Friday, July 14, 2006

A Modest Proposal

"If Israel proves to be 10 percent better ethically than the rest of the world, it will be 'a light unto the nations.' If it proves to be 25% better, it will bring the Messiah. If it is 50% better, it will be dead." --Irving Greenberg

One of the truly aggravating things about those criticizing Israel for it's recent actions is that there is been virtually no effort to articulate what would be a reasonable response for Israel in this case. Matthew tried to argue that Israel should enter into negotiations with Lebanon, a country with which it has been in a technical state of war with since Israel's inception, has no diplomatic relations with, and, oh yeah, has two ministers and over 20 parliamentarians who are members of Hezbollah. Aside from that--shall I call it fanciful?--suggestion, there has been no counter proposal whatsoever.

So, based on the critiques I've heard so far, I offer the following proposal of my own for an Israeli response. I admit it won't be ideal (nor is the current one), but I am curious if the critics of Israel would find it preferable (not "just" but perhaps "less unjust") to the current set of tactics.

Basically, it runs like this. Israel cease all of its current military operations in Lebanon, and will instead just lob unguided, untargeted missiles randomly into Lebanese territory. This is clearly superior to what they're doing now, where they are running precisely targeted strikes at significant pieces of infrastructure. Hitting important targets, obviously, raises the civilian casualties, because Hezbollah has made a policy of mixing its military equipment and facilities into civilian areas (the goal being to maximize civilian casualties and then turn that into a PR victory. But that could never work...). Presumably, randomly firing off rockets can also cause civilian casualties, but since they could land anywhere (from a busy city street to an unpopulated meadow), the odds are strong that the total death toll and damage will be smaller. And of course, these types of rockets (Qassams and Katayushas, presumably) have far smaller destructive capabilities than conventional Israeli arms, so that also cuts in favor of the "reduced damage" hypothesis. Furthermore, many of Israel's stated goals ("sending a message", for example, or having a deterrent effect) would be served equally as well by random shelling compared to the status quo. And even if not "as well", the fact that Israel can pursue this tact with reduced civilian casualties mandates that they take it, even if it means significantly reduced military efficacy.

The disadvantages to this have already been shown to be irrelevant. Israel would no longer be targeting specific sites of military value (such as airports or military bases or Hezbollah outposts). The corollary, of course, is that Israel could no longer leaflet the targeted areas warning civilians to leave, minimizing the casualties, because they have no idea where the rockets are going to land anymore. But since Israel has gained no points for trying to actually target locations of military significance (indeed, has been criticized since these locales have had a large civilian presence), this is really a small loss compared to the large civilian gain. It would also bear very little connection to getting back the missing soldiers, compared to targeting transportation hubs so that they can't be smuggled out. But as the comments in the previous posts have made clear, the lives of these two men (and their dignity, since they're likely to face torture) is of small utilitarian consequence compared to the civilian damage Israel would be doing (indeed, it's "ethnocentric" to think otherwise!). All told, under the commentary I've received from my previous posts, it would be qualitatively better for Israel to randomly sow terror throughout Lebanon haphazardly, than it is for Israel to actually try and wage its attacks within the laws of war. And since we've had very stringent standards of anything less than perfect being immoral, we can conclude that Israel is not just unwise, but inarguably evil for not pursuing this course.

***

Stepping back into reality for the moment. I have become more and more convinced that there is literally no feasible response by Israel to the current crisis that would be acceptable to a large chunk of the world community. This is not a determination you want me or they to make. It's not that I don't see a moral difference between a targeted military strike and carpet-bombing the entirety of Southern Lebanon. It's just that I'm not convinced the critics do, and if they're going to denounce Israel with equal shrillness regardless of what it does, frustration builds to the breaking point, and it becomes that much easier to disregard even the sane voices advising caution.

In the through-the-looking-glass world we live in, otherwise smart, intelligent people advocate standards of morality which prefer indiscriminate shelling to targeted strikes on targets of military importance (no, they don't say it directly, but it is clearly implicit in the standards they give. And I have yet to see my friend Matt's blog have a decidated "Hezbollah: WTF?" post, or Iran, or Syria). I refuse to abide by those standards.

