Lebanon's Monty Hall Problem

|

Newsweek's Christopher Dickey gets some anonymous woolgathering from an "especially frank strategic thinker, who's quite close to the Israeli government." The Strategist lays out three grim possibilities for the future of the tiny republic:

1. Lebanon collapses, everybody who can flee flees, and the Shiites remain, presumably making Hassan Nasrallah the Caliph of Lebanon in the process;

2. Lebanon becomes Kosovo, pacified indefinitely by an international force;

3. Syria comes back in to quiet things down.

For all we know the Strategist could be Carrot Top, so these possibilities could all amount to bupkes. If these were the only three on the table, though, I'd say the second worst is the most likely to fly: Syria comes back in and re-establishes the dominion it never completely lost. Option 1 is sufficiently horrendous that I don't think it will be allowed, by either the state actors or the Maronites and Druze within Lebanon, to play out. Option 2 stalls on the rhetorical question, "Who in their right mind is willing to commit troops to Lebanon?"

Syria, of course, is always ready to do just that, and Israel has both a revealed preference for stability in its bordering states and a habit of outsourcing the management of Lebanon. For Israeli security, pre-Cedar-Revolutionary Lebanon was preferable to today's Lebanon. That having been said, I'd doubt any of these three options will end up coming to pass.

Also of interest, a real Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead tale from the annals of Israel-Syrian back-channel negotiations:

The Strategist also discerns indications that Assad has decided to reject Hizbullah requests for re-supply, but, typically, without actually saying no to Nasrallah. According to the Strategist, at the start of the war Israel sent a message to Syria through third parties saying that Israel did not intend to widen the conflict so long as Syria did not send fresh arms shipments to Hizbullah. Any trucks going into Lebanon would have to remain uncovered so their contents could be seen from the air. While NEWSWEEK could not confirm this independently, subsequent events do lend credence to this account. In the first week of fighting, Syria sent a military convoy down the road to Lebanon–three big tractor-trailers of a kind often used by the Syrians as tank-transports and for other heavy weapons. All three had canvas covers, and Israel duly destroyed them. (Video footage taken from the air of trucks being blasted as they crossed the border was subsequently released by the Israelis.) Not a peep from Syria.

The Israeli supposition is that Assad deliberately sent the trailers, knowing they would be destroyed, to demonstrate to Hizbullah's leaders that he was willing to re-supply them but, alas, could not.

Now there's a death with meaning. How'd you like to be the truck driver who helped send that convoluted message?

Monty Hall Problem explained.

NEXT: Sunflower, Good Morning

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Tim,

    Thanks. Interesting info (if viewed with the appropriate amount of skepticism).

    How’s your family doing, BTW? Well I hope.

  2. What about Hezbollah and Israel just fight to a draw. Seems most likely.

    So Tim, are saying Israel, the only ‘true’ democracy in the middle east doesn’t want a liberalizing, stable, economically vibrant Arab country to its North and that the Israelis are much more comfortable with Syria in charge? Why do you seek Israel’s destruction with such harsh words?

  3. Maybe the trucks had the kidnapped Israeli soldiers driving them?

  4. [How’d you like to be the truck driver who helped send that convoluted message?]

    Exactly. Human lives are as nothing to such leaders.

    Too many governments – including our own – are willing to sacrifice soldiers and civilians to ‘prove a point.’

  5. Israel is clearing out the area south of the Litani, which is not a theory. Seems they have a plan different from the options above. Maybe they will just carve out a little at a time?

  6. The puzzle explanation seems anti-goat to me.

  7. I can’t understand why someone would so erroneously invoke the “Monty Hall Problem”. The MHP is defined by choosing amongst several options in complete ignorance, relying on a probability analysis after options not currently held are revealed. In Lebanon, we know what’s behind all the curtains, and what would have happened had we done other than we did will always remain speculation. It is completely inappropriate to invoke the MHP in this context.

    And with that bit of pedantry, I’m going to start drinking. It’s shaping up to be a long day. Might even segue into a lost weekend.

