Sunday, July 30, 2006

The Humanitarian Dodge

Just as the Bush and Blair were giving their press conference reports came in that a Hezbollah rocket hit a hospital. Did you catch the outrage in the UN? Neither did I. And to be fair, it is not as if Hezbollah's rockets can be aimed.

But there is no outrage because no one was hurt--the Israelis had already evacuated. No humans hurt, no humanitarian outrage.

And that is why the framing of demands in terms of "simple humanitarianism" is neither simple nor, necessarily, humanitarian.

By calling this a humanitarian crisis the issue of right and wrong, intentions and moral culpability, are conveniently sidestepped. The fact that these tragedies occur in spite of the best efforts of the Israelis, while they are only avoided on the other side only because of HezbollahÂ’s incompetence, is ruled out of order by calling it a simple humanitarian problem.

So we are telling anyone that attacks “us” (in the sense of a first world country) that all you have to do is fire from behind schools and hospitals at schools and hospitals (if you can aim) and you will have the world on your side.

saying it is a humanitarian problem makes taking a side not look like taking a side. The humanitarian position is that the killing should stop now--until the terrorist decide to start it again. And when they do start it again they will have all of their rockets atheirier ball bearing warheads intact and even replenished. The prisoners they have taken will still be held. And the terrorists will have been strengthened in the public opinion theirier own countries because they will have been seen to have come off the victors in an encounter with Israel.

The simple "humanitarian" position gives the terrorists in effect the right to attack civilians and to hide behind them, indeed, encourages the practice, since civilians dying on one side is the sole measure of the other side's morality. If you are willing to hide behind civilians you are awarded by the international community the right to do so with impunity, even if you are attacking the other side's civilians.

more later....

Kennedy and the Legal Class

Striking observations from Senator Kennedy:

"The Senate's constitutional role has helped keep the court in the mainstream of legal thought."

Well, maybe it is the job of the Senate to keep legal thought connected to the Constitution. Or keep the Judicial thought in the mainstream of American thought. Nothing better exemplifies the concept of hegemony than the way we make weighty moral and philosophical issues into the province of a profession that purports to be merely "interpreting" documents.

"Perhaps the biggest winner is the president himself. During Alito's hearing, I asked him about a 1985 job application in which he stated that he believed "very strongly in the supremacy of the elected branches of government." He backpedaled, claiming: "I certainly didn't mean that literally at the time, and I wouldn't say that today."

But he is willing to say it now. In the very recent case of Hamdan v. Rumsfeld , Alito signed on to a dissent by Justice Clarence Thomas that asserts a judicial "duty to accept the Executive's judgment in matters of military operations and foreign affairs" as grounds for allowing the administration to use military commissions of its own design to try detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba."

Now, I cannot imagine any of the signers of the constitution arguing with the notion of the supremacy of the elected branches. And the idea that courts' judgments in military operations and foreign affairs would have been laughable. The idea that the Senate was created by the founders to protect the perogatives of the legal class would have been the object of contempt.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Killer analogy

Here is a great analogy that Netenyahu used in an interview recently:

For instance, when a BBC interviewer accused Israel of harming Lebanese civilians, Netanyahu compared the situation to the British Royal Air Force's fight against the Nazis in World War II. He said that when the RAF targeted the Gestapo headquarters in Copenhagen in 1944, they missed and hit a children's hospital, but "that didn't make the British pilots terrorists and it didn't make the Nazis the good guys."

Great debaters have a great stock of analogies. The game here is volume and filing. You have to have a lot of analogies to fit them to each audience and situation. Even more difficult is the issue of retrival. You can always come up with these a day later. The key to getting them when you need them is to have an analysis based classification scheme that you can flesh out.


Isn't it disturbing that Israel could be so surprised by Hezbollah? A country with the best intelligence service in the world we are told, facing an exitential threat right across its border, is caught off guard by thousands of missiles in the hands of a bunch of guys that couldn't have to import anything with more than three moving parts. What if the things smuggled in we armed with chemical weapons rather than ball bearings? Or worse? This should make us cautious the next time we are asked to wait for hard evidence before we take steps to protect ourselves. In an anarchic world it may not be possible to wait for absolute proof before we act.

Easy targets

The thing that I haven't figured out is why we want to avoid a wider war, a war against states. Wars against states are easy, it is fighting the terrorists that states sponsor that is hard. A limited war against Syria or even Iran is a lot easier than trying to root out Hezbollah.

