Monday, July 31, 2006

Women and children first: the propaganda of compassion, at Qana and elsewhere

The casualties at Qana are horrific. The visuals are heartrending, and the details sorrowful--especially the predominance of women and children among the dead.

We are biologically predisposed to want to protect children--to love them, to smile when we see them. Only monsters kill children, correct?

Although the phrase "women and children first" comes from maritime tradition, the same impulse has meant, historically, that societies were generally dedicated to protecting that especially vulnerable and vital portion of their population from the enemy.

This doesn't mean that in war women and children were not killed, of course, despite those efforts at protection. In particular, the aeriel bombardments of World War II made children fair game if they happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, although they were not specifically targets (except for purposeful Nazi killings of Jewish children during the Holocaust). Some countries, such as England, sent many of their children off to the countryside during the war, because it was mainly cities that were bombed.

And World War II ended with the terrible atomic conflagration of Hiroshima, which killed indiscriminately; a description of the plight of the victims was immortalized in John Hersey's classic. Hersey's Hiroshima, published after World War II ended, represented the first attempt of which I'm aware to take a close look at the enemy war dead, and to view them with compassion and even a sense of shame for what an honorable nation, the United States, felt it necessary to do in time of war.

I've discussed the pros and cons of dropping the atomic bombs on Japan here; I'm not going to rehash the topic at this point. I'm bringing it up now, however, to illustrate the fact that World War II involved such widespread and horrific carnage--both military and civilian--that, once it was over, there was a natural desire to write about the devastation in the humane (and probably vain) hope that people would somehow found a way to avoid such things in the future.

Here's what I wrote about Hersey's work in my earlier post:

Hersey's book purposely gives his reportage on Hiroshima no context at all, the better to appreciate the appalling human cost. He simply describes, and the reader identifies with the victims. There is no way to read his book and not feel a deep and visceral revulsion towards what happened there.

Although the scale is nothing whatsoever like Hiroshima, the casualties at Qana are dreadful, and we instinctively recoil from them. They are also the sort of the thing that makes good programming for the voracious jaws of the 24-hour-a-day cable news cycle. And as for context--well, too much context would muddy the waters and appear to justify the bombing of children.

But too little context serves the propaganda purposes of the group least interested in stopping the deaths of children such as these, and that is Hezbollah.

In Qana, Israel was targeting a location that had been used repeatedly for rocket firing at Israel's own civilians. Israel forces had warned the population to leave prior to the bombing. The people who died obviously did not heed those warnings. Whether this was because they didn't get the word to leave, or couldn't leave because they didn't have the resources, or voluntarily chose not to leave, or whether Hezbollah kept them from leaving, we simply do not know.

Israel had no information that this particular structure was filled with women and children when it was targeted. But filled it was. And, as Richard Fernandez of Belmont Club writes, "... all the leaflets in the world can be dropped and the death of civilians still be a near-inevitability."

The new calculus of asymmetrical warfare, of which Hezbollah is master, is that the sacrifice of women and children is a good strategic move; putting weaponry among its own women and children is the result of a conscious and wily decision on its part.

This is a sort of looking-glass inversion of the old rule "women and children first." And it tends to work, because current asymmetrical warfare is fought less on the traditional battlefield and more on the battlefield of public opinion.

Hezbollah knows that there's nothing like dead women and children to turn public opinion against those doing the killing. And there's nothing like the Western news to fail to adequately provide and evaluate the all-important context for that killing.

Hezbollah could not--and would not--operate this way if it didn't rely on both the compassion of the West and its news cycle. Without these things, Hezbollah's actions would be suicidal. But with these things, Hezbollah's actions are effective.

So, what's the solution? What should Israel--or any other country faced with such a dilemma--do when an enemy such as Hezbollah turns the tables on the compassionate West, and takes advantage of the compassion to get a twofer: launching rockets from civilian enclaves in Lebanon to directly target Israeli civilians, and then scoring a propaganda coup with the cooperation of the Western media when Israel retaliates and kills the Lebanese civilians?

And then imagine a similar question being asked when a nation such as Iran goes nuclear. The people of Iran will then be in the position of the women and children of Qana, first in line for retaliation if the mad mullahs decide to attack.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

And what does Ariel Sharon have to say about it all?

No, the title of this post isn't some sort of joke. And, of course, Ariel Sharon has nothing whatsoever to say--nor (barring some extraordinary miracle) will he ever be saying anything again.

But in one of my many efforts at organizing my papers and tidying up in general, I recently found a stack of unread New Yorkers. I skimmed their "Contents" sections and threw them all out (actually, took them to the dump to recycle, like the environmentally concerned person that I am).

But in one of them, the January 23 and 30, 2006 issue, I found and read "The Samurai of Zionism," a piece by Ari Shavit based on a series of interviews with Ariel Sharon over the last couple of years. Towards the end, Shavit quotes Sharon as having come to the following conclusions, which I reproduce here as food for thought in this particular crisis:

The conflict isn't between us and the Palestinians. The conflict is between us and the Arab world. And the problem at the heart of the conflict is that the Arab world does not recognize the Jews' inherent right to have a Jewish state in the land where the Jewish people began. This is the main problem. This also applies to Egypt, with which we have a cold peace. It also applies to Jordan, with which we have a very close strategic relationship, but this is a relationship between governments, not between peoples. The problem is not 1967. The problem is the profound nonrecognition by the Arab world of Israel's birthright. The problem will not be solved by an agreement. It will not be solved by a speech. Anyone who promises that it's possible to end the conflict within a year or two year or three is mistaken. Anyone who promises peace now is blind to the way things are. Even after the disengagement, we will not be able to rest on our laurels. We will not be able to sit under our fig tree and our vine....

The greatest danger is in signing some document and believing that as a result we will have peace. This is not going to happen...Instead, we have to build a process that will enable us to ascertain that indeed a change is taking place in the Arab world. It is necessary to teach all the teachers that Israel is a legitimate entity. And it is necessary to replace all the Palestinian textbooks. And this is beyond the elementary demand for the cessation of terror and the cessation of incitement and the implementation of reforms in the security organizations and the implementation of govermental reforms. It is necessary not to omit a single one of these steps. Under no circumstances should there be concessions. A situation must not develop in which Israel retreats and is chased by terror. Once you accept that, it will never end. Terror will keep chasing us.

Sobering words. I'm not sure he's correct about everything--I still tend to believe that the population of Jordan, for example, is not set on the elimination of Israel.

But many of his points are spot on. And right now it's more difficult than ever to see how the vision of the final paragraph could ever be implemented. And the phrase "a situation must not develop in which Israel retreats and is chased by terror" seem remarkably apropos to the current conflict.

I am reminded of an article I read back in my liberal Democrat days, during the early years of the 90s. I've searched for this article before, because I'd love to look at it again. I think it appeared in this very same periodical--the New Yorker--but I simply don't know, and at this point I despair of ever finding it.

But nevertheless I remember the subject matter. The article appeared after Oslo, back when the peace process seemed to be going well and when many people, including myself, were hopeful that things were going in the right direction. The author had visited the areas under the control of the PLO and especially the schools, and what he (she?) found there was chilling beyond belief. The article described the teaching of a hatred so deep and so naked, a hatred involving not just Israelis but Jews in general, that my blood ran cold.

For days afterwards I had trouble shaking the conviction that, whatever we might think about the hope for progress that Oslo represented, when the generation that was being steeped and marinated in such hatred came of age in about ten years or less, something terrible would be happening, no matter what Israel tried to do, no matter how many concessions it made towards peace.

And events have certainly "progressed" that way. And not with just the Palestinians and even the Arab world, but the non-Arab government of Iran. We have in the Iranian leaders and Hezbollah, of course, an enemy that not only hates Israel and Jews, but that isn't shy about saying so. And that enemy is playing to one of the oldest and deepest hatreds in the world--Jew-hatred--finding a harmonic resonance with all those who profess it, and using them for their own nefarious ends.

Friday, July 28, 2006

A surprise but not a surprise: shooting in Seattle

A man opened fire at the Jewish Federation building in Seattle today, killing one woman and wounding four others. He identified himself as an "American Moslem," and said he was upset about "what was going on in Israel."

I assume he meant what was going on in Lebanon at the hands of Israel; I sincerely doubt that Katusha rockets raining on Haifa are his main concern.

The shooter was, according to the head of the FBI's counterterrorism efforts in Seattle, an individual acting alone, with "nothing to indicate it's terrorism related."

I'm not sure why an individual acting out a political grudge and declaring himself clearly in such fashion wouldn't be considered a terrorist, unless terrorism is, by definition, an organized group endeavor.

It's no wonder that this happened. It's a wonder it hasn't happened more often. And in fact, Hezbollah itself has been connected to the worst incidents of attacks on Jewish institutions outside of the Middle East, the most flagrant being the 1994 bombing of the Jewish Community Center in Buenos Aires, which killed 100 people and wounded twice that many.