  8. I agree that no country will be in a hurry to send troops to Lebanon, especially with the indsicriminate bombing campaign the IDF is engaged in. Many think their murder of the UN observers and bombing of Red Cross was an intentional message to other nations to keep out. Surely no nation I can think of has such callous regard for other nations forces, but when you have the US in your pocket I geuss you can act like a bully.

  9. I don’t think Israel has any problem with a democratic, free Lebanon. They do have a problem with a Lebanon that claims to be democratic and free but is really still in the pockets of Hezb’allah, Syria and Iran.

    I hope that Israel -is- successful there, and quickly, because eventually all of the hate-rhetoric coming out of Iran will materialize itself into horrific acts of destruction.

    Anyway, how does your Strategist even know that ‘those are the options’? It seems like a fairly complex situation (especially to observers such as ourselves) so how can he just boil it down to three options? Each and every battle could go one way or another, creating a kaleidoscope of possibilities.

    So maybe there is a bit of a monty hall thing going on.. being asked to choose which of those options I like best, I’d say, “why are those the options?”

  10. As usual, neocon support for democracy extends right up to the point where it conflicts with the realpolitik interests of the United States and Israel, at which point is makes like a Syrian truck with a tarp over it.

    Here, let me try. Republicans have no problem with fair elections. They do have a problem with elections that are supposed to be fair, but keep electing Democrats.

    If your support for democracy depends on whether you get the outcome you like, you don’t actually support democracy.

  11. Lebanon isn’t really analogous to Kosovo. The defining characteristic of Kosovo was the state of warfare between the two ethnic groups that populated it. In Lebanon, Hezbollah isn’t carrying out an ethnic cleansing against Sunnis, Christians, and Druze. Instead, a party representing part of one of the ethnic groups has gone to war with a neighboring country.

    It follows that the role of an international force would be different, as well. They wouldn’t be acting as peacekeepers/enforcers in the midst of a simmering civil war while taking on the duties of police force and election commissioners, but more like a buffer force preventing incursions across an international border.

    This is a task that an international force would have a much better chance of doing well, and which is much less likely to retard the natural internal political development of the country.

  12. I was sorely disappointed, because I had first mis-read the title of this article as “Lebanon’s Monty Python Problem”.

  13. The problem is Joe that Hezbollah is a terror organization. It is like a shark, it has to swim or die. Put an international force on the border to keep Hezbollah from attacking Israel and Hezbollah immediately has a new enemy and launches a terror war against the peace keeping force just like 1983. The international force then has to go to war with Hezbollah and is not longer a peace keeping force but an occupying force. Even if Hezbollah goes along with the peace keeping force, the force won’t stay forever and Hezbollah uses the time to rebuild and rearm and we are right back where we started. As long as the Shia in Lebenon support Hezbollah and have it in their heads that the sollution to thier problems is to terrorize Israel and anyone not Shia, I don’t see a sollution.

  14. Joe: if Hezbollah were content to be strictly a political party – even a political party with a “Death to Israel!” Tourette’s problem – then Lebanon would be a free democracy albeit one that elected repellant representatives. But given that Hezbollah is an armed militia, operating independently of the Lebanese government and not answerable to any voters, Lebanon is not free and it is not democratic. It’s a state with another state inside it, and neither state is a democracy.

    As for the implicit suggestion that we’ve lately been electing Democrats who haven’t been allowed to take office because the perdifious Republicans rig the elections – whatever. Talk about a Tourette’s problem.

  15. A random meaningless juxtaposition–

    “But given that Hezbollah is an armed militia, operating independently of the Lebanese government and not answerable to any voters, Lebanon is not free and it is not democratic.”

    A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

  16. Joe:
    1. I’m not a neocon. Call me a wingnut maybe, but neocon is just ignorant.
    2. Read Machiavelli’s Republic… A democracy or republic needs citizens acting a certain way to maintain it. If they vote in a totalitarian dictator, then it is NOT a democracy anymore.

