Semi-Daily Journal Archive

The Blogspot archive of the weblog of J. Bradford DeLong, Professor of Economics and Chair of the PEIS major at U.C. Berkeley, a Research Associate of the National Bureau of Economic Research, and former Deputy Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Treasury.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

It Is Called "Diplomacy"

It is called "diplomacy." Matthew Yglesias explains why Jacques Chirac is a real president:

The Fakeout | TPMCafe: It seems to me that French diplomacy over the past couple of weeks has been fairly brilliant.

The war in Lebanon, as wars so often are, was the result of a serious double miscalculation. First, Hezbollah clearly failed to anticipate how Israel would respond to their cross-border raid. In turn, Israel clearly failed to anticipate how difficult it would be to mount a major anti-Hezbollah operation in Lebanon. And, indeed, the miscalculations were surely interlinked. Hezbollah correctly assessed how difficult it would be for Israel to mount a massive retaliation and therefore banked on Israel not retaliating massively.

The resulting war was a disaster for both sides. Israel really was significantly hurting Hezbollah. But it was doing so at a massive cost to itself in terms of lives lost and money spent. Hezbollah was bound to start running low on rockets and Israel running low on things to bomb. The situation was heading in the direction of grinding, endless guerilla conflict that would have been exceedingly costly and essentially hopeless from the Israeli perspective while also imperiling everything Hezbollah's built itself into in southern Lebanon.

Each side had reason to regret the conflict's existence. Both sides would have been made better off by calling "do over" and returning to the status quo ante. But neither side wanted to back down. Nor would it have been easy for either side to do so since the coalition Hezbollah/Syria/Iran team won't negotiate with the Israel/USA coalition and vice versa.

Enter France.

In essence, through two consecutive bait-and-switches -- first over the wording of a UN resolution, and second over the deployment of French troops to Lebanon -- France managed to get both parties to agree to a return to the status quo ante, which is better for both sides (that's why the tricks worked), but that neither side could admit to wanting. That's a pretty good result, especially considering that Chirac spent essentially none of France's resources achieving it.

Now, yes, it's true that it would be nice for some gigantic crew of foreigners to come into Lebanon, disarm Hezbollah, police the border, and create a giant, happy, stable democracy at peace with its neighbors. But nobody really knows how to pull this off. The internal political balance in Lebanon is extremely delicate. Nobody -- not Israel, not France, not the United States, not even Hezbollah's patrons -- was or is in a position to actually destroy or disarm Hezbollah absent a wider reform of all of Lebanon. The two most recent revisions to the Lebanese domestic scene -- the Taif Accords and the Cedar Revolution -- both deliberately involved wink-wink acceptance of Hezbollah's militia in exchange for Shiites not demanding the level of political power in Beirut that demographic realities would suggest. And -- with good reason -- nobody wants to open up the pandora's box of Lebanese consociationalism for further revisions.

The resulting situation -- which is the same as the pre-war situation -- is totally unsatisfactory and sub-optimal for all kinds of reasons. But it's the best resolution anyone really knows how to arrange for a very complicated situation that could (and, in the past, has) swiftly degenerated into horrifying bloodshed and anarchy.

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