It's been my understanding that, in the wake of 9/11, many synagogues in this country have quietly beefed up security. It only makes sense. Perhaps the Jewish Federation of Seattle, which is mainly a fund-raising organization, hadn't seen the need to do so up till this point. My guess is that that will change.

Katushas and other VSBMs as emerging terrorist weapons

This quotation has always made great sense to me:

With reasonable men I will reason; with humane men I will plead; but to tyrants I will give no quarter...

The quote came to mind once again when I was reading Daniel Henninger's opinion piece in today's Wall Street Journal.

The column is about Katusha and other very short-range ballistic missiles, or VSBMs. Ever since the current Lebanese war began, it's been clear that these missiles are a force that Hezbollah has exploited, and I wanted to learn more about them.

According to Henninger, these missiles are emerging as an ideal weapon for terrorists at borders, and there is presently no defense against them. Ordinarily, some sort of state apparatus is required to operate VSBMs, but there are certainly enough rouge states these days, or state-allied terror forces such as Hezbollah, to qualify.

VSBMs are not governed by any existing export-control regime. Since terrorists not only don't care if they kill civilians, but in fact desire to kill civilians, VSBMs don't have to be "smart" to be effective. Theoretically, they could be fitted with chemical or biological agents as well, although there's no indication that's happening at present in Lebanon.

Unless Hezbollah decides to take up residence in Juarez, it doesn't seem as though VSBMs pose any direct threat to the US. But they certainly pose an indirect one, through the vulnerability of allies such as Israel or South Korea. Previously, the threat was not considered great enough to warrant implementing a defense system against them (Israel, according to Henninger, nixed plans "to deploy Northrop Grumman's THEL system, whose lasers routinely have shot down Katyushas at the Army's White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico"). Now that this vacuum in defense has been exploited by Hezbollah, look for that to change.

And what of the quote that began this post? Henninger writes:

As Robert Kaplan pointed out in the Journal last week in his review of "Terrorists, Insurgents and Militias," the biggest strategic problem today isn't past notions of big-power miscalculation but new rogue regimes whose ideology means they "cannot be gratified through negotiations."

That's the sad truth that many cannot and do not want to hear. We are now in the situation of dealing with a number of unreasonable and inhumane regimes that are truly tyrannical--Iran being the leading one at the moment. Such regimes do not enter into negotiations in good faith. Reason and pleading are not going to work. Although it's not altogether clear how to "give no quarter," it is clear that, once such regimes are armed with the nuclear weapons they seek and crave, the consequences will be far worse.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Disarming Hezbollah: either way, the punishment is war

The war in Lebanon has dominated the news, the blogosphere, and the thoughts of so many people, including myself.

The mind casts about for a solution. Indeed, there must be a solution right?

Some blame the usual targets, Israel and the US. The UN has come in for criticism as well, and rightly so. The government and people of Lebanon, who have failed to root out Hezbollah and in fact have often lauded it, bear some responsibility.

But there is little doubt in the minds of most thinking people that the lion's share of the blame falls squarely on the shoulders of the black-clad puppeteers behind the action, Iran, and their henchmen and disciples, Hezbollah, as well as their Syrian middlemen. The penetration of Hezbollah into so much of Lebanon has been a slow but steady one, and by now the entwinement is so thick and tangled that it's hard to see how it can be undone without terrible destruction of innocent people, and the destabilization of the country. Some of this has already happened.

But the mind searches for solutions, because the possible outcomes are so dreadful to contemplate. This morning, while casting about for the views of others, I came across this piece by Michael Totten.

The peripatetic Totten was in Lebanon fairly recently, a long sojourn in which he reported on what he saw there. What's his solution? Unfortunately, he doesn't have one. What he offers is a certain perspective, and it's not a comforting one.

Here's Totten on the topic of disarming Hezbollah, describing what he saw in Lebanon a few months ago, when neither he nor anyone foresaw the exact course of events to follow:

Many Lebanese Christians, Sunnis, and Druze were getting so impatient with the impasse over Hezbollah’s weapons they threatened to reconstitute their own armed militias that were disbanded after the war. Peaceful and diplomatic negotiation over Hezbollah’s role in a sovereign rather than schismatic Lebanon was not going to last very much longer. Once the rest of Lebanon armed itself against Hezbollah, a balance of terror would reign that could explode into war without any warning. That was the danger. That was the nightmare. That’s why Hezbollah had not been disarmed...

Totten saw the peace in Lebanon at the time as an uneasy and temporary one. Despite whatever polls might have said about Lebanese support for Hezbollah, he saw the people as more frightened of its power than approving. Of course, we have no way of knowing how representative Totten's informants were, or whether his impressions were skewed by seeing a small sample of the Lebanese people. But still, he was there, and did his best to learn what was really going on.

Now, Totten says that in the heat of this war the Lebanese are angry at the Israelis. Temporarily:

No one is running off to join Hezbollah, but tensions are being smoothed over for now while everyone feels they are under attack by the same enemy. Most Lebanese who had warm feelings for Israel -- and there were more of these than you can possibly imagine -- no longer do.

This will not last.

Totten makes a prediction about what will happen after. His "after" assumes (as I think it is correct to assume) that this particular episode, the hot war with Israel, will not end with the eradication of Hezbollah in Lebanon. He writes:

My sources and friends in Beirut tell me most Lebanese are going easy on Hezbollah as much as they can while the bombs are still falling. But a terrible reckoning awaits them once this is over.

Some Lebanese can’t wait even that long....

My friend Carine says the atomosphere reeks of impending sectarian conflict like never before. Another Lebanese blogger quotes a radical Christian war criminal from the bad old days who says the civil war will resume a month after Israel cools its guns: "Christians, Sunnis and Druze will fight the 'fucker Shia', with arms from the US and France."

For those who want Hezbollah out of Lebanon, this may sound like a solution. Totten addresses this idea:

Israeli partisans may think this is terrific. The Lebanese may take care of Hezbollah at last! But democratic Lebanon cannot win a war against Hezbollah, not even after Hezbollah is weakened by IAF raids. Hezbollah is the most effective Arab fighting force in the world, and the Lebanese army is the weakest and most divided....

To Totten, Lebanon has been essentially powerless from the start. It had one of two choices: war or accommodation. Since the war against Hezbollah was unwinnable by the weak and divided Lebanon, it chose the latter.

But there's no accomodation possible with a force such as Hezbollah. Know your enemy; accomodation only buys them time, I'm afraid.

And, in the end, Totten also seems to be saying this. He has great compassion for the dilemma the Lebanese people faced, and still face:

Israel and Lebanon (especially Lebanon) will continue to burn as long as Hezbollah exists as a terror miltia freed from the leash of the state. The punishment for taking on Hezbollah is war. The punishment for not taking on Hezbollah is war. Lebanese were doomed to suffer war no matter what. Their liberal democratic project could not withstand the threat from within and the assaults from the east, and it could not stave off another assault from the south. War, as it turned out, was inevitable even if the actual shape of it wasn’t.

The quote that struck me most forcibly was this, which bears repeating:

The punishment for taking on Hezbollah is war. The punishment for not taking on Hezbollah is war.

It immediately brought to mind a statement by Winston Churchill, he of the silver tongue, when speaking about a similar accomodation sought by the militarily weak British and French prior to WWII:

Britain and France had to choose between war and dishonor. They chose dishonor. They will have war.

And please, spare yourself the trouble of informing me that the situation isn't quite analogous. I know it's not. But the similarity is this: sometimes what seems like a choice is no choice at all. When dealing with certain enemies bent on destruction and conquest, how can one avoid battle? Sooner or later, the conflagration will erupt. And is it better in the end for it to erupt sooner rather than later, when the enemy is stronger and more deeply entrenched?

The punishment for taking on Hitler was war. The punishment for not taking on Hitler was war. World War.

In the middle of all of this, into my head popped some lines by the ancient Persian (Persia=Iran) poet Omar Khayyam. Somehow they seem apropos to the feeling of futility and confusion, of powerful forces working in mysterious ways that can't be foreseen.

Omar, a fatalist, didn't believe very much in the ability of human beings to control their own destiny. He wrote, so long ago, that:

We are no other than a moving row
Of Magic Shadow-shapes that come and go
Round with the Sun-illumined Lantern held
In Midnight by the Master of the Show;

But helpless Pieces of the Game He plays
Upon this Chequer-board of Nights and Days;
Hither and thither moves, and checks, and slays,
And one by one back in the Closet lays.

I'm not ready to subscribe to the level of fatalism of Omar Khayyam. But it does seem right now that the people of Lebanon are "but helpless pieces" in a game being played--if not by the Master of the Show, then by the puppet masters of Iran.

