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Category: Foreign Policy

An Israeli Cease-Fire?

The toll on civilian bystanders in Gaza shocks the conscience, so the heart cries out for it.

My heart cries out for it.

And, yet, my head also cries out: What is the alternative?

Because, in the absence of an alternative, a demand for a unilateral and permanent cease-fire is, in effect, a demand for preservation of the status quo.

And the status quo is unacceptable!

The status quo is more October 7ths — or worse — again and again and on into the indefinite future.  Israel cannot and will not accept living with such a continuing threat.  Nor should it be expected to.  No rational and moral government could.

So, to all those demanding an Israeli cease-fire: where are your corresponding demands on Hamas?  Have I missed them?  Where are the calls for Hamas to:

  • Stop their ongoing war-crimes by immediately and unconditionally releasing all the hostages they are holding?
  • Stop their ongoing war-crimes by immediately and unconditionally disentangling their military forces and equipment from the civilian populations and sanctuaries they are using as human shields?
  • Surrender the war criminals who planned and carried out the rape, maiming, and butchering of civilians in an unprovoked attack to face justice, either in the Israeli courts or at the Hague?
  • Turn control of governance in Gaza over to some organization whose goal is the well-being of the Gazan people rather than conquest and destruction of a neighboring country and its citizens?

And how do you plan to make sure all those things happen?  I suspect asking nicely won’t be quite enough…

Yes, I want Israel to stop waging war on Gazans.  But…I also want Hamas to stop waging war on Israel!  And, when it comes down to it, the reality is that Hamas will never do that.  As long as they are left in charge in Gaza, the status quo — constant low-level warfare occasionally erupting into high-level warfare — is going to continue on and on and into the indefinite future.

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Protecting Civilians in Gaza

What if Israel’s warning had come with another option? What if they had said:

We recommend civilians in Northern Gaza evacuate.

OR, as an alternative…

We request that the military units of Hamas do the honorable and civilized thing  — evacuate Northern Gaza, and clear it of all military facilities and supplies, so that they are no longer using their civilians as human shields.

It is doubtful it would have made any difference in the end — Hamas’ use of civilians as shields appears to be an inherent part of their strategy; it seems wholly unlikely that they would give that up.

But, it is important to remind people of something fundamental: the reason the civilians of Gaza are in danger is specifically because their own government’s military uses them in that way.

That should be obvious.  Alas, to far too many people in the Arab world and on the self-described Western “Progressive” far left, it appears that it is not.

Hamas could spare their own civilians all the upcoming misery by doing the honorable and civilized thing.

That they won’t do so should make the distinction between them and the Israelis clear.

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Deterrence

Regarding W.F. Buckley’s musing on whether or not, in the end, Ronald Reagan would actually have given the order to launch our nuclear response, I must point out that such ambiguity was always at the heart of the policy of Mutual Assured Destruction — that it is, in fact and by its nature, at the heart of any strategy of deterrence.

For deterrence to be successful requires two elements that must both be present:

    • That your opponent believes you have the capability to retaliate
    • That your opponent believes you have the will to retaliate (including the will to depend on retaliation, rather than backing down)

Note that neither element requires that your threat be ‘real’ — that is, that you actually have the capability in the first instance and that you actually have the will in the second.   What matters is that you can make your opponent believe both are real.

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Trump’s “Treason” in Helsinki?

Donald Trump betrayed us before a global audience — he dishonored us, as head of state rather than as head of government — by exhibiting a disdain for our democratic values, by demeaning the integrity of and trust in our institutions, by undermining our cultural and moral influence, and quite frankly, by playing, in our name and to our shame, the role of fool and sycophant to a petty tyrant.

If, as head of government negotiating and implementing executive policies, he were actually to act as an agent of Russian interest and against ours, then his behavior could legitimately be described as “treasonous”. But in the absence of evidence for that — and under the much more likely scenario that his abysmal performance represents merely a self-willed and negligent act of narcissistic defensiveness — the proper and appropriate term for his behavior is “perfidious.”

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The Limits of Diplomatic Engagement

Aside from its affects on our adversaries, diplomatic engagement creates certain expectations at home: expectations that can be manipulated to gain advantage by politicians during the electoral contest and during legislative debate; and expectations that can be manipulated, also, by our adversaries as they augment the quiet closed-door diplomacy of engagement with public relations efforts aimed directly at the American citizenry.

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“Pro-War”?

Those on the left seem to think that those on the right don’t want the Iraq war to end — that they are “pro-war”, by which they seem to mean “think war is a good thing”.

Formulate it, rather, this way: There are two ways to end a war, win or surrender.

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A Question of Nation

The chaos we are seeing — on the ground and in our own thinking — reflects the dissolution of the “nation” into more fluid and less tractable identities and spheres of interest. Al Quaeda is not a country and yet, in many circumstances, it seems to define and control a “nation” of people who pledge it their loyalty. Iraq was not Al Quaeda but were they really distinct — two “nations” apart — or were they both part of the larger Arab — or was it Islamic? — “nation” to which both claim allegiance and from which the “clash of civilizations” is arising? Is the UAE a country allied with the United States, or is it a culture allied with Arabia or with Islam?

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How to View Illegal Immigration

We routinely view the problem of illegal immigration effectively as one of importing labor. But it is a much more useful paradigm to view it as exporting work, despite the fact that the work doesn’t actually leave the country … If we view illegal immigration as an illicit export of jobs rather than as in illicit import of people, we see a different set of solutions to the problem.

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Headline Bias

In the aftermath of the Iraqi election, as the new parliament worked through the political compromises and alliances required to form a stable government, The New York Times ran a “news analysis” describing the difficulties and dangers induced by the relative split among the various political constituencies in the vote — by the lack of a clear mandate for one group to rule.

Although the analysis itself was unobjectionable and even somewhat balanced — labeling something “analysis”, even in the news section, reduces the need for a veneer of objectivity — I found it objectionable because of the way it was prefaced: the headline placed on the story communicated a clear and critical bias against the notion that the election had been successful that was not supported by the report itself.

If you had merely read the headline and the first paragraph you would have come away with an impression of utter chaos and gloom completely at odds with what the analysis overall communicated. My objection was not to the bias but to the dishonesty.

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Palestinian-Israeli Negotiations

The death of Yasir Arafat provided perhaps the best chance for a breakthrough in negotiating a peace between Israel and the Palestinians that we have seen in a very long time. It seems important that we make the most of it, not only for the sake of those in the region but for the benefit a Palestinian/Israeli peace would provide throughout the Arab and greater Islamic world: it would remove the primary excuse for Arab and Islamic antagonism toward America. That does not mean there would not be other reasons for such antagonism; but up to now invoking Israel and the Palestinians has effectively shut down any further conversation.

Taking advantage of the opportunity, however, did not seem like it would be easy. It was clear the United States needed to engage in the negotiations but our credibility both in the Middle East and in Europe is almost nonexistent at the moment. Further, between Iraq and Afghanistan and Iran and North Korea and Sudan (and whatever other hot spots the world is going to offer this year) the attention of both the President and the Secretary of State are pretty well consumed.

I had a suggestion for what we could do to facilitate the negations.

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