Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Israel Flotilla Panel Shows Some Spine

After the presiding judge threatened to resign his post, Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu looks set to broaden the commission's mandate, "including the authority to subpoena any witnesses or evidence it requires and to take testimony under oath." The new mandate is supposedly akin to the powers possessed by the panel that investigated Israel's behavior in the Second Lebanon War.

Of course, it won't matter. I'm convinced that the panel will level some relatively harsh criticism at the operational quality of the flotilla incident, but will uphold the legality of the raid itself and the blockade generally. And no matter how independent or objective that decision is -- indeed, regardless of whether that ruling is, as a matter of law, correct -- it will be raked over the coals by folks for whom an "investigation" is only worthwhile if it leads to a guilty verdict.

21 comments:

joe said...

I guess my question to you, insofar as you're talking about a ruling on the legality of the raid and especially the blockade, is why such a commission is due any particular deference outside the legal system of which it is a product. How is it uniquely positioned to make those calls? On fact-finding matters, sure, it has a lot of resources at its disposal for amassing and sorting evidence. But on legal matters? Come on, you're not afraid to disagree when you think the Supreme Court gets it wrong -- and SCOTUS is the ultimate arbiter of US law; by contrast this commission isn't the ultimate arbiter of international law, and I'd be surprised if it even has final say on Israeli law. And beyond even the law, there are moral matters.

That isn't to say it can't reach the correct judgment, whatever that is (which I hope would be an end in and of itself and matter regardless of whether it is embraced by all parties). But it's not surprising that people who disagree with the decision will find fault with the process.

So this all seems a very roundabout way of you some "folks" are unfair to Israel. And because they're unfair, they won't be fair. It seems tautological.

at the edge said...

By initiatng this commission, Netanyahu shows himself to cower before the muzlim-in-chief at the White House. What need was there for an investigation of this affair in the first place? He's playing up to the liberal leftists in the country. Unfortunately they've infested much of the high ground, and Bibi is one of them.

N. Friedman said...

David,

I agree with Joe. While I have no reason to doubt the legality of the blockade, there is no reason that anyone, other than Israelis and those who view the Israelis in a positive light, should care what the Israelis think.

On the other hand, the imposition of the International "community" into this matter is pretty shameful. Information that has come out about the flotilla shows pretty clearly that it was not - whatever the more "saintly" people among those who participated thought - intended to advance a humanitarian cause but, instead, to use the cover of humanitarianism in the service of Hamas - a party that openly advocates genocide and that is the child of a movement that has origins tied closely to the Nazi movement - and with portions of the Hamas covenant coming directly out of Nazi propaganda.

The Obama administration, for reasons that are squarely against US long term and, likely, even short term interest, sees it fine to play with fire - appeasing world opinion that, for whatever reason, thinks it expedient to turn helping Hamas into a humanitarian cause, which it certainly is not.

While the rhetoric of "at the edge" makes no sense, his conclusion that the Israeli ought not play along with the charade is not a stupid one. Clearly, the Israelis think there is something to get out of going along with Obama (while holding its breadth from the stench of Obama's misplaced priorities) but, thus far, the Israelis have nothing to show for its appeasement of Obama and the US has nothing to show for its appeasement of short-sighted and stupid International "community." I use quotation marks not to signal political affinity with those who disparage the idea of such a "community" but to express my disgust with its position including its demonization of Israel.

joe said...

N., I'd say both Israel and the U.S. (and every other state) tailor their actions towards the accrual of soft power. Which may or may not be worth very much, but it's not nothing. As a rule states are at least psuedo-rational actors.

N. Friedman said...

Joe,

Soft power is fine with me. I am not sure how that helps here but I certainly prefer negotiations, leverage, horse trading, etc., to people getting killed.

I have another book to recommend to you. I know you do not like my reading lists but, having more free time in this stage of my life than you have, I read a lot of books. This one has some applicability to your soft power notion.