    Recall that in evolution, fitness is hinged on an organisms ability not to reproduce, or even reproduce suriviving organisms, but to reproduce and have its offspring also able to reproduce.

    The success of a democracy is determined by its ability to vote in people who maintain the rights and freedoms of the people. A democracy that votes someone in who kowtows to a militant terrorist group and accepts partial control by another state (which undermines the sovereignity of the people– the basis for democracy) then it ceases being small-d democratic. So, yes. The people in a democratic system can destroy it by their own will. So, if the people’s will is to have a dictator and not to be able to decide things for themselves, then they have a mindset unsuitable for democracy. This has been talked about 1000’s of times, but because it is convenient to see Israel and the US as evil and conspriatorial, it is suddenly a new and unknown thing.

    Let me restate – Lebanon had a democratic political system set up (like Palestine) but the people did not want democracy? If they vote away their democracy, then its not a democracy anymore. Those are the breaks.

    And when that results in them supporting a terrorist organization that kidnaps soldiers and fires missles into civilian population, yes, someone is going to go in and whoop some ass.

    Thank you for playing.

  17. I say history will repeat its self.

    Israel will choke off the Iranian supplies. They will knock Hezbollah from a small army to a rag tag group that will turn back into an insurgency. Then Israel will be required to occupy Lebanon from now till they get tired of it and withdraw.

    I predict Israel will level much of Lebanon before this is over, producing much scorn from the international community. If Bush allows Israel to do this, which I believe he will, it will show that the US is only will to protect up and coming democracy only as far as Israel will let us. That could draw the conclusion that Israel is really the ones in control of Mid East Democracy growth. That would not be good for us.

    River, How is electing the officials you want a rejection of democracy?

  18. The puzzle explanation seems anti-goat to me

    Well, yeah?! Is he implying that you’d want to avoid the goat?

    I mean, cars are everywhere. How many goats do you see? This is my kind of game show.

    So who was the goat behind Jim Morrison?

  19. If the officials you elect dismantle the democracy, then the democracy is gone.

    So the elections were democratic, but the results were not.

    If. You. Vote. In. Autocrats. It. Is. No. Longer. A. Democracy.

    The democracy had a low fitness, one might say. Unable to reproduce itself through the next election cycle…

    The problem could be the system, or it could be the people.

    Now, they didn’t vote in autocrats. But many people voted in Hezb’allah folk, who are not democratic leaders.

    Democracy is more than just elections with votes, y’know. Its leaders who respect the wishes of the population and its a population who cares to have their views respected.

    Or maybe Hezb’allah just constitutes an emerging enemy democracy. If that’s the case, then lets whoop some ass.

    Or, I guess we could talk to them over tea and they could explain why we should die?

    I mean, its not really my choice, so, I dunno.

  20. Somebody remind me of who this totalitarian Lebanese dictator is.

    I’m sorry, that isn’t nearly prickish enough. Let me try again.

    Some. Body. Remind. Me. Of. Who. This…

    RiverCocytus’s argument would only make sense if the Lebanese people has elected Hezbollah to power, and Hezbollah was using the state’s military.

    In reality, Hezbollah holds (check my math here) 12 seats out of 100+ in the Lebanese parliament, and the Lebanese military has been wholly uninvolved in the attacks on Israel. The rest of the country voted for parties quite similar to those in Israel and many European countries.

  21. “So the elections were democratic, but the results were not.

    If. You. Vote. In. Autocrats. It. Is. No. Longer. A. Democracy.”

    Not necessarly true, as long as elections continue to exist, the place will still be democratic. Just because the guy you like failed to get elected does not make it less of a democracy.

    Having said that, the greatest threat of any democracy is the one from within. That threat always exists in all democracies, but the threat alone does not equal defeat.

    Our own democratic republic is at risk, Bush is demanding we accept idea that was once reserved for the bad governments, but hey, election day will be around the corner.

  22. Lebanese military has been wholly uninvolved in the attacks on Israel. – joe

    That uninvolvement is part of the problem. If the Beirut government were effectively sovereign over the lands in the south that Hizbollah controls, then the Lebanese Army would suppress the attacks on Israel. But it ain’t, and they don’t.

