Wednesday, August 02, 2006

# Posted 4:37 PM by Taylor Owen  

WHEN IS A WAR A PROXY? This interesting quote was in Monday’s lead WaPo piece on the Middle East:
"It's really a proxy war between the United States and Iran," said David J. Rothkopf, a scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and author of "Running the World," a book on U.S. foreign policy. "When viewed in that context, it puts everything in a different light."
Well, I suppose it does. But is this a productive illumination? What are the consequences of viewing the current violence as a US-Iranian proxy war? It seems to me that it may raise more questions that it answers. Some quick thoughts:

First, of course, if Hezbollah is a proxy of Iran, Israel must to some degree be a proxy of the US. It depends how we define proxy, but an argument can be made that military assistance constitutes a degree of support on either side. Control is a whole other issue though, and is likely limited for both. This deterministically dichotomous characterization also certainly has implications for a potential mediated settlement. Does this mean that the US and Iran will be the principle actors in a diplomatic solution? Will we see a US-Iranian middle eastern summit, with Israel and Hezbollah relegated to 'proxy' status? While this is highly unlikely, the proxy war idea as it relates to US support of Israel is surely representative of a shift in potential US ‘honest broker’ status.

Second, perhaps more problematic, is that prioritizing the proxy war label supposes that Iranian-US relations are more destabilizing to the region than the issues that have been at the centre of the conflict for the past 30 years. Of course this dynamic has been present, but certainly not the principle antagonising factor. How does this escalation, if indicative of a proxy, interrelate with the main historic elements of the conflict?

Third, how does this characterization fit with Bush's wider regional policy? While there are to some degree competing harder and softer versions, an overarching push towards large scale change in the region is a cross cutting element. Iran, I suppose, could be playing a hearts and minds response to this desired democratic reform/regime change. If this is the case, they are likely succeeding, with public opinion in the region becoming more aggressively pro Hezbollah. How, however, does this impact the manner in which the conflict will be resolved and how does is effect broader US regional policy? The two may not be complementary, as the former may a have long term negative impact on the latter. Certainly it should alter the calculus regarding civilian casualties? It also alters the US strategic consequences of the shifting democratic will of the region.

Other thoughts? Is this escalation just a US-Iranian proxy war? Is this a useful lens with which to view the present violence?
(8) opinions -- Add your opinion

Taylor, you wrote: "First, of course, if Hezbollah is a proxy of Iran, Israel must to some degree be a proxy of the US."

But couldn't Hezbollah be a proxy for Iran without Israel being a proxy of the U.S. Certainly one of Iran's strategic advantages in any Israel-Iran conflict would have been the Hezbollah menace on Israel's northern border.
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I agree completely. It just wouldnt be a US-Iranian proxy war then. It takes two proxies to a proxy war make...
I think the delineation needs to be made clearer between tacit support and overt support, and whether or not both qualify as a proxy if there is a large power difference between the parties.

From a logistics perspective Hezbollah has more supporters than just Iran, whereas Israel is going it alone. Both sides are more or less exclusively self-interested. Hezbollah retains a greater variety of vested interest and prerogatives which thankfully allow Israel the advantage of decisive thrust.
The view of Israel as a US proxy may seem like a new and brillant insight to some people, but that is the endemic view to the "Arab street", and accounts for much of the virulent anti-Americanism one sees.
If Hezbollah and Israel are both proxies then that implies a significant symmetry between the two. However, Israel is a sovereign nation in the full Westphalian sense. Hezbollah is at most a political party and at worst a piratical band of terrorists who deliberately target civilians and murder as policy. The asymmetry between Hezbollah and Israel means they have distinctly different flexibility to external pressure and decision making processes.
I feel that Tony Blair made the definitive statement on this matter in his tipping point speech in LA. It will echo through the ages-- a counterpoint to the cowards " peace in our time"

Blair said "Whatever the outward manifestation at any one time - in Lebanon, in Gaza, in Iraq and add to that in Afghanistan, in Kashmir, in a host of other nations including now some in Africa - it is a global fight about global values; it is about modernisation, within Islam and outside of it; it is about whether our value system can be shown to be sufficiently robust, true, principled and appealing that it beats theirs."
Definitions hide more than they disclose. Hezbollah accepts Iranian support for actions it would have unetaken anyway. Iran causes havoc at bargain rates and absent a gaffe by Hezbollah destabiilizes the ME, but the tilt remainsin its favor. What distresses is the absence of continental Europe's interest in stopping the war. Fear of its Moslems, noraml European ennui or mistaken disinterest?lrjdu Europe has a lot to lose from this mess. David J Kenney.
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