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Romance of the gun

July 20th, 2006

The various disasters in the Middle East keep on getting worse. About the best analysis of the whole situation that I’ve seen in some time was by Rami Khouri in Salon. The write-off sums up the case

Hamas and Hezbollah, Lebanon and Palestine, Syria and Iran, the U.S. and Israel: Unless these four pairs of actors turn away from their failed policies, the Middle East will sink further into violence and despair.

What is striking about the Middle East is that, more than anywhere else in the world, it is the place where belief in the effectiveness of violence to achieve political goals has reigned supreme, and the place where nothing of substance has changed, except for the worse, in generations. Whether it’s the gunman firing an AK-47 into the air, the suicide bomber’s macabre video clip, the Revolutionary Guard armed with Islamic fervour or the official military parading its power to deliver terror by air and armoured brigade, the romance of the gun seems to obscure the reality of murdered children and the dismal failure of all concerned to move even an inch towards any sort of solution.

The only new thing about the current crisis is that lots of Australians are directly in the line of fire. This raises the stakes dramatically for anyone who wants to endorse the actions of one side or another.

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  1. fatfingers
    July 20th, 2006 at 20:05 | #1

    “..lots of Australians are directly in the line of fire. This raises the stakes dramatically for anyone who wants to endorse the actions of one side or another.”

    Not sure what you mean by this – that now, because Australians are threatened, commentators should re-evaluate their positions? That Australian lives are more important than Lebanese or Israeli or Palestinian lives? I’m sure it wasn’t your intent to imply this, but it does read a bit like that. So what did you mean?

  2. July 20th, 2006 at 20:36 | #2

    “There’s no peace in the Holy Lands, just an interval in War”

  3. July 20th, 2006 at 20:55 | #3

    What is striking about the Middle East is that, more than anywhere else in the world, it is the place where belief in the effectiveness of violence to achieve political goals has reigned supreme, and the place where nothing of substance has changed, except for the worse, in generations.

    I concur with Pr Q’s despairing analysis. Violence usually only solves small problems, such as minor turf disputes in organised crime. Or massive problems, such as Nazi and Nippon totalitarian militarism.

    I think that Pr Q should add that the causes of ME violence are both super-national and sub-national. Violence is chronic in the ME because this region has dysfunctional cultures and weak national polities, problems that go back hundreds of years. It is also chronic because great powers have been drawn to the region in search of strategic assets, not the least of which is oil.

    But the ME is not the only place where key players are stuck in a vicious cycle. We are also victims of our own delusions which our power and arrogance permits us to impose on others who only want a quiet life.

    Below are three world views have been more or less tossed into the Dustbin of History by the recent disturbances in the ME:

    Regime Change HAWKS: They believed belief that they could confront, defeat and re-construct an antagonistic political culture by military violence. Wrong. This belief has been refuted by the response of the Palestinians to the IDF, the Israelis to Hamas & Hezbollah and Suunis to the US military.

    Peace for Land DOVES: They believed that giving land back to weak governments controlled by terrorist militias will buy the Israelis enduring peace. Wrong. This belief was was refuted by the resurgence of Hamas violence as the IDF pulled out of Gaza and the resurgence of Hezbollah violence as the IDF pulled out of Southern Lebanon.

    Multicultural WETS: They believed that it was possible for democratic multicultural jurisdictions to coalesce into peace-loving, liberty-enjoying and West-tilting states with every one living in harmony together and celebrating diversity. But as soon as democratic rights were granted to the populus in Iraq, Lebanon and Palestine the people immediately fractured into partisan sects and elected the most militant leaders who set about settling old scores.

    Only the nationalising DRIES come out of this fiasco with any intellectual and ideological credit. The realists among them correctly predicted that the ME would continue to disappoint acording to its traditions. And it would become worse not better if we intervened. The conservative principle of respecting ones own borders and showing like respect for other peoples borders has been vindicated.

    So instead of just indulging in another bout of hand-wringing and brow-knitting and tut-tutting about the ME perhaps we should do some soul-searching about our own ideological fantasies. And hang our heads in shame.

  4. July 20th, 2006 at 21:39 | #4

    PrQ,
    Perhaps this should be an addition to your “Not the News” thread – “Jack Strocchi Agrees with Self”

  5. jquiggin
    July 20th, 2006 at 22:24 | #5

    It looks like I managed to accidentally delete a couple of comments that went to automoderation. Please repost them and I’ll respond.

  6. Terje
    July 20th, 2006 at 22:31 | #6

    Perhaps outside the middle east we more readily submit to the will of others. Democracy would not work without submission. It entails a general willingness to submit to, and ultimately trust your fate to, the majority. Although I think that the rule of law is more essential to a reasonable life than democracy.

  7. X33
    July 20th, 2006 at 23:30 | #7

    It’s interesting to watch the gyrations of the Australian government as it tries to simultaneously
    a) show how great they are at leaping to the assistance of Aussies in trouble
    b) avoid the slightest suggestion that they might be criticising Israel.

  8. July 21st, 2006 at 03:55 | #8

    I was also curious about the remark: ”The only new thing about the current crisis is that lots of Australians are directly in the line of fire. This raises the stakes dramatically for anyone who wants to endorse the actions of one side or another’. Why dramatically? What difference does it make to the analysis of the situation?

    Generally you sound like you are saying that all groups should give up on the idea of violence. I agree. But is this a helpful prescription? How does this help Israel in its attempt to survive? What should Israel have done when foreign troops entered its territory, killed and kidnapped its citizens? It could not have reasonably sent flowers to Hezbollah and preached the virtues of non-violence.

    I agree with you that the romance of the gun is an abomination but I cannot see that this has been Israel’s affliction. What do you do when you have violent terrorists on your doorstep who seek to destroy you?

  9. jquiggin
    July 21st, 2006 at 07:51 | #9

    Harry, I think the rhetoric (standard for this debate) indicates some of these problems. You start by presenting Israel’s as facing a threat to its survival, which presumably implies that almost any action is justified in response. But the actual crime committed by Hezbollah was not a threat to Israel’s survival, nor is any such threat apparent. So rather than ask the question of whether the actual response is likely to achieve anything, you sign a blank cheque.

