August 3, 2006

I Condemn

I condemn, in the strongest terms possible, all of the the deadly rocket attacks that Hezbollah has made on Israel, like the the rocket attacks Thursday that killed six people in northern Israel and wounded many.

I also condemn, in the strongest terms possible, the Israeli attacks on Lebanon. Air strikes have killed many Lebanese civilians and children, like the bombing of Qana which killed 22 adults and 34 children.

I was in the car when I heard a conservative tool say that people would call into the show to condemn Israel for its attacks on Lebanon, but not for Hezbollah attacks. Cutting through the bullshit, I think what he meant was that liberals weren’t flooding his board with calls when Hezbollah rockets are reported to have killed 6 Israel civilians. Because, of course, he was getting plenty of callers who were defending Israel. I guess he wanted liberals to call in.

But I noticed something interesting. His war supporters were calling not to condemn the attacks which resulted in the deaths of Israel civilians. They were calling in support of attacks on Lebanon. I’ll come back to this.

In the past when Israel has used force to crush opposition, a more determined armed militia rises from the ashes of previous Israel-led drubbings. This hasn’t been good for Israel nor the world.

  • Israel’s attacking of Lebanon is disproportional. Israel might have thought that this is politically not a problem, but when Israel began its attack there were Arab countries condemning Hezbollah for its actions and criticism of Israel as conspicuously lacking. That changed when the ferocity of Israel’s response became apparent.
  • People everywhere would be happy to see Hezbollah destroyed, including a lot of the Lebanese. That is the ostensible purpose of this Israeli (and US) policy of violence. But it isn’t working. Politically, Hezbollah is getting stronger, which is, in my view, bad for everyone. And Hezbollah seems to have been dug in and ready for Israel so disrupting its command and control structure does not get rid of Hezbollah in the short term.

So, we have a policy that will not fulfill its purpose and, in fact, may accomplish the opposite in the long run. In the short run, it accomplishes the deaths of Lebanese civilians.

“What should we do?”

Great question. But it’s a question, not an answer to repeat to the TV in response to pictures of dead Lebanese children and Israeli civilians. One answer might be to stop a policy that isn’t working and is killing innocent people. How about we start there?

OK - back to the conservatives on the radio.

I noticed that the focus is not on condemning Hezbollah, although if you ask them point blank, you’ll get condemnations, sure. The focus is on how much approval that they heap on the Israeli bombing. They are happy that Israel is striking Lebanon. They can barely contain their glee. Lebanese children are “terrorist children” or “Hezbollah children.” This is the danger I see — that these people have the ear of our government. People who aren’t as concerned with practical solutions or peace, but rather whether someone they don’t like is getting blown up in pretty explosions. Any practical solution that doesn’t involve killing is considered wimpy. The idea that disproportional force has resulted in tenacious, violent, decentralized organizations which engage in asymmetric warfare is ignored or painted over by barking more rhetoric about “terrorism.” This is all a wonderful killing experiment. These people don’t have the combination of balls and intelligence to give up violence and seek other solutions. They criticise the Lebanese government for not whipping Hezbollah into shape while they sit safely in the US, ignoring that Lebanese presidents have tended to get killed lately.

By suggesting Bush might have done something about this, I am opening myself up to the perennial criticism of “So you think everything in the world is Bush’s fault!” It’s funny, they’ll call Bush the leader of the free world until something bad happens. Bush plays a role in world affairs, and he plays a role in the current cycle. Israel and Lebanon are victims of this cycle, fueled by Hezbollah (and Syria, but mostly Iran this time around). This cycle is familiar to gamblers all over the place.

Someone offers you a bad bet, but you think it’s a good one. So you take the bet and lose. You think, if I can get up enough money, I can win all my money back. So you bet more money on a bad bet and lose again. Now you have to collect even more money because you just know you can beat this game if you keep at it! You lose. Maybe the bet just isn’t a good one. People in this situation need a friend to tell them that it isn’t working and that they’re in trouble.

