Some time ago, I read something that really struck me as profound. I wish to heck I could remember where, to give it proper attribution, but let me just say that it is in no way my own original thought.
For a government to be legitimate and valid and viable, it must have a monopoly on force.
That sounds rather brutal and harsh, but it’s true: within a stable and successful nation, the government must be the only body that has the authority to use violence against individuals and groups. And it must bring its full force to bear on those who attempt to usurp that right.
I’m no expert on the earliest parts of American history, but it seems to me that that concept was an element in Shays’ Rebellion and the Whiskey Rebellion, when disgruntled citizens raised their own militias to oppose the government. And it also played a part in the US Civil War.
In more recent history, that principle has shown its validity. When the modern state of Israel was founded, the leaders were largely drawn from the “partisans,” “insurgents,” “Zionist patriots,” or “terrorists” (name your term; they’re all tossed around pretty much equally) who had fought the British who controlled the territory. But not all the groups were thrilled to be subsumed into the newly-formed Israeli Defense Forces, and one of them — Irgun — struggled to maintain its status as an independent armed force. This culminated in the Altalena Affair, when the unthinkable happened — Jew fought and killed Jew — and the IDF took decisive action against Irgun. Nineteen Israelis were killed before it was all settled, and eventually Irgun’s leader, Menachem Begin, was elected prime minister of Israel. But the principle was established: there would be no armed groups within Israel that were not part of the Israeli Defense Forces or in some other way under the control of the government.
It is an example that the Muslim world could stand to learn from, but they would never accept the idea that they could learn anything from the Zionists.
In Lebanon, the Lebanese government is, at best, the third-strongest force. First up is Syria, which has held Lebanon as a puppet state for decades. Next up is Hezbollah, Syria’s favorite proxy force. They are not completely Syria’s creature, though — they show remarkable levels of independence on occasion.
In old Afghanistan, the Taliban’s biggest mistake was in accepting and encouraging Al Qaeda’s presence. They thought they were spiritual brothers, but it was Al Qaeda’s use of force outside Afghanistan’s borders — but protected by the Taliban — that led to the fall of the Taliban.
In the Palestinian territories, the problem they are having is that there are three major factions that direct violence. Fatah initially took the reins of the civil government, but Hamas and Islamic Jihad continued to direct attacks on Israel. Fatah didn’t give the people what they wanted, so they turned to Hamas. Hamas didn’t have Fatah’s sense of PR, though, and didn’t tone down its rhetoric (or, as I prefer to think of it, “was more honest about their goals and intentions and didn’t pretty them up for global consumption”) after winning the last elections.
Right now they’re trying to arrange a cease-fire with Israel (largely motivated by Israel’s recent decision to take Hamas at their word and started hitting back), but they can’t keep Islamic Jihad or Fatah from carrying out their attacks. Hell, they can’t even keep their own people from attacking Israel — they were behind the GrannyBomb attack last week.
Here’s the real reason why no one in their right mind should accept Hamas’ offer of a “cease-fire” with Israel: not only do they not have any ability or interest in enforcing it against their own allies, they won’t even try to implement it among their own members. It’s a PR move designed to save their own asses from Israeli reprisals.
And in Iraq, that is the biggest obstacle to establishing peace. There are too many groups that have taken upon themselves the business of implementing violence. “Militias,” “insurgents,” and other terms for terrorists have all chosen to fill the void created by the dismantling of Saddam’s regime, the void that has yet to be filled by the nascent Iraqi government.
President Bush has said, repeatedly, the terms under which he wants us to withdraw from Iraq: when the Iraqi government can survive on its own. “We will stand down as they stand up” is how he puts it. And part of “standing up” is finding the will and wherewithal to stand up to your own people who choose to usurp the government’s prerogative of being the sole provider of force and violence.
That, so often, is the test of whether a government will survive or fail. We passed it. Israel did. Lebanon tried, and may try again. The Palestinians failed.
Will the Iraqis pass this test? I sincerely hope so.