And this verse of Khayyam's, with its strangely prescient geography ("Naishapur," Omar's birthplace, is a city in what is now Iran; and "Babylon" is the ancient word for Iraq), seems apropos as well:

Whether at Naishapur or Babylon,
Whether the Cup with sweet or bitter run,
The Wine of Life keeps oozing drop by drop,
The Leaves of Life keep falling one by one.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

The plot thickens, but does the fog of war thin?

Today seems to be an all UN, all the time day.

Take a listen to an interview with retired Canadian Major General Lewis Mackenzie, here. Quote: "there's an information war going on." Indeed there is, and I'm afraid Hezbollah, with the cooperation of the UN, is winning.

Other quotes: the UN observer said that "Hezbollah fighters were all over his position."

And, if this is true, why (as Canadian PM Harper asks) had the position not been evacuated by the UN weeks ago?

And then, take a look at this. I'm not sure about the provenance of the video, or who "Alan Peters" actually is, but things seem to be getting curiouser and curiouser.

What hath the UN wrought?

I used to like the UN.

As a child growing up in New York City, I would visit there with my class and gaze at the snazzy modern architecture, and watch the General Assembly talk while listening to simultaneous translations on the seemingly-magical headsets.

My admiration wasn't just for the esthetics, either. I knew about UNICEF, and the goal of eradicating smallpox--and of course, the UN was working towards peace. In fact, you may be surprised to learn that one of my very early childhood fantasies involved an image of myself as successful worldwide peacemaker, addressing the UN after some sort of diplomatic triumph I'd engineered that had averted a war.

That fantasy ended long ago. But my admiration for the UN lingered. Yet, over the decades, my disillusionment with the UN has grown. The Oil for Food scandal didn't help; that was in the nature of a final straw in the breakdown of any admiration I ever had for the UN. And journalist Claudia Rosett was instrumental in covering that terrible instance of destructive UN corruption.

Now Rosett has written another article about the UN, this time about its role in fostering the conditions leading up to the current Lebanese crisis. I've linked to her article in an addendum to this previous post of mine, but I've decided it needed to be spotlighted even more.

The article describes how the UN has failed in its mission in Lebanon, allowing the conditions to develop that led directly to this war. Rosett makes the point that, for the six years since the Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon, Hezbollah has been arming itself with weaponry that it is not supposed to possess, all under the auspices of the UN "peacekeepers":

Over the past six years, Israel honored its commitment to peace. The U.N. — disproportionately — required in practice no such compliance on the Lebanese side of the border. The “peacekeepers” of the U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon, called UNIFIL, sat passively looking on, costing about $100 million a year and doing nothing to stop Hezbollah from trucking in weapons, digging tunnels, and running the armed protection rackets with which it has kept a grip on swathes of Lebanon, including the southern border with Israel, parts of the Bekaa, and southern Beirut.

Rosett goes on to list the biases UN officials have expressed since this war began (the article seems to have been written prior to the death of the UN obervers and Anna's remarks on that, since it makes no mention of them). It makes sobering reading.

The other day I got into an argument with a friend about the UN. He agreed that it was flawed, but said that it's our only hope for peace in the world. My answer to him at the time was that the institution has shown such corruption and bias that it cannot act as a force for peace at all, and that it's a pipedream to think otherwise at this point.

A pipedream, and a dangerous one at that. I have become convinced that the UN and its officials are not just powerless to solve the problem, but that they are contributing to it. How? By their rather large pockets of corruption, by holding themselves out to be equal to tasks they are utterly incompetent to deal with, by their biased prononuncements, and by giving false hope to those who want to believe that problems are being dealt with when they are not. And, while all this happens, the conditions that contribute to wars are allowed to grow and to fester, all under the auspices of the UN, supposed force for peace.

Those infallible Israelis: through the fog of war, Annan jumps the gun

The killing of the four UN observers in Lebanon is a tragic and regrettable event, to be sure. But it's the sort of event that occurs with some regularity in war, and is one of the many reasons why war is universally regarded as a very bad thing--although not always the worst of things.

The expression "the fog of war" is a cliché for a reason, and that's because it's a useful and descriptive term for the confusion that inevitably occurs on all sides in a war--for the commanders, the fighting forces, the civilians, the obervers, and the commentators.

When events such as the shelling of the UN post, and the resultant deaths of the UN personnel, occur--and occur they will, almost without fail, in every hot war, no matter how careful the military might be--each side makes statements about what has happened. It's understood that all such statements are preliminary. An investigation can help dispel the fog, but only imperfectly, and only over time.

In this instance Israel has said that this was a tragic accident--no surprise there. One would also imagine that the UN--an institution at least theoretically dedicated to damping down conflicts, judicious restraint, withholding judgment until all the facts are in--would avoid making premature statements about what happened and what Israel intended.

But in this case, the UN is also the injured party, which makes the fog even thicker. And Kofi Annan's response has been to interpret this action in the worst light for Israel. At the same time that Annan said he is "trying to get the details" of the attack (a reasonable response), he also called it an "apparently deliberate targeting" on the part of Israel.

It seems clear to me that the latter statement is so excessively inflammatory that it should never have been uttered by any UN official in the absence of strong and incontrovertible evidence that it was true.

So, what gives? Annan was clearly upset by the deaths--as well he might be. In moments of strong emotion, people often let words slip out that would otherwise--and should otherwise--have remained unsaid. And in those moments, people often reveals their biases. However, none of this is the sort of behavior the Secretary General of the UN should display.

It's not as though Annan's biases--or those of the UN--were hidden prior to this, though. Case in point: this article, written by Alan Dershowitz on July 20 (prior to the deaths of the UN observers), lists some examples for Annan. And anyone familiar with the history of the UN and Israel since the 1970s knows the sad story there (see also this).

What happened at that UN outpost, and why? I don't pretend to know. If this report is true--and I have no reason at the moment to think it isn't--the fog of war must have been unusually thick at the time, allowing some sort of total breakdown of communication that led to the incident.

But, as Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor has said, the accusation that Israel would have deliberately targeted UN officials simply makes no sense:

"Why on earth would we deliberately target U.N. observers?" he asked. "What good would that do either on the military or the political level, because it so obvious that this would be harmful. Of course it is a tragedy for the observers and their bereaved families and we truly share their sorrow and we deeply regret the incident. It was obviously a fatal mistake.

Palmor has said it's obvious that the accusation makes no sense "on the military or political level," and I agree. So where does the accusation come from? The charges do make sense in one way, and that is on the emotional level of those making the accusation.

To those who are predisposed to believe that Israel and Israelis are not demonic Nazis, but merely citizens of a country that's been fighting for its very existence ever since the beginning of that existence, it would seem obvious that this was an error rather than a top-down policy of the Israeli government. But it's not obvious at all to those who have bought their own rhetoric about Israeli evil.

Those who believe that this was a case of deliberate targeting of UN personnel are not only operating under the supposition of Israeli evil intent, but of Israeli infallibility. The latter two characteristics--evil coupled with genius, as in "evil genius"--have been part and parcel of anti-Semitic thought for centuries. Now that type of thinking has been transferred to those who demonize Israel.

Israel--unlike its enemies--attempts to be a country that fights wars in a relatively humane way. It tries to avoid killing civilians; it does not deliberately target them. This, of course, is in contrast to its enemies, whose main stock in trade is to deliberately target civilians--both Israel's and its own. And that is no secret; it is obvious and up-front. The enemy targets Israeli civilians directly by methods such as suicide bombing in pizza parlors and restaurants, as well as firing unguided Katusha rockets into Israeli cities. And it targets its own civilians by hiding weaponry and "insurgents" among the civilian population (see this for a discussion).

Israeli weaponry (like that of the US) has developed a remarkable degree of sophistication. In an effort to kill only the guilty, amazing advances have been made. Smart weaponry and good intelligence cannot, however, be infallible, and they can never dispel the fog of war entirely, nor protect innocent civilians (or UN obervers, or reporters), who will always remain at risk.

It is paradoxical, then, that those very advances in "smart" weaponry--and the intent behind those advances, which is the desire to avoid civilian casualties as much as possible--have backfired. Because Israeli attacks are targeted as opposed to indiscriminate, the Israelis are somehow assumed to be omniscient and omnipotent in this regard. And this, combined with the idea that they have evil intent, gives rise to statements such as Annan's.

[ADDENDUM: Belmont Club offers his usual detailed and knowledgeable analysis of the situation. A must-read.

See also, this: Claudia Rosett on how the UN has grievously mishandled the Lebanese situation since the 2000 Israeli withdrawal from that country. Strong stuff.]

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

The dump and the lost and the found

Yesterday I went to the town dump.

I live in a town where--despite fairly hefty property taxes--we don't have garbage collection. I'm not sure why, but my guess is that there's some sort of ethos here that garbage isn't esthetically pleasing enough; all those cans and bags by the road tend to spoil the bucolic charm. And the town dump is supposedly a happy place where everyone meets and greets, although I can't say I've seen too much of that. Also, I hear tell that the richer among us (that's not me!) hire private garbage collectors to do their dirty work for them.

