THE DETERRENCE DEBATE.

THE DETERRENCE DEBATE. Here's a new wrinkle in a longstanding controversy. Rather than argue, implausibly but in line with tradition, that we can't deter Iran because "the Mullahs are crazy" or some such thing, Reuel Marc Gerecht thinks we can't do it because we're too soft and weak. As a read of American psychology, this strikes me as stunning. It's also a theory that ill-suits Gerecht's generally hawkish views. We lack the grit to respond to a direct, unprovoked attack on our citizens but are the sort of country that should make a series of preventative wars the linchpin of our national security strategy. Really?

In response to Rich Lowry's musings on why Hezbollah wasn't deterred by Israel, I would say the problem is less that Hezbollah made an analytical error about Israel's likely response to their cross-border raid than that the risk of massive Israeli retaliation wasn't credible. This is also the problem with the theory that Israel's war is a good way of establishing deterrence. Israel's current action won't crush Hezbollah. It will kill a bunch of Hezbollah's fighters. But it will almost certainly wind up enhancing Hassan Nasrallah�s standing vis-�-vis other Lebanese figures and other members of the broader world of Islamist politics.

By committing themselves to a war whose strategic objectives they can't achieve without the deus ex machina of massive European intervention, the Israelis have put themselves in a very awkward -- very dangerous -- position. Tit-for-tat retaliations combined with vigorous diplomacy might have taught Hezbollah a lesson about the dangers of future raids and nudged Lebanon in the direction of taking responsibility for the south. But Israel and the United States have now put themselves in the position of arguing that a return to the status quo ante is unacceptable without having a strategy for forcing anything else. And, certainly, the pre-war situation was sub-optimal, but its merits can be too easily dismissed. Israelis were much better off than Lebanese Shiites or Palestinians (and the general situation in Lebanon was moving in a direction favorable to Israel) and therefore had the most to lose from rocking the boat.

--Matthew Yglesias

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