Daniel Larison

What Should Israel Do? Not Bomb Refugees, For Starters

Time after time, Israel strikes at civilian homes and civilian vehicles attempting to flee the besieged southern border zone, killing families without any military objective in sight.

In an extraordinary, and extraordinarily revealing comment, the Israeli Justice Minister, Haim Ramon, reportedly said, “All those now in south Lebanon are terrorists who are related in some way to Hizbullah.” So if you take to the roads to flee, you are a terrorist – who else would travel the southern roads now? And, if you stay at home because the danger is so great, you are also a terrorist. For the innocent civilian, there is literally no way out.

Take the example of Manal, a 22-year-old housewife, who had just arrived in Beirut when I met her a few days ago. For nearly two weeks, Israeli warplanes struck Manal’s border village of Aitaroun, obliterating homes and families. A Canadian-Lebanese family vacationing in the village was killed; the next day, another rocket destroyed a home 100 meters away from Manal’s house, killing at least nine members of a family. So many were killed in her village that she finds it difficult to remember all the names.

When the Israelis dropped leaflets instructing all villages south of the Litani River to evacuate immediately “for your own safety,” Manal and dozens of her neighbours set off in three cars, waving white flags. As they left, an Israeli warplane dropped bombs 10 meters in front of and behind the convoy, which raced on. As far too many Lebanese civilians have found, Manal’s experience is not exceptional, on the contrary. ~Peter Brouckaert, The Guardian

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Green Light or Proxy War?

I’ve always maintained that the “pro-Israel” position of the Bush administration, formulated and influenced by hardline American Likudniks (whom, it must be said, are hardly representative of mainstream Israeli thinking) is actually fundamentally bad for Israel. Its infantile, aggressive maximalism precludes Israel from doing what it will take to live at peace with its surroundings, instead demanding a confrontational approach in keeping with Jabotinsky’s “Iron Wall” in which Israel’s survival depends on crush and humiliating the Arabs. Bush may talk the language of “Arab liberation,” but his contempt for Arab democracy is plain — just look at his response to the Hamas election victory. His administration appears to be dedicated to a remaking of the Middle East on America’s terms through violent social engineering. The depth of their failure in Iraq appears not to have deterred them from another adventure in Lebanon, this time using Israel as their agent of “change.” And if hundreds of Lebanese children are killed in Israeli air strikes, they’re just victims of the “birth pangs of a New Middle East.” ~Tony Karon

Via Leon Hadar

It would be slightly, but not entirely, baffling if Washington believed that destroying Lebanon would somehow contribute to the general transformation of the region in some way that wasn’t disastrous, especially given how much hot air the administration and its hangers-on blew at us during the “Cedar Revolution.”  If the Cedar Revolution with its anti-Syrian protests in the streets of Beirut really was Washington’s right answer for Lebanon last year (and you would be right to be very skeptical of that claim), why would leveling Beirut and discrediting the elected Lebanese government be part of the new goal?  In any event, as The Economist noted last month in its article on the retreat of democratic reform across the Arab world, Lebanese politics did not become more “democratic” with this so-called Revolution, but instead the “Revolution” simply empowered the local bosses, who are divided along sectarian lines, and obviously empowered and emboldened Hizbullah.  Perhaps in some convoluted way democratising Lebanon was always intended to empower Hizbullah, all the better to provoke a conflict? 

If we considered all of the hot air about democracy to be propaganda covering Washington’s hegemonic and “pro-Israel” goals (which, as Mr. Karon correctly notes, may not be doing Israel any real good), things make a little more sense, though it remains unclear why Washington would actually go ahead in encouraging elections, whether in Lebanon or Iraq, that would almost by definition bring governments to power that are hostile to the interests of Israel.  Perhaps there the government is seesawing between the two neocon poles of ludicrous democratism and irresponsible hegemonism, and we happen to be in the middle of a hegemonist phase?  With this administration’s incompetence, it is often difficult to gauge what they intended to do, since they so very often fail in realising their stated goals.

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More from Quo Vadis? (Andrea Kirk Assaf)

Andrea Kirk Assaf has a couple other posts worth looking at: she cites an article from Christianity Today by the dean of the Arab Baptist Theological Seminary, Martin Accad, who makes an impassioned plea on behalf of the people of Lebanon and does not accept the easy justifications of any party to the conflict.  She also notes the Maronite bishops’ call for peace.