The book is The Strong Horse: Power, Politics, and the Clash of Arab Civilizations by Lee Smith. The book is about how politics works in the Arab regions. His contention is that the politics of the Arab region, from those in power to those in opposition, is dominated, with few exceptions, by eliminationism, whether in a pan-Arab, pan-Islamic, Islamist or strong man variety of politics. The only real exception to this are the true liberals, who have only a small following and even less influence. His book suggests that, whatever role soft power plays in the region, it is not a very big one and is, when it tried, interpreted differently than it is normally intended.

I am not opposed to soft power. I merely note that it is difficult to apply it in a region in which, if Smith is correct (or even 1/4 correct), notions about politics and what is acceptable in politics are near opposites.

N. Friedman said...

Correction:

Strike: "I am not opposed to soft power. I merely note that it is difficult to apply it in a region in which, if Smith is correct (or even 1/4 correct), notions about politics and what is acceptable in politics are near opposites."

Substitute:

I am not opposed to soft power. I merely note that it is difficult to apply it in a region in which, if Smith is correct (or even 1/4 correct), notions about politics and what is acceptable in politics are near opposites of what understand them to be.

joe said...

I'm familiar with Lee Smith from his writings for Slate. I'm not a fan.

What the argument you describe boils down to is basically setting up the Other as alien in motivation. I don't hold to that. I think people generally want the same things and are wired the same way. That doesn't mean harmonious coexistence, because people tend to want the exact same thing (power, resources, territory, etc.) and not want to share.

Also, note well that soft power goes way beyond negotiation or horse trading between heads of state. A state seeking to bolster its standing among the world community (or world "community," if you prefer) is engaging in a PR campaign, not merely direct talks. And in quantifying the payoff of these efforts, it's important to note how low-cost the efforts actually are. So Israel launches a commission, or the US weighs in against settlement expansion. In the big picture, what did they give up?

N. Friedman said...

Joe,

Smith has written a really good book. You can say, I disagree with his conclusions from the book but, frankly, his evidence is evidence that you can and should examine. They tend to place a question mark over your understanding of human nature, about which more below.

I also think people are people and they do basically want many similar things. And, they certainly need the same things. We all need food, shelter, clothing, etc.

On the other hand, there are things that people do not have in common and preferences substantially that vary from group to group. To deny that is to lie.

Many of these differences are differences derived from history, from religion, from culture, from geography, etc., etc. The Middle East - and this is a fact - has a tribal culture. A substantial portion of the Muslim regions has a tribal culture. And, the tribal understanding of politics is, whether or not you want to believe it, substantially different from the non-tribal, present day Western understanding of politics. That is a fact, Joe, whether or not you accept it.

It is also a fact that the various Arab governments deal with those they govern little differently than the lunatic religious fringe deals with its enemies. That is a fact, again, whether or not you choose to accept it. Mr. Mubarak dealt with the Islamist uprising by tactics that are brutal and violent beyond imagination. The same for Mr. Assad, burying the town of Hama and its population. The same with Iraq. These are facts.

Mr. Smith attempts to place the Islamist milieu within its world and notes that it is no more brutal and absolute in it aims than the other "isms" that operate in the Arab regions. His contention is that they are all eliminationist, with the exception of the liberal faction. That may or many not be a correct assessment of the facts he presents. But, his evidence is substantial.

The proposition that all parts of the world operate the same way is not only one that would need some evidence but, in fact, is contradicted by substantial differences - e.g. the existence of a tribal culture.

joe said...

Tribal culture-- so what? That's a layer of non-state actors.

Strongman politics? Okay, nothing we haven't seen from Soviet Union.

I categorically reject the notion that political water flows downhill in the rest of the world but it flows uphill in the Middle East. What, did a genie come along and change the fabric of reality?

N. Friedman said...

Joe,

You are making a strawman argument. Water does not flow uphill. So what?

I shall address your view that politics is the same everywhere by describing how society has changed in our own part of the world, in this case about war. War, before WWI, was mostly seen as a noble thing in the West and in the US. Politicians in the US spoke of going to war to help the moral spirit of the nation. Such was the case into 20th Century. Read Howard Zinn's People's History or read a competent history of the US to confirm that such is the case.

