Cold Hard Wonk

No sentiment but politics

Doomed if You Do, Doomed if You Don’t

Posted by JJ in By other means. . ., Crossroads of Culture (Saturday August 26, 2006 at 12:59 am)

Syria’s latest foray into Lebanese politics ought to send shivers up the spine of history buffs. Why? The striking parallels with the first and only opponent the United Nations has ever unequivocally sought to “finally destroy”: Nazi Germany.

No, this isn’t some over-the-top claim that Syria is as bad as Nazi Germany, whatever that means; and it shouldn’t encourage presposterous comparisons with Hitler. It’s not even a call to draw attention to the relationship between the Ba’athist regime in Syria and Nazi Germany (though that should be required research for regional commentators).

What it is about is the connection between the present situation and one of Nazi Germany’s earliest aggressive acts: the Rhineland Crisis.

The Rhineland, a German region bordering France, had been set aside as a demilitarized zone under the Treaty of Versailles and confirmed as such by Germany in the more voluntary Locarno Pact. In 1936, small numbers of German troops were moved into the Rhineland. Despite French protests and calls for military force to drive out the as-yet-smaller German army, the League of Nations preferred negotiation, leading ultimately to a promise of peace, and the reality of World War II.

But wait, cry the eager historians! Syria claims that the UN presence would be hostile! Isn’t he France here, and the UN Germany, moving potentially agressive forces into what should be a demilitarized zone?

Ah, but things go back farther still. It was, after all, the Irano-Syrian supported Hezbollah that moved troops and armaments into the area, rather than allowing the Lebanese government to take control of itself or its own territory (and continue to support that state of affairs). Those countries’ interest in fighting a war by proxy (see privateer) meant the movement and use of weapons through Lebanon, a country Syria had been dominating since its devastating Civil War.

So it was largely Syria’s support of Hezbollah both as a proxy for its war with Israel (officially in ceasefire) and as a suitable surrogate for their decreasingly-valid ADF presence in Syria (ended only recently, and that after Hezbollah had achieved domestic political authority, obviating the main rationale for a Syrian presence). Which means that Hezbollah, carrying Syrian hopes, is the occupier of the Rhineland.

There is no precedent for what UN resolution 1701 proposes in the Rhineland Crisis. It is, simply, what France demanded and failed to get in 1936 (which makes France’s present reaction all the more perverse, except, perhaps, as jilted spite). And what Syria vaguely threatens may well be worth remembering: a deployment actually trying to disarm Hezbollah could bring war, not peace to the region. But it’s worth wondering: how much of a fuss could Hitler have righteously kicked up had the League of Nations called him on things? Does Syria really have the right to complain here?

The question may prove to be whether the region is doomed to repeat history or doomed to more conflict; but the past consequences of the failure to act fuel the hope, at least, that action offers an unprecedented and sorely longed-for peace.

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