Michael Young has a smart new piece in NOW Lebanon arguing that the Syrian war may end up being Hezbollah’s Vietnam, a grinding and debilitating quagmire for the so-called Party of God from which there is no exit.
Hezbollah is willing to take heavy casualties in Syria, if this allows it to rescue the Assad regime. The real question is what time frame we are talking about, and how this affects the party’s vital interests elsewhere. For now, Hezbollah has entered Syria with no exit strategy. The way in which Hassan Nasrallah framed the intervention indicates that it is open-ended. This will prompt other parties to take actions and decisions they might otherwise have avoided for as long as the Syrian conflict was primarily one between Syrians.
Hezbollah is already a magnet for individuals and groups in Syria keen to take the air out of the region’s leading Shiite political-military organization - or simply to protect their towns and villages. As Qusayr showed, the presence of Hezbollah only induces its enemies to fight twice as hard against the party. As a proxy of Iran, Hezbollah will prompt governments to do the same, and they will see an opportunity to wear down the party and trap it in a grinding, no-win situation.
Playing in the favor of Hezbollah’s enemies is that the party has little latitude to alter its strategy in Syria. It must go all the way, predisposing it to sink ever-deeper into the Syrian quagmire, or until the point where the Syrian regime and pro-regime militias can capture and control territory on their own. That is not easy in a guerrilla war in which rebels have often out-matched the army.
The irony here is two-fold. Hezbollah managed to turn Lebanon into Israel’s “Vietnam” in the 1980s and 1990. And “Vietnam” (the metaphor, not the country) is supposed to refer to conventional armies getting bogged down and bled dry by irregulars. As Young added, “In Syria, as in Lebanon previously, the outsider is at a disadvantage. Hezbollah should learn the lessons from its own experience.”
But hey, “Vietnam” is not just for Americans anymore. Neither is blowback, as the Assad regime has recently learned by sponsoring Al Qaeda in Iraq only to watch it change its name to Jabhat al Nusra and blow up the hand that once fed it.