Now let me take a moment to address the current crisis in Israel, which just sent ground troops into Gaza during the last twenty-four hours. I’m I the only one that thinks three days of air bombing and a ground invasion is no way to reduce the terrorist threat coming from the region? That’s the problem with militaristic thinking. It demands aggressive responses that are often times disproportional to the original offense, and serve to inflate the ranks of the very militant organizations Israel is attempting to subdue. I don’t disagree that Israel must respond to rocket launches which injure and kill dozens if not hundreds of Israelis a year, but to so in such a way as to engender further hostility from the very population they’re attempting to forge a stable, respectful relationship with seems counter productive.
But then, how exactly do you deal with faceless attackers who can easily disappear among the Palestinian population? I suppose the simple truth of the matter is that Israel needs to pursue negotiations and solutions for the low-level problems. I remember when Hamas came to power through open elections, many observers believed they won not due to their hostile rhetoric against Israel, but due to their ability to provide basic municipal services to the Palestinian people — trash pick-up, water service, medical care, etc. Thankfully, this ties in to our president-elect’s philosophy regarding foreign policy. A policy known as “dignity promotion,” which in layman’s terms means that when a population feels satisfied with their lives, they are less likely to join militant groups. My favorite political magazine, The American Prospect, did a feature on Obama’s foreign policy team last spring, and if you haven’t read it yet already, now is the time to take a look. Here’s a brief excerpt…
Obama is offering the most sweeping liberal foreign-policy critique we’ve heard from a serious presidential contender in decades. It cuts to the heart of traditional Democratic timidity. “It’s time to reject the counsel that says the American people would rather have someone who is strong and wrong than someone who is weak and right,” Obama said in a January speech. “It’s time to say that we are the party that is going to be strong and right.” (The Democrat who counseled that Americans wanted someone strong and wrong, not weak and right? That was Bill Clinton in 2002.)
Most of the members of Obama’s foreign-policy team expressed frustration that they had taken a well-considered and seemingly anodyne position on Iraq and suffered for it. Obama had something similar happen to him in the spring and summer of 2007. He was attacked from the left and the right for saying three things that should not have been controversial: that if he had actionable intelligence on the whereabouts of al-Qaeda’s leadership in Pakistan but no cooperation from the Pakistani government, he would take out the jihadists; that he wouldn’t use nuclear weapons on terrorist training camps; and that he would be willing to meet with leaders of rogue states in his first year as president. “No one [of Obama's critics] had thought through the policy because that was the quote-unquote naïve and weak position, so they said it was a bad position to take,” recalls Ben Rhodes, the adviser who writes Obama’s foreign-policy speeches. “And it was a seminal moment, because Obama himself said, ‘No, I’m right about this!’”
This is why, Obama’s advisers argue, national security depends in large part on dignity promotion. Without it, the U.S. will never be able to destroy al-Qaeda. Extremists will forever be able to demagogue conditions of misery, making continued U.S. involvement in asymmetric warfare an increasingly counterproductive exercise — because killing one terrorist creates five more in his place. “It’s about attacking pools of potential terrorism around the globe,” Gration says. “Look at Africa, with 900 million people, half of whom are under 18. I’m concerned that unless you start creating jobs and livelihoods we will have real big problems on our hands in ten to fifteen years.”
To summarize: if given a choice between chaos and stability, human beings will choose stability almost every time, regardless of who brings it. That’s why humans will live under the thumb of brutish sorts such as Saddam Hussein (and many others). This is an idea as old as Hobbes and Locke (see their work on the “state of nature”), and frankly is the seed from which all civilization springs. Further, in times of especially dangerous crisis, when faced with chaos and destruction — and when Israel is bombing residential areas in the Gaza strip (justified or not), a chaotic, uncertain world is certainly where the Palestinians find themselves — humans will turn to militant, authoritarian regimes, especially if that regime can point to an ethnic or economic class as a scapegoat. I hate to pick such an obvious example, but think of Hitler’s rise to power much of which he obtained by vilifying the German Jewish population. This same idea plays out in the Republicans’ “Southern Strategy” as began under Nixon which is literally little more than race-baiting in nice clothes.
But back to Iran, while Iran may never possess Germany’s power (economically or militaristic), simply finding a villain to rage against can, in-and-of itself, unite a nation. It can even incite a nation to do terrible things in a vain attempt. Things which have little if any chance of helping a nation achieve its long term goals. A government willing to strike back, enforce strict laws, vilify its enemies and create scapegoats puts itself in a position that largely limits their ability to negotiate agreements with that party of which they’ve spent months if not years creating a monstrous caricature. It may win points in the short-term, but it does nothing to secure future stability. If anything, it serves to only heighten the tension between two nations.
So, if I had to sum up this series of events in one phrase, it word would be “cluster fuck.”
UPDATE: For those who wish to take action, you can sign J Street’s petition calling for a ceasefire here. Or you can download one of their flyers to post around your town or campus. In the meantime, I strongly recommend you make J Street one of your daily blogs. Smart, insightful, and at odds with U.S. and Israeli foreign policy thus far. These guys are true thinkers for the 21st century.