You go into Lebanon to get your enemies, and it’s a gamble because you can’t do it without civilians. You kill some, you lose some of your own and you leave Lebanon. It turns out that it didn’t work, and now the problem is worse. So you go back and you’re going to kill more civilians, strike even harder. But it doesn’t work, and now Hezbollah is formed… now you have to go back in even more brutally. You’re sure you can beat this, and now your pride is at stake as well. This is the point at which the leader of the free world ought to really step in and say, hey — this isn’t working. All you’re accomplishing at this point is a lot of killing. But the US doesn’t have that sort of wisdom at the moment. All we seem to be able to do is offer more bombs.

Insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results. I worry about Lebanon and I worry about Israel. I worry that they are the victims of Hezbollah. And, to some extent, they’re the victims of people who say they are friends of Israel but sit as cheerleaders for this round of bloodshed, cheerleaders for the cycle of violence.

I condemn the cheerleaders of violence.

Posted by James at August 3, 2006 10:59 AM
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THE BATTLE FOR LEBANON From the New Yorker:

“Even after 9/11, there is this expectation in the U.S. and Israel that some unspoken middle class is just sitting there waiting to inherit the ruins of whatever country it is that they are obliterating. But there is no calculation that, if they flatten Lebanon and Nasrallah comes out of hiding and is given a microphone to deliver a speech, he can topple governments. He has been extraordinarily empowered by this. Israel and America are still obsessed with destroying hardware. But if you do this with Hezbollah you just propagate what you want to destroy”—that is, an unmoored fighting force. “Do I want to live under Hezbollah?,” he said. “No, I don’t. But the same errors that the Americans made in Iraq are the ones being made here. You get rid of Nasrallah not by destroying his guns but by helping to create a sustainable society.”

Mroue went on, “In the beginning, in the eighties, Hezbollah controlled the night, but by 2000 it controlled the day, even as the Israeli soldiers were huddled in their bunkers.” He said that it was unfair to ask Lebanon’s fragile government to do what the Israelis couldn’t in their eighteen-year occupation. “Do you want to use a sledgehammer? Well, do you remember the Israeli minister who compared Arabs to lice? Try hitting lice with a sledgehammer!”

Mroue sipped his whiskey and said, “Hezbollah will most likely come out of this with its infrastructure shattered, but then comes the soapbox with the highly cerebral underdog—Nasrallah—and there will be a camera crew there from CNN or Al Arabiya, and he will go on camera and say ‘Do this,’ and people will.”

And the stuff later in the article from the civilians who support Hezbollah really bothers me.

Posted by: James at August 3, 2006 3:45 PM

These are excellent points James. I wish I could make them so eloquently!

You don't defeat terrorism by perpetuating a cycle of violence. You simply create more terrorism and violence.

Posted by: Keri at August 3, 2006 6:53 PM

Well, now.

1. I'd hazard to guess that there are a lot -- a LOT -- more "cheerleaders for violence" rooting for Hezbollah in the Middle East than you'll find on conservative talk radio in America.

2. One of the difficulties (I won't say failure, not yet) that the U.S. caused by not going into Iraq was that it has made it impossible to go into the Bekaa Valley and take on Hezbollah. Having Israel do it causes all sorts of political problems, not least because it encourages the other Arab states to rally 'round the flag. I think you're right in saying that Hezbollah benefits politically by hunkering down in the short term, and if it survives, in the long term in terms of recruiting and whatnot.

3. This makes it exceedingly important for Israel to succeed in smashing the living cheese out of Hezbollah. This is going to be messy, and it is going to require (among other things) the deaths of children in Lebanon - not least because Hezbollah uses children as human shields. It is obscene that Israel must kill Lebanese children so that Israeli children can live in peace - but it's more obscene that Hezbollah be left to its evil strategy.

4. As far as "disproportional" goes, phooey. Israel is obliged to use the maximum force necessary to deal with the threat. If you want to punch someone in the nose, you aim for the back of his head. The real danger for Israel is not using "disproportional" force but in not using enough to finish the job. (And does anyone doubt that if Hezbollah had a tenth of the firepower Israel has, that it would have used it already to destroy Tel Aviv?)

Having said all that, at least you're honest about your attitudes towards violence, and willing to be fair towards Israel by condeming Hezbollah. If the anti-war Left in this country would take the time and reserve one-hundredth of their vitriol against GWB and direct it towards Hezbollah, well, you could knock me over with a feather.

Posted by: Northbound at August 3, 2006 9:55 PM

I applaud this well thought out and well said post, JP. Thank you.

