The “Iron Fist” is Always an Admission of Failure
Despite the tragedy of fallen soldiers, calls for the Lebanese army to be more hawkish should be ignored
With each tragedy that befalls the Lebanese army when soldiers are killed, we start hearing voices calling for the army to be more forceful, angry and lethal. Politicians start promising an “iron fist” and bloggers start writing about bombing towns with airplanes. I hope with the bottom of my heart that the army is wiser than to listen to those calls.
One of the reasons the “Iron fist” theory is so popular in Lebanon is that people believe that our country has a serious problem with lack of authority. People casually flout the law and act with no discipline. There is a wide yearning for a “savior” that would “impose” the law and trample on Lebanese libertarian instincts to establish “order”.
The problem is that people are confusing moral authority (which is lacking in Lebanon) with the authority of fear and power. A heavy-handed army that is violent and indiscriminate can win temporary stability through fear, but it will sow the seeds of resentment that will eventually grow into a much bigger problem than the one the army was trying to stomp in the first place (The Syrian city of Hama is a cautionary tale in that department).
Heavy handed military violence, no-matter how justified (terrorism, danger..etc), always comes at the expense of moral authority. It is true with the Israeli attacks on Lebanon and Gaza, the American attack on Iraq, The Syrian attack on Homs and yes, the Lebanese army’s attack on the Naher el bared camp a few years ago.
The Lebanese army has so far proven to be wise. It understands that it has more moral authority than any other player in Lebanon, and it knows better than to squander it. Both sides in the conflict in Tripoli are complaining that the army is too lenient on the other side, but imagine how worse it would be if the army is seen as siding with one side at the expense of the other. It would then face two dangers: A collapse of moral authority and dissent within the army (as many people seem to forget that the army is made up of Lebanese people, including their divisions)
So what is the alternative? How can the army establish order and get the criminals?
What we need, for Ersal and for Tripoli, is for the army to cooperate with the locals to impose limited curfews and conduct targeted and well-planned operations that isolate those who are doing the killing, the incitement and the shooting. Think “Boston police smoking out the marathon terrorists”, not “Bashar el Assad bombing the hell out of terrorists and their mothers”.
That would be a sign of maturity and a proper understanding of authority. Using indiscriminate power means that you failed.