Friday, July 28, 2006

The threat

A similar argument clairfying the "proportionality" issue under just war theory is posted by Kenneth Anderson, a law professor at the American University Law School. I think that the one thing I would add is that the underlying threat that Israel is responding to is not just a stream of hostage takings and missile firings themselves. It is allowing a terrorist enemy to show the world that it can do such things with impunity. If it does so successfully, it will lead not only to more hostage takings and missiles, it will embolden others and encourage the idea that Israel is weak. The enemy wants to destroy their state. Like a mafioso or anyone whose survival depends on the perceptions of others of thier own prowess, the perception of weakness is more dangerous than provocations that lead to that perception.

Just War Theory

Very cogent argument by Michael Walzer that Israel's response is in line with just war theory.

One quibble, Walzer casts the argument solely in terms of a state's right to end the immediate problem of missiles and hostages. The need to put an end to these immediate harms are the sole justification he examines. But the fact that Hezbullah's long term goal is the destruction of Israel adds something else to this war. Because Hezbullah seeks to destroy Israel considerations of reputation and judgments that each side makes about the other to inflict and absorb pain come to the fore. Because the enemy is openly seeking to end the other's existence, merely solving the immediate problem is not enough. The conflict must end on terms that make it clear that Hezbullah lost and lost badly. Absent this, they will only return again stronger.

Return address

One of the arguments that I find unconvincing is that we don't need to worry about Iran having a nuclear weapon because they could never use it. If they did, we could retaliate since we would know where it came from. Call this the "return address" argument. It is often expanded to cover bombs that are delivered unconventionally since we would have a good idea where those came from too.

It seems to me that recent events undercut this line of argument. The people arguing that we need to engage Syria and Iran to shut down Hezbollah are tacitly, no, not even tacitly, admitting that those two nations are behind Hezbollah. They are, in effect, the "return address" of Hezbullah's Katushas. Since we are manifestly unwilling to hold the senders responsible in this case, presumeably out of fear of retaliation and Middle-East sentiments--it is not clear what grounds are there for confidence we would be willing to do so when the sender is armed with nuclear weapons.


It is so painful watching these Bush and Blair press conferences. You see Bush struggle through some vague and tortured set of ideas that leaves you with your head cocked to one side, and then Blair gets his turn and you see "Oh, that is what he was trying to say." It is like Blair is Bush's interpreter from stupid and smart. It is sometimes painful to be a Republican.
Fred Kaplan argues that the administration's goals for a long term solution are admirable but unrealistic:

"Finally, Bolton answered. What the administration has in mind, he said, is a region where nations stop supporting terrorism, stop importing weapons from China and North Korea, and where Lebanon has security institutions that can function independently of outside influence.
They're all nice wishes, but does anyone believe that they can be fulfilled soon? Bolton's words don't always reflect those of the administration (that's one of the problems his critics cite), but are they in accord here? Do Bush and his secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, believe there's no point in pressing for a cease-fire without these conditions?"

These are fair questions and deserve a fair answer. It seems that, yes, these things could be done soon. It is a very easy thing to stop importing weapons and supplying them to Hezbullah. Very easy, since it only requires one nation to change its behavior: Syria. Indeed, the people pushing for negotiations of Syria use the fact that Syria is the main supplier of weapons as reason for negotiating with it. And yes, the Lebanese government could very easily establish control over the Southern part of its own territory, if they were given the resources to do so.

It is true, neither of these things are likely to happen soon, but the reason is not because of their inherent impracticality or even difficulty, it is the lack of political will in the West. Stopping Syria's supply of Hezbullah requires making Syria feel pain, something we are not willing to do. Giving the Lebanese government the resources to control its own territory is chiefly a matter of supplying troops that are able and willing to fight. Needless to say, the people loudly talking about the need for an immediate cease fire are the least likely to contribute to such a force.

The real question is then would a cease fire be better or worse than continued war?

Stopping now means a pause before Hezbullah resumes its terror campaign again. There is no point in pressing for a cease fire barring those conditions given that Hezbullah will use the cease fire to strengthen its position militarily and politically. The cease fire would only make Hezbullah--a party that makes no secret of its intention to destroy Israel--look like they had stood up to the Israelis and feed the fantasy eventually wiping Israel off the map.

The over 1,000 missiles with ball bearing warheads have no other purpose but terror. Leaving them in the hands of a force determined to destroy you is a rational act only if you believe that the force holding those missiles will be weaker or more favorably disposed toward you at some later date.