Posted by: Leslie at August 4, 2006 12:07 AM

Northbound seems to want Israel - and the US - to use the maximum force possible. I agree that this has the most chance for temporary success - Hitler used it, as have other vicious dictators, acting without conscience. And, they achieved temporary success this way.

Similarly, if we abandoned everything that is right and good about the US, we could bring about a temporary victory in Iraq - and lose our heart and soul. And Israel, while losing what is good and decent about it, can destroy Hezbolah - for the moment. The sad part is that Hezbollah figured this out and goaded Israel into an attack which Hezbollah knew could only result in civilian deaths that would turn public opinion in their favor and against Israel. It was a vicious, heartless strategy that worked only because Israel (with encouragment from the US) fell for it.

Northbound is extremely generous with the lives of Lebanese children. Of course Hezbollah is using them as human shields. Of course this is despicable. So figure out how to deal with the problem because simply saying some children will have to die is neither moral nor brave. Hezbollah has to be exposed to the world as the vicious entity that it is - instead Israel, through its actions, is turning these vicious killers into heroic patriots, the same way George Bush and company turned the murderers of 9/11 into heroic "warriors". They were common criminals and should have been regarded as such. By declaring "war" on them we elevated them to a status they did not deserve and played right into their hands.

We're still living inthe old paradigm of war against foreign governments over territory and resources. This is not a battle for land. It is not a battle for oil. It is a battle for the hearts and minds of people and until we understand that and start with that premise, the US and Israel will continue to try to solve the problem in such a way that makes it worse. We will do the work of the enemy for them.

Northbound also seems concerned that liberals don't condemn Hezbolah loudly enough, but instead attack George Bush. I agree, Bush isn't the real problem. He's just a symbol of a sick way of thinking that has been proven over and over again not to work, yet is subscribed too my millions of Americans.

Does Hezbolah and Osama bin Laden and the current president of Iran represent that sick way of thinking as well? You bet. You have to be a flaming idiot not to recognize that they do. Why is it so hard for those on the right to understand this? I'm sick and tired of those on the right seeming to think that just because I don't agree with the actions of our current administration, I somehow favor the actions of terroists. This is so silly I can't believe I'm needing to say it. Killing innocent people is wrong. Period. Dropping random rockets into Israel is wrong. Flying planes into skyscrapers is wrong. Getting all excited about "shock and awe" in Iraq is wrong. Killing innocent children in Afghanistan is wrong. (I know - you can argue that wasn't our goal. That was accidental. I agree. But that only moves it up to the category of manslaughter. It's still wrong. But if you want to say that America is better than Osama bin Laden et al, you're right. We are a lot better. But we need to be much better still if we are going to win this battle for hearts and minds. We have the capability of being much better and I have a voice here, whereas I don't have a voice that will be heard by Hezbollah. To rail against them won't do me any good. They are not acting on my behalf and they are not going to listen to me.

We happen to be living in the United States and this happens to be a democracy and we have a small prayer of influencing it.

Ranting against Hezbollah is ranting against the painfully obvious. These people have developed an entirely vicious way to win the hearts and minds of others by throwing darts at Israel and provoking Israel to attack them - and thus falling for the strategy of human shields. I can think of no more dspicable, nor cowardly policy than this.


But why should we be suckered into playing their game and helping them recruit more misguided, desperate people to their cause? When we do this we simply damage ourselves. The whole so-called "war on terror" simply plays right into the hands of the terrorists. We should have known that on 9/12, but we were too emotionally distraught to see it. Now, however, we are far enough removed from that event so we should at least see that what we have done has simply run scared, giving the terrorists everything they could possibly wish for from their despicable actions. And Israel is just following suit. They are making the same mistake we made in Iraq.


Posted by: Greg at August 4, 2006 6:14 AM
Northbound writes:
1. I'd hazard to guess that there are a lot -- a LOT -- more "cheerleaders for violence" rooting for Hezbollah in the Middle East than you'll find on conservative talk radio in America.

Yes that would be a guess. And it is indeed hazardous. There are no hard and fast numbers to compare how many conservative Americans are ardently supporting Israel attacking Lebanon with how many Middle Easterners are ardently supporting Hezbollah attacking Israel.