Even though I've lived in New England for most of my adult life, this was the first place I'd ever resided in that didn't have garbage pickup. At first I was a bit miffed--after all, what were those high property taxes all about? I don't have kids any more in the school system, even though I see the need to support it--so I figured I should at least be getting garbage collection for my pains.

But now I'm used to the rhythm of my visits to the dump. If I've had guests and the garbage piles up faster and it's hot out, I can make more frequent visits. It's vaguely relaxing and mindless work, sorting things out; and I also enjoy the sense of making a clean sweep and a fresh start every time I return home and see those momentarily empty recycling bins of mine.

At the dump there's a complex system of carefully labeled containers, telling us what goes in where and what doesn't go in where, with so Byzantine a set of rules that an attorney might be of assistance in deciphering them (and perhaps dump law is a new legal specialty, for all I know). There's an area where you can bring the sort of waste that's good for compost, which they then make and sell to raise money; and there's a huge pile of brush and one of scrap and one of concrete and one of batteries and one of--well, you get the idea.

And the dump has a few more perks. There's a Goodwill bin that I visit regularly in an attempt to simplify my life. And then there's the car vacuum machine.

And here I have a confession to make--I sometimes procrastinate at the task of cleaning my car. Yes, I do; indeed I do. But going to the dump and passing by that large suction hose reminds me to look down and notice that, now that mud season is over and it's truly summer, there's a lot of debris in my car that could use some getting rid of.

Vacuuming the car is one of the most satisfying tasks of all. First, I clear out all the odd papers and place them in a bag, to be sorted out when I get home. This requires moving the seats and crawling down under them to find the wealth of paper that has somehow, unbeknownst to me, found its way there. Then, put the coins in the machine (four quarters these days, and I've found it accepts Canadian!) and off to the races.

Because the vacuum is timed, there's a sense of urgency to beat the clock, a nice game to play. Floors, cushions, little cracks in between this and that, even the trunk; can I fit it all in? Yes and yes and yes.

And now the inside of my car looks, if not new, certainly newer.

Afterwards, though, sorting out the papers at home (most of them worthless scrap), I found a stamped envelope addressed to the state but unmailed. Not good. I had the sinking feeling that I knew what it was and, opening it, discovered that I was correct.

Speaking of property taxes--inside was a note I'd written three weeks ago that was part of the process of applying for a partial property tax refund that I seem to be entitled to. It was supposed to have arrived at the state office by July 15. I'd filled it out and sealed it and stamped it and put it in the car as I do with all my mail, but somehow it had slipped under the seat and not been posted with all its fellows. And I never noticed till now.

I called the state office involved, and the woman I spoke with suggested I send it to them with a note of explanation. I have no idea whether I'll still get that rebate I'd been counting on and very much looking forward to, though.

The moral[s] of the story: go to the dump more often? Clean out your car more often? Quit your complaining? Be more careful? Don't sweat the small stuff? All will be well in the end? The best-laid schemes o' mice an' men gang aft agley? There's no way to beat death and taxes, even if you try? Mama said there'd be days like this? There's no business like show business?

At any rate, it's a nice respite from talking about war all the time.

Live from an Israeli bunker

This blog is worth taking a look at (courtesy PJ Media).

Monday, July 24, 2006

Hezbollah: entwined and enmeshed in Lebanon

Many--including myself--have used the phrase "hostage" to describe the Lebanese people in the current crisis. And no doubt many of the citizens of that country are in just that position.

But not all. Although it's difficult to know the true percentages, one cannot deny that Hezbollah has a great deal of support in Lebanon.

Hezbollah, the organization that is driving the present action in Lebanon, was originally a foreign graft from Iran. But over the years it has insinuated itself so deeply and profoundly into Lebanese life that one can say that, if the Lebanese people are being held hostage, it is by an organization that many of them have supported and/or tolerated, and have been the social beneficiaries of, for decades. Lebanon has not only failed to eradicate Hezbollah, the group has grown in power in recent years and is now closely intertwined in Lebanese life and politics.

Take a look at the history of Hezbollah in Lebanon (and yes, it's from Wikipedia, but it seems to be a fairly straightforward and undisputed article). Originally arriving in Lebanon 1982 as an arm of the mullahs of Iran, devoted to the ideology of Ayatollah Khomeni and aimed at engaging the Shiite majority of Moslems in Lebanon, Hezbollah positioned itself from the start as the potential liberator of Lebanon from the Israeli occupation that began in 1982 and lasted until Israel's withdrawal in 2000. All the while, Hezbollah has been openly and unabashedly dedicated to the destruction of Israel, rather than any sort of coexistence or negotiation with it.

There is no question that the events of 2000 allowed Hezbollah to claim victory over Israel, and earned it regard throughout Lebanon for this. In 2003, for example, the Maronite Christian President of Lebanon at the time, Emile Lahoud, is quoted as saying [emphasis mine]:

For us Lebanese, and I can tell you the majority of Lebanese, Hezbollah is a national resistance movement. If it wasn't for them, we couldn't have liberated our land. And because of that, we have big esteem for the Hezbollah movement.

Like many terrorist organizations, and in the time-honored fashion of other political groups with power agendas, Hezbollah has also won over the people by establishing organizations such as schools and hospitals, filling gaps in the system of social services (much as the decidedly non-terrorist but extremely corrupt Tammany Hall did in New York City of the 1850s through 1930s).

After 2000, Hezbollah made it clear that not only did it take responsibility for the Israeli withdrawal, but that it considered said withdrawal a reflection of Israeli weakness. Ever since, Hezbollah has been consolidating its power in Lebanon and burrowing its way ever deeper into Lebanese political and military life.

The relative calm in Lebanon has enabled Hezbollah, in its role as liberator, to become the de facto army of southern Lebanon, and to seed throughout that area the Syrian- and Iranian-supplied rockets used in the present attacks, storing them in strategic locations--"strategic," in this case, being (of course!) embedded in the midst of civilians, the better to maximize Lebanese civilian casualties when Israel retaliates.

In the Lebanese election of 2005, Hezbollah increased its representation in Parliament by a multiple of three, going from a previous high of eight representatives to its present twenty- three, as well as gaining, for the first time, ministers in the executive branch of the government.

It's interesting to speculate whether those Lebanese who supported Hezbollah as liberators and social workers ever thought about the hidden Hezbollah agenda, which was to use the Lebanese people as the aforementioned hostages to score propaganda points with the press and the West when those hostages inevitably become victims. Were they aware of this plan, as well as the very clear statements by Hezbollah that their goal was not peace, but the eradication of the state of Israel? If so, did the supporters of Hezbollah care? Did they see the possible consequences for themselves?

Going back to the bank robber/hostage analogy, one might say that many of the Lebanese people are in the position of having been minor accessories to the crime--roughly analogous to those who might gain prior knowledge of a crime about to be committed but who fail to act or to alert authorities so that it might be prevented--who then find the main actor in the crime (the bank robber), a former trusted friend and accomplice, suddenly grabbing them and placing them between the police and himself. It may be a surprise to the hostage--but should it be?

It's clear that Hezbollah needs to be rooted out of Lebanon. But it's very difficult to see how this could happen if the Lebanese people themselves don't wish it to happen--and even then, it would be far from easy to accomplish at this point. Syria, as Hezbollah's main supplier, could theoretically be involved, but that has the danger of "inviting" the Syrians back into greater power in a country that's only recently begun to detangle itself from its nefarious influence.

That word "detangle" is a good one, because excising Hezbollah from Lebanon is not going to be a simple act of surgery. Many metaphors come to mind: Hezbollah in Lebanon is like a tumor without sharp borders or boundaries; a neuroma that's burrowed itself into the tissue in a deep and complex manner, a family that's too deeply enmeshed for members to individuate and separate.

This is one of the reasons that Condoleezza Rice's words at Friday's news conference were so interesting. If you read the transcript, you'll find that, over and over, she emphasizes the issue of Lebanese sovereignty, an appeal to Lebanese pride in its own autonomy. Knowing how instrumental Hezbollah was in Lebanese perception of that autonomy from Israel back in 2000, and how pleased the country is to have recently expelled the Syrians, she carefully phrases the eradication of Hezbollah from Lebanon as an issue of Lebanese sovereignty as well.

Whether this will be at all effective is unclear. But it's the right sort of rhetoric for the occasion, to be followed by tough negotiations that--as Rice herself says--don't just put into place a meaningless cease-fire that perpetuates business as usual, but some sort of lasting change for the better that damps down Hezbollah's power in the region.

[Cross-posted at Winds of Change.]

Close to home

Here's an interesting visual, courtesy of Dr. Sanity's Carnival of the Insanities special Middle East Edition.

