Dumb Bombs are Sometimes Smart

As we enter the New Year things seem bleak. Little did we know that the bombs would begin to fall so soon after the ball dropped.

Israel’s war against Hamas has been highlighted by images from smart bomb aerial attacks on YouTube. For your eyes only: an IDF strike on a Hamas government complex.

As part of its PR campaign, Israel’s posting a series of videos online to showcase how it uses its smart bombs with the greatest degree of accuracy. The way these smart bombs have been publicized, you’d think they were trying out for American Idol.

Smart bombs alone however are not a convincing argument for war. “Life-saving weaponry” remains as strangely oxy moronic as “army intelligence”.

While it’s imperative to acknowledge Israel’s right to self defense, the question of “how much” force Israel should use is an important one to consider. Even utilitarian arguments are sometimes under-girded by serious ethical considerations. Quantity is often a question of quality, too. (25% of the casualties so far have been civilian)

Though Israel is in its right to defend itself, its ground offensive will in all probability result in heavy casualties. As with the  South Lebanon invasion in 2006, Israel will be marching into enemy territory.  A radicalized civilian body, and terrorist outfits hidden in the narrow souks of Gaza, will probably spell tragedy for Israeli soldiers. And for Gazans? Over 500 have been killed so far–and the death count mounts.

What about proportionality?

Harvard Professor Alan Dershowitz writing in the Wall Street Journal (“Israeli’s Policy is Perfectly ‘Proportionate’”) has this to say:

The claim that Israel has violated the principle of proportionality — by killing more Hamas terrorists than the number of Israeli civilians killed by Hamas rockets — is absurd. …There is no legal equivalence between the deliberate killing of innocent civilians and the deliberate killings of Hamas combatants. Under the laws of war, any number of combatants can be killed to prevent the killing of even one innocent civilian.

His summation:

Until the world recognizes that Hamas is committing three war crimes — targeting Israeli civilians, using Palestinian civilians as human shields, and seeking the destruction of a member state of the United Nations — and that Israel is acting in self-defense and out of military necessity, the conflict will continue.

The problem with Dershowitz’s rendering is that it’s too glib. He overlooks the fact that in targeting the very-congested Gaza Strip, large numbers of civilians are bound to be killed.

Even if Hamas fighters are hiding amongst civilians, Dershowitz’s claim remains a bit of a red herring. Civilians are to be found virtually everywhere in a country with only 60 kilometers of border. Gaza City alone has a million and a half residents. Can smart bombs really minimize damage given the packed-like-sardine nature of the Strip?

There are lots of “ins and outs and what have yous” that need to be addressed. A grad buddy of mine  remarked that history, culture, and social and political inequalities play into any serious analysis of the Israel-Hamas War. To my mind, the argument that “because Israel has not done enough for the Palestinians to redress grievances, Hamas should be allowed to shoot mortars into Israel” surely does not wash. But what of proportionality? Can one quote a line or two of international law, as Dershowitz does, and claim justification for more than a hundred civilians killed under the rubric “collateral damages”.

How about the claim that Israel is actively seeking to undermine the political-economic interests of Palestinians?

If it’s any basis for comparison, West Bank Palestinians under PA leadership have recently had an economic surge. “Israeli and Palestinian officials”, says the Guardian, “report economic growth for the occupied territories of 4-5% and a drop in the unemployment rate of at least three percentage points.” Does Israel then deserve any credit for this uptick in economic prosperity? And if Israel can aid on the economic front, would it be so bold to suggest bilateral political progress is not far away?

Analogizing Israel’s situation to that of Mexico shelling the U.S. on its borders, says my friend, is inappropriate Is it really a fair comparison to say that Hamas, a sovereign power with no control over its borders, no army in place, overseeing an impoverished, highly congested, unemployed and hungry third world population is anything like Mexico? Isn’t it more like the Cherokee rebellion?

The war continues to be conducted from the air. The ground troops are moving in. Defense Minister Barak is on all the major networks plugging the campaign. And the IDF continues to upload aerial photographs onto video sharing sites.

All said, no good faith measure can ever be implemented if the world continues to make moral equivalencies out of the plight of Palestinians. Though it is bad, it is no genocide. No Darfur.  Poor governance, graft,  indoctrination of children, glorification of suicide bombings and a plethora of celebrated martyrdom techniques are reason for pinning a good chunk of the blame on Hamas. The conspiracy goes both ways.

That is the reason dumb bombs are sometimes smart.

*Here are some links to other sites commenting on Israel’s Post Modern War, including My Media Musings, Okie Campaigns, Modern Mitzvoth, Alas A Blog and Pajamas Media.