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Israel Americanised, America Israelised: Both Are Faring Poorly

 I was talking today with a former U.S. diplomat and a Washington “insider” who made the following comment: “I’m beginning to suspect that the Israeli military has been ‘Americanized.’ They seem to repeating our mistakes in Iraq. Very discouraging for them and for us.” This is coming from someone who is a critic of the Bush administration’s policies and has been opposed to the Israeli response in Lebanon. My guess is that the Bushies and the neocons are hysterical. After all, much of what the neocons have been pushing for has been the “Israelization” of Americnan foreign policy and national security, in a sense that the Americans should adopt the tough Israeli methods in dealing with global threats, especially vis-a-vis the Arabs who supposedly “only understand force.” The problem is that both in Iraq and Lebanon (now and earlier) and in the West Bank/Gaza this approach has proved to be a total failure in terms of policy (forget for a moment about moral dilemmas).


Indeed, as I suggested in an earlier post, it’s all looking more and more not like 1967 (the historical analogy being that Nasrallah will end up as a loser like Nasser) and more like 1973 when although the Sadat and the Egyptians were defeated in military terms, the perception was that they triumphed over Israel. This is the result of the “game of expectations,” when one side does better than expected. ~Leon Hadar

It is easy to say so now, but does it not seem clear that the parallel moves of the Americanisation of Israel’s military and the Israelisation of our policies were doomed from the start?  Air superiority is very good to have in its proper role, but it is never going to change fundamental political realities, much less transform a political culture.  Viewing American policy in the Near East as a matter of demonstrating resolve through force to cajole “the Arab mind” into obeisance (and to “drain the swamp” as Israel has always succeeded in doing, viz. Hamas, Hizbullah, etc.) is a recipe for perpetual war that cannot serve the American interest.  Unhinged people who think a border war in the Near East is manifestation of a global war for the entire West have imbibed the idea that we are in a war for our very survival, as if the sea into which the Arabs are always supposed to be wanting to push Israel were the Pacific and not the Mediterranean.  The confusion of the interests and methods appropriate to each nation and its needs has resulted in failure and calamity for both.  Perhaps distinct nations with their own particular needs and goals should adapt themselves to operate in distinct and sometimes divergent ways; the convergence of our technical expertise and their perspective has been largely unsuccessful in securing the interests of either country.

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Clearing the East of Christianity: Ignorance, Oikophobia or Alienation from Christianity?

This blindness on the part of “conservative” American Catholics is partly ignorance; even many of those who have heard the words Melkite and Maronite have no particular interest in trying to learn anything about either rite, must less trying to grapple with the history of these Christian populations or even being bothered to find out who lives where or how they worship.

More importantly, though, it reflects a growing political reality. Since at least the Six-Day War, the presence of Christians in the Middle East has been a sign of contradiction that has stood in the way of American and Israeli attempts to reduce the broad conflict in the Middle East to the dualism of Judaism/Israel versus Islam/Arabs. The inconvenient reality of Middle Eastern Christianity has been a stumbling block to remaking the Middle East in a particular ideological image.

I started to write the “irreducible” (instead of “inconvenient”) “reality of Middle Eastern Christianity,” but, unfortunately, it is not so. By acting as if they were dealing only with Muslims, both the United States and Israel have changed the demographic reality in the Middle East. Palestinian Christians have left in droves. Much of the Maronite population is now in the United States. The Chaldean and Assyrian Christians in Iraq have, as Wayne Allensworth predicted before the war, largely fled the country. ~Scott Richert

I appreciate Scott’s comments, and I share his frustration with most Americans’ general ignorance of or indifference to Near Eastern Christian brethren of all confessions (for what it’s worth, there are also some Protestants in Lebanon, the fruit of the largely forgotten humanitarian and evangelical work of American missionaries in the Near East across the old domains of the Ottoman Empire).  I would also like to join him in pointing out the blog of Andrea Kirk Assaf, Russell Kirk’s daughter and a Catholic currently living in Italy, who is married to a man from Lebanon.  She has been blogging extensively on the situation in Lebanon, the Vatican response to the crisis and ongoing Vatican efforts to mediate the conflict.  Today she reports on the Israeli bombing of a Catholic radio station, and has a long post on the bombing at Qana.  Thank goodness that Israel is not targeting civilian sites, is not attacking all of Lebanon and is only going after Hizbullah. 