    All your points can easily be turned around, and commonly are: facing the absolute denial of its existence as a state, occupation by foreign troops, and routine killing of its citizens, why isn’t Palestine justified in any and all actions to fight this situation, and why can’t it call on allies such as Hezbollah?

    All sides in this dispute have used this kind of reasoning all the time. Rather than try to unpick the reasoning, I’m simply pointing to the results, which have been disastrous for all concerned.

    Coming back to your first para, many people seem to think that it’s OK if the Israeli/US side kills civilians in pursuit of their goals, and some think the same about the other side(s). This view looks a lot less tenable if the civilians being killed are Australians, than if they are “people in a faraway country about which we know little”. What about Australia’s right to defend itself against such attacks? Where does this kind of reasoning end?

  10. still working it out
    July 21st, 2006 at 08:22 | #10

    I have been shocked by the tilt of the local media coverage. The anti-Israel feeling from the news has been amazing. I would never have guessed that putting Australian lives in danger would have made such a difference. I had assumed that because almost all the Australians directly affected are of Lebanese descent the media would just treat it as just another international crisis. I guess that when you hear that Aussie accent in a foriegn country it does not matter what the person looks like, they’re still Australian.

    From the Israeli perspective this war has been a PR disaster within Australia.

  11. rog
    July 21st, 2006 at 09:47 | #11

    For arguments sake if Israel was totally removed from the ME would the other players find peace? I doubt it, Israel handed over Gaza and then became the object of increased violence.

    The Bombay bombing is another good example that it is not about Israel it is jihad.

    Al jazeera ran a doco on the training of Hamas, their jihad is “Until the liberation of Palestine, and until the message ‘There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is His Messenger’ reaches the entire world.”

    http://memri.org/bin/latestnews.cgi?ID=SD120906

  12. Chris C
    July 21st, 2006 at 09:57 | #12

    Harry,

    At the risk of repeating JQ’s point, allow me to paraphrase you:

    Generally you sound like you are saying that all groups should give up on the idea of violence. I agree. But is this a helpful prescription? How does this help Palestine in its attempt to survive? What should Palestine have done when foreign troops entered its territory, killed and kidnapped its citizens? It could not have reasonably sent flowers to Israel and preached the virtues of non-violence.

    Turning to the current situation, are you honestly defending Israel’s response to the capture of two soldiers?

    Does it make a difference that the IDF captured three Hezbollah soldiers in April this year?

    And so on and so on back to 1948 …

  13. still working it out
    July 21st, 2006 at 10:02 | #13

    Turkey is becoming increasingly secular, and the gulf states, Saudi Arabia, UAE etc are relatively peaceful. Iran developed its own secular democratic government until it was overthrown by the Americans to put their Shah back in power. Even today the Iranian clerics are unhappy with the westerisation of their youth and don’t really know how to stop it. In Pakistan the Islamic parties never do very well when they actually have elections.

    The Jihadists often get very frustrated at how uninterested in Jihad most Arabs and muslims are. When there is relative freedom and economic development like in Dubai people become uninterested in religion just as they do in the west. Its only when their is some sort of oppression that the Jihadist manage to get the upper hand.

  14. Chris C
    July 21st, 2006 at 10:04 | #14

    Rog,

    Suggesting that Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza should have ‘bought peace’ on that front is akin to saying that the Soviet Union should have made peace with Hitler once Germany had been rolled back behind its pre-war eastern front boundaries in 1944.

    This is an absurd proposition.

    The Palestinians have the legal and moral right to resist Israeli occupation wherever it occurs until all occupation ceases.

  15. rog
    July 21st, 2006 at 10:11 | #15

    Of course it is an absurd proposition, we are not talking about the breach of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact.

  16. Chris C
    July 21st, 2006 at 10:20 | #16

    So why exactly should the PARTIAL Israeli withdrawal from occupied territory have led to a cessation of hostilities from the still-occupied people?

  17. Chris C
    July 21st, 2006 at 10:28 | #17

    Harry,

    You say:

    What do you do when you have violent terrorists on your doorstep who seek to destroy you?

    And this goes to JQs point – all sense of proportionality is thrown out the window when it comes to conflict in this region.

    What sensible person with even a cursory understanding of the relative military imbalances would suggest that Israel’s existence is threatened by Palestinian militants?

    Why do people in Australia defend a plainly disproportionate response by Israel in Lebanon? Do these same people believe that when someone’s car is stolen that the aggrieved party has the right to burn down the offender’s house and kill their family?

  18. July 21st, 2006 at 10:29 | #18

    Long and involved discussion of this on Catallaxy.

  19. July 21st, 2006 at 10:36 | #19

    Chris C,
    Morally, you may have a good case. Realistically, it stinks. Israel has enough weapons to ensure its survival. If the Palestinians fight the way you seem to be advocating, all that will happen is further generations of pain and misery for them.
    I have long held that the foundation of Israel was an attempt by Europe (and the US) to reduce their feelings of guilt about the Holocaust and pogroms by giving away someone else’s land. I believe in strong property rights and, as such, the deprivation of those rights without due process must be wrong.
    Might, in this case however, has made right.
    If you want to see a full(er) discussion of this, follow the Catallaxy link above.

  20. rog
    July 21st, 2006 at 11:08 | #20

    Obviously if even a PARTIAL withdrawal is met with an ESCALATION of violence a TOTAL withdrawal would be a catastrophe.

    With Hamas running the show Palestine is not fit for self rule.

  21. Chris C
    July 21st, 2006 at 12:30 | #21

    Rog,

    Try to think a little harder.

    If Israel withdrew to the 1967 green line both in Gaza and the West Bank (which is effectively the internationally recognised border), then any subsequent Palestinian violence or rocket attack could be met with an Israeli response that would be recognised as a legitimate defensive measure (assuming it is proportionate).

    As long as Israel remains an occupier, and hence in violation of the numerous UN resolutions on this issue, it loses the moral ground in any response against the Palestinians.

    Now Israel probably does not care about this, but think about how quickly widespread global support for Palestinian resistance would dissipate if this happened.

    It would then truly be a battle against insurgents rather than a colonialist, apartheid enterprise as it is currently perceived.

