If there is one question I could ask Hassan Nasrallah today, it would
be this: When did you begin planning for the reconstruction of
southern Lebanon, before you kidnapped two Israeli soldiers on July
12, or only after it became clear how much of southern Lebanon Israel
was willing to destroy to "win" its war against you?
Either way, it was the latest master-stroke in a string of decisions
that have confounded Israel, the United States, and the world at
large. Indeed, while critics of the Israeli invasion claim--with
increasing evidence--that Israel planned the attack well in advance
(even with the support from the Bush administration) it now appears
that it was Hezbollah who suckered Israel into a war for which it had
perfectly planned each component: the bait--the kidnapping of two
soldiers; the military strategy--tunnels, missile barrages, and
advanced anti-tank weapons; and the post fighting reconstruction--a
large scale effort that only Hezbollah, and not the feckless Lebanese
government, is capable of undertaking.
Call it the new Creative Destruction; and the "new" Middle East it is
creating will be very different than the one dreamed of by Bush
Administration planners and their allies in Israel.
The idea of "creative destruction" first was popularized by the
Austrian economist Rudolph Schumpeter more than half a century ago to
describe how capitalism simultaneously destroys existing social
systems and profits from the economic and social systems that take
their place. The Bush Administration, and proponents of globalization
more broadly, latched onto creative destruction as a way of
describing the process by which they hoped to create their new world
For both, in the words of neocon philosopher and Bush advisor Michael
Ledeen, the United States is "an awesome revolutionary force" for
whom creative destruction is "our middle name." A similar faith in
Israel's role in the Middle East was behind Shimon Peres's idea of a
"New Middle East" in which Israel would be its cultural and economic
engine. This is the vision upon which the Oslo peace process was
founded, and ultimately foundered.
But in keeping with this philosophy, the Israeli military thought
that by destroying thousands of Lebanese bodies and buildings it
could take out Hezbollah, and in so doing create a new and more
favorable regional balance of power. What it didn't count on was that
Hezbollah was using the same principle of violence as the instigator
of social and political change, only in reverse: each bombed out
building and lifeless baby created another opportunity for Hezbollah
to show its patriotism, charity and efficiency.
Now, as Israeli soldiers begin withdrawing from Lebanon in what most
every Lebanese believes is defeat, Hezbollah fighters exchange their
Kalashnikovs for hard hats and bulldozers, clearing away the rubble,
handing out money, food and furniture to the homeless, and rebuilding
the roads and buildings that the war they precipitated destroyed-all
with an unlimited supply of funds from Israel and America's main
enemy and ultimate target of the war, Iran.
In short, Hezbollah has been able to eat its cake and have it too: It
has stood up to the mighty IDF and either coopted or cowed its
domestic opposition (which collectively had more support than it did
before the war). Then, before anyone could criticize it for the
magnitude of destruction its actions unleashed, it has begun a
massive, well-funded rebuilding effort. If only the Bush
administration had acted as astutely in Iraq.
What can the United States and Israel learn from the last five weeks?
Well, they've been pretty creative about destroying things--as a tour
of Iraq, Lebanon or Gaza makes clear--in the process unleashing waves
of chaos that they assumed could be managed to their advantage. But
Nasrallah's strategy has shown him to be a true master of both sides
of the creative destruction equation. That is, he understands that
creative destruction must create a viable system that gives people a
stake in their future if the process is to be completed.
Because of this, if Secretary Rice really heard the birth pangs of a
new Middle East, the baby they heralded is not America's or Israel's;
it's Hezbollah's. Will we still love it? Or will we abandon it as if
it's not our responsibility? These are hard lessons to swallow, but
we'd do well to learn from it, and quickly. Our enemies already are.