There has long been scant attention paid to the extremely delicate and dangerous  situation Arab and other Near Eastern Christians face, even in the officially secular states where they live and where they are supposed to be (and often, though not always, are) protected by law.  What is striking about the Western interventions of the last 16 years is how disastrous they have been for the region’s Christians.  It might be worth considering that the two major interventions in the Near East in my lifetime have been under GOP Presidents, and it has typically been their constituents who have, more than anyone else, endorsed these reckless and wrongheaded policies; many of these constituents are the same people who believe that we either live in or should live in a Christian nation.  But these folks should consider that if they want to have a Christian nation, or at least help create a nation that takes its Christian Faith seriously, they cannot really continue to endorse a party that embraces a foreign policy that has such serious anti-Christian effects (to say nothing for the moment of goals).  For that matter, any party that has people who are effectively apologists for Chechen terrorism among its prominent members is a party with which no self-respecting Christian should associate if he can possibly help it.   

Not only are these Christians, as Scott has said, the “forgotten victims” of these conflicts, but the indifference with which Western governments greet the destruction or radical diminution of their communities is equalled only by the cynical, “humanitarian” crocodile tears that the same governments and their apologists shed for the ethnic and sectarian victims of governments they have chosen to eliminate.  If the Assyrians, Chaldeans and Armenians are driven from Iraq en masse to scratch out a living in another country, that’s a tough break (stuff happens, after all), but for 15 years there has never been a cessation of lamenting the longsuffering Kurds, with whom we in the West have nothing in common except a similar linguistic structure.  There has been an ongoing disproportionate response of a different kind to the suffering of Near Eastern Christians: the rule seems to be that the more they are like us Americans (in their Christianity), the less interested “we” are in their fate, while you can’t turn around in this country but find a Christian who cares deeply for the fate of Israel or, even more incredibly, Darfur.  Roger Scruton recently coined the term oikophobia to express the idea of fearing and loathing that which is your own (as opposed to xenophobia), so we are either seeing an outpouring of oikophobia with respect to our Christian brethren, a startling demonstration of American ignorance, or a widespread admission that “we” are not really like the Christians of the Near East but apparently have more in common with their persecutors with whom we unwittingly or knowingly align ourselves.   

I do not dare assume that Mr. Bush has a significant working knowledge of the region he has proposed to transform into a beacon of human progress (this is the man who reportedly needed to have the whole Kurd-Sunni-Shi’a business in Iraq explained to him as late as the winter of ’02-’03 and who was surprised to find black folks in Brazil), so I do not assume that he knows about the Christians of the Near East in any detail and has simply decided they are unimportant or expendable.  What some of his advisers know and think about Christians in the Near East may be a very different story (I do not think any secular neocons care a whit for what has happened to these people).  Still, it is ironic in the extreme that this administration has been conventionally (albeit mostly wrongly, in my view) associated with a strong emphasis on Christianity and the interests of evangelical Christians and yet has presided over the displacement of so many Christians and the cleansing of Muslim countries of sizeable sections of their Christian populations and has undertaken policies that have hastened this cleansing.  There was a time when a President of the United States would take particular interest in the suffering of Bulgarians and Armenians being massacred in the Ottoman Empire and would make it an issue of international concern; there was a time when Western peoples viewed with horror Kurdish atrocities against the Assyrians of Iraq, who suffered grievously during the last round of liberating Iraq.  Now, if there is an awareness of these suffering people, there is an unprecedented indifference to their fate and their fears of Islamic oppression combined with a weird activist concern for other victims of Islamic frenzy.  Everyone and his brother on the blogging right seems to belong to the Save Darfur Coalition, but when did you ever even hear of a Save Middle East Christians Coalition? 

Why this ignorance of or contempt for people who are more “our own” than the myriad nations our government is supposedly intent upon freeing and democratising?  Is this a function of secularism having taken such root in the culture that Christians are afraid or embarrassed to speak out for co-religionists on explicit grounds of Christian solidarity?  Is this some strange leftover animus among the Protestant majority towards other confessions, an expression of an old prejudice that these people aren’t really Christians at all?  I know there are some American Christians who take an active interest in the suffering and persecution of Christians around the world, including in the Near East, but why are they such a distinct and small minority?


