The West has developed a dangerous concern for ‘proportionality.’
In the current epidemic of Palestinian violence, scores of Arab youths are attacking, supposedly spontaneously, Israeli citizens with knives. Apparently, edged weapons have moreKoranic authority, and, in the sense of media spectacle, they provide greater splashes of blood. Thus the attacker is regularly described as “unarmed” and a victim when he is “disproportionately” stopped by bullets.
The Obama State Department has condemned the use of “excessive” Israeli force in response to Palestinian terrorism. John Kirby, the hapless State Department spokesman, blamed “both” sides for terrorism, and the president himself called on attackers and their victims to “tamp down the violence.”
In short, the present U.S. government — which is subsidizing the Palestinians to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars a year — is incapable of distinguishing those who employ terrorist violence from the victims against whom the terrorism is directed. But why is the Obama administration — which can apparently distinguish those who send out drones from those who are blown up by them on the suspicion of employing terrorist violence — morally incapable of calling out Palestinian violence? After all, in the American case, we blow away suspects whom we think are likely terrorists; in the Israeli instance, they shoot or arrest those who have clearly just committed a terrorist act.
Two reasons stand out.
One, Obama’s Middle East policies are in shambles. Phony red lines, faux deadlines, reset with Putin, surrendering all the original bargaining chips in the Iranian deal, snubbing Israel, cozying up to the Muslim Brotherhood, dismissing the threat of ISIS, allowing Iraq to collapse by abruptly pulling out all American troops, giving way to serial indecision in Afghanistan, ostracizing the moderate Sunni regimes, wrecking Libya, and setting the stage for Benghazi — all of these were the result of administration choices, not fated events. One of the results of this collapse of American power and presence in the Middle East is an emboldened Palestinian movement that has recently renounced the Oslo Accords and encouraged the offensive of edged weapons.
Mahmoud Abbas, the subsidized president of the self-proclaimed Palestinian State, and his subordinates have sanctioned the violence. Any time Palestinians sense distance between the U.S. and Israel, they seek to widen the breach. When the Obama team deliberately and often gratuitously signals its displeasure with Israel, then the Palestinians seek to harden that abstract pique into concrete estrangement.
Amid such a collapse of American power, Abbas has scanned the Middle East, surveyed the Obama pronouncements — from his initial Al Arabiya interview and Cairo speech to his current contextualizations and not-so private slapdowns of Netanyahu — and has wagered that Obama likes Israel even less than his public statements might suggest. Accordingly, Abbas assumes that there might be few consequences from America if he incites another “cycle of violence.”
The more chaos there is, the more CNN videos of Palestinian terrorists being killed by Israeli civilians or security forces, the more NBC clips of knife-wielding terrorists who are described as unarmed, and the more MSNBC faux maps of Israeli absorption of Palestine, so all the more the Abbas regime and Hamas expect the “international community” to force further Israeli concessions. The Palestinians hope that they are entering yet another stage in their endless war against Israel. But this time, given the American recessional, they have new hopes that the emerging Iran–Russia–Syria–Iraq–Hezbollah axis could offer ample power in support of the violence and could help to turn the current asymmetrical war more advantageously conventional. The Palestinians believe, whether accurately or not, that their renewed violence might be a more brutal method of aiding the administration’s own efforts to pressure the Israelis to become more socially just, without which there supposedly cannot be peace in the Middle East.
But there is a second, more general explanation for the moral equivalence and anemic response from the White House. The Obama “we are the ones we’ve been waiting for” administration is the first postmodern government in American history, and it has adopted almost all the general culture’s flawed relativist assumptions about human nature.
Affluent and leisured Western culture in the 21st century assumes that it has reached a stage of psychological nirvana, in which the Westernized world is no longer threatened in any existential fashion as it often was in the past. That allows Westerners to believe that they no longer have limbic brains, and so are no longer bound by Neanderthal ideas like deterrence, balance of power, military alliances, and the use of force to settle disagreements. Their wealth and technology assure them that they are free, then, to enter a brave new world of zero culpability, zero competition, and zero hostility that will ensure perpetual tranquility and thus perpetual enjoyment of our present material bounty.