The question that cease-fire now advocates must answer is if the Syrians and Iranians are not willing to reign in Hezbullah while Israel is destroying them, why would they become more willing to do so once Hezbullah is safe behind a cease-fire?

Not enough killing

Josh Marshall argues that the massive scale of violence and decisive defeat inflicted on Japan and Germany are what made the transformations of those societies possible. He used this example to support the argument that we were pulling our punched in Iraq. The argument surely has some merit as applied to our failure to destroy Iraqi Republican Guard Units that were left largely intact at the end of the war are a large part of the resistance we face today. The failure to win total victory not because of military considerations but because of political considerations has been a consistent feature of the US and Israel's prosecution of the conflict, for example during the Suez crisis, the decision to not destroy Egypt's 3rd Army during the Yon Kippur war. Examples could be multiplied of Israel's refusal to press military advantage out of concern for longterm Arab good will.

The "not defeated enough" argument was made at length by Nail Ferguson in his History of WWI. The Allies decision to grant an Armistice to the Germans before the German army was destroyed in a way that was apparent to the German people themselves was what made it possible for the inter-war generation of Germans to believe that they could have won had they not been betrayed by German liberals.

The example of the Germans suggests that we are missing something very important when we think about public opinion in the Arab world solely in terms of minimizing hostilities and civilian casualties and ending hostilities as soon as possible. The benefits of such a policy may be outweighed or at least compromised against the cost of support those in the Arab world argue that the Arab world can win through military confrontation.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Kofi's rent-a-hostage service

Well, that didn't take long. It seems that the Hezbullah fighters were not "miles away" but "all over us," according to emails from one of the dead UN observers.

Imagine that? Terrorists using the UN as Shields. I mean, I knew they hid behind their own women and children, but the UN? That is going to far. I expect a big outcry from the international community any minute now.

What are the UN observers but hostages for hire?

There is one unintentionally humorous note in the story, where the recipient of the emails says, "What he was telling us was Hezbollah fighters were all over his position and the IDF were targeting them, and that's a favorite trick by people who don't have representation in the U.N. They use the U.N. as shields knowing that they cannot be punished for it."

Now what would happen if they the Hezbullah were members of the UN? What exactly would be their punishment? Ask the states that tried to wipe Israel off the map. If anything, I expect this to lead to calls for the Hezbullah and Hamas to be given membership status in the UN, along that lines of the PLO, so that they can be subjected to incentives to follow the rules.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

While joining Arab leaders in....

What is so amazing about the anti-Maliki stories is that the complaints about him being unwilling to condem Hezbollah manage to miss the real story. His foreign minister attended the press conference in his stead and was asked if the PM would condem Hezbollah. The Foreign Minister answered that, well, maybe no, not outright, but that the PM had authorized the foreign minister to join the other Arab countries in condeming Hezbollah's attacks on Israel.

Join other Arab states in condeming the Arab side in an Arab-Israeli conflict! That is the real story. We have split the Islamic side and even have Shiites siding against Shiites in a conflict with Israel. Would that have happened absent Bush's confrontational policy?

What we have seen is a sea-change that has been totally overlooked and dismissed merely because of the absence of signing ceremonies. The goal of foreign policy is to get other people to do what you want, not to get agreements. It is to change behavior, not sign treaties.

The unwronged wrong-doer

Chris Matthews makes a complaint that one hears often, that the Bush administration is blinded to facts by ideology. My contention is that both sides are necessarily forced to see the world through their ideology. If anything, it is the pejorative use of the word ideology that is blinding us.

Most arguments, including the one about the war on terror, are about how to explain someone's wrong doing. Within our own political culture I argue that there is widespread agreement on what constitutes wrong-doing (indeed, an agreement about what effects are bad is what having a culture means), and that most disagreements are about who or what should be blamed for wrong-doing.

The problem is that different theories can explain the same facts more or less equally well, or can explain them well enough so that a reasonable person could find those explanations convincing. In the terror war we have acts of terror against us and, recently, against our ally Israel. Is this evidence that the confrontational approach of the Bush administration is not working? There are a couple of theories. If you think that terror is caused by poverty and the frustration of legitimate ambitions then the continued acts of terror in the presence of an administration that sees addressing such concerns as appeasement, then the continued acts of terror are confirmation of your theory. If you see the problem of terror as caused by a power hungry alien ideology then the continued acts of terror against the most powerful nation in the world and its allies are confirmation of your theory.