Ahmadinejad Has a Blog

The official blog of Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinajed is up and running in four languages: Persian, French, Arabic and English. Whether the translations are verifiable only MEMRI knows. For now, web browsers or blog bums can become giddy all over with the knowledge that one of the great demagogues of our times, a man with admiration for the tactics and strategies of old time despots and charlatans, is a member of the cyber cult.

The last couple of weeks in my annual summer doldrums, watching feats of moral equivalency rearing its ugly head in response to the ugliness that has been going on in southern Lebanon and Israel, I could only help but think that  we don’t have enough warring ideologues creeping around the net.

So here we have it–a modern day Saladin meets Hitler–the son of a poor artisan from the sticks who overcame adversity to place 132nd out of 30,000 in state entrance examinations. What we don’t have–because such would undermine rules of concealment–is a transparent web blogger, a man that owns up to some of the most perniciously anti semitic rants of modern times. Ahmedinajed the Populist, preaching from his Friday afternoon pulpit the grand strategy of the Islamic caliphate is not Ahmadinajed Sane Member of the International Order. So it goes.

The only fair response to this budding internet scribe is for our own G. Dubya to drop handlers and sit down for some serious net shmooze. He could set up shop at ‘Transparency Central’. Maybe even embark on a campaign to change that bufoonish image of his as the blundering tex-arcane grammarian. The race of ideas is on as the everpresent hype mongers like to say. And who will win the hearts and minds of cyberspace hinges on this ever necessary fireside chat.

Neighborhood Bully?

  

This one is from a blogger that I’ve linked up to several times in the past. BobFromBrockley questions the strong use of force by the Israeli military in recent weeks, while destroying liberal idols that equate the Jewish State with some sort of fascistic regime. Few on the blogosphere are able to grasp both the nuanced dimensions of Israel’s existential concerns, as well as its more glaring social and political flaws.

From Bob: 

Israel/Lebanon-What About Proportionality?

I suppose I’m going to have to blog about the horrific state of affairs in the Middle East, if only to respond to Adele’s question “what about proportionality?” I guess I’ve got two things to say.

The first is that the way Israel is prosecuting its war in Lebanon and in Gaza is absolutely morally wrong, as well as strategically short-sighted and bad for Israel. It is morally wrong because there must always be a presumption against fighting a war that leads to massive civilian casualties, that kills more innocent families in their homes than it does enemy combatants. This is not to say that a state at war should never kills innocent civilians, but it must minimise these deaths and it must only use methods that lead to this scale of civilian casualties when it is faced by a serious existential threat, such as Israel is not in fact now experiencing.

The strategy only makes sense morally according to a racist moral calculus whereby some lives are worth more than others – whereby Jewish lives are worth more than Arab lives. This moral calculus is obscene.

And it is strategically short-sighted and ultimately bad for Israel because it further alienates Israel – on the Arab street and on the world stage – at a time when Israel could have had the moral high ground, after the kidnappings and rocket strikes by Hamas and Hizbullah. Israel’s status as a rogue state, as a neighbourhood bully, has rarely been so clear. It is the duty of Israel’s friends to demand a stop to this strategy immediately – and not in a couple of weeks.

The second thing I have to say about all this is that, however wrongly Israel is prosecuting this war, it remains the victim here. In the sort of left liberal circles in which I move, there is either ignorance or wilful amnesia about the literally thousands of rockets that Hizbullah and Hamas have been pumping into Israel, about the fact that Hizbullah is not some ragtag bunch of guerrillas but probably the third most effective armed force in the whole Middle East, that Hizbullah is armed to the teeth by Syria and Iran, that Syria and Iran are not peaceful little democracies but highly bellicose and brutal dictatorships. Thus, even if there is no clear and present existential threat to Israel, as long as Hizbullah and Hamas exist (and as long Ba’athism and Shi’ite theocracy exist), the spectre of such a threat continues to haunt the region, and there is no possibility of peace and co-existence.

Israel’s status as a rogue state is so taken for granted in left liberal opinion that the theocratic, inhumane, militaristic – in fact fascist – nature of Hizbullah and Hamas are completely denied. On the far shores of left liberal opinion, in fact, Hizbullah and Hamas are seen as plucky freedom fighters, as the legitimate voice of Arab self-determination, as essentially benign and progressive. It is the duty of truly progressive people to struggle against these malignant myths.