    Kevin

  23. John,

    As long as the Shia in Lebenon support Hezbollah and have it in their heads that the sollution to thier problems is to terrorize Israel and anyone not Shia, I don’t see a sollution.

    That’s pretty much the size of it. This problem will be solved when:

    1) Somebody seriously kicks the crap out of Hezbollah, come what may

    2) Hezbollah seriously kicks the crap out of everybody else in Lebanon (pretty close to the case now), and nobody outside is willing to do anything about it. In which case, they’ll probably attack Israel on a larger scale.

    People find it easy to condemn Israel for their part, especially because the “come what may” part gets big huge publicity. But if Israel had backed down and Hezbollah finished taking over Lebanon, that process probably wouldn’t have gotten near the publicity — though it would have been no less brutal for the people of Lebanon.

    If Hezbollah is this strong now, then how far were they, really, from being able to just take over Lebanon militarily? When they said they were surprised at Israel’s response, maybe, ultimately taking over Lebanon had been their plan anyway

    Either way, Israel would have ended up fighting sooner or later.

  24. Tricky,

    If Bush allows Israel to do this, which I believe he will, it will show that the US is only will to protect up and coming democracy only as far as Israel will let us.

    That accusation is, quite simply, not justified. Bush may bumble and blunder, and I’m certainly not in his fan club, but you’re failing to look at the whole scenerio when you say things like this.

    See my comments above.

    Neither answer is any good. Those who condemn Israel today, fail to look closely enough at what the alternative(s) really are. It’s easy to want something for nothing out of this. “Get rid of the Hezbollah threat, but don’t hurt anybody doing it.”

    “Get rid of terrorism, but I don’t want to see a drop of blood spilled along the way or I’ll scream ‘barbarism!'”.

    You can’t have your cake and eat it, too.

    Unless, just leaving terrorists like Hezbollah in place is okay with you? Or are you one of those Carter-like dellusional idiots who thinks that talk is going to do something about the situation?

  25. Democracy is never going to evolve in the ME according the European Utopian dream, where there’s no major bloodshed and it just springs up from the grass roots. Lebanon, I submit, is proof positive.

    One of Bush’s major failings is that he believes that something not too far removed from the Utopian Dream really is possible. See, in Iraq the US military is there to make sure the Hezbollahs of the ME universe don’t derail the Dream.

    Forget about it. It’s never gonna be that way.

    Peace will not come to the ME until strong men are able to impose their wills on the countries they rule. It can’t come from outside, only a local bad-ass who fights because he wants to rule the region has any chance of success.

    And then, we’ll bitch because he’s a tyrant. There really is no pleasing us here in the West, if you can’t live up to our Dreams.

    Grow up. Democracy is not for everyone. Sadly enough, it never had a snowball’s chance in Lebanon, nor would it have no matter what the international community had done.

    If the outside world had “supported” the Lebanese government sooner, then Hezbollah would have been the same kind of insurgency there that you see in Iraq today.

  26. RiverCocytus’s argument would only make sense if the Lebanese people has elected Hezbollah to power, and Hezbollah was using the state’s military.

    In reality, Hezbollah holds (check my math here) 12 seats out of 100+ in the Lebanese parliament, and the Lebanese military has been wholly uninvolved in the attacks on Israel. The rest of the country voted for parties quite similar to those in Israel and many European countries.

    Your argument would only make sense if Israel were attacking the Lebanese government.

    In reality, Israel is attacking Hezbollah. Other than a little bit of collateral damage here and there, the Lebanese military has been untouched by Israel.

  27. If your support for democracy depends on whether you get the outcome you like, you don’t actually support democracy.

    Agreed, which is why I do not support democracy. I support, even with all its flaws, constitutional republicanism.

