq. For a time, the media spin about Iraq worked; the "coalition" forces were seen by many as liberators. And yet, over time, that story has lost efficacy. The ongoing death tolls and devastation have hammered home a different view of America as self-interested occupier. In the court of world opinion and certainly in the hearts of Iraqis, the United States has lost the moral upper hand and is now in the long, humbling process of coming to terms with being seen as the villain.

In both the case of America's war in Iraq and Israel's in Lebanon, there has been a fundamental imbalance in the ratio between aggression and compassionate support, with a heavy skew towards aggression. Hezbollah did not defeat Israel on the battlefield, but they did in the hearts and minds of the people. They did so by offering committed support in the rebuilding rather than superiority in the aggression. By funneling so much money and effort into helping victims of the war start to rebuild, they prioritized caring for the Lebanese people over their own military activities. Israel primarily spent its resources on military aggression and has not spent them on compassionate support in rebuilding from that aggression, except at home. With damage in Lebanon estimated at $3.6 billion, there is an opportunity to rebuild a network of support and trust. If Israel is not a leading participant in that and Hezbollah continues to lead the way forward, the result will be an increase in Arab hatred of Israel and a strengthening of Hezbollah, which in turn fuels terrorism.

Historically, the United States understood the importance of following an act of military aggression with extensive compassionate support. After World War II, we poured money and resources into Germany and Japan to rebuild their infrastructure and their economies. We demonstrated that our wartime destruction was ultimately in the service of helping the Japanese and German people free themselves from unhealthy regimes and succeed as strong peoples. Without redemptive, compassionate support that follows a military triumph, the seeds are sown quickly for still another war.

Today, American efforts to rebuild Iraq have been pathetic; our military prowess in the first phase of the war has been followed by an ineffective, corrupt, underfunded, and half-hearted effort at nation-building . If we had instead planned from the beginning to spend more money, creativity, and human power on peaceful nation-building than we spent on conducting the war, we might have shown that we had the sincere long-term interests of the Iraqis in our hearts. That in turn would have laid the groundwork for a real ally in the Arab Middle East. Similarly, if Israel spent twice the money and creative thinking on rebuilding Lebanon now as it spent on attacking it, it could better demonstrate that it has the sincere interest of their neighbors at heart. Ultimately, generous help is what creates allies. By itself, aggression only creates enemies.

The result of today's imbalance towards aggression as the primary strategy to deal with terrorism is that both the United States and Israel are wasting massive amounts of money, rapidly losing support in the world community, and creating far more destruction than is necessary. In today's interconnected global media, the horrific images of the results are seen across the world.

The only effective military strategy left, then, is to make compassionate, philanthropic support the primary focus rather than blowing things up - the optimal ratio today might be three parts compassionate aid for every one part military action. Without a shift in the balance, we will continue to invest our precious resources in spreading devastation, fostering terrorism, and compromising our moral leadership.

The world now needs to feel our good heart far more than our strong arm. It is ultimately our generosity, not our capacity to shock and awe, that offers a real solution to terrorism.

Sacred America Series #27
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Stephen Dinan is the author of Radical Spirit and the founder of the Radical Spirit community, as well as the Director of Membership and Marketing for the Institute of Noetic Sciences. He graduated from Stanford University with a degree in human (more...)

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