In the West, you rarely hear that sentiment any more. If you read Barbara Tuchman's brilliant book, The Proud Tower, about pre-WWI Europe, you will see that the world she describes - carefully describes - came to a screeching end in August of 1914. Attitudes in the West changed dramatically and have not returned to their pre-WWI viewpoint.

In other parts of the world which have different histories, war is still viewed as a glorious, desirable thing, one which can gather adoring crowds who proclaim their desire to go to war. Before, for example, the Six Day War in 1967, there were throngs and throngs of adoring crowds listening to Nasser speak to the glory of war and to exterminating his country's enemy. The crowds cheered and cheered and cheered and shouted their desire to go to war, as was widely reported at the time. In the West in 2003, Mr. Bush's stupid war in Iraq - no less a folly than Mr. Nasser's war against Israel - was met with throngs and throngs of people. There were cheers - but not for war but against it. One would have a difficult time in the West getting people to parade about the idea of going to war to vanquish people.

The issue that distinguishes these initial public appraisals was not the righteousness of the wars. There is no war I can think of for which Americans would march to promote. War is something that, in the West, may be viewed as being necessary (in some rare cases) but it is seldom viewed as glorious, noble or desirable - contrary to the common pre-WWI view.

So, when you say that politics is basically the same everywhere, that is, to be blunt, false and demonstrably so. The Japanese during the WWII era were willing not merely to die to defend their homes but also to enlarge the Emperor's realm. People willingly flew planes into ships - with the mission being planned that way. Go to Japan today. See where you can find the multitude which relishes in war or who would willing go on a kamikaze raid. You can't and they won't.

Turning to the main point: Tribal society simply works different than consensual society. That is a fact, Joe, whether or not you want to believe it. This has been carefully studied by anthropologists and historians. The politics is different because the attitude of people in such societies is different.

Before dismissing what is demonstrable so, pick up a book on tribal society.

N. Friedman said...

Joe,

You are making a strawman argument. Water does not flow uphill. So what?

If you read history - a favorite pastime of mine -, you will note that attitudes have dramatically shifted in some parts of the world over time. War, before WWI, was mostly seen as a noble thing in the West and in the US. Politicians in the US spoke of going to war to help the moral spirit of the nation. Read Howard Zinn's People's History or read a more competent history of the US.

In the West, you rarely hear that sentiment any more. If you read Barbara Tuchman's brilliant book, The Proud Tower, about pre-WWI Europe, you will see that the world she describes - carefully describes - came to a screeching end in August of 1914. Attitudes in the West changed dramatically and have not returned to their pre-WWI viewpoint.

In other parts of the world which have different histories, war is still viewed as a glorious, desirable thing, one which can gather adoring crowds. Before, for example, the Six Day War in 1967, there were throngs and throngs of people listening to Nasser speak to the glory of war and to exterminating his country's enemy. The crowds cheered and cheered and cheered, as has been widely reported. In the West in 2003, Mr. Bush's stupid war in Iraq - no less a folly than Mr. Nasser's war against Israel - was met with throngs and throngs of people. There were cheers - but not for war. One would have a difficult time in the West getting people to parade about the idea of going to war to vanquish people.

The issue that distinguishes these initial public appraisals was not the righteousness of any war. There is no war I can think of for which Americans would march to promote. War is something that, in the West, may be viewed as necessary but it is seldom viewed as glorious, noble or desirable - which was the case before WWI.

So, when you say that politics is basically the same everywhere, that is, to be blunt, false and demonstrably so. The Japanese during the WWII era were willing not merely to die to defend their homes but to enlarge the Emperor's realm. People willingly flew planes into ships - with the mission being planned that way. Go to Japan today. See where you can find the multitude which relishes in war or who would willing go on a kamikaze raid. You can't and they won't.

Tribal society simply works different than consensual society. That is a fact, Joe, whether or not you want to believe it. This has been carefully studied by anthropologists and historians. The politics is different because the societies are different.