  22. still working it out
    July 21st, 2006 at 13:02 | #22

    Yeah, withdrawing from the Sinai has been a complete disaster.

  23. rog
    July 21st, 2006 at 13:03 | #23

    I am still waiting for global Palestinian support to dissipate after Munich.

    Hamas and Hezbollah are terrorist organisations and Israel has a right to defend itself against their attacks.

  24. Chris C
    July 21st, 2006 at 14:13 | #24

    And I am still waiting for Israeli apologists to disperse after Shabra, Shatila, Hebron, Ramallah, Beirut…

    By any neutral definition, Israel is also a terrorist state.

    Nice evasion of my central point though, Rog.

    Israel does not have the right to level Lebanon and claim it is self-defence.

    The hilarious thing was hearing Israel cite UN resolutions about Hezbollah as its defence for its carnage in Lebanon. I wonder why the Palestinians are not allowed to do the same.

    Anyway, this could go on, and I could continue to run rings around your flawed arguments, but JQs central point remains – whatever the historic rights or wrongs, the sooner REAL negotiations are undertaken, the sooner these conflicts will be resolved.

  25. Chris C
    July 21st, 2006 at 14:17 | #25

    Andrew,

    Agreed – unfortunately given the force arrayed against them, the Palestinians will never retrieve what is rightfully theirs, and will have to settle for much less.

    I just thought I would expose another canard that has been thrown around recently – that the Gaza withdrawal was a courageous concession that has been thrown back in Israel’s face.

    When any fair minded person understands that it is merely an extremely overdue and only partial restitution of a theft.

  26. James Farrell
    July 21st, 2006 at 14:21 | #26

    Like Harry I was puzzled by John’s comment that the presence of Australians ‘dramatically’ raises the stakes. It can’t make any difference regarding the ethics of Israel’s policy. For all we know, the Australians in Beirut might all be fee-paying members of Hezbollah. In any case, the majority of Lebanese citizens are no more responsible for Hezbollah nor more capable of reining them in, than the foreign visitors.

    So I guess the point is just that the involvement of Australians influences the perceptions of other Australians, especially those inclined to accept abstract rationalisations for violence.

    This doesn’t explain why Tony Jones keeps harping on the issue of Australians at risk when he interviews people like Ehud Barak about Israel’s tactics. It just sounds parochial and silly. Of course the plight of Australians is an important story, and journalists should ask Downer what he’s doing about it. But it has no bearing on the strategic or ethical issues. Nor, for that matter, does the fact that Israel’s attacks are occurring on Lebanese soil.

    The strategic question is, can you deter future Hezbollah attacks by demonstrating that your threats of severe retalition are credible?

    The ethical question is, how many innocent people is it legitimate to kill and maim as collateral damage, especially when those people are being used, more or less deliberately, as human shields?

    I doubt there will ever be a consensus about the ethical question, but if the answer to the strategic question is no, then that should be enough reason to condemn the policy. It can’t work. Israel is stronger than its enemies, but not enough to subdue them totally. Therefore, on purely practical grounds, they have to make major compromises.

  27. rog
    July 21st, 2006 at 14:37 | #27

    The original premise, that Hamas and Hezbollah, Lebanon and Palestine, Syria and Iran, the U.S. and Israel are 4 actors is flawed.

    It assumes that all are equal, that have all equally sued for peace.

    Hamas and Hezbollah have not and with Iran they continue to call for the complete removal of Israel, that is their non negotiable position. How can such people be appeased?

    Egypt and Jordan are also “actors” although perhaps a peace treaty precludes “acting”. Conflict resolution between Israel and Egypt and Jordan was successful with peace treaties signed and relations with Turkey grow stronger.

    Where is the UN peace keeping force in Labanon? They were to ensure that Israel withdrew completely and that Lebanon was the only military force. Hezbollah had built up their forces in the presence of the UN.

  28. jquiggin
    July 21st, 2006 at 15:10 | #28

    “So I guess the point is just that the involvement of Australians influences the perceptions of other Australians, especially those inclined to accept abstract rationalisations for violence.’

    This is exactly my point

  29. Chris C
    July 21st, 2006 at 15:17 | #29

    I just hope that the clamouring for a UN peacekeeping force in Lebanon leads to calls for the same thing in Palestine – the region has been through enough.

  30. Nanni
    July 21st, 2006 at 15:28 | #30

    Rog,
    Are you really sure the US is seeking peace in ME? Neocons such Richard Perle, formerly chairman of the Defence Policy Board in the Bush Administration, advocated for Israel to engage Syria and Iran in open conflict long time ago (see http://www.iasps.org/strat1.htm).
    Looking at Israel’s recent strategies through Washington’s geo-political game, I wouldn’t rule out that they are trying to provoke a sillier reaction (another 9/11?) to justify bombing Syria and Iran to rubble.

  31. rog
    July 21st, 2006 at 16:14 | #31

    The UN has a peacekeeping force in Lebanon called UNIFIL – been there since 1978 and are due to pull out July 31 2006. UNIFIL has certified that Israel has completely pulled out of previously occupied territory, this is disputed by the armed gangs in Lebanon who continue to attack Israel.

    I know people with families in Israel, in Haifa, they are also involved.

  32. July 21st, 2006 at 16:35 | #32

    JQ’s point is well-made.

    There is a pathological outpouring of pent up aggression being witnessed in the brutality of the bombing of Lebanon. This is no doubt the pay back for years of suicide bombings. It is also no doubt a war-crime. (That quaintly parlour-room concept.) And, all the while, Israel lost in an orgiastic spasm of cruelty, sows the seeds – as has the USA/UK/Aust – of future attacks against itself.

    Nanni’s point is also well made. And to my taste slightly more interesting.

    Israel’s response to the capture of its soldiers is identical to the USA’s response to 911. “Sweep it all up.” Go on the attack big time, while you have a causus belli, any causus belli, fresh in the media’s mind. There are over-riding strategic objectives being pursued across this region. It is, simply, a war. For regional domination. And unfortunately, Australia is one of the belligerents. Forget the neo-con stuff for a moment though. Think traditional reasons for war and you get closer to the truth.

    Hell, even Jack is getting there – after 4 years.