It hits particularly close to home for those of us who live in New England, and know the distances involved. Hint: they're not large. Not at all.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Hezbollah and the "occupation" argument

If you look at the wide variety of opinions in the highlighted articles at Real Clear Politics as to how the current Mideast conflict is going to play out, you realize how much disagreement and confusion there is. In truth, we're in the fog of war, and no one knows. Read them and decide what makes the most sense to you, and then watch as events unfold, no doubt in some direction no one quite foresaw.

That's one of the many problems with war; it's unpredictable, and unleashes strong and powerful forces that are destructive to human life, although in the end they can resolve certain issues and topple certain regimes. As Churchill--no stranger to war, and a man who did not shy away from it--said:

Never, never, never believe any war will be smooth and easy, or that anyone who embarks on the strange voyage can measure the tides and hurricanes he will encounter. The statesman who yields to war fever must realize that once the signal is given, he is no longer the master of policy but the slave of unforeseeable and uncontrollable events.

That said, Dennis Ross (former Mideast "peace process" negotiator) has an interesting article in the New Republic about the significance of Hezbollah's actions in this war, and the message it sends to the world, including the Arab world. For decades, the Arabs of the region have presented their animus towards Israel as the result of Israeli "occupation." Although the historical record indicates otherwise--the Arab nations tried to destroy Israel long before there was any occupation--it was a convincing argument for many.

According to Ross:

When Hezbollah was fighting Israeli "occupation," it was untouchable. But the general Arab narrative has been that the violence, meaning terrorism, is driven by occupation: no occupation, no violence. Hamas has already cast doubt on this narrative by launching attacks from Gaza after the Israeli withdrawal, but it is hard for Arab regimes to challenge Hamas's legitimacy. Hezbollah, however, is another story.

Ross goes on to list the many condemnations of Hezbollah's recent actions offered by the Arab countries of the region. He sees the situation as an opportunity--a tricky one, to be sure, filled with perilous traps and the need for delicate balance--to check Iran's rise in the region.

In recent years, Israel has pulled back from the Arab territories it formerly occupied and fortified its borders with the famous defensive fence. These acts had the effect of calling its enemies' bluffs. But this retreat was widely seen by those enemies as Israeli weakness rather than strength. Now Israel is trying to show that perception to be a false one.

Getting around in their Pajamas

The Anchoress observes that Pajamas Media is doing an impressive job of covering the current Mideast war.

I've noticed the same thing myself. Of course, as a member of Pajamas, I guess you can't call me unbiased; I most definitely have a dog in this race.

When PJ began, I saw it as an experiment that might or might not work out. But I was more than willing to go along for the ride. After all, I had nothing to lose, and it sounded like a good idea and a fun idea.

At first, I didn't go to their website much. It seemed a haphazard collection of random blog posts, with nothing special to recommend it. But I figured that would change over time, as they found out what worked and what didn't.

And it most certainly has. Now I go there not because I'm curious about how they're doing, or loyal, but because their coverage has become excellent. In fact, they feature the best roundups of news and opinion about the war that I've found online.

One of the ways I can tell that the Pajamas readership has risen considerably is by the amount of traffic they drive. At first, when I was linked there, the uptick on my sitemeter was very modest indeed. Then there was a slow increase over time. Now any link from PJ causes a very respectable surge.

I noticed a sharp upturn in both the traffic and quality of the website with the appointment of Gerard Van der Leun, who brings his extensive expertise and ebullient energy (love those alliterations--watch for more!) to the job of Editor in Chief. Head honcho, the refreshing and resourceful Roger Simon, has been burning the midnight oil as well, as have those cover-the-globe editors: the judicious and jocund Juliette Ochieng, the hardworking and humane Jose Guardia, and the remarkable and reflective Richard Fernandez.

Last November, at the PJ kickoff in New York--back when the group was laboring under the fortunately short-lived moniker OSM--I met the majority of these people, as well as a host of my fellow PJ bloggers. You can read my description of the event here, in case you missed it first time round. Fun.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Fighting elephants; trembling mice

There's an old saying, rendered variously as:

When elephants fight, it's the mice who must tremble.

When elephants fight, it's the grass that suffers.

The applicability to the current situation in the Middle East? When Hezbollah goads Israel from its hiding place in Lebanon, and Israel retaliates, the ordinary people in both countries suffer.

Right now, as Fouad Ajami points out in today's Opinion Journal (and as I pointed out some days ago, here), the Lebanese people are being held hostage by Hezbollah. Yes, of course, some of the Lebanese people support Hezbollah, even though it was originally a foreign graft from Iran. But the majority? Doubtful. But that didn't stop Nasrallah from provoking the Israelis into this war in Lebanon; elephants don't ordinarily ask the mice's permission when they start a battle.

Ajami believes that Nasrallah miscalculated, thinking it would be just business as usual when he provoked Israel, underestimating the spine of the new, non-Sharon, government (as well as the opposition of the governments of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Jordan). Gone were the old warriors of Israel, Nasrallah thought--the elephants, as it were--and in their place were the bureaucrats.

But Israel seems to have found a new resolve, exemplified by this passage from a speech Prime Minister Ehud Olmert made last Monday:

"There are moments in the life of a nation, when it is compelled to look directly into the face of reality and say: no more!" Olmert said in a speech in the Knesset plenum Monday evening. "And I say to everyone: no more! Israel will not be held hostage - not by terror gangs or by a terrorist authority or by any sovereign state."

There's that metaphor again: being held hostage. And the linked Jerusalem Post article goes on to point out that Israel and its leaders (usually so fractious) are presently united behind Olmert.

Why is this? It seems to me that it's because so much else has been tried, for so very long, and been found so very wanting. If the slogan of the peace movement is "Give peace a chance," Israel can honestly say (although its enemies will never credit this, of course) "Been there, done that, many times. And it didn't work."

Another reason Olmert can stand firm is that the Bush administration is refusing to pay any more lip service to the 'peace process" as a way of dealing with terrorist entities such as Hezbollah.

The tricky part, of course, is to stand firm in such a way that the Green Revolution in Lebanon is not destroyed--that the mice and the grass (to continue the green metaphor) don't tremble too much as the elephants collide.

Secretary Rice is going to the region to try to strike that delicate balance. It will not be easy, as blogger Alcibiades at Kesher Talk points out, here:

...the crumbling of prosperous, pro-Democrat Lebanon may represent a crumbling of what could have been a very important bulwark against the Islamist night that will never be built up again in quite the right way.

But, unfortunately, for Lebanon to ever become that bulwark, Hezbollah has to be rooted out. You can't have it both ways. The hope is that the cure isn't worse than the disease.

Secretary Rice is declaring her own version (or Bush's version, or their combined version) of Olmert's cry of "No more!" Her version is a "no more, enough!" to the false promise of the ceasefire in this case:

We do seek an end to the current violence and we seek it urgently,'' Rice told reporters at the State Department. Still, ``a cease fire would be a false promise if it just returns us to the status quo.''....`Hezbollah is the source of the problem,'' Rice said. No diplomatic solution can allow Hezbollah to stay in place, she said. The U.S. is working to put pressure on Iran and Syria, which sponsor Hezbollah, to ease the strife diplomatically...

Rice is clear: a diplomatic solution is not ruled out. But it must involve an end to the Hezbollah presence in Lebanon. Only then can a ceasefire be meaningful; until then any cease-fire would be premature and counterproductive.

"Cease-fire." It's a wonderful word, is it not? It speaks of peace and tranquility; the poor mice and the defenseless grass can finally stop suffering. Who wouldn't want that? And there are those who are calling for an immediate ceasefire--such as Kofi Annan, not unexpectedly.

But ceasefires in the region, especially ones with a terrorist entity as one of the parties, don't have a good track record. The status quo is unacceptable.

Enough is enough.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Oh yeah? (who is "bound" by international law?)

The International Red Cross has said that Israel's response in Lebanon violates the "proportionality" principle of the Geneva Conventions (see this for my views on proportionality). The group has also issued the following statement about the terrorist group Hezbollah:

Hezbollah fighters too are bound by the rules of international humanitarian law, and they must not target civilian areas.

I'm sorry, but what's the International Red Cross been smoking?

Earth to International Red Cross: Hezbollah is a terrorist organization. They exist to target civilians.

Furthermore, there's a general principle involved, one that should be readily apparent to anyone with a modicum of sense:

To be "bound" by a certain law, one (or both) of two things need to be true: (1) the "bound" entity has to agree to the authority of those administering the law; (2) the authority has to have the power of enforcement over that entity.

The International Red Cross has neither over Hezbollah at this point. The only way it would get that power--and it could never obtain #1, only #2--is by a military defeat of Hezbollah, a capture of its leaders, and the act of subsequently bringing them before an international tribunal.

And, of course, to defeat Hezbollah would require a response the International Red Cross already has already condemned as violating the principles of proportionality, since Hezbollah is well aware of the value of hiding behind civilians, and does so purposely and frequently. So, how in heaven's name would any international court ever get authority over Hezbollah, except to try them in absentia? And a fat lot of good that would do, except as meaningless theater.