Before dismissing what is demonstrable so, pick up a book on tribal society.

N. Friedman said...

Joe,

You are making a strawman argument. Water does not flow uphill. So what?

If you read history - a favorite pastime of mine -, you will note that attitudes have dramatically shifted in some parts of the world over time. War, before WWI, was mostly seen as a noble thing in the West and in the US. Politicians in the US spoke of going to war to help the moral spirit of the nation. Read Howard Zinn's People's History or read a more competent history of the US.

In the West, you rarely hear that sentiment any more. If you read Barbara Tuchman's brilliant book, The Proud Tower, about pre-WWI Europe, you will see that the world she describes - carefully describes - came to a screeching end in August of 1914. Attitudes in the West changed dramatically and have not returned to their pre-WWI viewpoint.

In other parts of the world which have different histories, war is still viewed as a glorious, desirable thing, one which can gather adoring crowds. Before, for example, the Six Day War in 1967, there were throngs and throngs of people listening to Nasser speak to the glory of war and to exterminating his country's enemy. The crowds cheered and cheered and cheered, as has been widely reported. In the West in 2003, Mr. Bush's stupid war in Iraq - no less a folly than Mr. Nasser's war against Israel - was met with throngs and throngs of people. There were cheers - but not for war. One would have a difficult time in the West getting people to parade about the idea of going to war to vanquish people.

The issue that distinguishes these initial public appraisals was not the righteousness of any war. There is no war I can think of for which Americans would march to promote. War is something that, in the West, may be viewed as necessary but it is seldom viewed as glorious, noble or desirable - which was the case before WWI.

So, when you say that politics is basically the same everywhere, that is, to be blunt, false and demonstrably so. The Japanese during the WWII era were willing not merely to die to defend their homes but to enlarge the Emperor's realm. People willingly flew planes into ships - with the mission being planned that way. Go to Japan today. See where you can find the multitude which relishes in war or who would willing go on a kamikaze raid. You can't and they won't.

Tribal society simply works different than consensual society. That is a fact, Joe, whether or not you want to believe it. This has been carefully studied by anthropologists and historians. The politics is different because the societies are different.

Before dismissing what is demonstrable so, pick up a book on tribal society.

N. Friedman said...

Joe,

You are making a strawman argument. Water does not flow uphill. So what?

If you read history - a favorite pastime of mine -, you will note that attitudes have dramatically shifted in some parts of the world over time. War, before WWI, was mostly seen as a noble thing in the West and in the US. Politicians in the US spoke of going to war to help the moral spirit of the nation. Read Howard Zinn's People's History or read a more competent history of the US.

In the West, you rarely hear that sentiment any more. If you read Barbara Tuchman's brilliant book, The Proud Tower, about pre-WWI Europe, you will see that the world she describes - carefully describes - came to a screeching end in August of 1914. Attitudes in the West changed dramatically and have not returned to their pre-WWI viewpoint.

In other parts of the world which have different histories, war is still viewed as a glorious, desirable thing, one which can gather adoring crowds. Before, for example, the Six Day War in 1967, there were throngs and throngs of people listening to Nasser speak to the glory of war and to exterminating his country's enemy. The crowds cheered and cheered and cheered, as has been widely reported. In the West in 2003, Mr. Bush's stupid war in Iraq - no less a folly than Mr. Nasser's war against Israel - was met with throngs and throngs of people. There were cheers - but not for war. One would have a difficult time in the West getting people to parade about the idea of going to war to vanquish people.

The issue that distinguishes these initial public appraisals was not the righteousness of any war. There is no war I can think of for which Americans would march to promote. War is something that, in the West, may be viewed as necessary but it is seldom viewed as glorious, noble or desirable - which was the case before WWI.

So, when you say that politics is basically the same everywhere, that is, to be blunt, false and demonstrably so. The Japanese during the WWII era were willing not merely to die to defend their homes but to enlarge the Emperor's realm. People willingly flew planes into ships - with the mission being planned that way. Go to Japan today. See where you can find the multitude which relishes in war or who would willing go on a kamikaze raid. You can't and they won't.