For the record, should we keep up on this kick of proportionate response meaning body equals body: 12 million people died in the Holocaust. In the conflict that brewed, in part, to save them, an additional 50 million people died, including 25 million civilians. Is that in proportion? Are we to say that World War II was unjust? Or perhaps when confronted with radical evil, with bona fide war, we might have to adjust our standards--not to act inhumanely, but to recognize that civilian casualties are an inevitability of war, and that forcing Israel to constantly be its own Sudetenland is not a strategy, not an option, and not permissible.

8 comments:

Disenchanted Dave said...
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Disenchanted Dave said...

Your points are well-taken. I'm not a military expert, a historian, or a strategist. I don't know what the right response is for Israel. They undoubtedly get far more than their fair share of crap (remember the Jenin "massacre?") and probably do need to respond at least somewhat disproportionately.

But.

You'd have more credibility if you didn't take extreme positions and argue that Israel "obviously" "under any rational standard" "ha[d] to" "immediately" blockade the entire country (land, sea, and air) to save two lives. You weren't arguing from a grand strategy perspective there. You weren't saying that it would help Israel's position in the long run. You weren't saying that it was the only way to preserve Israel's existence. You were simply saying that the civilian costs were irrelevant if two Israeli soldiers were in danger.

I'm not some rabid anti-Israel fanatic. I wrote some stuff about Hezbollah and the Palestinian leadership in another discussion today that was straight Daniel Pipes. But if you fail to provide a real justification for violence, you're not going to convince me it's necessary. I wouldn't be criticizing your moral standards if you had argued the blockade was needed to keep out Iranian arms and briefly mentioned keeping the soldiers safe as a minor side benefit. You said it was "the kicker:" the reason for acting "immediately," and the reason that "any rational standard" would allow the bombings. I think that's unreasonable.

We might not be able to say WWII was unjust, but let's stipulate (as do many historians) that nuclear strikes on Japan were unnecessary to win the war. Can we say those bombings were unjust? (If you're unwilling to stipulate that the first two strikes were unneeded, then what about a hypothetical third one? Would we be allowed to criticize that? There clearly wouldn't have been any military justification for it.) If we can't criticize unjust actions in a "just war," then what justification do we have for criticizing any wartime atrocity?

David Schraub said...

These were my words: "Israel was perfectly justified in hitting these targets immediately under any rational standard."

They don't "have to". They could rationally conclude that doing so would not be in their best interests, or would not be worth the costs in civilian damage. But the choice TO is a justifiable one. And that's the only argument I'm making. I've been trying to emphasize this split, between what I think is the "best" option and the larger range of options I feel are "justified". Firebombing Beirut (just like firebombing Dresden, or nuking Nagasaki) would not be justified. But I think a temporary blockade is arguably necessary under the exigent circumstances presented, and thus Israel wins the question of "justifiability", even it turns out to be "unwise" or not the optimal moral decision.

Elrod said...

Targeting Hezbollah sites is perfectly justified. But why the airport? Israel has attacked the Lebanese people and the Lebanese government by attacking the civilian airport. I still see no justification for the total air blockade of Lebanon. And not only was it immoral, it was unwise. Hezbollah has just become a lot more popular in Lebanon, despite what Anthony Shadid may impute into the words of Walid Jumblatt and others in the government. Instead of isolating Hezbollah, Israel has now created a situation where factions that normally despise Hezbollah are rallying to its defense in the name of Lebanese national honor.

Anonymous said...

Very well said David. It's just infuriating and frustrating listening to these self-righteous leftists who aren't surrounded by vile, fiendish, barbaric genocidal enemies. They simply refuse to take Israel's position into consideration.

Scott said...

Elrod unfortunately for the majority of the people of Lebanon, Hezbollah gets all of it's arms and supplies from Iran via Syria. Israel really has no choice but to cut Hezbollah off from the outside world. No more rockets means no more attacks.

Matthew said...

I don't have any (reliable, anyway)internet access during the weekend, but I felt I'd respond to this since you called me out by name. Generally though, I'll be commenting less on the Israel/Lebanon debacle as neither fo us seems to making any headway.

Anyway:

And I have yet to see my friend Matt's blog have a decidated "Hezbollah: WTF?" post, or Iran, or Syria

I'm fairly certain that, with or without saying it, you know I am against Hezbollah killing Israeli's with rockets. You could deduce that from the Amnesty statement I endorsed which said as much, you could deduce it from my general anti-war/non-violence position. You could deduce it from the fact that I'm a rational person.