Saudi Arabia Swings Both Ways

Saudi Arabia’s denunciation of the extremist organizations Hizbollah and Hamas this week for thier war against Israel is not unsurprising. Despite the fact that 15 of the 19 hijackers on 9/11 descended from Saudi Arabia, and despite the well-known faustian pact that members of the Saudi government have made with leading anti-American Wahabi radicals throughout the years, Saudi Arabia has everything to gain in denouncing non-state actors like Hamas and Hizbollah.

With a growing, unemployed youth population, restive and attracted to Islamist propaganda encouraged throughout the madrasah system, one can only surmise that Saudi Royalty (of Fahd descent) are worried about a coup. Non-state actors would affect the dictatorial status of the Saudi regime if they were ever to press for political rights. It is therefore in the regime’s best interests to officially denounce the violence perpetrated by Hamas and Hizbollah, so as to squelch open hostility from Saudi Arabia’s radicalized dispossessed.

Although Hamas is now a democratically-elected majority party with Sunni leanings, it does not subscribe to liberal internationalist etiquette, and thus, is a much less savory representative of the Palestinian cause for the Saudi royalists than the corrupt, authoritarian descendents of the late Yassir Arafat’s PLO. For that reason alone, and not because Hamas calls for Israel’s extinction in its swaggering charter, Saudi Arabia has denounced Hamas actions.

As for Hizbollah, it is a Shiite guerilla movement in a majority Sunni Middle East. It is also a responsible party to the Khobar Tower bombings in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, which saw the death of 19 and the injury of over 200 U.S. servicemen and women. (For a firmer grasp of Khobar history, read former FBI chief Louis Freeh’s account of the bombings and Iranian involvement on the Saudi-American Forum)

For Saudi Arabia, consequently, an Iran restrained by Western powers would also produce a more stable authoritarian regime in the elite House of Fahd.

From Reuters:

Some elements and groups have got loose and slipped into taking decisions on their own that Israel has exploited to wage a ferocious war against Lebanon and to imprison the entire Palestinian people,” a cabinet statement said.

“Saudi Arabia stands together with the legitimate and reasonable-minded national forces in Lebanon and occupied Palestine to combat these dangers to the Arab and Muslim nation,” it added.

Saudi Arabia last week criticized Hizbollah and its backer Iran saying “elements” in Lebanon and “those behind them” were responsible for an Israeli offensive on its northern neighbor to stop strikes by the Shi’ite guerrilla group.

Should Israel Commit to Total War?

This blog will be–as promoted–a sounding board for the next “big idea for ambitious minds”, a place to call home after the dark days of ideological warfare.

My goal is to use my current training in political theory to enter into a conversation with as many people as possible on issues related to global stability (terrorism and the threat of nuclear anhilation), toleration (what the enlightenment means in actual terms), democratization (the strengths and weaknesses of imposing democracy), total war (the Schmittian legal analysis of what constitutes an exceptional extra-legal rationale for war), and, to question with great vigour and insight all these meaning-laden issues.

That said, read this downright scary rejoinder by Dr. Louis Rene Beres to the cherished values of pluralism and peaceful conflict resolution. I intend to answer Dr. Beres’ argument for total war in the coming days.

For now I give him the podium.

Louis Rene Beres (P.H.D., Princeton, 1971), a lecturer on international relations and international law is Strategic and Military Affairs columnist for The Jewish Press:

Israel now faces existential destruction from two main sources: The Islamic Republic of Iran and the aspiring Islamic republic of “Palestine.” One source is an established state with an expanding near-term potential to inflict nuclear harms. The other is a Hamas-led configuration of terror groups that seeks to become a state for the immediate purpose of annihilating an existing state. Neither Iran nor Hamas is particularly subtle or circumspect about what it hopes to inflict upon Israel. On the contrary, both are entirely explicit about their unrelenting intent to commit genocide.

What shall Israel do in order to endure? The use of force in world politics is not inherently evil. In preventing nuclear and terrorist attacks, force is indispensable. All states have a right of self-defense. Israel has every lawful authority to forcibly confront the evil of Iranian missile strikes and Palestinian terror. Facing at least a two-pronged assault on its very survival, it now has the clear legal right to finally reject being a victim. Instead, it has the regrettable but clear corollary right to become an executioner. From the standpoint of providing security to its own citizens – a provision that is central to all government authority – this right has now become a distinct obligation.

Albert Camus would have us all be “neither victims nor executioners, …living not in a world in which killing has disappeared (we are not so crazy as that), but one wherein killing has become illegitimate.” This is a fine expectation, yet the celebrated French philosopher did not anticipate another evil force for whom utter extermination of “The Jews” was its declared object. Not even in a world living under the shadow of the recent Holocaust did Camus consider such an absurd possibility.