Tribal society simply works different than consensual society. That is a fact, Joe, whether or not you want to believe it. This has been carefully studied by anthropologists and historians. The politics is different because the societies are different.

Before dismissing what is demonstrable so, pick up a book on tribal society.

joe said...

Look at our movies. We as a society still love war. (And as for our leaders' feelings on armed conflict, you've heard the term wag the dog, right?)

We just hate losing and hate paying taxes and hate personal discomfort as individuals (other people's self sacrifice is fine, though; we'll throw 'em a parade).

N. Friedman said...

Joe,

Loving war movies is quite different from thinking war is a noble institution. Again, we had politicians at one time which thought that we should go to war in order to instill moral virtues in the US. Do you think that is an idea which has resonance in the US today?

joe said...

Yes, give or take. We hold our soldiers up as high moral exemplars, don't we? We give tribute to the "Greatest Generation" that fought our biggest war. We say that was a simpler time, people learned the value of shared sacrifice, war shaped up the economy, etc. And we engage in wars of choice. So the Gulliver's-eye-view picks up some very striking similarities.

N. Friedman said...

Joe,

There are still wars and politicians still support them. I never said otherwise - in fact, I said that such is the case. I said that attitudes about war have changed dramatically, which means that politics relating to war have changed dramatically.

In Pakistan - and see Bernard-Henri Lévy book, Who Killed Daniel Pearl? as confirmation on this point -, prayers are regularly said in mosque for the country having nuclear weapons. Ever been to a church or synagogue where there are prayers said for the bomb? Are there prayers said for J. Robert Oppenheimer? In Pakistan, there are prayers regularly said in mosque for the nuclear "hero" A Q Khan. And, the prayers are not to celebrate him as a scientific leader but to celebrate that he built the "Islamic" bomb.

I should note: this is not what I am referring to when I speak of how the West is different from the Arab regions - although it is one element of it. I am referring, instead, to tribalism. Tribal societies do work according to rules. There is a politics and it can be understood. However, the rules differ from those in a Western political setting. Which is to say, one's loyalty is to one's family, then one's clan, one tribe and so on. Levels of the tribal system face off against each other and there is a balance of terror, with the question being often whether to bring in a higher tribal level to counter a violent incident. The tribe sets the overall rules of politics, not the national government, except to the extent that it is treated as being a national tribe. So, there are constant blood feuds - like the McCoys and Hatfield as mythologized in the US - with war being seen as a part, often a desirable part, of life.

You might read Ayaan Hirsi Ali's well known book, Infidel, in which she describes, in the early part of the book, the importance of tribalism in Somalia, as it impacted on her life. As she notes, it was the very first thing a person in her country is taught, with a requirement to learn all levels of the tribe, by memorizing their dozens of names - just in case. It saved her life.

Or, you can read anthropological research into tribalism in the Islamic regions. There are good studies at the technical level. Would you like a reading list?

Of course, we can do things your way and assume that all things are the same everywhere. No need to read. No need to study how cultures differ. Instead, we should assume that everyone thinks about things the same way, with the differences being akin to the differences between ordering pizza or tacos.

joe said...

I'd say in the West, where it is implicitly acknowledged that war is the continuation of diplomacy by other means, we also see was as a part of life. And any war of choice must be, on some level, "desirable."

As to your nuclear bomb example, couple'a things. One, you might be surprised at the kinds of things you'll hear in some American churches. Second, I bet a bunch of people pray for "national security" or some variation of that concept. And our political system has determined that the bomb is a crucial element of that security. You've heard of "Thank God for the Atom Bomb," yes? Just because we usually keep it in the abstract rather than granting sainthood to Oppenheimer doesn't mean there aren't parallels. Further, every nuclear state implicitly holds hostage the civilians of its rivals. That may be rational, it may even be just compared the results of a different course of action, but we should all have no illusions that this is what's going on. So frankly, Westerners complaining that some nation of brown people is trying to acquire the same weapons we take for granted is the very model of "Do as I say, not as I do." It may serve our interests to maintain the status quo balance of power, but it's not surprising that others have a conflicting interest.

