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Sunday, August 06, 2006

Jonathan Chait's heart breaks -- but don't worry, he doesn't use it anyway

Jonathan Chait’s column in the Guardian begins like this:

“Let's face it, Israel's counter offensive in Lebanon doesn't seem to be going very well. Liberals are saying it. Conservatives are saying it. Plenty of Israelis are saying it. But here is the odd thing: nobody is paying very careful attention to the alternative. The criticism of Israel's ground campaign - however sound much of it may be - takes place against an assumption that peace could be at hand if only Israel stopped fighting.”

Of course, we know that Chait, being a clever American, will tell us that peace isn’t the absence of fighting. In this way, a garden variety word, peace, suddenly starts doing summersaults.

“Let's examine that idea. The United Nations types argue that Israel should withdraw from Lebanon and cease its airstrikes and that an international force should patrol southern Lebanon. But every country that could contribute to such a force has insisted they don't want to fight Hizbullah. Kofi Annan has said that a "cardinal principle" of any peacekeeping force would be obtaining Lebanon's consent. And neither Hizbullah nor the Lebanese government has evinced any willingness to remove Hizbullah's forces from southern Lebanon.”

Hmm. So, peace, it turns out, and Israel’s victory are one and the same thing. If Lebanon itself doesn’t have any willingness to remove Hizbullah’s force from Southern Lebanon – an unwillingness reinforced, in the last two weeks, by the evidence that other than having that force there, Israel will invade and batter the country any time it feels like it –well, according to the impeccable logic of Chait, Israel just has to keep fighting. They are fighting, you see, for peace. Such peaceful bombing of children was never seen before. A regular miracle.

In Chait’s view though, the problem is that Israel is threatened. Lebanon, which Israel has invaded now three times in the last twenty years, is, by contrast, unthreatened. Funny, that. To be really unthreatened, you have to have an air force making hundreds of bombing sortees over your cities every day. It makes things more and more peaceful. It is almost like they are dropping apple pie, except the bombs are not sugared, and they rip your guts out and your arms off. But otherwise, it is just like a picnic.

“But the death toll doesn't quite capture the damage wrought by Hizbullah. The purpose of the missile attacks is to force Israelis to live under a constant threat - missile attacks or cross-border raids that, while sporadic, can occur at any time. No nation would consider that condition acceptable. And even if Israel learns to take periodic attacks from Hizbullah with good cheer, there's no guarantee that the attacks won't get worse. After all, Hizbullah is acquiring newer, more powerful rockets from Iran.”
So, we are to consider Israel as doing what any nation would do. There are things that are acceptable for all nations, according to Chait. An interesting concession. Similarly, no nation would allow its neighbor to occupy its land. No nation would allow its neighbor to repeatedly violate its air space. No nation should remain uncompensated for damage wrought over eighteen years of occupation. No nation would tolerate its neighbor calmly planning and carrying out assassinations of its political leaders.
In actuality, just as Chait’s idea of peace is simply war, Chait’s appeal to the universal acceptable behavior of nations is not meant to be taken seriously. One nation, Lebanon, according to Chait, should happily swallow anything that Israel wants to do to it. In return, Israel has the right to reply in any way it feels fit to aggression. But of course, if another nation, say Syria, occupied Lebanon, why that would be a serious crime against humanity.

Chait’s logic is about an equivalence that is simply bogus. That equivalence is between Israel and the more powerful nations. He is simply appealing to the behavior sanctioned by the special group of nations of which he wants to make Israel part – the great powers, the former and present empires, who have given themselves the right to bomb and invade at will.

This overlooks the fact that Israel simply isn’t part of that group, and never will be.

Chait is correct to sum up the pluses and minuses of the Israeli military operation against Hezbollah, but somehow he misses the alternative that would emerge if Israel’s ruling class hadn’t made military supremacy and the settlement of the West Bank Israel’s supreme goals for the last forty years. The inability to triumph militarily in Lebanon is a sign that this ruling clique has lead Israel into a trap. The trap is disguised by Israel’s current idea that it will take unilateral action – which really means endless violence, resting on endless efforts to achieve military supremacy, financed by the United States. That, it seems to me, is the path that Israel is taking in Southern Lebanon. As with many an American proxy, though, Israel is going to find out the limits of existing as a free rider on American benevolence. Squandering its moral stature and its wealth against a militia party that is unlikely to be dislodged at all in Southern Lebanon is not a good deal at all – although no doubt the red meat boys at the New Republic, where Chait writes, think that it is neat. The same thinkers thought invading Iraq was neat.

