« A Sense of Proportion | Main | Fragmenta Gallica »

Thoughts on the latest crisis

The following are, in no particular order, some of my thoughts, impressions, and reactions to the current Israel-Hizbollah war.

------------------------------------

Against two predominant, Western camps: those for whom Israel can do no wrong, and those for whom it can hardly do anything right.

...

Most wars are not a case of unqualified Right vs. Wrong, but of Wrong vs. Greater Wrong. 

...

You have one side which, however imperfectly, is committed to rules of engagement which explicitly distinguish between combatants and non-combatants - and another side which draws no such distinction.

...

One side is much more powerful, in conventional terms; the other makes up for its relative conventional impotence by resorting to "guerilla" tactics - notably, seeking the camouflage afforded by residential areas. It thereby mortgages the lives of those is whose midst it operates and/or hides.

...

Asymmetry and Tragedy: Hizbollah would apparently do great damage, but (so far) cannot; Israel formally aims to minimize great damage, but causes it nonetheless - Lebanon is being reduced to rubble, and its inhabitants are suffering enormously. The destructive intentions of the one are ignored by a multitude of commentators; the foreseen and apparently regretted results caused by the other invite widespread condemnation. The common denominator is the downplaying, or ignoring, of intentions, so that each day seems to end with a sheer "physicalistic" reckoning (body count, buildings destroyed, etc.)

...

One-sided exhortation: the "International Community" can only enjoin those who might actually heed its wishes, that is to say, those who  possess a roughly similar conscience; hence no one outside the immediate ambit of the Middle East imagines that they might temper Hizbollah. Calls for an "immediate cease-fire" are code for Israel to halt its attacks and incursions.

...

Many self-styled commentators throw around the term "war crimes" like guests toss confetti at a wedding. But the norms to which justfied warring and war-making are beholden, and their application, do not admit of elaboration with mathematical precision. A circumspect observer would begin by analyzing relatively clear cases - the intentional wholesale killing of non-combatants as a virtual end in itself - and then, more cautiously, work one's way towards the ambiguous or "mixed" cases. One can more reliably apply the principles of ius ad bellum/ius in bello to traditional, state-to-state combat; in an age of efficacious non-state actors, the norms themselves, not to mention their application, become murkier. Still, it should be easy enough to say "Let they be (morally) anathematized who remain unmindful of, or gleefully ignore, the combatant/non-combatant distinction" - for any such belligerent fails to honor a necessary condition for justified warring.

...

It's becoming tiresome to see the UN Charter, the subsequent body of "International Law," and/or the thought of Michael Walzer treated as the loci classici for the parameters of "Just-War" thinking. Those are aspects of, or voices in, a lonstanding conversation - and not necessarily the most illuminating ones. The Schoolmen acknowledged an inherently indeterminate quality to much of prudential reasoning (viz., ethics is not an exact science), which stands in mature contrast to the glib formulae and easy certainties of recent interlocutors.

...

However blameworthy individual Israeli tactics have been, it is absurd to countenance a set of beliefs which entail that States must simply absorb the effects of low-level wars of attrition, and pursue phantom "political solutions" forever, lest they suffer censure and demoralization when they assert themselves militarily.      

...

It's silly to split hairs over whether Hizbollah is a "terrorist" organization; regardless, it deserves opprobrium from those who uphold the Liberal values and traditions of The West, and is rightly viewed as an enemy by several Western States. To say as much is not to damn the organization, unqualifiedly; I personally have a certain amount of respect for them - far more than the brigands of Al Qaeda - and I can see why, granted their assumptions, they hate Israel, and I can understand the reasons for which they are esteemed by the Shia of Lebanon. A refusal to "demonize" them is fully compatible with wishing to see them vanquished.

..

Yes, yes - Hizbollah provide vast "social services" to the Shia of Lebanon, but it really is rather odd to see Leftists celebrate Islamic feudalism; and the overriding nobility of the political-as-Providential ceases to be evident if one rejects the assumptions that underlie and sustain Welfare-Statism. And even if Zionism has betrayed its Socialist roots ... unless I am much mistaken, Israel qualifies as a Welfare State.

...

The whole Shebaa Farms business is a red-herring - not least because Hizbollah wants to see Israel annihilated, full stop. It also underscores the irreducible ambiguity and arbitrariness of most International borders, especially those which were formed, and/or have been fluid, in recent memory. Age tends to give the contingent or arbitrary the look of the rational and meanginful.

...

What is "Lebanon"? While it's more accurate to describe Hizbollah as a "state-within-a-state" than it is to speak blithely of a general will of "Lebanon" or of "The" government of Lebanon, it seems reasonable to wonder whether Hizbollah actually might be the real government of Lebanon, in a manner of speaking. Here one must ignore polite fictions such as parliamentary seats and look clearly at the existential situation. Hizbollah seems to have a near de facto monopoly on force within the country, and to command the respect of a sizable proportion of the population. Thus the nominal government of Lebanon has been unable, and/or unwilling, to extend its putative dominion over Southern Lebanon.

...

One can be forgiven for guffawing at the notion that an "International Force" can "keep the peace" along Lebanon's Southern Border - how strange to look to a new force of "occupation" as something other than the substitution of one antagonist for another.

...

It is ceasing to be forgivable for anyone to place their faith in the United Nations. For that matter, it's not clear what agency one can place one's faith in, so far as shaping or containing the enmities of the Middle East is concerned. The ascendancy and confluence of interest of Hizbollah, Hamas, Iran, and Syria heralds dark times ahead. It seems to me an open, distressing question whether Israel will go the way of the Crusader Kingdoms of the Middle Ages.

August 6, 2006 | Permalink

TrackBack

TrackBack URL for this entry:
http://www.typepad.com/services/trackback/6a00d834205dc953ef00e55032c0b18834

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Thoughts on the latest crisis:

Comments