Be-bop Galula

Friday, May 23rd, 2008

In Be-bop Galula, Wretchard cites an article by Caroline Glick at the Jerusalem Post, which explains how Hezbollah prefers to work through a form of control without governance where it is possible to remain both in power and in opposition:

It only took Hizbullah a week to bring the government of Lebanon to its knees. The Saniora government’s decision Wednesday to cancel its decisions to ban Hizbullah’s independent communications system and sack Hizbullah’s agent from his position as chief of security at Beirut Airport constituted its effective acceptance of Hizbullah’s preeminent role in Lebanon.

What is interesting about Hizbullah’s successful overthrow of the elected government in Lebanon is that after his forces defeated their foes, Hizbullah chief Hassan Nasrallah ordered his men to retreat to their customary shadows. Why didn’t Hizbullah just overthrow the government? Understanding why Hizbullah refused to take over Lebanon is key not only for understanding Hizbullah but also for understanding Hamas, Fatah and the insurgency in Iraq.

A compelling answer to this question is found in David Galula’s classic work, Counterinsurgency Warfare: Theory and Practice…. As Galula explained, one of the main advantages that insurgents have over the governments they seek to overthrow is their lack of responsibility for governance. Far from seeking to govern the local population, the goal of insurgents is simply to demonstrate through sabotage, terror and guerrilla operations that the government is incapable of keeping order. And it is far easier and cheaper to sow disorder and chaos than to maintain order and secure public safety.

In Hizbullah’s case, Nasrallah and his Iranian bosses have no interest in taking on responsibility for Lebanon. They don’t want to collect taxes. They don’t want to pick up the garbage or build schools and universities.

Wretchard explains that “the goal of seeking power without responsibility isn’t confined to insurgents and Galula’s theory might just as well have been a critique of the modern media as much as Hezbollah”:

A generation of public intellectuals found it was possible to have both a decisive influence over policy yet remain exempt from accountability for its effects. The next time someone asks how it is possible to simultaneously be a rebel and celebrity, a critic of Global Warming and owner of an executive jet, or become a successful hate-America pastor living in a multimillion dollar mansion, refer him to Galula.

But Glick asks whether there is any way to to spoil this game; to keep the puppet master from retreating into the shadows after he has pulled his strings. One obvious method is the shockingly simple expedient of making information warfare a part of operations. To patiently label every roadside bomb; every massacre as the work of the hidden hand. The success of the Surge is in large measure due not only to kinetic action but information action. It is not enough to arrest terrorists, it is equally important to connect them to their acts. AQI failed in the Sunni Triangle where Hezbollah continues to succeed in Lebanon partly because MNF-I, like a waiter who refuses to let a patron walk out without paying his bill, simply refused to let them escape with a free lunch.

But the task wasn’t easy because at every step of the way AQI’s cheering squad yelled “foul”. Power without responsibility has been a time honored tradition of the professional critic for so long it’s almost a constitutional right.

Commenter Tamquam Leo Rugiens references a Robert Kaplan piece from a few years back, The Media and Medievalism, which makes a similar point:

[Late Nobel laureate Elias Canetti in Crowds and Power (1960)] discerned six ingredients necessary for oppression: secrecy, physical brutality, swift reaction, the right to question and to demand answers, the right to judge and condemn, and the right to pardon and show mercy.
As this is an age in which we are bombarded by messages that tell us what to buy and what to think, when one dissects the real elements of power — who has it and, more important during a time of rapid change, who increasingly has it — one is left to conclude bleakly: Ours is not an age of democracy, or an age of terrorism, but an age of mass media, without which the current strain of terrorism would be toothless in any case.

Like the priests of ancient Egypt, the rhetoricians of ancient Greece and Rome, and the theologians of medieval Europe, the media represent a class of bright and ambitious people whose social and economic stature gives them the influence to undermine political authority. Like those prior groups, the media have authentic political power — terrifically magnified by technology — without the bureaucratic accountability that often accompanies it, so that they are never culpable for what they advocate. If, for example, what a particular commentator has recommended turns out badly, the permanent megaphone he wields over the crowd allows him to explain away his position — if not in one article or television appearance, then over several — before changing the subject amid the roaring onrush of new events. Presidents, even if voters ignore their blunders, are at least responsible to history; journalists rarely are. This freedom is key to their irresponsible power.
The medieval age was tyrannized by a demand for spiritual perfectionism, making it hard to accomplish anything practical. Truth, Erasmus cautioned, had to be concealed under a cloak of piety; Machiavelli wondered whether any government could remain useful if it actually practiced the morality it preached. Today the global media make demands on generals and civilian policymakers that require a category of perfectionism with which medieval authorities would have been familiar. Investigative journalists may often perform laudatory service, but they have also become the grand inquisitors of the age, shattering reputations built up over a lifetime with the exposure of just a few sordid details.

Read Kaplan’s whole piece.

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