Unilateralism is dead. Military action has obviously reached its limit. Oh oh, that means the dreaded and wimpy negotiation thing – even, perhaps, giving up the Golan heights, and giving up the settler’s welfare state on the West Bank. If Israel heeds the call of its “friends” such as Chait, however, it will be giving up much more, in the not too distant future.

“The doves are right that any solution that involves attacking innocent civilians is a terrible one. It's heartbreaking to see houses flattened and children killed. But when you have a nation populated in part by murderous religious fanatics who delight in killing enemy civilians and see the deaths of their own civilians as a strategic boon, any option is going to be terrible.
Israel is hoping to change the equation, to force Lebanon to take control of its border or accept an outside force that would do so. The tactic of striking Hizbullah has some chance of bringing that about. Stopping the attack and hoping for the best has no chance at all.”

Heartbreaking, is it? I think those are the mass manufactiured, Hallmark kind of hearts he is alluding to. Any breaks they may suffer are easily healed. It isn't the likes of Chait who will refer, again, to the Children's Massacre in Quana.

However, the more Israel heeds the words of hawks like Chait, the more it is going to confront no choice at all. As Iraq showed, an insurgent force can stop an occupier. And certainly as Israel huffs and puffs about bombing Teheran if Tel Aviv is bombed, they are moving blindly in a direction that has been mapped out by group that has never yet been right in the middle east – the neo cons.


Amie said...

LI, thanks so much for pointing out the lucid, unbiased and measured insights of messrs. jonathan chiat, robert kaplan and their ilk. after all, it is their admirable freedom of thought and expression which distinguishes us from the ideologues and their barbaric hordes out there.
hey didn't LI write about LSD in a post? i have to confess that not in my wildest trip did i have a feeling of entering some wild alternate reality that comes close to comparing with the experience of skimming though the news these days.
how many times can one read that the West, nay the entire World, needs to be grateful to the ISD for their defense of Lebanon.
ah, i can hear the screams of thanks coming from the bottom of mass graves, from beneath houses reduced to rubble. i look forward to reading the thank you notes from lebanese children who the bombs might have spared, while destroying their homes and towns, while killing their families and friends. so the bomb tore off your arm? tough it out kid. we in the civilized world need your thank you note for freedom and peace delivered via bombs.

roger said...

Amie, The apologists are out in force, aren't they? And they aren't exactly ripping off supersubtle moves from the Jesuit in Pascal's Lettres d'un provencal. I trace the curious idea that dropping bombs is something a target population hearts bigtime to - at least its most recent incarnation -- the Iraq invasion in 2003. I wrote a post on March 26, 2003 about Kanan Makiya writing for the New Republic:

"The bombs have begun to fall on Baghdad. Iraqi soldiers have shot their officers and are giving themselves up to the Americans and the British in droves. Others, as in Nasiriyah and Umm Qasr, are fighting back, and civilians have already come under fire. Yet I find myself dismissing contemptuously all the e-mails and phone calls I get from antiwar friends who think they are commiserating with me because "their" country is bombing "mine." To be sure, I am worried. Like every other Iraqi I know, I have friends and relatives in Baghdad. I am nauseous with anxiety for their safety. But still those bombs are music to my ears. They are like bells tolling for liberation in a country that has been turned into a gigantic concentration camp. One is not supposed to say such things in the kind of liberal, pacifist, and deeply anti-American circles of academia, in which I normally live and work. The truth is jarring even to my own ears.'

Over the last three years, his ears must have jarred so much that he felt like he was living in a carillion. He got all the bombing he wanted in Baghdad.

It is usual to talk of an Israel lobby, but in actuality, there has been a two way lobby, with the bugeyed right here charging for their support of Israel by promoting the bugeyed right there. Although you'd never know it from the American papers, the polls don't show overwhelming support for Israel in this war. More people actually supported the immediate ceasefire idea than Rice's ceasefire after we have reduced you to rubble. And that is a disaster for a state that depends as much on American largesse as Israel does.

roger said...

PS -- the polls, I mean, in America

Amie said...

LI, could you say more about the polls?

the Kanan Makiya quote is insane, though the order of the day. if in 2003, bombs were music to his ears, today i suppose he would hear the Ode to Joy at every street corner in Iraq.

your mentioning Pascal reminded me of his famous comment - in citing Montaigne - re the 'mystical foundation of authority'...