But, and this as bluntly as I can put it, I expect better from Israel then we get from terrorist barbarians. But we don't often get better. Last year (Amnesty's count, BTW), some 190 people were killed by the Israeli army in the occupied territories, including 50 children. Palestinian armed groups killed 41 Israelis, including six children.

This should tell us a few things. First is that Palestian armed groups are bad, bad, bad. But secondly, there is something very wrong with an Israeli response to terrorism that claims nearly quadruple the number of lives it purports to protect - that the Israeli army killed more children then the number of lives lost to justify its actions.

After 9/11, how many "Al Queada is so evil" posts were there? And where they were, did they really add to political discourse? Every rational person knows terrorism is wrong. That a political struggle is no injunction to or jsutification for the murder of innocent civilians. But that standard only means something if it cuts both ways, both against terrorists and those who hunt them down.

I'll say it again: the ehtical and political question that is most important in the global discourse on terrorism is not, nor will it ever be, "is terrorism wrong?" The answer, trivially, obviously, is yes. The ethical and political question that matters most right now is "given the existence of terrorism, how can we confront it while still respecting human dignity?" I have been trying to engage the latter question, and if you are seriously reprimanding me for not engaging the former, my answer is this: don't waste my fucking time.

And this David, is where I know we'll disagree, but I really think that in grappling with the second question that you should do some reading on just war theory (Walzer is a good start). Because one of the foundational claims of (most_ theories is exactly what ou don't want to hear: in a just war, the good guys do not always win. I know you think it is unfair to ask Israel to do anything less then what is most efficient in protecting their own civilians. And I agree that a low-level constant of rocket assaults is not an acceptable "baseline" from a security perspective, just as the conditions of social, physical, and economic mobility for Palestians in the occupied territories is by no means an acceptable "baseline" from a humanitarian perspective (and I would hope you agree).

But the idea that Israel's struggle can be invoked to justify the rapidly climbing deaths of civlians in Gaza nd Lebanon is simply wrong. You act as though all out assault is the only answer. But you know (probably better than I) that Israel is home to some of the world's finest special ops and intelligence forces. Could they not conduct the missions of retrieving kidnapped victims or working to strategically disable terrorist networks without so much carnage? Certainly this would not be as fast, maybe not as efficient. But it would be preferable on an ethical level because while being unable tos ave someone is nothing comendable, only casual responsibility is involved. When you actively kill someone, however both casual responsibility and moral responsibility fall squarely on your shoulders. Whcih is why, in a just war, the good guys so rarely get exactly what they want: because what makes them the good guys is that they are not willing to win at all costs.

Matthew said...

And I swear this is my last post on this, but if your only going to read one of these, read the one above it because its more important than this.

"For the record, should we keep up on this kick of proportionate response meaning body equals body: 12 million people died in the Holocaust. In the conflict that brewed, in part, to save them, an additional 50 million people died, including 25 million civilians. Is that in proportion? Are we to say that World War II was unjust? Or perhaps when confronted with radical evil, with bona fide war, we might have to adjust our standards--not to act inhumanely, but to recognize that civilian casualties are an inevitability of war, and that forcing Israel to constantly be its own Sudetenland is not a strategy, not an option, and not permissible."

Calling WWII a war to stop the Holocaust is pretty disingenuous. It became a consideration, but tell me how many countries entered the war to save the Jews, and I'll tell you how many times I've bet on the Cowboys to win the Superbowl. Saying 25 million civilians died to end the holocaust is a lie.

Moreover, I think the stakes were not comprable:

1) The Holocaust was the action of an organized state apparatus. Stopping the state meant stopping the murder. There is no such guarantee with an underground network of non-state actors.

2) The Holcoaust was far more brutal, far more systematic, and far more destructive then any act of terrorism. Had it been allowed to continue, the death toll could have een markedly higher, especially given Hitler's plans to continue the project in the rest of Europe. The history of state genocide since then is truly disturbing. I think a planetary war to show that the international community is unwilling to be complicit in genocide would be worth a significant number of casualties. But again, lets not pretend that WWII was such a war.

I really don't see how you can even compare this situation to WWII or the Holocaust. You're usually very careful to not make the kind of comparisons that trivialize that event by raising its shadow when it is not appropriate. But it seems when the topic of Israel comes its all you can do to stop the comparisons from slipping out.