This article's closing condemnation of the "cheerleaders of violence" is surely a condemnation of *all* cheerleaders of violence whether they be on American conservative talk radio, or Egyptian anti-semtic talk radio, or whatever. Raising the point that "hey there are a bunch of people over there who are doing this too" does not [a] validate or excuse the behavior (two wrongs don't make a right, etc) or [b] invalidate the article. So why bring it up?

Northbound writes:
2. One of the difficulties (I won't say failure, not yet) that the U.S. caused by not going into Iraq was that it has made it impossible to go into the Bekaa Valley and take on Hezbollah...

By not going into Iraq? I assume you meant, "by going into Iraq". I further assume that what you mean by this statement is that if the US had not sent ground forces into Iraq in 2003, then it would be more politically/diplomatically feasible to send US forces into the Beqaa Valley in 2006. I will not dispute this point for now.

As to whether or not the US occupation of Iraq constitutes a failure, that's another discussion.

Northbound writes:
3. This makes it exceedingly important for Israel to succeed in smashing the living cheese out of Hezbollah. This is going to be messy, and it is going to require (among other things) the deaths of children in Lebanon - not least because Hezbollah uses children as human shields. It is obscene that Israel must kill Lebanese children so that Israeli children can live in peace - but it's more obscene that Hezbollah be left to its evil strategy.

The ends justify the means? Lebanese children must die so that Israeli children won't die? Or is the contention that Hezbolla will stop killing Israeli children once Israel kills enough Lebanese children?

Consider, the active fighting force of Hezbollah is estimated to be between 600 and 1000 people, with up to 5000 more available, and perhaps a further 10000 as reservists. The population of Lebanon is approximately 3.8 million people.

If Hezbollah puts a rocket launcher on the roof of a residential building, and launches a volley at Israel, in response to which Israel blows up the building you end up with dozens of dead innocents, and 2-3 dead fighters. Saying that Hezbollah is responsible is all well and good, but the families of those dead innocents aren't likely to see it that way. They're more likely to say "who bombed my brother's house", and then go seeking revenge.

Israel is not defeating Hezbollah by blowing up residential buildings. They are being manipulated by Hezbollah. Those 3 dead fighters are an investment which will result in hundreds if not thousands of Lebanese people who will be pissed off at Israel.

That said, there's no doubt that it is a monstrous situation, and that Hezbollah are essentially a band of thugs acting in the interests of Syria and Iran, and that the claim that Chebaa is a Lebanese territory is only important to Hezbollah as an excuse to attack Israel.

Chebaa is part of the (Syrian) Golan Heights until Lebanon and Syria reach an accord on the matter (which they did in 1964, essentially agreeing that it should be part of Lebanon), and then ACT on that accord (which they have never done.) All that has to happen is for Syria and Lebanon to jointly go to the UN and say that Chebaa is now formally a Lebanese territory. Lebanon would probably be happy to do so, Syria will not.

Why? Because then if Israel withdrew from Chebaa there would be no dispute and Israel could negotiate a peace deal with Lebanon. Hezbollah would not be able to claim that Israel still occupies Lebanon, which would take away what others might view as a legitimate reason for Hezbollah to keep attacking Israel.

As it is, from the perspective of the UN, Chebaa is Syrian territory, and Israel is not going to withdraw from occupied Syrian territory as long as Syria seeks to destroy Israel.

As far as the confusion over who owns the Chebaa Farms, blame the French for effing up the border demarcations.

Northbound writes:
4. As far as "disproportional" goes, phooey. Israel is obliged to use the maximum force necessary to deal with the threat...

"Maximum force necessary" is an oxymoronic statement. When speaking of what is necessary, one is always referring to minimums, not maximums. What is the minimum money necessary to purchase a $200 DVD player? $200. What is the maximum money necessary to purchase a $200 DVD player? The question has no meaning?

The maximum force necessary to deal with the threat could be anything from surgical strikes, to special forces operations, to nuking Lebanon, to detonating the Earth.

Northbound writes:
If you want to punch someone in the nose, you aim for the back of his head...