Our children today play tee-ball, where there are no winners and losers — and thus they are schooled that competition is not just detrimental but also can, by such training, be eliminated entirely. Our adolescents are treated according to the philosophy of “zero tolerance,” in which the hero who stops the punk from bullying a weaker victim is likewise suspended from school. Under the pretense of such smug moral superiority, our schools have abdicated the hard and ancient task of distinguishing bad behavior from good and then proceeding with the necessary rewards and punishments. Our universities have junked military history, which schooled generations on how wars start, proceed, and end. Instead, “conflict resolution and peace studies” programs proliferate, in which empathy and dialogue are supposed to contextualize the aggressor and thus persuade him to desist and seek help — as if aggression, greed, and the desire for intimidation were treatable syndromes rather than ancient evils that have remained dangerous throughout history.
Human nature is not so easily transcended, just because a new therapeutic generation has confused its iPhone apps and Priuses with commensurate moral and ethical advancement. Under the canons of the last 2,500 years of Western warfare, disproportionality was the method by which aggressors were either deterred or stopped. Deterrence — which alone prevented wars — was predicated on the shared assumption that starting a conflict would bring more violence down upon the aggressor than he could ever inflict on his victim. Once lost, deterrence was restored usually by disproportionate responses that led to victory over and humiliation of the aggressive party.
The wreckage of Berlin trumped anything inflicted by the Luftwaffe on London. The Japanese killed fewer than 3,000 Americans at Pearl Harbor; the Americans killed 30 times that number of Japanese in a single March 10, 1945, incendiary raid on Tokyo. “They have sown the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind” was the standard philosophy by which aggressive powers were taught never again to start hostilities. Defeat and humiliation led to peace and reconciliation.
The tragic but necessary resort to disproportionate force by the attacked not only taught an aggressor that he could not win the fight he had started, but also reminded him that his targeted enemy might not be completely sane, and thus could be capable of any and all retaliation.
Unpredictability and the fear sown by the unknown also help to restore deterrence, and with it calm and peace. In contrast, predictable, proportionate responses can reassure the aggressor that he is in control of the tempo of the war that he in fact started. And worse still, the doctrine of proportionality suggests that the victim does not seek victory and resolution, but will do almost anything to return to the status quo antebellum — which, of course, was disadvantageous and shaped by the constant threat of unexpected attack by its enemies.
Applying this to the Middle East, the Palestinians believe that the new American indifference to the region and Washington’s slapdowns of Netanyahu have reshuffled relative power. They now hope that there is no deterrent to violence and that, if it should break out, there will be only a proportionate and modest response from predictable Westerners.
Under the related doctrine of moral equivalence, Westerners are either unwilling or unable to distinguish the more culpable from the more innocent. Instead, because the world more often divides by 55 to 45 percent rather than 99 to 1 percent certainty, Westerners lack the confidence to make moral judgments — afraid that too many critics might question their liberal sensitivities, a charge that in the absence of dearth, hunger, and disease is considered the worst catastrophe facing an affluent Western elite.
The question is not only whether the Obama administration, in private, favors the cause of the radical Palestinians over a Western ally like Israel, but also whether it is even intellectually and morally capable of distinguishing a democratic state that protects human rights from a non-democratic, authoritarian, and terrorist regime that historically has hated the West, and the United States in particular — and is currently engaged in clear-cut aggression.
19 thoughts on “Moral Equivalence in the Middle East”
You put a clown in the Oval Office, the world becomes a circus!
Obama is unable or unwilling to distinguish criminals from cops, riots from civic and civil order. He truly is postmodern in the sense that everything is everything and there is no longer any right wrong good bad morality or ethics.