But Israel lacks the quaint luxury of French philosophy. Were Israel to follow Camus’ genteel reasoning, the result would be another boundless enlargement of Jewish suffering. Before and during the Holocaust, for those who still had an opportunity to flee, Jews were ordered: “Get out of Europe; go to ‘Palestine’.” When they complied (those who could), the next order was: “Get out of ‘Palestine’.” For my Austrian-Jewish grandparents, their deaths came on the SS-killing grounds at Riga, Latvia. Had they made it to “Palestine,” their sons and grandsons would likely have died in subsequent genocidal wars intended to get the Jews “OUT of ‘Palestine’.”

Failure to use force against murderous evil is invariably a stain upon all that is good. By declining the right to act as a lawful executioner in its struggle with genocidal war and terror, Israel would be forced by Camus’ reasoning to embrace its own disappearance.

Why was Camus, who was thinking only in the broadest generic terms, so mistaken?

The answer lies in his presumption of a natural reciprocity among human beings and states in the matter of killing. We are asked to believe that as greater numbers of people agree not to become executioners, still greater numbers will follow upon the same course. In time, the argument proceeds, the number of those who refuse to accept killing will become so great that there will be fewer and fewer victims. But Camus’ presumed reciprocity does not exist – indeed can never exist – especially in the Jihad-centered Middle East. Here the Islamist will to kill Jews remains unimpressed by Israel’s disproportionate contributions to science, industry, medicine and learning. Here there are no Iranian or Palestinian plans for a “Two-State Solution”; only for a Final Solution.

Martin Buber identifies the essence of every living community as “meeting.” True community is an authentic “binding,” not merely a “bundling together.” In true community, each one commits his whole being in G-d’s dialogue with the world, and each stands firm throughout this dialogue. But how can the dialogue be sustained with others who cannot “bind” in the absence of murder? How can there ever be any conceivable solution to the genocidal enmity of Iran and Hamas/“Palestine” to Israel, so long as this enmity is presumably indispensable to their declared primary meanings in the world?

In national self-defense and counter-terrorism, Jewish executioners must now have an honored place in the government of Israel. Without them, evil would triumph again and again.

For Iran and Hamas, the murder of Jews is not so much a means to an end as an end itself. In this antiheroic Islamist world, where killing Jews is often both a religious mandate and a presumed path to personal immortality, an Israeli unwillingness to use all necessary defensive force will invite mega-death and unrelieved despair.

To be sure, killing is sometimes a sacred duty, but certainly not for the loathsome reasons expressed daily by Iran and Hamas. Faced with undisguised sources of evil, all civilized states must sometimes rely upon the executioner. To deny the Israeli executioner his proper place at this 11th hour of danger would make a mockery of the principle of “Never Again” and would simultaneously open the floodgates of even greater human catastrophes. In the best of all possible worlds, Buber’s “binding” would supplant all “bundling,” but we don’t yet live in the best of all possible worlds. And in our existing condition, we must always remain prepared to fight strenuously for our collective Jewish survival.

Here are some blogs that have reprinted articles by Louis Rene Beres: The Freeman Center, The Black Kettle, IsraPundit, InfidelBloggers and Guy in the Army.

The Battle to Free Shalit

The scene of the most recent soldier abduction in Israel is hauntingly reminiscent of  Israel Defense Force (IDF) soldier Nachshon Wachsman’s capture in ’94. In that poorly executed raid, special forces invaded the Islamic militant safehouse where Wachsman had been held, and in the shoot em’ up that ensued between soldiers and radicals, the young captive was killed.

Hopefully the case of Gilad Shalit, 19, kidnapped on the Gaza border earlier in the week by Hamas militants, will bring more promising results. For more information check these articles out. From YNET, The DailyNews and The TimesOnline (I hope to post on the Hamas deal and the Israeli incursion into Gaza, as well as the ramifications of Syria’s hardline response in the coming days).

Not Open For Business makes the point that Israel’s arrest of several dozen Palestinian ministers in response to the kidnapping is a lawful act. He says that unlike the premeditated action of the Hamas abduction, Israeli army units have not kidnapped but rather arrested Palestinian officials. Although the action might prove deft in retrospect, I don’t think it’s a very lawful response.

Here’s the head of Hamas Ismail Haniyeh on Israel’s actions:

When they kidnapped the ministers they meant to hijack the government’s position, but we say no positions will be hijacked, no governments will fall

Here’s the response from Not Open for Business:

…Israel did not “kidnap” anyone, Mr. Prime Minister of terror. Hamas kidnapped an Israeli soldier through the use of a pre-meditated tunnel that took two months to dig. Israel, in turn, arrested the officials of your government which is responsible for this crime and act of war. Those ministers that were arrested are not to be used as bargaining chips – they have been arrested as party to a crime. However, Israel is pretty damned lenient, and if the soldier is returned unharmed, then those ministers will be releases as well, since the crime would have been solved.

