Ali Ansari: Wasn't the war meant to weaken Hizbollah?

We are stuck in a model created by others to fulfil their dreams

The Independent

Published: 06 August 2006

The recent extension of the "global war on terror" into Lebanon should serve as a salutary reminder that the lessons of Iraq have not been learnt. To those who believed, in all rational sincerity, that the United States and its allies would no longer rush headlong into "shock and awe", the systematic destruction of Lebanon comes with a depressing sense of déjà vu. Not only do our political masters tell us that a ceasefire can wait, but another reassuringly confirms that all this pain is a necessary precondition to the birth of the new Middle East. The more one looks at this débâcle, the more I am forced to agree with the former American politician Pat Buchanan, that Israel's response has "all the spontaneity of the Schlieffen Plan".

The Schlieffen Plan, you may recall, was the carefully prepared German strategy for the swift defeat of France in 1914. Unfortunately, it failed to allow for the consequences of resistance. The result was a steady descent into stalemate. This seems to be the outcome of the present strategy of shock and awe too, and not only in Lebanon. The Western military behemoth is ill-suited to combat light guerrilla tactics. The best the US commander in Iraq can say of the situation, is that America is "not losing".

A more damning aspect of the analogy is the inability of politicians to think beyond the established framework. Count Alfred von Schlieffen was long dead when his plan was put into operation, yet no one saw fundamentally tampered with his model. Today, we too appear to be stuck in a model created by others for the better fulfilment of their dreams.

In the US, a succession of neo-conservative pundits have re-entered centre stage by playing shamelessly on the politics of fear, by proclaiming the present conflagration to be the start of a third world war. One might have thought this had started with 9/11, but this particular "politics of fear" relies heavily on the mythology of Christian millenarianism and that the next global war (i.e. Armageddon) will involve an attack on Israel, by, wait for it, Persia (i.e. Iran).

It is therefore essential to the present narrative for Iran to be restored to its position as the villain par excellence. This narrative has had to be embroidered to accommodate all those who might not share in the millenarianism of the Christian right, but it has never been politically difficult in the United States to be tough on Iran . Far more awkward has been the attempt to define the narrative in sectarian terms.

Quite where this places al-Qa'ida is one problem; far more embarrassing is where Iraq's new Shia government (some of whose members have an intellectual affinity with Hizbollah) fits within this "arc of extremism". These myriad contradictions should have alerted us a long time ago to the utter incoherence of Western policy towards the Middle East.

The view from Tehran is rosier today than for years. Its leaders do not feel the pressure others assume they are under. The nuclear file is a crisis managed. Afghanistan and Iraq are increasingly falling under their orbit, providing them with regional and international leverage. Now Israel's rash decision to escalate the war in Lebanon is likely to reinforce Hizbollah's, and hence Iran's, position. Iran may be the villain, but Western political stupidity has gone a long way to facilitating this.

Hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad can only continue to thank divine providence for the incoherence of his foes.

Dr Ali Ansari is the author of 'Confronting Iran'

John Rentoul is away