    “It is also chronic because great powers have been drawn to the region in search of strategic assets, not the least of which is oil.”

  33. Chris C
    July 21st, 2006 at 16:39 | #33

    Rog,

    Actually, Israel is still occupying the Shebaa Farms.

    UNIFIL needs to be a lot bigger if it is to achieve the aims set for it.

  34. Ian Lester
    July 21st, 2006 at 17:01 | #34

    Sorry guys, but it looks like a clash of closed minds and immovable objections. Re (one of) Chris C’s comments:
    “When any fair minded person understands that it is merely an extremely overdue and only partial restitution of a theft. ”
    Sorry, but isn’t the problem that they all believe they have a claim to all the land?
    And Chris, perhaps if you asked a few Indigenous Australians, you might consider a different perception of the value of a partial restitution. Your (sorry, I just can’t accept a Howard Government as my government, democratic solecism though it may be) Government can’t even say it was sorry about nicking the lot. Isn’t it fortunate that most Indigenous cultures aren’t into violence as a first solution to a problem. I wonder how we usurpers would feel if a small minority of Indigenous Australians got all jihad-minded and decided on Hamas or Hezbollah as appropriate role models.

  35. July 21st, 2006 at 17:10 | #35

    Chris C,
    Everyone except Hezbollah believe Shebaa Farms are part of Syria.

  36. snuh
    July 21st, 2006 at 17:36 | #36

    “With Hamas running the show Palestine is not fit for self rule.”

    putting aside the haughtiness of this statement, when, in your opinion, will palestine be fit for self rule? so if for example fatah was still in charge, well they’re terrorists too, aren’t they? for someone who is “still waiting for global Palestinian support to dissipate after Munich”, i think i know the answer to that question. so, practically speaking, you do not think the occupied territories should ever have self-rule. or perhaps i misunderstand you?

  37. gordon
    July 21st, 2006 at 17:50 | #37

    The Guardian has an article dated 19/7/06 indicating that the Israeli attack on Lebanon is being done by agreement with the US Govt. Though disgraceful, this is not surprising, given the extent to which the Israeli tail now wags the American dog.

    Another Guardian article here dated 21/7/06 gives a roundup of damage to Lebanon done so far.

  38. snuh
    July 21st, 2006 at 17:52 | #38

    Of course the plight of Australians is an important story, and journalists should ask Downer what he’s doing about it. But it has no bearing on the strategic or ethical issues. Nor, for that matter, does the fact that Israel’s attacks are occurring on Lebanese soil.

    so the fact that israel is bombing beirut, whose residents have not attacked it and not-insignificant numbers of whom do not support the individuals and the group who have attacked it, has no bearing on any ethical issues? the fact that beirut is not, on any rationale, part of israel, and is indeed part of a widely-recognised soveriegn nation, has no bearing on any strategic issues?

    these strike me as extraordinary claims.

  39. joe2
    July 21st, 2006 at 18:22 | #39

    James F… “Tony Jones harped on about Australians at risk” partly because Ehud Barak seemed totally oblivious to the risk of non-combatents, generally. Like Downer,E.B., could not ‘get it’, that Israel would do anything other than target Hezbollah. Both singing from the same songsheet but far from the evidence coming in.

  40. rog
    July 21st, 2006 at 18:30 | #40

    Chris C stop apologising for hezbollah

  41. Simonjm
    July 21st, 2006 at 20:36 | #41

    Rog would you rather he be a asymmetric moralist/ apologist for Israel & the US instead?

    After what the US has got away with the renditions and torture and murder and their disregard for civilian casualties in Iraq, should it be surprising that Israel thinks it can do what it likes with token consideration for morality.

    This is certainly the last straw for me to have any regard for these apologists or the international community, as any movement away from barbarism is truly superficial.

  42. gordon
    July 21st, 2006 at 21:46 | #42

    I was asked by a family member a few days ago whether, after Israel kills six million Moslems, we can all forget about the holocaust. I replied that I had forgotten about it long ago.

  43. July 22nd, 2006 at 01:59 | #43

    The moral supremacy of Israel’s position is clear to all, so why are there so many chip on the shoulder anti-israel types? Could it really be true that power of perception is quite weak in some?

    For most of mankinds past these types would have been eaten by a crocodile, a lion, or killed by an enemy. Thanks to modern civilisation that lack of self-preservation nous no longer automatically means those people will be automatically removed from the gene pool.

    Nowdays they seem to feel the need to sound off, as if their opinions are somehow of benefit to mankind. Couldn’t they just take a walk among their much-loved hamas brethren? Please?

  44. July 22nd, 2006 at 09:35 | #44

    I hate Middle East political culture. There are no good parties or leaders there. And now things are more democratic there, the top-dogs will tend to reflect the grass roots. The driving forces are all addicted to identity politics and hate crime.

    This discussion is just like a million other discussions about the subject, revolving endlessly around the same talking-points and stumblin-blocks. No commentator or policy maker ever admits that most things they have thought or said about the matter has been mostly wrong or irrelevant. Oh no, that would mean that all the money and time invested in the subject should be written off. Heaven forbid!

    No one ever admits that the main lesson of ME history is that people never forget their history and consequently never learn from it. Learning means deleting rubbish and filtering out white noise. Mark Twain’s epistemological principles are very useful to understanding the subject:

    It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.

    This is because ME political culture has evolved, over thousands of years, to confound the growth of a rational culture and modern nation states. The concepts of zealotry and jihad and assassin come from this region. Funny that, eh? So all your rational modernism is like water off a ducks back to these people.

    Whose brilliant idea was it that we could influence their polity or that they should modify our identity? Ha, Ha, Ha [sound of side-splitting laughter trailing off into the distance.]

    The thing is, the more democratic those jurisdictions become the more sectarian the parties and leaders get. And the more money and information they get seems to just empower the psychos.

    We should not poke our nose into their horrible business over there. And we should not invite their troublemakers over here.

    A plague on all their houses.

  45. July 22nd, 2006 at 10:34 | #45

    Hear Hear!