You see clearly and explain in compelling terms the decline of the West and its root causes. “idle hands…
I don’t think it’s possible to go back to realpolitik, raison d’Etat or common sense. It’s over. We’ll keep pretending that the only problem in the world are bad dictators. Let’s keep overthrowing the only people who are capable of holding a mess together: Ngo Dinh Diem, Saddam Hussein, Assad…
The ruling elite insist that Western countries belong to the whole world and that our societies should be “colorblind.” These ideas have become tools of European demographic suicide. “No other race subscribes to these moral principles,” Jean Raspail wrote a generation ago, “because they are weapons of self-annihilation.” The politically correct permitted consensus opinion promotes de facto open borders. The West is hamstrung by guilt-ridden haters and appeasers “whose hold on the political power, the media, and the academe is undemocratic, unnatural, and obscene.” The “treason” of the elite class or traitor class, who despite their self-image as enlightened and rational are rootless, arrogant and cynically manipulative fifth columnists
The problem of deterrence is the problem of a cost/benefit analysis. Since the opponent can inflict damage at random intervals in random places with massive effect, it is not possible to literally block those attacks (without consuming all the nations resources). One could say this is the classic problem of asymmetrical warfare. The classic solution, as VDH suggests, is the use of deterrence, the disproportionate response to a minor incursion, in order to communicate to the opponent that his attacks or incursions will incur a large cost to him. That is how the cost/benefit analysis is brought back to zero (i.e. into balance).
I think there is another optional solution to this, what is essentially a Game Theory problem. That is to clearly and publicly pre-set the proportionate response to the incursion. This has the effect of “teaching” the opponent the consequences of his actions, and of breeding a resistance movement within the opponent, to the offensive actions that the opponent is performing. Note that to do this, you have to bring back the notion of Collective Responsibility / Collective Guilt. Here are some examples.
Israel could stipulate that for every rocket fired from Gaza or the West Bank into Israel, ten hectares (or whatever) of the opponents land will be reclaimed and the buildings on it destroyed. In the beginning the effect of this stipulation will be minimal, however, Gazans would be able to witness a line of fencing or destruction, slowly advancing towards their homes. Once the line reached their homes and the opponents land became smaller and smaller, a resistance to the firing of rockets at Israel would build up, at the very least, from the newly homeless people.
In the case of a knifer randomly stabbing his fellow Israelis, you stipulate in advance that his entire family would be held responsible and imprisoned for some length of time. Just as with the reclamation of land, the duration of the prison sentence would be adjusted algorithmically until the situation with the knifings is back under control.
Of course, those Gazans whose homes are destroyed, are probably innocent of sending rockets into Israel, not least because the rockets are normally fired from safe central locations, not the outskirts. And of course, a family is probably innocent of the knowledge of what is going on inside the heads of it’s children, if one of them has decided to become a murderous jihadi knifer. So there is an absolute moral question here.
Absolute moral questions are practically impossible to answer, so the best one can do is to try transform it into a relative moral question. We also have to say that guilt (and therefore cost) is generally implied by responsibility. So here are two questions of relative morality.
* Is a random family living in Gaza, more responsible for a rocket fired into Israel than an Israeli family suffering the consequences of those rockets? Does the Gazan family have any more ability to limit the actions of the rocket firer, than the Israeli family does? Living and voting in Gaza, one would have to say yes. (Obviously we are leaving out here the option of intervention by the Israeli military.)
* is the family of the jihadi knifer more responsible for his actions, than everyone outside his family (except his fellow conspirators)? Even though a family cannot be said to know what their children are thinking, they can be said to be MORE responsible for knowing what their children are thinking than other people (excepting the youth’s co-conspirators, who obviously will be dealt with if they can be identified).
So I suggest that the question of the morality of this kind of pre-set publicly notified proportionate response, is not intractable. In any case, viewed as a problem in Game Theory, the moral question may be overlooked.
It’s a war among three worldviews: a) Tribal Controlling, b) 1776 Tragic-Liberty and the “great evil” that took control starting slow in 1900 and dominate by 2015: c) Progressive-Retardnation.
Strangely, “Progressive-Retardnation” is more prejudiced, more evil, more death-making than “Tribal Control.” It is not a fraternity of bloodline (Tribal Control) but rather a fraternity of brainlessness or lack-of-good-spirit… Kings had their supplicants. Ditto for companies getting Obamacare exclusions from king POTUS.
The 1776-Tragic-Liberty worldview is the only worldview that fixes epic problems quickly and humanely… i.e. the US involvement in WWII was only 3 1/2 years! Though Roosevelt-Truman were of “Progressive-Retardnation” persuasion prior to the war, they persecuted the war as 1776-Tragic-Liberty men.
