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Category: Security

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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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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Stand Your Ground

There is, and has been for centuries, a genuine and earnest debate in this country about the requirements and limits of deference to the State when it comes to matters of personal well-being. People who value their right to protect themselves from the burdens of parenthood by having an abortion assert the same principle of personal autonomy as those who value their right to protect themselves from being the victims of predators by bearing weapons; and both assertions come from the same moral and spiritual sources.

There is a primal disagreement about whether, and to what extent, individuals do or do not retain a sacred right to protect themselves when they also claim protection from the State. One view, typically associated with the American political right, asserts that individuals do retain such a right, that the government’s duty to protect augments, but does not replace, that individual prerogative. The other view, typically associated more with the American political left, asserts that the individual prerogative to protect oneself is, and must be, significantly diminished — if not fully subjugated– in order for government to maintain the civil order required for its protections to be meaningful and effective.

To be clear, the legal imperative that you must retreat, rather than defend yourself, in the face of a threat is an explicit mandate that you must affirmatively participate in your own victimization. It reflects a political philosophy that assigns responsibility for and authority over personal well-being strictly to the State and it requires that everyone depend solely on the State for that function — it requires that, if the State can’t act in the moment to protect you against such victimization, then your responsibility as a citizen is to avoid fighting back, to accept being a victim now in the hope that you can attain some form of redress later. In effect, it transforms the role of individuals within such a polity from that of sovereign citizen to that of ward and supplicant, from autonomous and self-directed moral agent to just another drone playing his or her assigned role in the human hive.

Hyperbole? Of course. But these arguments go beyond philosophy to the moral and emotional core of what it means to exist as a human individual embedded within a larger society and, so, they invite a correspondingly moral and emotional response.

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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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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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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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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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Restructuring Intelligence Services

In 2004 there was a great debate about how the intelligence services of the United States should be restructured to improve the quality of intelligence collected and the quality of the analysis and assessment provided on the basis of that intelligence. Although the process was nominally initiated by a bipartisan examination of intelligence failures during the period before the attack on the World Trade Center towers and in the run up to the Iraq war, the debate over what changes to make had a distinctly partisan flavor.

Since I spent many years working within large bureaucracies — the United States Air Force and Abbot Laboratories — and participated in endless rounds of reorganization and “quality improvement” programs in vain attempts to make those bureaucracies “efficient” and “effective”, I have some insight into how such bureaucratic organizations — and our intelligence services fit that description — fail.

For that reason, and because I am outside the political fray and therefore somewhat more dispassionate than our elected representatives, I prepared a proposal for restructuring the intelligence services that I believe balances the conflicting demands we place on them. I admit I have no experience in intelligence collection or analysis, and so my thinking is based strictly on my observations of our political culture, my experience with large bureaucratic organizations, and my imagination about how intelligence works. Further, I am not arrogant enough to believe that my proposal is optimum or even very good. But it seems to me better than what I’ve heard so far coming from Washington, and I hope it might provide some useful insights to improve the other schemes that are being debated.

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