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    Middle East
     Aug 22, 2006
The new creative destruction
By Mark LeVine

If there is one question one could ask Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah today, it would be this: When did you begin planning for the reconstruction of south Lebanon? Before you kidnapped two Israeli soldiers on July 12, or only after it became clear how much of south 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 administration of US President George W Bush), it now appears that it was Hezbollah

that suckered Israel into a war for which it had perfectly planned each component: the bait - the kidnapping of two soldiers; the military tactics - 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 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.

In the 1980s, US business "gurus" such as Tom Peters saw, with the revolutions in technology and production, and simultaneously the disintegration of the Soviet bloc and the bipolar world it helped keep in order, not only the need to manage the chaos that was on the horizon, but the possibility to "thrive on" and profit from it immensely.

Neo-liberal globalizers and neo-conservatives, and ultimately the Bush administration, would latch on to creative destruction as a way of describing the process by which they hoped to create their new world orders.

For all who celebrated creative destruction, the United States was, in the words of neo-conservative philosopher and Bush adviser Michael Ledeen, "an awesome revolutionary force" for whom creative destruction was (and, we can assume, remains) "our middle name".

A similar faith in Israel's role in the Middle East was behind Shimon Peres' idea of a "New Middle East" in which Israel would be its cultural and economic engine. This is the vision on 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 lives 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 almost 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's 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 Israel Defense Forces and either co-opted or cowed its domestic opposition (which collectively had more support than Hezbollah 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 US and Israel learn from the past five weeks? Well, they've been pretty creative about destroying things, as a tour of Iraq, Lebanon or Gaza makes clear, and 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 US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice really saw the birth pangs of a new Middle East, the baby they heralded is not America's or Israel's; it's Hezbollah's. Will the US still love it? Or will the US abandon it as if it's not its responsibility? These are hard lessons to swallow, but the US would do well to learn them, and quickly. America's adversaries already are.

Mark LeVine, PhD, is a professor in the department of history, University of California-Irvine.

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Mission impossible in Lebanon (Aug 18, '06)

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