I'm wondering: has any Islamic terrorist ever been successfully tried under international law for violating the Geneva Conventions? None comes to mind--the only trials I can think of, such as those of Richard Reid or the 1993 WTC bombers, are national rather than international. (I can't say, however, that I've done an exhaustive search, so please feel free to offer any such international cases in the comments section, if you can find them.)

The remark by the International Red Cross about Hezbollah being "bound" by the Conventions made me think of a popular comeback when I was a kid. When someone would say, I'm gonna make you do it, the usual retort was Oh yeah? You and what army?

Somehow I think that's exactly what Hezbollah would say.

Beating the heat while you sleep

Last night was the first night in I don't know how long that it wasn't beastly hot.

I'm one of those people--not all that rare in New England--who doesn't have air conditioning, so believe me, these things get my attention.

I live in an area where it doesn't get too hot too often. But every summer there are always a number of sweltering days and nights, although that number varies widely from year to year. My bedroom is distinguished by casement windows and something called awning windows (I had to look the term up to get it right), neither of which are particularly simpatico to the installment of an air conditioner. I've never gotten around to cutting a hole in the wall for one, either.

And really, most of the time there's no need. I have windows on three sides of the bedroom, so I not only have cross-ventilation, I have double-cross ventilation, as well as a large ceiling fan. In fact, when the windows are open on all three sides and it's a bit breezy outside, I find I don't have to sweep the floor--the dust just piles up of its own accord in whatever corner the wind happens to be blowing towards. Better than a Roomba.

But this past week there was no breeze to be had, except for the steamy air, weakly stirred by the feeble ceiling fan. Sweating was continual, perpetual, and copious (yes, I know; too much information).

I hear it's been that way throughout much of the country. So, for those of you who, like me, might be air conditioner-challenged, here are some tips for how to keep cool without AC on a hot summer night.

Absent among the suggestions is a traditional New England fixture, the sleeping porch. You can see them on big old houses here. They're usually attached to the second floor and adjacent to the bedrooms there, screened on all sides to let in the cooler night air and keep out the ubiquitous mosquitoes. But, since most of us lack sleeping porches, the fan and the ice cubes and the wet sheet and the wet socks might just do the trick.

I hope you sleep well tonight, and every night.

Another bumper sticker

This one, though, I like:

Speak your mind, even if your voice shakes.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

An auto-fisking

Fisk fisks himself (courtesy Tim Blair).

Terrorists and the nations that harbor them

Jihadi terrorists are not strictly bound to the confines of a state, and their calling cards are sometimes hard to read. That's one of their strengths; it makes it very difficult to strike back at them with weapons of conventional warfare.

But that doesn't mean they operate on their own without any state support (Austin Bay has written this must-read piece on how the terrorists exploit the system of states and failed states to their advantage).

Afghanistan was a relatively easy case, at least conceptually, because the state sponsoring of Al Qaeda in that country was clear and overt. The other heavy lifters in the promotion of terrorism around the globe are Iran and Syria, while Saudi Arabia has a leading role as well through Wahabism, which acts as a sort of carrier of terrorism.

Remember Bush's post-9/11 address to Congress and the nation on September 20, 2001? In that speech, he formulated some of the basic principles of dealing with state sponsors of terrorism, an early version of the Bush Doctrine:

The Taliban must act immediately. They will hand over terrorists, or they will share in their fate....Our enemy is a radical network of terrorists and every government that supports them...From this day forward, any nation that continues to harbor or support terrorism will be regarded by the United States as a hostile regime.

Although the present war in Lebanon is not being waged by the US, it's certainly an example of the application of this doctrine. The government of Lebanon has winked at terrorism, failed to root it out, given it safe haven--and even made a home for it in its Parliament, one-fifth of whom are Hezbollah members.

Why is this? Lebanon is a country that used to be one of the most stable in the region. But that all ended, starting with the arrival of the PLO in the late sixties and early seventies, after that group's violent expulsion from Jordan, where it was trying to topple the government. Lebanon was thereafter ravaged by civil war for several decades. During that time, Israel invaded at intervals to try to root out the terrorists that had taken hold, and Syria took control and rendered Lebanon its puppet state (the latter situation has only recently improved with the expulsion of the Syrians--although not the Syrian influence--in 2005).

It's interesting to contrast the response of Jordan's King Hussein to the terrorists who were in his midst and threatening his regime. "Black September", the name given to the day Hussein cracked down and expelled the PLO from Jordan, was an example of bitter Arab-on-Arab violence. It's estimated that, in the ten days of that action, between three and five thousand Palestinians in Jordan were killed, both PLO militants and civilians alike. This indiscriminate crackdown never elicited the sort of condemnation that would have occurred had it been performed by Western powers. What's more, it was effective; the PLO were routed from Jordan and relative stability returned.

After Black September, Jordan's loss was Lebanon's gain--or rather, we might say that Jordan's gain was Lebanon's loss. The PLO--and Yasser Arafat--relocated to Lebanon, and the country was never the same again.

The lesson is a harsh one. Harboring terrorists does not pay, and not just because of the Bush doctrine or the reaction of the Israelis. Terrorists take advantage of the conditions inherent in failed states, it's true. But the arrival of terrorists en masse can help to cause a state to fail. That didn't happen in Jordan because Jordan adopted harsh and somewhat ruthless measures against those terrorists. It happened in Lebanon because Lebanon either wouldn't or couldn't do the same effectively.

Now, over three decades later, Lebanon is still reaping the bitter harvest of harboring terrorists, this time Hezbollah. Whether it lacks the will or the ability to root them out, or whether it's a combination of the two, I don't know. But the truth is that terrorism is a blight on both the terrorist's targets and on those who give the terrorists refuge.

The Israelis are attempting in Lebanon to effect a somewhat kinder, gentler Black September (in this case, a Black July), and expel Hezbollah from Lebanon. Will they succeed? They haven't before; despite previous Israeli incursions into Lebanon for that purpose, Hezbollah has remained there. And, of course, driving Hezbollah from Lebanon would not mean the end of Hezbollah in the world.

But perhaps now the world climate has changed (including that of the Arab world), and it's understood how necessary this action is. Criticism of Israel in this conflict has been curiously muted, considering that it's Israel. Maybe the world has finally learned the lesson that terrorism is a blight on us all.

It shouldn't have had to take this long to understand that.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Thoughts on a wedding

This weekend I went to the wedding of the daughter of a good friend. It's the first wedding I've attended of a contemporary of my own son, although probably not the last. The bride is someone I've known since she was two months old.

It's a cliché at a wedding to ask where all that time went--in fact, there's even a tearjerker of a popular song to that effect, "Sunrise, Sunset" ("Is this the little girl I carried..."). And I followed that cliche; for me, the wedding was pretty emotional. I teared up, although I managed not to cry.

It was a beautiful day--(although very hot!)--in a beautiful setting. Take a look--this is where the ceremony was actually held:

But the main source of emotion for me was that the bride and groom seemed so deeply in love. Knowing the bride's family very well, and knowing at least the history of the groom's, I'm aware that both have come from families where the parents had exceptionally bitter divorces that impacted heavily on both bride and groom, adding a burden of suffering that clouded their childhoods.

And yet, here they were, starry-eyed over each other. Is this merely the triumph of hope over experience, the naivete and beauty of youth, an example of denial? I don't think so. I like to think--in fact I sense, and I certainly fervently hope--that these two young people
have learned through their travails what to value, hard lessons that will help them through the inevitable conflicts in their own marriage.

An extra poignancy was added by the fact that all the previously-warring parents attended the ceremony, and all seemed more or less civil to each other. That, in and of itself, probably could not have happened without the passage of a great deal of time since the divorces, as well as strong motivation to make the day pleasant for their children.

Looking at the bride's parents--a couple I knew about twenty-five years ago, right before their very necessary divorce, but have not seen together since--I couldn't help but remember their former selves, hardly older than their own child is today. Now they're the mother and father of the bride, united for this day by that commonality. Their marriage was a disaster, but their child most definitely is not.

Monday, July 17, 2006

The rockets of Hezbollah: all the world's a stage, and all the civilians merely props

In line with the theme of some of my other posts today, we have this, about Hezbollah's tactics in the current conflict in Lebanon:

Hizbollah hid many of the rockets in private homes, and had teams that launched the rockets from next to these homes, forcing the Israelis to "attack civilians" if the launching effort was spotted and attacked with bombs or artillery.

This is a textbook and commonplace case of terrorist strategy.

It starts with utter contempt for the lives of civilians. It's no surprise, of course, that Hezbollah has contempt for the lives of Israeli civilians, and wishes their destruction. Katushas are not guided and "smart," they are the dumbest of dumb bombs, aimed only at a general vicinity--in this case, Israeli cities and the citizens therein.