As for tribal politics, do you really see no similarity in American society? Did I miss the memo where we set aside all of our political difference rooted in race, ethnicity, religion, and sexuality?

Your last paragraph is pure straw man. Of course we should study other cultures. But just because people are in a different situation doesn't make them constitutionally dissimilar.

N. Friedman said...

Joe,

I find my self wondering why you write what you write.

About war: to repeat, I did not say that war is something that has disappeared from our society. I said it is not something for which crowds in the West cheer to start. Yes, we have parades for our soldiers. Yes, there are movies where soldiers and war are portrayed as being honorable. But, there are no rallies in public where people cheer the idea that we should start a war. No president stands up and say, war is something you and I both want - as Nasser said in 1967 ("The Arabs want war," to adoring crowds who chanted the same.) It does not often occur anymore in the West.

Why is it you think that all societies and civilizations are the same? How can that possibly be true? This is not to say that there are no similarities to be examined. But, historians - at least real ones - look at similarities and differences. On your telling, there are no differences to investigate. Were your theory true, then it would not be necessary for historians to learn the rule - one taught to any serious student of history - that you must, in making an historical comparison, either examine the thing compared diachronically, that is the same institution or culture examined over time (e.g. to see how it has evolved), or synchronically, i.e. two institutions or cultures at the same time (e.g. to see how they are similar and different).

In short, what you write is removed from reality. It is nonsense.

joe said...

Believe it or not, there are such things as pro-war rallies.

As for the rest, yes, if you misinterpret me as saying everyone is the same, I'm just being silly. But that's not what I'm saying. I'm just saying there are operative similarities.

N. Friedman said...

Joe,

I agree that there are operative similarities. However, there are also remarkable differences. A guy like Hafez al-Assad or Saddam Hussein, both of them mass killers of their own citizens were not and are not unusual in the Arab regions of the last five decades. Their Ba'ath movement operated, using the same brutal tactics as the pan-Arab movement, which had its own set of butchers. As does the Islamist movement. All of these movements are the product of the way people in a group of societies think about politics. And, Smith's contention is that such has to do with the history, culture, beliefs and societal structure that produces such movements.

There is thus a very wide distinction between today's Arab regions and today's West - a gulf that is difficult to pierce. It leads people like David astray to the extent that he thinks that polling from, say, the PA and Gaza showing support for settling the dispute means something when the Islamist movement is not on board and is unlikely to be on board with a settlement.

Smith extends his movement back prior to the time that Europe dominated the Arab regions, which is not, in my view, so well supported by his evidence, although the idea of the strong-man leader in that region is, as he says, the norm. However, the modern movements are in many ways strangers to the region, if we go by their historical precedents. The Ba'ath movement, for example, owes a great deal to the fascist and, most particularly, Nazi movements - although, after the demise of the Nazis, the Ba'athist took on a few ideas from the Communist movement - and less to anything native to the Arab regions.

The problem I have with your way of looking at things is that you, by and large, treat that part of the world as if it were like the US, but with more hummus. And, that leads to absurdities such as the way you consider Israel's reaction to its circumstances. You are not alone in this. The Europeans have done the same, not only with the Israelis but with their own relations with the Arab regions. One need only examine the Mediterranean Partnership project (or, its predecessor, although I think it may still exist, Euro-Arab Dialogue project) to understand the unwillingness to face facts - a partnership which is premised on societies sharing an abiding love of human rights but which, because there is money to be made for Europeans, elides the complete absence of human rights throughout the Arab regions - Morocco being a very, very slight exception to the rule in the Arab regions.

Which is to say, I think you need to work in the reality of the Arab regions into your thinking. That region is, intellectually speaking, far removed from our region. People are still people. Politics exists. But, the politics is, to use an American phrase, zero sum and for keeps, with the loser being eliminated entirely along with those who are in the wrong place at the wrong time.