I'm sick of these silly analogies. Although I agree that any military reaction should be stronger than the action it is in response to, let's get real here. There's a big difference between punching somebody in the nose by aiming for the back of his head, and destroying a rocket launcher by blowing up the building full of children it is sitting on top of. Your analogy, expressed in terms appropriate to the current situation, would be "If you want to punch somebody in the nose, you punch everybody in the same room as him in the nose." That's what is meant by disproportionate.

Consider... sustained fire from miniguns or a few grenades could disable a rocket launcher and kill the crew manning it, so why blow up the building with a bomb or cruise missile? Well obviously to avoid casualties among your own forces. You can't send in a helicopter to eliminate the threat because a helicopter would be too easy to shoot down.

Relative values:
(building full of innocent Lebanese children) (building full of innocent Lebanese children) (building full of innocent Lebanese children)

That's the problem with disproportionate responses. When is it acceptable to blow up a building full of innocent people? AFAIC the answer is "never".

Northbound writes:
...The real danger for Israel is not using "disproportional" force but in not using enough to finish the job...

Finish the job? They occupied the freaking country for 20 odd years and "the job" still isn't finished. Is it even remotely possible that maybe blowing up 20 innocent Lebanese civilians to kill 1 Hezbollah terrorist isn't actually going to solve the problem?

If you don't believe there is such a thing as a "disproportionate response" why not just nuke Lebanon into nonexistence? Then there would absolutely be no Hezbollah... a force of 16000 destroyed at the cost of 3.8 million Lebanese people.

Israel has a right to defend itself, and I think Israel needs to attack Hezbollah. But I think Israel as a civilized nation has to do a better job of minimizing civilian casualties. (And spare me the no-duh reminder that Hezbollah deliberately targets civilians.)

Northbound writes:
... (And does anyone doubt that if Hezbollah had a tenth of the firepower Israel has, that it would have used it already to destroy Tel Aviv?)

Hmm. Maybe they would have. Hey I have an idea, why don't we stop arguing about hypotheticals and stick to what actually HAS happened? Especially since no matter how bad Hezbollah is, that doesn't make killing innocent civilians to get at them any better.

Northbound writes:
Having said all that, at least you're honest about your attitudes towards violence, and willing to be fair towards Israel by condeming Hezbollah. If the anti-war Left in this country would take the time and reserve one-hundredth of their vitriol against GWB and direct it towards Hezbollah, well, you could knock me over with a feather.

Bah. What utter nonsense. I know a lot of liberals and I don't know ANYBODY who thinks Hezbollah is a sunny bunch of swell guys who should be entitled to wipe Israel off the map. Spare me this typical partisan bullshit.

As far as the Bush-loving comment goes, it takes somewhat less than an OUNCE of critical thinking to realize that GWB is an abysmal president. His father was a FAR better president, and Reagan better still. I as a liberal Democrat would prefer Bush Senior or Reagan in office to Bush Junior any day of the week and twice on Sunday. Rallying to an incompetent C-in-C does *not* do this nation any good.

Probably the best thing to happen to Hezbollah was the US invasion of Iraq. Anything that strengthens Iran is good for Hezbollah. In our bid to supposedly "fight Muslim extremism" we attacked the only secular nation in the region and turned it into a ripe ground for terrorist recruitment. All post-invasion investigations made shockingly clear that the containment policy maintained under the Bush Senior and Clinton administrations WORKED (particularly operation Desert Fox.) So again, spare me.

Posted by: Chuck S. at August 4, 2006 9:53 AM
Chuck S. writes
Relative values: (building full of innocent Lebanese children) (building full of innocent Lebanese children) (building full of innocent Lebanese children)

Wow that made no sense. Note to self, do not use the "less than" symbol when writing in HTML. Here's how that should have read:

Relative values:
* (building full of innocent Lebanese children) is worth less than (my helicopter and its crew)
* (building full of innocent Lebanese children) is worth less than (removing that rocket launcher on the roof)
* (building full of innocent Lebanese children) is worth less than (building full of innocent Israeli children)

Posted by: Chuck S. at August 4, 2006 10:03 AM

To clarify: yes, I condemn all the cheerleaders of violence.

I want the violence to end. I want what isn't working -- this sort of communicable killing disease -- to stop. But I think the piece pretty much speaks for itself.

Cheers, all, and thanks for reading and commenting.

Posted by: James at August 4, 2006 10:37 AM

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