Inevitably, the world will become peaceful and flourish again… but only when time allows 1776-Tragic-Liberty to be fully and knowingly embraced by the current idiots in Europe, the Middle East and the US who believe only in “Progressive-Retardnation” in all things taught in school, and all things seen or heard in media.
What I am saying is this: None are so blind as those who do not want to see victory in 1776-Tragic-Liberty.
Progressive-Retardnation is indeed evil. Vladimir Putin accuses the US of forming ISIS, letting them loose, and continuing to support them. Vladimir Putin: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OQuceU3x2Ww
While his talk contains some special pleading, it is more realistic than anything the US administration has said in the last seven years. It is also more moral.
The notion of Moral Equivalence anywhere is bunk. It betrays dysfunctional reasoning or bankruptcy of perception bordering on clinical dyslexia. The configuration of parameters that define any and all issues of morality, although susceptible to being retrofitted into a generalized template always presents a set of attributes that defines individual determinism unique to itself.
That said, it should be well known or common knowledge that the Obama Regime has functioned as a well oiled apologist, enabler and facilitator of Islamist causes even before its first Inauguration. And it has gotten only worse at every decision point respecting Islam/non-Islam contested issues.
Also, deeper still, is that Iran seeks the ultimate nuclear ‘end game’; –as in end of the world.
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Oswama is a hate-whitey, hate-America affirmative-action nothing, who never ran anything but his mouth, and cannot ever be projected by white-guilt into having any “policy” other than a high-school socialist’s parroting.of Marx’s 1848 nonsense.
READ THIS ONE!
THIS IS ONE OF , IF NOT, THE BEST, OF VDH’s POSTS
SHOULD BE SENT VIRAL AND MADE A TOPIC OF NATIONAL DISCUSSION AND APPROVAL!
First, I am currently in Jerusalem at a hotel where scores of military police are billited. I figured out that if only the Arab terror was involved, there wouldn’t be such a presence of force around the city. But if this is a planned outburst, not by the loser Abbas, but by Iran and its proxies, then this would warrant such force. And this is what I believe has and is occurring. It’s encouraged by the direct negative attitude toward Israel by the US State Dept. and by the xxxx in the WHouse. Dr. Hanson mentions the scorn for Neanderthal use of brute force on the part of Washinton…and Israel tried to use sophisticated/incoherent force in Lebanon in ’06 and failed. The IDF learned and went back to the Neanderthal strategy, but wisely used tested infantry with clear goals and force needed to fulfill the objectives in Gaza’s Cast Lead, and it worked. I see the faces of the soldiers who put their lives at risk to protect civilians and they aren’t monsters…they’re like America’s sons and daughters asked to do a nasty job against a vicious, primitive and vengeful foe. The fact that Washington supports this terror with our tax dollars is nauseatingly disgusting. This same terror will come more and more to US shores, sadly to predict. But then again..Who’s in the WHouse?
Pretty apt description. The West looks awfully confused. The result looks that it cedes the advantage to those of the authoritarian stripe who would gladly espouse and wish to foment chaos to push their power agenda.
And if there indeed is ‘American indifference’ in the region the West can ill afford to dismiss lightly Putin’s current Syrian play. At this point the Middle East looks to be a chaotic sandbox. Will the West know how to ‘play well’ with the others under the circumstances?. I don’t know but it’ll be hell to pay if they’re sandbagged by autocrats on a mission.
Another excellent column from VDH and wonderful comments that followed, too. This blog is very high quality — content and readership. Maybe it is time to remind Obama of his own words spoken in the city of brotherly love, “If they bring a knife to the fight, we bring a gun.”
A country tempts true peril when its top leader is incapable of defining good or evil. A more troubling thought is the state of common sense and wisdom in that country which picks such a leader a second time.
Proportionality! The way one wins a battle is by applying DISproportionate force. If forces are equal, the skilful general seeks to create a local imbalance where his own forces can break through and break his enemy. Indeed, if one general is skilful and the other is feckless, a small force can beat a much larger force.
Can you say, “Cannae?”