But the contempt Hezbollah has for the lives of its own people is just as great, if not greater, because of the placement of the rocket launchers themselves. And yes, I know, it's not technically "its own people" Hezbollah is sacrificing here, because Hezbollah is Iranian in origin rather than Lebanese.

It's as though there's been a bank robbery, and the Lebanese people are being held hostage by Hezbollah, which hides behind them for protection. And, from its hiding place, Iran--hiding behind both the Lebanese people and the terrorist entity Hezbollah--commences a war both hot (the bombs themselves) and, more importantly, cold--the war for public opinion.

By hiding behind Lebanese civilians it's not even primarily protection Hezbollah craves, it's theater--as in Shakespeare's "all the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players on it.". Hezbollah is well aware that if, by taking out the missile launchers, Israel kills Lebanese civilians--which is every bit as much Hezbollah's goal as the initial killing of Israeli civilians by the rockets themselves--then, as sure as day follows night, this fact will be reported heavily by the Western media (mostly without the all-important background context), flashed around the globe, and widely condemned. Civilians are not only expendable on the part of the terrorists, they are important and vital tools--stage props. And it's ironic that civilians are used by terrorists in this way to try to make the point that it's the others--the US and Israel--who are purposely targeting civilians.

The propaganda value is immense, and may be the most important part of the exercise in rocketry, as far as Hezbollah is concerned: free publicity against Israel, courtesy of the West itself.

This sort of theater has been going on for a long time, and not just in the Middle East--for example, it was part and parcel of the tactics of the Vietcong, in a strategy known as "clutching the people to their breast."

To paraphrase Winston Churchill: "some mother, some breast."

[Big Pharaoh makes a related point.]

Iran, Iran, and Iran--and the West

It's becoming more and more clear that Iran is the prime mover right now in the Middle East. As columnist Mark Steyn points out:

...these territories [Gaza and Lebanon] are now in effect Iran's land borders with the Zionist Entity. They're "occupied territories" but it's not the Jews doing the occupying. So you've got a choice between talking with proxies or going to the source: Tehran. And, as the unending talks with the EU have demonstrated, the ayatollahs use negotiations with the civilized world as comedy relief...

Once upon a time, it would have been Egypt and Jordan threatening the Zionist usurpers. But these countries have been, militarily, a big flop against the Zionist Entity since King Hussein fired Sir John Glubb as head of the Arab Legion. So after '73 they put their money on terrorism, and schoolgirl suicide bombers -- the kind of "popular resistance" that buys you better publicity in the salons of the West. And one result of that has been to deliver Palestinian pseudo-"nationalism" away from Arab influence and into hard-core Iranian Islamist hands.

Omar at Iraq the Model connects the Iranian dots between what's been going on in Iraq and the current crisis in Lebanon, as well as the ways in which the international community has been "played"--and will continue to be played--by Iran:

The key point in this strategy is to keep the half-solution alive. This method proved successful in keeping the despotic regimes in power for decades and these regimes think this strategy is still valid. What makes them this way is their interpretation of international comments which came almost exactly as they always do; calls for restraint and urging a cease-fire which they (Iran and her allies) think will mean eventually going back to negotiations which they know very well how to keep moving in an empty circle.

The common denominater here is not just Iran. It's Iran and the cooperation of the "useful idiots" of the West--some of them well-meaning--who mysteriously fail to recognize the nature and goals of the Iranian regime.

Beware the open mic

I'm not so sure about Bush's use of the word "irony," but the rest of it seems spot on to me.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

The danger of "proportionality" in war

Now, how could proportionality in war be dangerous?

First, before I attempt an answer to that question, here's a great post by Betsy Newmark (via the Anchoress) on the widespread European international community's condemnation of Israel's response to the attacks from Hezbollah as "disproportionate."

She writes:

I wish that the next time some leader comes out and starts talking about Israel's "disproportionate response" that the journalists would ask them what their definition of a proportionate response would be if some terrorists were sending rockets into their own cities. Perhaps their own citizens might be interested in knowning how these intrepid leaders would respond if they were being attacked.

I'm not so sure many of their own citizens would even ask the question, since many may believe that their own relative chumminess with Iran and the Palestinians would guarantee them immunity. And perhaps their own knowledge that their country's leaders might not respond in an especially muscular manner to any attack on their own soil is what leads to the tactic of appeasement in the first place.

Sort of like paying hush money to the Mafia, in hopes that it won't target your business. I'd call it a vicious cycle of nonviolence.

But, leaving Europe aside for a moment, what is this larger idea of proportionality in war, anyway? Oh, don't misunderstand me (although of course some of you will). I'm not one of those people who advocates a truly disproportionate response, such as Israel nuking Tehran.

But I do wonder what's happened to the notion and definition and expectation of war. What am I talking about? It comes down--as so many things in life seem to--to the idea of responsibility, and of consequences (see here).

In the old days, the idea of fear of a nasty response from a well-armed power often acted as a deterrent (remember that word?) to attacking that country. In fact, that was one of the reasons countries had armies and weapons--not necessarily to use them, but to keep from having to use them very often; to keep themselves from being overrun and attacked, to defend its citizens. And the best way to defend them would be to not even have to defend them, but to just use the threat of a response in defense. And to be threatening, it helped if that threat was somewhat unpredictable in its force and scope.

In the olden days (which weren't so very long ago) responses were seldom (if ever?) discussed in terms of proportionality. Perhaps the beginning of the "proportionality" argument came with the invention of nuclear weaponry. For the first time, we had the ability to mount a truly disproportionate response to provocation, one that would threaten the entire world. So it became common sense to understand that not every attack would be met with the full panoply of weapons in the arsenal. And history has played out that way: the first time atomic weapons were used, Hiroshima/Nagasaki, was the last. So far, of course.

I'm not a student of military history, but it's not my impression that every attack was met with an all-out response even prior to nuclear weapons. But the limiting factor then was not the mouthing of platitudinous, self-serving advice from other nations; but, rather, the practical and strategic decisions of the attacked nation itself. Each nation would do what it determined necessary to end the threat--no more and no less. Sometimes it would miscalculate, of course. But the idea was that a sovereign nation had a right to defend itself to the best of its ability and its own judgment, and everyone knew that.

And that knowledge probably served to prevent many asymmetrical attacks. "The Mouse That Roared" notwithstanding, weak countries didn't tend to attack the strong; it would be suicidal. But asymmetrical warfare is now not only chic, but it's actively encouraged by this idea of "proportionality," which ties the gigantic Gullivers of the world (such as that mean old, bad old US and its vile mini-me, Israel) down with many tiny ropes.

It's in the interests of those with less power, and fewer arms, to advance the doctrine of "proportionality." This evens the playing field, something like a handicap in golf, and makes the game better sport for those with fewer skills. The concept of proportionality comes, no doubt, at least partly from fear of a truly disproportionate response; from some sort of concern for the weak. But it also comes from a disproportionate concern that weaker, third-world countries shouldn't be disadvantaged in any way because of their weakness, that they should be allowed to attack a stronger nation with relative impunity because, after all, they're weaker; and, after all, they're "brown;" and, after all, the West is imperialist and guilty; and, after all...and on and on.

But war is not a game of golf. And leveling the playing field doesn't make for more fun. It makes for the emboldenment of tyrants in the third world. It makes for lengthy, drawn-out conflicts that never seem to end or be resolved. It buys time for countries such as Iran to gain power and become contenders by acquiring the most disproportionate weaponry of all, the nuclear variety.

And, when Iran reaches that goal, I wonder whether it will listen to Europe's bleats about "proportionality." Somehow, I don't think so. After all, Iran has no western guilt to expiate.

[ADDENDUM: By the way, I'm aware that the concept of "proportionality" is traditionally part of Just War theory. Note (if you'll follow the link) the introduction, defining when Just War theory might or might not be applicable. Also, the definition of "proportionality" in any given circumstance depends, of course, on the eye--and politics--of the beholder.]

Friday, July 14, 2006

Zeno diplomacy

No, that's not a typo above. I didn't mean "Zero diplomacy," I meant "Zeno diplomacy."

What's Zeno diplomacy? It's described in this article by Robert Tracinski, a writer with whom I wasn't previously familiar but who appears to be an Ayn Rand proponent (see this).

The term apparently originated with Robert Kagan, who mentions it in his recent article appearing in the Washington Post. It's a reference to Zeno's paradox; remember, the one that was illustrated in your textbooks by the little drawings of the turtle and Achilles, advancing the seemingly logical but obviously incorrect argument that says the turtle will win the race against the warrior?

Here's another way to state the argument:

Suppose I wish to cross the room. First, of course, I must cover half the distance. Then, I must cover half the remaining distance. Then, I must cover half the remaining distance. Then I must cover half the remaining distance . . . and so on forever. The consequence is that I can never get to the other side of the room.

