It should come as no surprise that the UN-brokered ceasefire in Southern Lebanon seems to be unraveling.
European countries, who have been among the most vocal in calling for the ceasefire, have expressed reluctance to commit troops to the UN peacekeeping mission. Meanwhile, Israel launched a commando raid on a Hezbollah hideout for reasons that remain murky but were almost certainly either ill-advised or ill-conceived.
France, expected to comprise the backbone of the peacekeeping force, sent a laughably small contingent of 50 troops, in numbers more suitable for forming a soccer team than maintaining a ceasefire. In fact, France’s soccer team has historically proven itself degrees more intrepid than its army, and if I thought Hezbollah could be neutralized by the simple expedient of head-butting I would be willing to effect the substitution. France, unwilling to commit further troops until their safety can be guaranteed, has agreed to top them up with only another 150, far short of the 4000 hardy Gallic warriors it was expected to contribute. France to the fore!
Among the other UN member states composing the peacekeeping contingent, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Bangladesh are predominantly Muslim countries with no formal diplomatic recognition of Israel.
Nor can the job be reliably outsourced to the Lebanese army, comprised of roughly 60% Shi’a Muslims who are more sympathetically disposed towards Hezbollah. Early in the conflict, in a display of rare regional cooperation, radar supplied by the Lebanese army guided an Iranian-made missile supplied through Syria to its target, an Israeli navy ship.
Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Saniora seems to envision the army’s task as establishing a sort of protectorate in South where Hezbollah can operate without constraint. Lebanese Defense Minister Elian Murr sees its goal as twofold: to “ensure the security of the [Islamic] Resistance and citizens, to protect the victory of the Resistance.” The United Nations is not much more ambitious; this week, Kofi Annan ruled out the use of force to disarm the terrorist militia.
Thus far, it must be said, the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon has not been what you might call a resounding success. In 2000, UNIFIL troops were complicit in the kidnapping of three Israeli soldiers by Hezbollah, and the entire distasteful episode was the subject of a cover-up that saw the UN withhold videotaped evidence of the crime from Israel. In the ensuing years after Israeli withdrawal, UNIFIL presided over the re-arming of Hezbollah in Lebanon. During the course of the recent conflict, its troops were reduced to cowering in bunkers and sending stern letters of protest to the authorities as firefights broke out around them. Hardly the stuff of legend.
The United Nations does not have a glorious record when it comes to military intervention. Missions are hampered by the lack of a clear mandate to use force in the protection of civilians. Third-world troops are ill trained, poorly equipped, and prone to graft and corruption.
In Rwanda, UN troops sat on the sidelines, powerless to prevent the slaughter of 900,000 Rwandans over a three-month period. (France, it will be remembered, was accused of facilitating the genocide by arming the Hutu aggressors, allowing the slaughter of Tutsis in French areas of deployment, and stymieing foreign intervention in what it considered its sphere of influence.) In the Congo, UN peacekeepers, unauthorized to act, cowered behind razor-wire as thousands were slaughtered. Their enforced inaction has come has come at great cost to both civilians and peacekeepers themselves; in the Congo in 2003, three UN peacekeepers, after having called repeatedly and futilely for reinforcements, were murdered and their bodies later found mutilated. In Bosnia, troops were held hostage by warring parties while the killing continued unabated.
In short, I do not have much hope from the organization that brought us what Mark Steyn has dubbed the “Oil-For-Fraud” and “Child-Sex-For-Food” programs. Under the aegis of the UN Oil for Food program in Iraq, you will recall, billions of dollars were diverted to the regime in the form of kickbacks and used to enrich the leadership, buy influence at the UN and, it is believed, fund the families of Palestinian suicide bombers. In the Congo, UN peacekeepers who should have been otherwise occupied preventing brutal atrocities, including cannibalism, bedded the locals with wild enthusiasm, allegedly raping women and young children and trading sexual favors for food.
The UN General Assembly is comprised in the main of autocrats who insist on democratic representation in the form of one state, one vote, with a vehemence that must stun their jailed opposition back home, and the new Human Rights Commission is only slightly less of a joke than the old one. As the world’s only forum for global diplomacy, the UN is not entirely useless. But, having overseen more than its share of venality and corruption, its imprimatur is hardly required to lend legitimacy to the military undertakings of the world’s democracies, nor yet effective enough to render them unnecessary.
Israel has emerged as both the perceived aggressor and loser in this conflict. It has accomplished neither the disarming of Hezbollah nor the rescue of its kidnapped soldiers, whose safe return has not been made a condition of the ceasefire. Syria has successfully deflected attention from investigations into its assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, and ditto Iran from its nascent nuclear program, while emerging a greater regional power to boot. Hezbollah, having set the bar for victory so low that their very survival is considered a triumph, is consolidating its support with piles of Iranian cash for Lebanese victims of the conflict. The ceasefire effectively ensures the rearming of Hezbollah, the weakening of Israel, and, I fear, the future deaths of a great many more civilians the next time around.