Collapse of the Flanks

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In Iraq and Afghanistan, the "coalition" defeats continue slowly to unroll. In Lebanon, it appears Hezbollah may win not only at the moral and mental, strategic and operational levels, but, astonishingly, at the physical and tactical levels as well. That outcome remains uncertain, but the fact that it is possible portends a revolutionary reassessment of what Fourth Generation forces can accomplish. If it actually happens, the walls of the temple that is the state system will be shaken world-wide.

One pointer to a shift in the tactical balance is the comparative casualty counts. According to the Associated Press, as of this writing Lebanese dead total at least 642, of whom 558 are civilians, 29 Lebanese soldiers (who, at least officially, are not in the fight) and only 55 Hezbollah fighters. So Israel, with its American-style hi-tech "precision weaponry," has killed ten times as many innocents as enemies. In contrast, of 97 Israeli dead, 61 are soldiers and only 36 civilians, despite the fact that Hezbollah’s rockets are anything but precise (think Congreves). Israel can hit anything it can target, but against a Fourth Generation enemy, it can target very little. The result not only points to a battlefield change of some significance, it also raises the question of who is the real "terrorist." Terror bombing by aircraft is still terror.

Understandably, these events keep Americans focused on the places where the fighting is taking place. But more important developments may be occurring on the flanks, largely unnoticed. An analysis piece in the Sunday Cleveland Plain Dealer by Sally Buzbee of AP notes:

Anger toward America is high, extremists are on the upswing, and hopes for democracy in the Middle East lie dashed….

"America, we hate you more than ever," Ammar Ali Hassan wrote in the independent Egyptian daily Al-Masry Al-Youm, in the kind of visceral, slap-in-the-face rhetoric boiling across the region…."

Even many Arab reformers now believe the United States cares more about supporting Israel than anything else, including democracy.

Egypt is one of the three centers of gravity of America’s position in the Middle East, the others being Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. An article by Michael Slackman in the Sunday New York Times suggests that Egyptians’ anger is turning on their own government:

For decades, the Arab-Israeli conflict provided presidents, kings, emirs and dictators of the region with a safety valve for public frustration….

That valve no longer appears to be working in Egypt….

"The regular man on the street is beginning to connect everything together, said Mr. (Kamal) Khalil, the director of the Center for Socialist Studies in Cairo. "The regime impairing his livelihood is the same regime that is oppressing his freedom and the same regime that is colluding with Zionism and American hegemony."

Today, in an interview with the BBC, Jordan’s King Abdullah warned that the map of the Middle East is becoming unrecognizable and its future appears "dim."

Washington, which in its hubris ignores both its friends and its enemies, refusing to talk to the latter or listen to the former, does not grasp that if the flanks collapse, it is the end of our adventures in both Iraq and Afghanistan. It is also, in a slightly longer time frame, the end of Israel. No Crusader state survives forever, and in the long term Israel’s existence depends on arriving at some sort of modus vivendi with the region. The replacement of Mubarak, King Abdullah and the House of Saud with the Moslem Brotherhood would make that possibility fade.

To the region, America’s apparently unconditional and unbounded support for Israel and its occupation of Iraq are part of the same picture. For a military historian, the question arises: will history see Iraq as America’s Stalingrad? If we kick the analogy up a couple of levels, to the strategic and grand strategic, there are parallels. Both the German and the American armies were able largely to take, but not hold, the objective. Both had too few troops. Both Berlin and Washington underestimated their enemy’s ability to counter-attack. Both committed resources they needed elsewhere and could not replace to a strategically unimportant objective. Finally, both entrusted their flanks to weak allies — and to luck.

Let us hope that, unlike von Paulus, our commanders know when to get out, regardless of orders from a leader who will not recognize reality.

William Lind [send him mail] is an analyst based in Washington, DC.

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