The Reactionary Imperative (II)

The newest issue of The American Conservative has brought together thirty short articles from a number of prominent, primarily traditional conservative and libertarian writers and scholars on whether the terms conservative and liberal and the modern Right/Left opposition have any meaning and, if they do have any meaning today, what that meaning might be.  Rod Dreher has excerpted from a number of his favourites, and I expect that all of them will be worth looking at in greater depth (I only received my copy this morning), but the one that caught my immediate attention was that of Dr. Clyde Wilson, professor of history at the University of South Carolina and a contributing editor at Chronicles.  Here are a couple excerpts:

In a dynamic and free republican society, citizens of similar ideas, values, and interests, and even inherited allegiances and inclinations, come together to seek representation, forming political parties as their vehicle in the contest with citizens of opposing tendencies.  (In addition, in the United States, political representation has been geographically based rather than strictly a matter of parties.)  Citizenship–participation in politics–assumes mental and material independence and a social identity pre-existing the state apparatus.  None of these preconditions for politics any longer characterize the American regime.


After the elections, it was seen that the parties, except at the fringes, do not disagree on anything of importance nor do they represent the people on any important issue–for instance, war, foreign aid, immigration or quotas.

On behalf of the imperial bureaucratic regime, the Democrats absorb and defang whatever liberal inclinations remain in their constituency, and the Republicans do likewise for the conservatives.  The only difference is that the Democrats institutionally are wired to keep up the momentum of an already liberal state, while the Republicans’ conservatism has always been a pure fraud.

If, as may be the case, a real politics is struggling to be born, one that involves representation of the interests and values of the remnant genuine elements of American society that have a reality apart from the state, then the terms “liberal” and “conservative” will not much apply.  Politics against the imperial regime will have to be both defensive and radical, that is to say, it will have to be reactionary. 

His concluding words reminded me of M.E. Bradford’s important idea that the time may come (indeed it is already here) when there is nothing worthwhile to conserve and conservatives are faced with “the reactionary imperative” (the title of his 1990 collection of essays) to restore or recreate a humane, decent order.  As Bradford said:

“Reaction” is a necessary term in the intellectual context we inhabit late in the twentieth century because merely to conserve is sometimes to perpetuate what is outrageous.

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Is It Possible To Be More Pro-Israel Than Bush?

How, exactly, publicly humiliating Maliki and making him look like an American and Israeli stooge would enhance his “leadership” was never explained in the missive. But of course Reid’s letter wasn’t really about strengthening the Iraqi government at all; that’s George W. Bush’s problem. It was about appearing more pro-Israel than the White House and thus pandering to Jewish voters. ~Peter Beinart, The Washington Post

If I gave the Dems any credit for being smart, I would say that their plan here was exactly to undermine Maliki (whose failure at home will in any event be attributed to their political rivals and Bush himself) while at the same time maintaining their predictable enthusiasm for the cause of Israel.  They do have to keep their priorities straight, and securing the American-backed government in Iraq obviously has to take second place to the much more important business of Israel bombing Lebanon without criticism or interference.  On the other hand, it may be that the Dems assume that Maliki, like our other lackeys around the world, really is just a lackey and will fall in line if he is told in no uncertain terms that his own views are unacceptable.  In this, they seem to be mistaken, which is good news for Maliki and generally bad news for us. 

This brings me to a separate point that has been brought up before here and elsewhere: if Iraq really were vital to American interests, as Mr. Bush claims, why have the party and administration supposedly renowned for their advantage on understanding and handling national security policy essentially committed allegedly vital national interests into the care of the apparently independent actor Mr. Maliki?  It is fortunate that Iraq is not vital to the national interest, so our vital interests are not in the hands of a Shi’ite demagogue whose faction is backed by Tehran.  If they were in his hands, a few Democrats being rude to him would be the least of our problems!

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The Argument from War Crimes (II)

When the United States was attacked at Pearl Harbor, it did not respond with a parallel “proportionate” attack on a Japanese naval base. It launched a four-year campaign that killed millions of Japanese, reduced Tokyo, Hiroshima and Nagasaki to cinders, and turned the Japanese home islands into rubble and ruin.

Disproportionate? No. When one is wantonly attacked by an aggressor, one has every right — legal and moral — to carry the fight until the aggressor is disarmed and so disabled that it cannot threaten one’s security again. That’s what it took with Japan. ~Charles Krauthammer

Via Rod Dreher

Let’s consider the first obfuscation Mr. Krauthammer uses: likening the kidnapping of two soldiers to Pearl Harbor.  Talk about losing all sense of proportion….Second is the refrain we heard earlier in the week, invoking the wonder of total war and citing major war crimes as the appropriate ultimate response to any kind of attack.  How is this a credible argument?  Why are Podhoretz and Krauthammer able to get away with making arguments like this, as if they were the morally responsible ones, when they are the ones approving of civilian holocausts (which, as it happens, were gratuitous slaughters entirely unrelated to defeating the Japanese military in the field)?  No wonder they think the abuse of the Lebanese civilian population is unimportant, the creation of a humanitarian crisis irrelevant and the targeting of refugees beside the point–in Mr. Krauthammer’s sad little moral universe, the targeting of civilians is the means to victory!  Now, who else believes that is the way to win a conflict?  Hm…let’s see. 