We don't need to worry right now about the flaw in Zeno's argument (although if you follow the link you'll find a good explanation); what we're dealing with today is a flaw in the argument of those who argue for diplomacy, and then some diplomacy, and then some more diplomacy, when dealing with those whose aim is not to come to a peaceful resolution, but to stall for time. Because stalling for time gives the enemy the means to choose to start a conflict at a time more favorable to him, rather than to us. And it's Tracinski's assertion that stalling for time with Iran (otherwise known as "diplomacy") has only given Iran the ability to strike in a way and time of its own choosing, as we see now in the current Mideast crisis.

Those who promote nearly endless diplomacy as a solution to situations in which conflict threatens to erupt often don't seem to see that diplomacy has its downside. After all, what could be bad about postponing a war by talking? Isn't that always good?

It would be good, I suppose, if the negotiations led to an actual resolution or defusing of the situation, if the passage of time led to the situation somehow becoming better and not worse. And, of course, without a functioning crystal ball, none of us can foretell the future; we can only do our best to predict it based on the best evidence we have in the present. That process, of course, is deeply flawed, but it's all we have.

One of my favorite quotations of all time is that of the New England abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison, who famously said:

With reasonable men, I will reason; with humane men I will plead; but to tyrants I will give no quarter, nor waste arguments where they will certainly be lost.

When I first heard the quote I misunderstood it for a moment, thinking Garrison was saying that tyrants always win arguments. No, what he meant by the phrase "they will certainly be lost" is "they will certainly be wasted."

So the key to winning arguments--or to get people to do what you want them to--is to tailor the approach to the problem and to the character of the person or people with whom one is dealing. Tyrants are tyrannical, and neither reason nor pleading will suffice to convince them.

The problem, of course, is in deciding who is that sort of a tyrant, and who is not. It's a bit like end of the first sentence of Niebuhr's well-known serenity prayer:

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference.

The wisdom to know the difference--yes, indeed! To distinguish when diplomacy has a chance of working from the times when it doesn't is not an easy task, but certainly not an impossible one. And I think it's safe to say that in North Korea and in Iran we are dealing with the sort of tyrants on whom words will certainly be lost.

That's not to say that some tyrants can't be appealed to by coercion or even persuasion that focuses on their own self-interest. That may be true of Iran. But be careful. Look what happened in North Korea, during the Clinton administration. Giving negotiated concessions to a tyrant for humanitarian reasons, ones that seem to be good for the people of the country at the time, can ultimately backfire and end up with the tyrant having bought time to become more aggressive.

It's an interesting balancing act. Tyrants desire power above all, and to get that power they need a country. However, that need for power may be the only reason they care about the welfare of their people at all--if the people disappear, the country disappears, and where would that leave the tyrant? But tyrants ordinarily consider large numbers of their people expendable, as long as enough people remain to maintain the tyrant's country and his power. So the welfare of their people as a whole is not necessarily so much of a bargaining chip.

And be careful even of the logical assumption that tyrants care about the existence of their country at all. Some tyrants are more or less mad--or they become so over time--and when their fortunes are on the wane they want to bring the entire country down with them, in a sort of murder-suicide impulse (Hitler, for example, wanted Germany and the Germans to perish with him when he finally realized that all was lost).

And that brings us to the Iranian mullahs. They've put a somewhat new twist on things, because they are the first tyrannical heads of a country (in modern times, at least) who appear far less concerned with the things of this world than with their vision of the world to come. Therefore all bets are off; their priorities may indeed be focused on the afterlife rather than on protecting their people in this one. This is what makes them especially bad candidates for negotiation, and especially good ones for the problems inherent in Zeno diplomacy.

[By the way, Pajamas Media has some very thorough roundups of breaking news and reactions in the current crisis.]

[ADDENDUM: In another case of psychoblogger unity, Dr. Sanity spotlights the same Tracinski article, although she discusses other aspects of it.]

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Tehran unmasked?

I'm not going to pretend to be an expert on the balance of power in the Middle East. But I do read, and I can think.

And what I read lately has convinced me that, in the current Middle East crisis--which has so far stopped short of full war but might lead to one--all roads lead to Iran, even those that seem to begin in Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, and Palestine.

See what Omar at Iraq the Model has to say on the matter. Not only is he convinced that Iran is a main mover and shaker behind instability in Iraq (and who isn't convinced of this? I think it's one of the few points on which the right and left tend to agree), but he wonders whether the recent abduction of the Israeli soldiers was planned by Iran as a tactic to distract attention from Iranian nuclear ambitions and the fallout (pun intended) from that.

Omar also writes:

Those extremists do not understand the language of compromise and they do not believe in negotiating even if they declare the opposite. They want a war and I think they're going to get one.

And Michael Ledeen--not surprisingly, since his bête noire has long been the Iranian government--agrees:

The important thing to keep in mind is that both the Gaza and northern Israel attacks were planned for quite a while, which means that Iran wanted this war, this way. It isn’t just a target of opportunity or a sudden impulse; it’s part of a strategic decision to expand the war.

For quite some time Ledeen's conclusion has been that there is no way to escape a showdown with Iran, and he predicts in this article that, the longer the delay, the more likely it becomes that the confrontation will be a military one--with, as he puts it, "terrible consequences."

Ledeen's solution? To bring down the regimes in Iran and Syria; he sees that as the task of the United States. But missing in his article is the answer to the question, "how is that to be accomplished, without a military confrontation and its 'terrible consequences?'"

Austin Bay sees some possible ways the Iranian mullahs could end up weakened and discredited as a result of recent events (though not without some military escalation), if the following scenario plays out:

The relative lack of western criticism of Israel is an indicator. Apparently Israel has an opportunity to hammer Iranian and Syrian proxies. Israel may also escalate by striking Syrian intelligence targets throughout the region–sending the message that supporting proxies can cost the supporter. Israeli escalation past a certain point escalation puts Tehran in a bind: if Tehran’s mullahs fail to react militarily they begin to look impotent. Promises of future bombs won’t suffice....

In the context of an on-going war with Iranian proxies in Lebanon, if Tehran’s mullahs threaten mass annihilation one too many times the Israelis could strike several Iranian nuclear facilities. This would not be a “pre-emptive strike” but a “deep strike” on Hezbollah’s deep pockets ally and supplier.

The diplomatic component of this scenario: the Israelis make the case that in the post-Saddam, post-Beirut Spring Middle East, proxy wars are no longer tolerated. The Iranians will not be able to respond to Israeli strikes in kind. They will be exposed as weak hotheads and they will have lost at least part of their nuclear investment.

As Bay points out, it's a risky game. Tigerhawk offers his views on just what that game might be about (read the comments section as well). His main thesis is that Iran wants to be seen as the hand behind this, wants to be seen as the locus of anti-Israel anti-Zionist power, and is gambling that Israel and the US are too weak to oppose its moves. Tigerhawk believes that Iran may have underestimated how much it has alienated Europe recently, and has miscalculated.

I'm not pleased with today's violence, and the possibility of worse to come. But a while back I came to the sorrowful conclusion that something of the sort may just be inevitable. Those of you who know my history can guess that I used to believe that negotiation alone could work to defuse the Israel/Palestine situation. But I see today's events as part of a long chain of failed negotiations and dashed hope; one that began with Oslo, led through the 90s to the collapse of Camp David, and then to the horrors of the Second Intifada, and ultimately to where we stand today.

Those (such as myself) who used to believe in the power of negotiations and "giving peace a chance" in the region remind me a bit of my relatives who were Soviet sympathizers back in the early days of the 20s and 30s, before all the wretched excesses of Soviet power became known, back when Communism could still be thought of as an experiment that might somehow work out, and capitalism (especially during the Depression) as the failure. It was relatively easy to believe in the promise of Communism then; much harder to believe it now, at a time when only diehards keep the faith.

And the same is true for negotiations in the Middle East. With the launching of the Second Intifada, the mask of diplomacy was torn off, and the face of the conflict--in particular, the depth of the violence and hatred on the Palestinian side, and the futility of negotiations--was made clear.

With the election of Ahmadinejad in Iran, the same is true of Iran. No more masks; we know where we stand--although there are always going to be those who don't believe that Ahmadinejad believes what he so clearly says.

I still profoundly hope there's a way out of this without total war, if the regimes in Damascus and Tehran can be weakened by one of the more limited scenarios already discussed, or by some other sequence of events short of a major conflagration. But there's no way out if it without force. And there's no way out of it if we don't see clearly that Iran and Syria are not seeking peace through negotiation, and if we don't recognize their aims in the region.

And now I read (via Israellycool) that a Hezbollah missile fired at Haifa on Thursday evening was of Iranian manufacture. Israellycool asks the question, "Are we [Israel] going to go after Iran?"

I wonder what the answer to Israelly's question will be, how much time will elapse before we find out, and what form such a "going after" might ultimately take.

Powered by Blogger