  46. gordon
    July 22nd, 2006 at 11:24 | #46

    Jack Strocchi seems to forget that Great Power intervention in the Middle East over many years is largely responsible for the disastrous state it’s in. To throw up his hands and say “ain’t the Middle Easterners all awful” is massively unbalanced and one-eyed. Now, Great Powers like the USA have become as much prisoners of their ME proteges as the proteges are of the Powers, broadening local frictions into worldwide conflicts.

    Mearsheimer and Walt noted the similarity between this mutual capture of the US and Israel with the earlier episode of the US and the Kuomintang. I’m sure other examples could be quoted.

  47. gordon
    July 22nd, 2006 at 11:37 | #47

    The scale of the worldwide damage done by the mutual capture of Great Power patrons and clients in the ME is partially indicated in this extract from The Guardian (dated 22/7/06)

    “With Britain now firmly in the US camp even on the Middle East conflict, the G8, the EU and the UN security council are still not calling for a ceasefire. This international decision to sanction such atrocities is the most troubling dimension of the current war. To make this refusal to rein in Israel more palatable, Tony Blair and Annan have proposed instead an international force for southern Lebanon. It fooled no one: the force will take weeks to put in place.

    Complicity in a war with such a high civilian toll is unprecedented in this era. It is particularly odious because all these leaders had, at last September’s extraordinary UN summit, solemnly hailed as a historic milestone the declaration on the “responsibility to protect” civilians during conflict, labelling this protection as one of the most urgent global priorities.

    The world’s carefully constructed international system for maintaining peace and security, built around the UN charter, is now on its last legs. It tackles crimes by the weak but is mute and unresponsive in the face of lawless behaviour by the powerful.”

  48. Simonjm
    July 22nd, 2006 at 13:02 | #48

    Jack and Steve at the Pub with such superficial and selective analysis it isn’t hard to see with that sort of mindset why many Serbians still think their war criminals are hero’s.

    I put it down to an inability to see both sides of the picture and selection bias which gives a asymmetric rationalized morality that is no better than any other cognitive/cultural bias.

    To JQ Romance of the Gun in the ME, would it be any surprise in a region where they have gone from one occupying power to another, the play things of power politics of major powers masquerading their self interests as morality that when given the choice of either occupation or oppression or imprisonment of thousands of their fellow country that they choose violence? Go figure.

    When the sole remaining super power continues this self serving power politics, rationalizes abusing human rights for its own gains and give unconditional support to their ally allowing them to do the same, but holding the other side to higher standards of moral behaviour it goes far beyond hypocrisy and is quite sickening.

    Gordon the writing was on the wall when you had the US apologists defending the renditions and torture if they could argue for that they could justify anything.

  49. July 22nd, 2006 at 19:32 | #49

    Simonjm: If the conflict escalates, as it may, which side do you think Ausralia will send troops to fight with?

  50. July 22nd, 2006 at 19:33 | #50

    gordon Says: July 22nd, 2006 at 11:24 am

    Jack Strocchi seems to forget that Great Power intervention in the Middle East over many years is largely responsible for the disastrous state it’s in. To throw up his hands and say “ain’t the Middle Easterners all awful� is massively unbalanced and one-eyed.

    No. Gordon, you should read what people write rather than go off half-cocked with a silly accusation like that. I have said that there is plenty of blame to go around, both at the sub-national and super-national levels of organisation. Here is what I said July 20th, 2006 at 8:55 pm, refutational bits with emphasis added:

    I

    I think that Pr Q should add that the causes of ME violence are both super-national and sub-national. Violence is chronic in the ME because this region has dysfunctional cultures and weak national polities, problems that go back hundreds of years. It is also chronic because great powers have been drawn to the region in search of strategic assets, not the least of which is oil.

    The ME harbours three incitements to Arab riot: a tribalistic and sectarian political culture, an irritating Jewish state and the bulk of super-power energy supplies. Because (sub-nationalist) tribalistic Islamic Arabs seem incapable of forming stable and civil nation states their peoples seem attracted to sectarian Churches.

    THis makes their political authorities weak and unruly. The super-powers are thus willing and able to be drawn into the region, for reasons of fear (of hostile powers getting oil control) and greed (for themselves to get same).

    But the fundamental cause of the problem is Islamic Arabic inability to properly form civil nation states: the key foundation of political Enlightenment.

    Still, they are all bad. The attitude of other nation states should be steady disengagement. Any intervention into the area should be UN-backed and led, and with the consent of contending parties. If none is forthcoming then we should step back give war a chance. Let em duke it out since it is unwise to get involved in a domestic. The worst man is going to win anyway so we may as well get it over with now.

  51. rog
    July 22nd, 2006 at 22:55 | #51

    Whilst all this speculation about “superpowers’, “geopolitics” and “neocons’ continues Israel is still fighting for its survival, without any real guarantee of success.

    If it is just about dysfunctional Islam then what pigeonhole does the holocaust slotted into?

    Israel is the target of annihalation, again.

  52. July 23rd, 2006 at 10:38 | #52

    The Israelis are not fighting for their survival just yet. Israel is overwhelmingly the military super power of the region. It also has the unconditional backing of the global super power.

    The feeble attacks on its forces (kidnapping) and peoples (katyushas) issuing from S Lebanon are a sign of its enemies weakness, not strength. THis is certainly a less malign threat than suicide bombers, although more of a nuisance.

    Israel is taking the occasion of these attacks to finish some unfinished political business. But they are only going to make it worse.

    Israel’s Judaic Zionist political system contains within it elements of the same dysfunctionality that deform Mesopotamia’s Islamic Arabic authorities. The zealotry that informs Kahanist occupants of the West Bank is an analog of the jihadism that informs Hezbollah ocupants of Southern Lebanon.

    Over most of the nineties and naughties, Israel has been the good guy, withdrawing forces, trading land for peace, promoting democracy etc. So they were heading in the right direction before they got dragged back into the general madness of the area.

    But earlier on Israel made some very bad political decisions, part Machiavellian, part Millenian in its efforts to reclaim Holy Lands for the Jewish people. The settlements in the Occupied Territories are only the most obvious example of this kind of mad thinking and bad acting. They ended up empowering Hamas. The invasion and occupation of Lebanon only served to create Hezbollah.

    The Jews are a naturally brilliant people. But the political decisions made on their behalf have often been bad, which has often brought on a “war situation that has developed not necessarily to [Israel's] advantage” (apologies to Hirohito).

