From the first post that I mentioned earlier, Freddie said:
This is the Israeli discussion in American mainstream media. One side speaks cautiously, quietly, with constant provisos and caveats. That side takes pains to distance themselves from the enemies of Israel, makes no bones about their moral condemnation of the terrible actions of Hamas and Hezbollah. One side takes all necessary care in discussing with nuance, with discrimination. The other unapologetically and openly justifies the killing of people they admit are innocent. And yet it is the latter group who is the mainstream, the latter group who holds the benefit of the conventional wisdom, the latter group who demands apology and retreat from the former. It’s a strange place, for our national conversation, and a sad one.
I agree with Freddie that the current state of the debate, such as it is, is both strange and sad, but it occurs to me that one reason why the debate is so lopsided is that the simplistic and moralistic tone of the one side is so much more easily digestible and acceptable to more people. Start with our general lack of interest in the rest of the world, add in our characteristic impatience with complex and tragic conflicts and then compound all of that with the legalistic-moralistic strain in our political culture that demands that we reduce complex and tragic conflicts to simple morality plays in which policy is defined as a campaign against evil, and you can see quickly enough why the uncompromising, unapologetic side prevails. The side that hedges its arguments with caveats comes across as less certain, and it cannot boil down its arguments into readily-memorized and repeated slogans that pundits, journalists and everyone else can learn and reuse to sound informed. Of course, those who tend to hedge their arguments with caveats do not want to make arguments that can be boiled down into slogans, because they find such arguments to be deeply flawed, but that is almost beside the point. It is somewhat misleading to speak of two sides to the “debate,” as if they were in any way comparable, when there is no obvious alternative and opposed camp to the consensus view, but merely different shades of the consensus for the most part, and even then the slightly different shades can elicit the most powerful hatred. What is most remarkable is that even most marginal voices in the “debate” will go to great lengths to demonstrate that their views are not really threatening or hostile to the consensus, not really, and that it is permissible to let them into the conversation. It doesn’t always work–Walt and Mearsheimer jumped through any number of hoops to stress their fidelity to the consensus and they were still damned for their efforts.
There is, of course, a matter of media bias and educational conditioning that make the public far more receptive to one side of the argument, which reinforces the impression that the stifling virtual unanimity in the “debate” is somehow a natural expression of popular attitudes, giving rise to the myth that Americans overwhelmingly support Israel. In reality, an overwhelming majority preferred it if we did not take sides in this conflict. Another reason the “debate” is so one-sided, or to be more precise why there is no real debate at all, is that what are deemed “pro-Israel” arguments are taken as expressions of the default, self-evident position and no one will be paid any attention who does not first acknowledge his acceptance of that position. Obviously there is no meaningfully “pro-Palestinian” side to the debate, except insofar as skeptics and dissenters are deemed objectively pro-Palestinian by those who hold the consensus view. To the extent that there is another side, and not merely a slightly different take on the consensus, it is made up of people who think that America should be neutral or uninvolved and people who think we should be “even-handed” in our dealings with both nations.
In addition to a lack of organization, there is simply nowhere near the same intensity and emotion among proponents of “even-handedness” and non-intervention, because we are not so much driving a particular agenda as we are opposed to a policy that favors one side or one that entangles us in conflicts in which we have no real interest. As this sentence suggests, there is considerable lack of agreement among dissenters from the consensus, as proponents of “even-handedness” want greater, but different engagement, and non-interventionists mainly want disengagement from the conflict.
As in most other foreign policy debates, the view that commands mainstream credibility perpetuates its hold over the designation mainstream and can keep any alternative views safely marginalized simply by pointing out their marginal (and therefore “extreme”)status. As in most other foreign policy “debates,” the proponents of specific actions tend to win, because they are able or are allowed to set the terms of debate and define their opponents as merely negative and reactive, and they are usually able to load up their arguments with heavy-handed moralizing that puts their opponents on the defensive. Once you have to start your argument by saying, “Well, of course I am opposed to suicide bombing,” as a practical matter it doesn’t really matter what else you have to say. That is the point of framing the debate with moralistic rhetoric that inevitably privileges the preferred side in the conflict. All of this increases my skepticism about the possibility of persuasion and the importance of merit in arguments, as the latter seems to have little or no bearing on what view prevails.