Hitchens, The Contrarian

One wonders how to respond  to Christopher Hitchens’ neo conservative turn. The Slate columnist has no sponsors or money men to feed him his lines. He’s candid. He doesn’t mind making enemies of toddies, the powerful, and the overly cautious. And he’s arrogant…insuferably so (a non sequitar surely, but then I take liberties in painting a dreary picture of my character study).

The Oxford educated Hitchens (Wikipedia bio), zealous supporter of the Iraq War as the primary fight against international terrorism believes that the left wing community’s comprised of a bunch of “cossaks” (this is the way he termed participants at the YearlyKos gathering in Vegas earlier this month). A nasty term indeed! The fact that cossak maraudors on horseback made skewers of my Jewish relatives in the White Pale gives me reason to respond to this portly, port guzzling polemicist with equal vigour. But instead of  calling Mr. Hitchens a fascist term of endearment, I’ll refrain from playground fighting. So here goes my delicate analysis.

Despite bleeding heart accusations against him, it’s always been difficult for left-wingers to refute Hitchen’s lib credentials. The former Nation writer exposed the dirty wars in the 70s; opposed nuclear weapons on the grounds that they force the compulsory enlistment of civilians in war in the 80s; produced a scathing documentary on Henry Kissinger in the 90s; and has always believed that Zionism is based on lies. (even while he supports the existential right of a Jewish State). The last one wins brownie points in the left community!

But then there are comments like these from the Hugh Hewitt Show aired last week c/o Micah.Sifry.com:

CH: …Mrs. Clinton, had she been in Las Vegas for the Kos conference, could have met [terrorist-sympathizers] for herself. They’re a very large force in her own party. These are people who think George Bush blew up the World Trade Center, and the Pentagon, openly say so, and circulate books and videos to that effect, and hold conferences to try and prove it, people who compare the Zarqawi gangsters in Iraq to the American founding fathers and the Minutemen, and who, well, shall I…do I need say more?

Hitchens, the self-professed contrarian’s wrong in equating those fed up with a Bush administration that’s lied about WMD and exagerated the relationship between Saddam and al-Qaeda as Chamberlain-esque appeasers. Hussein was not Hitler. The Iraq War may strike neo cons like Hitchens as a replay of the “Good War” but its more like the internecine, sectarian conflict that plagued Lebanon for 2 decades. Saddam, remember, didn’t systematically order the extermination of an entire  population….And Chamberlain appeasers?…well you get my point…

Then there’s the corporate angle and fuzzy math.

From CorpWatch.com

…the fastest growing contractor under the Bush Administration has been Halliburton . Federal spending on Halliburton contracts shot up an astonishing 600% between 2000 and 2005.

A contrarian sometimes has it right, sometimes not. The loose lips and poison pen of Hitchens has become a “wrecking ball” (to use Hume’s favorite metaphor) in exposing distortion of fact over the years. But then contrarians, even the entertaining ones, are sometimes flat out wrong.

Norman Podhoeretz’s grand argument in Commentary on World War IV, notwithstanding, the neo con line is crap. Not because it doesn’t try to be noble, but because in trying to transform the world into a Judeo-Christian zone of operation it’s bound to meet opposition from those who reject prevailing western morals. How can you expect to change hearts and minds through the barrel of a gun anyhow?

So long as Iraqi troop units remain ill prepared to takeover responsibilities, expect a protracted US presence in Iraq. (see David Corn’s blog post “Cheney’s Lousy Numbers” where Cheney inflates/distorts the # of Iraqi troops presently ready to take up arms against insurgents).

Corn writes:

Last June, the Pentagon said three Iraqi battalions were ready to fight by themselves. By last fall, that number had dropped to one. By February, that number had fallen to zero, meaning there were no Iraqi units capable of taking on the insurgency without help.

Iraq’s a wasteland of rival gangs and anarchy. Only a dictator following the pattern of the Nazi regime’s Decree for the Protection of the People and the State could take order of a country like Iraq. And though invoking fascism is far from a savory notion, there’s no solution that won’t, at least in the short term, deter further guerilla battles from taking place.

For more recent news on the HitchMan, check out Betsy’s Page, Donkey Cons, and AlbertMohler.com. Also, I refer you to earlier posts on Iraq for more in depth analysis of the situation.

For more Neo Con blogging, go to Neo-Neo Con and Muscular Liberal.