  53. gordon
    July 23rd, 2006 at 11:16 | #53

    Jack Strocchi, if you are advocating an immediate cessation of US assistance to Israel, I support you. Is that the thrust of your comments?

    And a clarification: I gave a single link to two sources in my Mearsheimer and Walt link above – the first linked page contains a link to another. To avoid confusion, the link to the Israel/Kuomintang analogy is here and the link to Mearsheimer and Walt (a .pdf) is here.

    The point of these references is that it is quite possible for a small country like Israel (or in former days the Kuomintang) to exert disproportionate influence over a much bigger country like the USA. Mearsheimer and Walt is particularly revealing. Tony Blair should stay up all night reading them, to find out what he is doing wrong.

  54. July 23rd, 2006 at 13:46 | #54

    gordon Says: July 23rd, 2006 at 11:16 am

    Jack Strocchi, if you are advocating an immediate cessation of US assistance to Israel, I support you. Is that the thrust of your comments?

    Not exactly. The US should stop assisting ISR’s incursions and occupations into contested ME territory. But it should commit itself to defending ISR’s minimal state.

    Israel’s establishment was imprudent. But we have to put the Jews somewhere. So it may as well be in their Biblical Home, Sweet Home. [Sound of bitter laughter trailing off...]

    Islamic Arab militants cannot be taught by either financial carrot or martial stick. The only thing to do is to develop impermeable hi-tech border protection to prevent bilateral traffic.

    All non-Arabic powers, incl. ISR, should disengage from contested Arabic lands, in Gaza/West Bank, S Lebanon, Iraq etc. Plus no more attempts at regime change or “surgical strikes”.

    Any foreign interventions into the region must be under the UN flag, with full consent of the Arab League. This is unlikely to occur given present makeup of UNSC. So it looks like NGOs will have to pick up the pieces.

    ISR is the military superpower of the region. But owing to the nature of Islamic Arabs it cannot convert martial power into political influence. So it will have to learn how to make itself a small target.

    If guerilla attacks on ISR still continue from either Lebanon, Palestine then these attacks are presumably aimed at destroying minimal Israel. The IDF should be given the green light for whatever retaliation is necessary to neutralise the threat. Hopefully this will be proportionate to threat (not so in the present case).

    Armageddon, if it is going to happen, may as well occur in its traditional address. It is likely that terrorists will get WMDs in the next generation. We have to make a concerted effort to get our of their sights/sites.

    If Isamic Arabic parties/militias in failed or rogue states develop WMDs for use by transnational terrorists against ISR then those parties/militas should be targetted and destroyed. By commando raids if possible, by WMD attack if necessary. Presumably the IDF have a well worked out Samson option.

    Serious multiculturalism is an idiotic impossibility, as recent history proves. The Islamic Arabs can then celebrate their confessional diversity to their hearts content with a good old fashioned ethnic bloodbath or they sould learn by History by forgetting it. The former is pretty clearly the peoples will, going by the voters preferences.

    I hate ME political culture. So the less we have to do with them the better. And vice-versa. A policy of political quarantine is therefore indicated.

  55. brian
    July 23rd, 2006 at 16:58 | #55

    Only two things are required for the attainment of peace in what might laughingly call “The Holy Land”
    The Jews must cease their agressive and arrogant attitude to the neighbouring Arabs people whom they seem to hold in contempt and loathing.
    The Arabs must cease to complain and must accept
    Israeli dominance, and adopt a servile and respectful attitude to their masters .
    Once both sides accept these propositions ,then we will have peace..!!.but I wouldn’t hold your breath waiting.!
    Israeli after all is the last of the “settlerist” states established by European colonialists,and western ideologies.Zionist is afterall, a European notion,linked at the time, the late i9th century ,to the tide of nationalist politics in such places as Italy,Hungary ,Ireland and Catalonia
    The list of “settlerist states”includes the “Protestant plantation”of Ulster in the 17th century and the European sttlements in Algeria,/South Africa and Rhodesia ,in more recent times .These societies differed from the usual colonial situation…
    These societies were places where a “white ruling” class ruled a “a native” under-class. Israel is much the same sort of society,
    Like French Algeria,it lies in the centre of a region which rejects its presence.
    Israel was established at the last possible moment in history…by the 1950′s the tides of anti-colonialism had turned,and western defeats in Algerian,Vietnam,and the Suez Crisis would have made such a move as the establishment of the jewish state ,an impossibility.
    Of course if Britain and French hadn’t welshed on their promises to the Arabs in the First World War,Palestine .would. have been a free Arab state,with a small Jewish minority , this would have been like many other Arab states.
    During the time of the Crusades,the western invaders established a state called “The Latin Kingdon of Jerusalem”,which survived for several generations,but was eventually swepty away by the better leadership of the Arabs under the rule of Saladin, whose tomb in Damascus has become once again a place of pilgrimage for young Arabs,some of whom undoubtedly see Hezbollah in this long tradition.!
    One mans terrorist is another mans national here…see also Nelson Mandela,Michael Comllins,Markarios in Cyprus,and Ho Chi Minh !

  56. July 23rd, 2006 at 19:18 | #56

    To that abbreviated list of settlerist states you must add Ireland (the eastern two-thirds) England, non-breton France, South Tyrol, Malaysia, non-Javanese Indonesia, Brazil, Argentina, Peru, Bolivia, Paraguay, Ecuador, Venezuela, Uruguay, Chile, Panama, Costa Rica, Mexico, Jamaica, Dominican Republic, Bahamas, Eastern Ukraine, Siberia, Western China, Vietnam, Okinawa, northern Poland, etc etc etc etc…

  57. July 23rd, 2006 at 20:05 | #57

    Steve at the pub, Eh? Where does that “obvious” moral superiority of Israel come from? In my book, there are only bad guys active in those parts. You don’t get a lesser evil for Israel either, since it is so fused with so much misbehaviour going back to before its formal foundation. What Israel is objecting to now is pretty much what the Stern Gang did to the British Sergeants, with much less provocation.