    Democracy = Oppression of the minority by the majority

  28. kevrob,

    I agree, and that is a prefectly legitimate reason for Israel to launch attacks against Hezbollah. The Lebanese government has ceded its sovereignty over “Hezbollah-stan” by being unable to establish control over the area. As such, they really have no right to complain about their sovereignty being violated in that part of the country. I supported Israeli strikes against Hezbollah targets when this began, if you remember.

    But the Israel-apologists go several steps farther, claiming that the Lebanese government’s lack of control makes that government and its forces Israel’s enemy; that that lack of control makes Lebanese civilians fair targets for attack; and that it strips the Lebanese government of its democratic legitimacy.

    Would settlers in the American West have been justified in bombing Congress and US Army posts because the US government failed to stop Apache attacks on their wagon trains?

  29. Genghis, it is deliberate idiocy to pretend that any effort to distinguish between legitimate and illegitimate military actions is a refusal to see any blood spilled. The people who actually wear our country’s uniform, as opposed to their selt-appointed cheerleaders at home, understand that there are legitimate limits and differentiations that military men need to make, even if you do not, or pretend not to.

    Mr. Nierporent,

    When you strike at civilian infrastructure in the hope that some military forces will be harmed as well, it is the military damage that is collateral. Israel has been striking in civlian neighborhoods in Beirut. They’ve been striking the cell phone networks, road system, and other infrastructure that is essential for civilian life.

    This could be justified if the government was a belligerent in the war – maybe, depending on the specific circumstances and the significance of the targets to the economic and political life of the country. But Lebanon is not attacking Israel, neither the Lebanese people nor their government. The Lebanese government isn’t even “allowing” Hezbollah to attack Israel, they’re simply incapable of stopping them.

    Israel and its Cheeto-stained cheerleaders on the web have spent a great deal of effort paining the Lebanese government as the responsible party in order to justify a broader action than the Lebanese government’s shortcomings warrant.

  30. “Unless, just leaving terrorists like Hezbollah in place is okay with you? Or are you one of those Carter-like dellusional idiots who thinks that talk is going to do something about the situation?”

    So how did the US get rid of its native terrorist organization in the early 20th century? The 1920’s KKK had far greater support here than Hezb has currently. A greater percentage of the population were members, a greater percentage of politicians, and broad support among middle America. There was no shortage of violence. The KKK was an armed militia intent of reshaping the policies of our government and shape of our culture.

    How did they lose the battle?
    I don’t remember a military solution, but maybe I misread my history books.

    The KKK still exists in a small ineffective form. They will never go away. They and the ilk include Israel as an enemy and call for its destruction. If a US neo-nazi group were able to pull of an offensive action against Israel, would Israel be justified in bombing the city where they reside? Americans have allowed such groups to grow in their midst. Clearly the solution is military.

    There were many options unexplored to address the problems created by Hezb. Use of the military solution severely narrowed those options. It was the wrong idea both tactically and strategically.

  31. The analogy with the KKK is flawed, because, disgusting as they were, they weren’t launching attacks on foreign powers from U.S. territories. That sort of thing has a long history in Our Great Republic, under the name of filibustering.

    The U.S. government did crack down on the Irish Republican Brotherhood (Fenians) when they tried to invade British North America from across the northern border after the Civil War.

    joe: While I would think it a good thing for Lebanon to recover control over “Hizbollahstan”, it is understandable why they haven’t. The combined might of the Hizbos and their Syrian and Iranian allies made that a tough task. One hopes that the strengthed UNIFIL force will help make that happen. I’m not holding my breath, though.

    I also don’t grok Israel cuffing around the non-Hiz portions of Lebanon, other than cutting off transportation links to the Hiz’s suppliers.

    Kevin

    .

  32. “The analogy with the KKK is flawed”

    At some point all analogies fail.

    KKK attacks across state lines seem close enough to what Hezb. does…but I’ll give you your point.

    Where the analogy breaks down more fundamentally is the lack of support from a foreign power. But is Hezb. can be isolated from Iran, I believe internal politics will take care of disarming and marginalizing them… unless Israel does something stupid like proving their utility by attacking and occupying a portion of the country… oh shit, too late.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.