What is the rationale for all this?  It worked with Japan, after all, so we should always unthinkingly repeat whatever the Allies did in WWII.  That’s what morality means to Mr. Krauthammer: a moral universe governed by eternal recurrence in which fighting the eternal Axis by any means, fair or foul, will be justified.  Still, it is interesting how the proponents of the argument from war crimes never cite Soviet brutality as examples to be followed (so far, no one has said that southern Lebanon should receive the Red Army treatment of Germany in 1945, but I assume this is just an oversight).  I guess it might be impolitic to start praising commie atrocities as a means to justify Israeli excesses.  Let’s also think about what Mr. Krauthammer’s standard of what is appropriate response for the Lebanese, who were “wantonly” attacked in 1982 and have thus far been deprived of disarming and disabling the aggressor for all these years.  I expect Mr. Krauthammer won’t be crying over their inability to exact retribution on the original aggressor.

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Those Liberal Turkish Generals

The Turkish military, for example, is a defender of Turkish liberalism – flawed though it may be — against the threats it faces from, among other things, democratic Islamic populism. ~Jonah “Lie For a Just Cause” Goldberg

The Turkish military is a defender of Kemalist secular republicanism, which is not necessarily anything like liberalism (in the Continental sense).  It is non-Islamic, rejects traditional monarchy, modernising, authoritarian and has attempted to create a mass Turkish nationalism.  In the context of the 1920s in Turkey, Kemalism was a radical leftist and revolutionary ideology, but liberalism on any Western model it never was.  Ask the Kurds whether Kemalism is a form of liberalism.  Perhaps Goldberg has been so confused by the title of his own book, Liberal Fascism, that he has lost track of the difference between authoritarian nationalist military men and liberals of any and all kinds.


Lebanon’s Doom

By bombing all of Lebanon rather than merely the concentrated Hezbollah strongholds, Israel is putting extraordinary pressure on Lebanese society at points of extreme vulnerability. The delicate post-war democratic culture has been brutally replaced, overnight, with a culture of rage and terror and war. Lebanon isn’t Gaza, but nor is it Denmark.

Lebanese are temporarily more united than ever. No one is running off to join Hezbollah, but tensions are being smoothed over for now while everyone feels they are under attack by the same enemy. Most Lebanese who had warm feelings for Israel — and there were more of these than you can possibly imagine — no longer do.

This will not last.

My sources and friends in Beirut tell me most Lebanese are going easy on Hezbollah as much as they can while the bombs are still falling. But a terrible reckoning awaits them once this is over.  


Israeli partisans may think this is terrific. The Lebanese may take care of Hezbollah at last! But democratic Lebanon cannot win a war against Hezbollah, not even after Hezbollah is weakened by IAF raids. Hezbollah is the most effective Arab fighting force in the world, and the Lebanese army is the weakest and most divided. The Israelis beat three Arab armies in six days in 1967, but a decade was not enough for the IDF to take down Hezbollah.

The majority of Lebanon’s people were wise and civilized enough to take the gun out of politics after the fifteen year war. Lebanon was the only Arab country to do this, the only Arab country that preferred dialogue, elections, compromise, and debate to the rule of the boot and the rifle. But Hezbollah remained outside that mainstream consensus and did everything it could, with backing from the Syrian Baath and the Iranian Jihad, to strangle Lebanon’s democracy in its cradle.

Disarming Hezbollah through persuasion and consensus was not possible in the first year of Lebanon’s independence. Disarming Hezbollah by force wasn’t possible either. The Lebanese people have been called irresponsible and cowardly by some of their friends in America for refusing to resume the civil war. Unlike Hezbollah, though, most Lebanese know better than to start unwinnable wars. This is wisdom, not cowardice, and it’s sadly rare in the Arab world now. They are being punished entirely too much for what they have done and for what they can’t do. ~Michael Totten

Via Andrew Stuttaford

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