    As for “annihilation of Israel” – well, that would actually be at least as good a thing as the collapse of the USSR. I wouldn’t want that to involve the annihilation of Israelis, of course, but that muddying is par for the course and I am sure my statement will be misrepresented that way.

  58. Simonjm
    July 23rd, 2006 at 22:59 | #58

    PT 1
    Steve neither, get a cease fire and acknowledge and work at the root causes.

    First as a basic condition of any short to long term solution start applying the same moral standard to both sides not setting the bar higher for one and lower for the other; and pivotal the unconditional support Israel gets from the US must end as, as it is one of the main reasons there can be no peace in the ME.

    Next the root causes: jumping up and down over 2 Israeli soldiers captured-not kidnapped- while thousands Arab prisoners are in Israeli gaols is just a joke.

    Basically we have Israeli Guantanmo Bays; we don’t know exactly how many Lebanese are in there but as this points out Nasrallah -

    “If we have in our hands prisoners and can win the release of Lebanese, Palestinian, Syrian, Jordanian and Arab prisoners … but we say ‘No, we just want Lebanese,’ then this is inhumane,” Nasrallah.

    -you don’t expect to have peace when you deny justice.

    So instead at looking at just a prisoner exchange and an avoidance of all this carnage we have Israel going after Hezbollah and by collective punishment of the whole country.

    As I see it by allowing to get away with the war crime of targeting civilian infrastructure and civilians- they’re not yeah right, warn to get out, but bomb the roads and fleeing cars and that’s not targeting civilians, give me a break- the international community let alone UK and US are validating the attacks on their own civilians. If Israel can do it, it is hardly a crime for Hezbollah to do the same.

    Oh but even if they exchanged prisoners Hezbollah will still attack wanting the destruction of Israel!

    We then seriously look at the Israeli/Palestinian question; even Jack at the very least acknowledges the imprudent nature of the establishment of the Jewish state. If you take the stance well its there the Arabs will never like it so use force to keep the peace, you might as well go to war with Syria and Iran and wait for eventuality of a ‘terrorist’ gaining nuclear weapons.

    Just dandy.

  59. Simonjm
    July 23rd, 2006 at 23:03 | #59

    Pt2
    There are many scenarios -many pretty dire- but if I were to look for a solution granting this bad decision of keeping a Jewish state in the region; then instead of allowing the Israelis to treat the Palestinians as dogs

    -hoping that conditions are so bad that they will immigrate or die while continuing to take more West bank land and thumbing their nose at the world while relying on US media spin & gove backing-

    you bloody well bend over backwards to give the moderate Palestinians the best deal that you can give acknowledging the raw deal they have got.

    You give ALL the West Bank back, with real control of borders travel infrastructure etc –to give a viable state, you give them a huge financial package not only for infrastructure but also for compensation for loss of right of return. You seek a truth a reconciliation tribunal to acknowledge the criminal acts of both sides and the release of all prisoners-both sides have committed atrocities.

    You grant the Palestinians their stake of Jerusalem, and get the UN to police security with a real mandate and power not relying on the Israeli warmed forces as the sole enforcer of security.

    If Israel wants its state and peace it must make sacrifices -it has it’s state after all- give a deal the moderate Palestinians cannot refuse, not because its the best of a bad situation but because it offers real advantages, something that will undermine the militants and Syria and Iran.

    If the majority of Palestinians can be happy with a viable and concrete two state solution with jobs, health care and a future the militants, Syria, Iran and OBL will lose the fuel for their fires.

    You think not well at the very least it would give the honey a chance as the vinegar sure the hell ain’t working.

    You want peace you have to give justice, not the end of a gun.
    & btw you no longer have that corrupt git Arafat f*cking things up.

  60. July 24th, 2006 at 03:11 | #60

    Simonjm: Sidestepping the question rather effectively answers it. You know you are wrong. Hehe….

  61. July 24th, 2006 at 07:58 | #61

    =The only new thing about the current crisis is that lots of Australians are directly in the line of fire. This raises the stakes dramatically for anyone who wants to endorse the actions of one side or another=

    It raises the stakes dramatically for anyone who wants to endorse the unilateral slaughter. It makes it tempting, with respect Mr Quiggin, for far too many even on the left to put the clear mass reprisals being carried out by a state with overwhelming military superiority into the two hard basket.

    ‘Them violent people fighting again’ was the basis for the west ignoring Rwanda for so long. In fact, while the lead up may have contained fault on both sides, the main event in Rwanda was one sided slaughter.

  62. July 24th, 2006 at 08:44 | #62

    “‘Them violent people fighting again’ was the basis for the west ignoring Rwanda for so long.”

    The West did not ignore Rwanda in the slightest – it was deep in the mud from the start – what you mean is that the media didn’t report what the West was doing in Rwanda. The French, for example, provided direct material support to the increasingly genocidal government in the early 1990s, and consciously assisted it to triple the size of the military (along with supplying the Presidential guard) by 1994, and thereby to underwrite the costs of their future aggression. This was done on the pretext of “countering British influence” (as the Tutsis were alleged to be) in a Francophone country. The genocidaires would probably have had to settle with Paul Kagame much sooner (and avoid the outright slaughter), were they not given cover by the French government.

    In the case of Israel, the pattern is being repeated – Israeli aggression is being underwritten into the billions by the US taxpayer. Once again, if this funding was withdrawn, it is likely that Israel would have to settle on more balanced terms than is being proposed now. I think the real lesson we should learn is – stop escalating crises by bankrolling the aggressor.

  63. MichaelH
    July 24th, 2006 at 08:47 | #63

    Krouri’s article points to the obvious solution – a final diplomatic settlment of the Israel-Palestine conflict, bu this appers to be as distant a hope as ever.

  64. rog
    July 24th, 2006 at 09:09 | #64

    When various muslim elements accept that others also have the right to exist then peace will follow. Israelis will always defend their right to exist and the high value that they place on human life makes that defence proportionate.

  65. MichaelH
    July 24th, 2006 at 09:46 | #65

    Rog, it seems that the primary opponents to a final diplomatic settlement are the US and Israel, as has been the case for quite some time.

    I’m not sure what can be done to move them in that direction when there appears to be nothing propelling them in that direction.

