What is it good for?

Bombing Beirut will do absolutely nothing to solve the problems plaguing the Holy Land.

AS I WRITE THESE WORDS, the latest spasm of violence in the Holy Land has ground to another grisly, pointless stalemate. After so many failed initiatives and with the cycle of retribution now following its own inhuman logic, many have begun to despair about the prospects for peace in the region. That hopelessness has only been accelerated by the horrific images of small children tossed like rag dolls along broken Lebanese highways and young mothers carrying babies over blood pooling in the lobbies of Haifa condominiums. It’s hard to believe that in the 21st century so-called civilized nations could allow such suffering to happen—again.

It’s not clear if anything positive can emerge from this carnage, but perhaps we can at least draw some useful conclusions about how to proceed. The primary lesson offered by this latest bloodletting may be that there can be no hope for a lasting peace in the Middle East without the full engagement of the United States. There is too much prejudice, anger, and suspicion between Israelis and Arabs for a pathway to peace to emerge from the haze of war and hatred that envelopes them.

Another lesson seems almost too obvious to even say aloud, but it should be a daily mantra for the region’s leaders: Peace is the only path forward. There is no military solution to the resentments and legitimate questions of justice that gnaw at the Holy Land. Israel cannot be driven into the sea, as some Islamic maximalists may hope, and the Hezbollah and Palestinian “problems” cannot be made to dissipate through brute force, as some Israelis may wish. Gaza and the West Bank are little better than large-scale prison facilities as it is, and short of outright liquidation, there isn’t much more military pressure that can be brought to bear on these communities. Likewise, Hezbollah, a political and social entity germinated and nurtured by Israel’s first occupation of southern Lebanon, is only strengthened by the maximum-force strategies of the Israel Defense Forces.

The pacifists among us are often derided as dreamy or irrational, but what could be more irrational than a strategy of short-term military force that leads to a long-term betrayal of the aspirations of the Israeli and Palestinian, and now the Lebanese, people? What could be more counterproductive than a war of choice that succeeds most at destabilizing what had been a recovering legitimate authority in Beirut? What could be more irrational than deploying the same violence time after time and somehow expecting a different outcome? Let’s hope this situation teaches once and for all that you cannot extract peace from war.

One final perspective offered by the Lebanon adventure of 2006: A civilized society that wishes to live up to that designation must restore basic respect for the just-war principle of noncombatant immunity and make public commitments to the same. The Lebanon incursion included what can only be described as a tactical indifference to the fate of noncombatants. It goes without saying that Hezbollah’s use of rockets against civilian areas is morally indefensible. At the same time, even a legitimate defense of national security does not absolve a power of moral responsibility for the outcomes of its “precision” military strikes. “Doing our best” to “primarily” hit military targets or dropping leaflets on people too poor or too frightened to escape does not provide moral cover for the killing of those caught in the crossfire.

The slaughter of innocents in Lebanon has only complicated the chances for peace and embittered a new generation against Israel. It is a lesson U.S. forces should take to heart as they review the outcomes of operations in Iraq—many of which also include a dismayingly high tolerance for noncombatant suffering.

Indeed Lebanon offers many lessons for U.S. planners as they reconsider America’s reliance on military might to negotiate its ongoing confrontation with radical Islam. Foremost, our commitment to developing strategies for making peace must be at least as determined—and well financed—as our current preferential option for making war.

We seem to be on the road to Damascus. What path will we choose?

Kevin Clarke is a senior editor at U.S. Catholic and managing editor of online products at Claretian Publications. This article appeared in the October 2006 (Volume 71, Number 10; page 38) issue of U.S. Catholic.

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