Thursday, January 22, 2009

Not Slaughter Palestinians - That's My Answer

On Gaza, a commenter weighed in. (Thanks commenter!) I'd like to respond:

The per capita GDP in the West Bank and Gaza is $1,100, according to the CIA. In Israel, per capita GDP is $26,600. Per capita GDP in the US is 3.7 times that of Mexico; per capita GDP in Israel is 24.1 times that of Gaza. If you think of Mexico as a somewhat impoverished country, you can't begin to imagine the chasm separating daily life in Israel and Gaza. During the six-year period when Hamas was launching rockets into Israel, fifteen Israelis were killed. In its recent massive attack on Gaza, 1,330 Gazans were killed--of whom some 700-940 were civilians [Wikipedia]. The difficulties of living in Gaza are compounded by the partial Israeli blockade of Gaza and severe restrictions on the movement of persons--the checkpoints. Given the hell in which Gazans live, it is not surprising they elected an extremist government.

Whenever a country commits a cross-border attack, it readies a story explaining why the attack ought to be perceived as defensive. Israel and the United States have tried hard to make the case that Operation Cast Lead was defensive. But the world isn't buying this narrative--and it's only too easy to see why. When you go in and flatten a country where average people are living on 4% of your average income--and in the process, kill sixty-five times more people than their illegal means have cost you, there's no way intelligent international public opinion is going to buy into some Newspeak narrative describing the assault as defensive. You're going to be viewed in an extremely unfavorable light if you support that dishonest labeling. And make no mistake--we pay huge costs for being perceived as encouraging Israeli intransigence.

Has Hamas made itself look bad for putting its civilians in human shield positions? Most non-US observers don't fault Hamas much for this extreme measure; we flatter ourselves when we think our saying this might make it so. People outside the US view the Gaza assault as so disgustingly unjust that Hamas' use of human shields counts rather minimally to its disfavor. People in Israel and the US think 'any ethical Hamas leadership ought to see the wisdom in locating their paltry weaponry far from civilians, so that Israel can pulverize it easily and cleanly'. But this intuition does not seem obvious to people predisposed to viewing Israel's cross-border assault as an offensive military action.

There are some American observers who don't care what other countries think about our blank-check policy with Israel. But that kind of thinking is exceedingly dangerous in foreign affairs. You don't get to choose the definitions of everything. Entering a new political era, the US must exercise more concern for the opinions of others; in doing so, the US will be pursuing a safer course for our own national security. George Bush allowed us to become highly isolated diplomatically, at immense cost. Barack Obama has the opportunity to chart a new course.

An important element in that new course ought to be a renewed frankness with Israel--in which we inform that country that we will not stand idly by if it views its ongoing security challenges as being indefinitely resolvable with massive attacks on its neighbors. That doesn't buy Israel the long term peace it needs--and it apportions too much of Israel's defense bill onto the USA. Israel's leadership must be informed that its security challenges are its problem--and the US should withhold foreign aid to Israel if cross-border assaults recur, or if illegal settlements aren't dismantled with deliberate speed.

In your comment you say that Hamas desires ever greater conflict with Israel. But how do you think Israel's intentions look, from street level in Gaza City? When Hamas kills fifteen Israelis in six years and Israel kills 700-940 Gazan civilians in three weeks, do you think international public opinion thanks Israel for its diligence in keeping civilian deaths low? Playing the intentions game is a fool's errand--as it is simply a rationalization for seeing the conflict entirely from 'our side's' perspective.

You ask what other action Israel might take, in order to stop Hamas' rocket attacks. But coming up with a reasonable resolution to the immediate and underlying problem is for Israel to deal with. I'd just like them to know that solutions involving flattening their neighbors with large civilian death tolls won't be accepted in the future--as it's morally indefensible and it imposes excessive diplomatic costs on the US.

Ann Althouse asked:

If an American city were being repeatedly attacked over a long period of time, would we just accept it? Would we just say, ‘We’re so powerful that we can’t respond?’

Glenn Loury answered:

I think that question is also part of this Orwellian discourse. What would I have Israel do? as if, to object to this slaughter requires me to put forward a foreign policy. As if it was self-evident that there are only two alternatives—supine Israel accepting missiles falling on its cities, or this slaughter. I don’t accept that for a moment. Moreover, the analogy comes completely out of context. Would Americans accept missiles lobbed from Tijuana into San Diego? is completely absurd. We wouldn’t be in the situation in the first place. That’s a refugee camp there in Gaza that’s been there for six decades. Maybe the right analogy would be: Millions of Native Americans, hemmed into a reservation that was ten km by twenty-five km, engaged in a three-generation-long war, in which a few missiles were landing on San Diego...and we decided to go in and mop the floor with them. If there’s going to be an analogy it ought to be something like that. No—I don’t think the moral calculus is resolved by the question, ‘What would I have Israel do?’ Not slaughter Palestinians—that’s my answer to that question.
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