    The nearest recent thing was the Quartets ill-fated “Road Map”. THe PA accepted it completely and immediately, while Israel came up with it’s infamous 14 ‘reservations’. That I think was a measure of the relative power of the 2 sides. Israel doesn’t need to submit to external processes to achieve its’ goals.

  66. gordon
    July 24th, 2006 at 10:53 | #66

    Jack Strocchi, I think you are suggesting an impossibility when you propose: “The US should stop assisting ISR’s incursions and occupations into contested ME territory. But it should commit itself to defending ISR’s minimal state� and at the same time say: “Any foreign interventions into the region must be under the UN flag …� Neither the US nor Israel have any history of support for UN forces in Palestine. And history shows that it is impossible to limit military aid to Israel to what would ordinarily be described as defensive purposes. This is underlined by your support for pre-emptive “defensive� action by Israel, extending even to nuclear attacks. This brings us back to the status quo, where Israel justifies aggression by the limitlessly elastic idea of preventing aggression by others.

    Israel’s recent behaviour in Lebanon, the West Bank and Gaza shows that, as remarked by a Lebanese refugee: “Emile Maroud believes there is an Israeli agenda aimed at stopping Lebanon making progress. He said: “I had no time for the PLO and I have no time for Hizbollah. But this is about more than that. Israel does not want to see another modern, progressive state in the region.”

    I think that is right. the Israeli agenda is a wrecking agenda. The US agenda in Iraq, largely undertaken at the demand of Israel, is also a wrecking agenda. Both are trying to “bomb them back into the stone age�, as a previous wrecking agenda in another part of the world was described.

    And hooray for P.M.Lawrence’s sense of history!

  67. July 24th, 2006 at 13:03 | #67

    Steve Edwards:

    Can’t disagree with your nuancing of my comment there. The ignored it in a sense of taking an eon to call it what it was.

  68. Simonjm
    July 24th, 2006 at 13:19 | #68

    Steve at the Pub I’ve more moral reasoning in my little finger than you could ever hope to get in a life time by what you have showed in the simplistic shallow rationalizations your posts have indicated.

    This exactly the reason why there will be no peace in the ME, ethical bias by those who don’t have the ability to see past their bias.

    I no longer think people as a whole are rational when it comes to ethics; ever wondered why sincere intelligent moral people in the present and the past have advocated slavery, genocide etc etc when we think it so obvious?

    Ever had a look at the number of cognitives biases out there an no one has thought that people wouldn’t have similar confirmation and disconfirmation biases when it comes to ethics?

    I’d don’t know if I’ll ever get around to doing a paper on it but I’m coming to the conclusion that bounded rationality better fits the bill to what we think as rationality and that biases are the norm not the exception.

    The thing is with an extreme cognitive bias it seems to be almost impossible for the individual with it to actually know they are under it.

    Some people have a natural ability to see things from more than one side and question their own view points that helps but most of the time this is furtherest from most peoples minds.

    We have come little further than that ancient greek who said might makes right all we have done is give it a better spin.

  69. July 24th, 2006 at 22:57 | #69

    It would seem that someone nicked Simonjm’s rattle when he was 2yo.

    About time you got over it. It’s not all about you.

    It was a simple question with a choice of two answers. It cannot be answered any other way.

    Perhaps you should look up “cognitive” in the dictionary, hehe…

  70. July 25th, 2006 at 23:54 | #70

    Simonjm, I’ve thought about that slavery one. It seems to come down to two things:-

    - it’s not actually that simple, so that it actually was a lesser evil in certain times and places (not that rare ones either, historically); and

    - people who had a moral sense went into denial and persuaded themselves it was right, so that even after circumstances had changed they remained convinced of its soundness and even desirability (unlike the casually indifferent people, who simply stopped).

    Thus, ironically, it is the people with the most highly developed moral senses who are capable of the greatest descents into wickedness (as just here exemplified by slavery, and hereabouts by the continuing Jewish dehumanisation of those Israel feels obliged to attack for reasons that no longer really apply).

  71. Simonjm
    July 26th, 2006 at 13:24 | #71

    P.M.Lawrence
    A lesser evil- you then have to wonder how something that some of us consider of fundamental importance becomes a lesser evil- in some, a validated and justifiable norm for others where any questioning of this leads at best to being ostracized at worst death.

    BTW your lesser evil argument doesn’t in anyway excuse the use of slavery in those times, and in fact while not well know totally undermines Christianities morally perfect God. If it is objectively wrong time and circumstance are irrelevant then the OT God could not condone or practice it which it does. Account for that gigantic cultural blind-spot.

    Aristotle arguably one of the greatest minds of human history couldn’t see through his own cultural bias would you think Joe Blogs would have any better luck?

    Most people historically and in the present don’t reason morally they rationalize based on the norms of their time, there is no active denial, that is how they construct & use their moral norms.

    Who has the time in any life to reason through to the foundations of their own moral norms, the rationalizations make sense in the light of what is accepted at that time and who wants to be ostracized? If you use the Boundedrationality
    concept this is exactly what one would expect, throw in all the cognitive short cuts and biases we know we have do you think it reasonable that ethics would be immune to this?

    Therefore things like slavery, genocide, cannibalism, human sacrifice, non-sexual females homosexuality as wrong/perverted, masturbation as a sign of mental disease are perfectly sensible even if most individuals who accept these norms give them more than a cursory moment of refection. This is even harder as the establishment of the day intelligent and educated many of them pillars of their time act them as true.

    Counter cultures do emerge and may indeed be more logically/factually consistent but that does not mean that everything else they believe is also morally consistent.( I belive this also creates a bias)

    There are good grounds that the current pro-choice stance is fundamentally inconsistent –this is coming from a strong atheist- but because it has become socialized being heavily connected but not based on female rights any questioning of it is blown off as religious bias.

    But that is a whole different argument.

    Basically what I’m saying is I believe historically most people are under some sort of ethical bias & that it is the norm not the exception.

    Why should it be any different now?

    Very few are trained in critical thinking and there is no systematic training either from a anthropological or anti-cognitive bias foundation. (maybe throw in some game and drama theory)

    Bounded rationality is still on the fridges and while these fundamental cognitive biases are ignored humanity will continued labour under the delusion of rationality for some time yet.

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