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Gaza and Moral Idiocy

Rich Lowry dutifully recites the official line on the conflict in Gaza:

Each civilian death in Gaza is a tragedy, but who is ultimately responsible? The moral calculus here is simple. Hamas precipitated the war and persisted in waging it even when Israel was willing to accept an Egyptian offer of a cease-fire. Hamas hides its rockets in schools and places its command bunkers under hospitals. It wants war, and it wants civilian casualties.

The summary is misleading at best, but even if we accept all of it as true it doesn’t make Israel’s current military operation defensible. Hamas may want war and civilian casualties, and it is fully responsible for everything that it does, but that doesn’t justify Israel in giving them what they want. Nothing could better sum up the irrationality of defenders of the current operation than the argument Lowry is offering here. We’re supposed to accept that Israel’s government mustn’t be faulted for what it’s doing, because Israeli forces are inflicting death and destruction that predictably redounds to Hamas’ political benefit. According to this view, Hamas is the only one to be blamed for the consequences of the military overreaction that has stupidly given Hamas an unwelcome boost. This is little better than the foreign policy equivalent of saying “the devil made me do it,” as if it that made everything all right. There is some moral idiocy on display in this debate, but it isn’t coming from people objecting to the excessive and indiscriminate use of force in this conflict.

Periodically bombing and/or invading a blockaded population is a guaranteed way of ensuring that Israel will face continued hostility from increasingly radical enemies, who thrive on the outrages that any government will inevitably inflict when it uses modern weapons in a densely populated area. These operations not only generate propaganda coups for the people that Israel is supposed to be punishing, but they ensure that the better part of entire generations of Palestinians will opt for violence for years and decades to come. Lowry’s argument is similar to Western justifications for the Iraq sanctions regime during the ’90s. The sanctions inflicted enormous suffering on the civilian population of Iraq and by the most conservative estimates caused the premature deaths of almost three hundred thousand Iraqis, but this was always blamed on the Iraqi government. No matter what the U.S. or its allies and clients do, it is always “ultimately” someone else’s fault. Instead of facing up to the fact that it was the U.S. and other outside powers that were strangling Iraqis with sanctions, we declared Hussein responsible for a horrible policy that was primarily our doing. So it is again today that we have people striving mightily to place the responsibility for Israeli actions on anyone except the government that has ordered them.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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