The critics of the confrontational approach see the other side as being too simplistic, as failing to ask "why they hate us?" The idea that someone would do wrong for no reason, just because they are "evil," is simplistic at best.

But I argue that any belief system must have such an un-explained "wrong-doer." Like Aristotle's un-moved mover, every chain of causality has to begin somewhere. The people that attribute the actions of terrorists to the injustices committed by the US or the Israelis are just as simplistic in their explanations of why the US and the Israelis are causing these problems. In the accomodationist' belief system the actions of the theory's bad guys are explained just as the confrontationists' theory explains the actions of terrorist: lust for power, a willingness to do anything to get it, in a word, evil.

There are two caveats to this. One is that the motive attributed to the US tends to be material gain, the motive attributed to terrorists in the confrontationists' theory tends to be lust for power. The other caveat is that often the accomodationist explanation for the bad actions of the US or Israel tends to be more benign. The Israeli decision to set up the state of Israel is seen as the tragic reaction to the Holocaust, or the US reaction is seen as the result of the US being hijacked by nefarious interests in the oil industry, leaving the US people as a whole as semi-innocent victims and the real villains being Moneyed interests, etc. The evil actions of the powerful can be attributed to tragic misunderstandings or circumstances, but the result in terms of policy recommendations is the same--appease the terrorists. Even if the US or Israel are doing wrong from innocent motives it is they who have the power to break the chain of action and reaction. So even if they are not viewed as benign directly morally culpable the onus is still on them to not retaliate or make concessions. The terrorists actions against us always being the result of some crime or misdeed committed against them, it is always the side that retaliates against them that is the un-wronged wrong-doer, the one that puts the chain of misfortune in motion, or, as Bush might say, "the evil one."


Great article on the Suez crisis arguing that it was the turning point in the post-war world. I heard someone quote Eisenhower as saying that Suez was the greatest mistake of his career. Why is it that all the backers of the UN are all in favor of giving it decision making power when someone else's safety is at stake but never when it is their own?

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Let down

the Iraqi Prime Minister refueses to condem Hezbollah. This is a story? So he side steps an opportunity to denouce Hezbollah by talking about a the suffering of the people of Lebanon and all the sudden it is a scandal and affront to the Democrats in Congress?

Compare the leader of Iraq's position with the UN or the Europeans. It is no worse and in many cases considerably better. The same people that say we should ceed more power to the UN or the "International Community" are all the sudden shocked when someone refuses to denounce the terrorists? Will this standard be applied to Kofi Annan?

And by the way, if it is such a matter of grave concern that the current leader of Iraq wil not denounce the terrorists perhaps it is worth considering what his predecessor would have done. Recall that Sadaam offered bounties to the families of suicide bombers and running a retirement home for terrorists with American blood on thier hands, including the man that made the bomb that was used in the first world trade center bombing. If we are so concerned about what the current Iraqi President says we should consider what the previous President did.

Monday, July 24, 2006

disproportionate principles

Israel's claims that it has principle on its side are dismissed by the word humanitarian. Israel claims, rightly in my view, that it is the wronged party under international law and that it is trying its best to avoid civilian casualties. If there are more civilian casualties occurring on the Lebanese side in spite of Israel's efforts that is unfortunate but irrelevant.

The other side dismisses this argument by invoking the words "humanitarian crisis." The effect of using the words humanitarian are to sweep aside such legalistic considerations as who started it and who is trying to avoid civilian casualties and focus on suffering defined by numbers.

What seems incongruent in the use of this argument by Israel's opponents is that they seem to be on the exact opposite side when the tables are turned. When a suicide bomber blows up a bunch of people in a Israeli Pizza parlor it is "deplorable, but..." After all, the Israelis started it by occupying Palestinian land. What else can the Arabs do to get their land back, to enforce their rights? Who started it is irrelevant when we are looking at Arab casualties but the very nub of the issue when we are looking at Jewish or Israeli casualties.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

UN resolutions

I think it is a mistake for defenders of Israel to point to the failure of Lebanon to disarm Hezbolla as a matter of not living up to a particular UN resolution. The failure of Lebanon as a sovereign state is more general. The rights of a sovereign state entail responsibilties, in particular the responsibility of establishing a monopoly on violence. That is the reason other sovereign states as an incentive to deal with you, because you make war and peace. If some group inside your borders can make war from your territory then it is not, in effect, your territory. UN resolution or no.