Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Walking... or is it Crossing a Fine Line


Thomas Friedman expands his "suck on this" psychology to the Palestinian territories, arguing that Israel's principal goal in its recent armed conflicts is to destroy civilian infrastructure, and to frighten and punish civilians:
Israel’s counterstrategy was to use its Air Force to pummel Hezbollah and, while not directly targeting the Lebanese civilians with whom Hezbollah was intertwined, to inflict substantial property damage and collateral casualties on Lebanon at large. It was not pretty, but it was logical. Israel basically said that when dealing with a nonstate actor, Hezbollah, nested among civilians, the only long-term source of deterrence was to exact enough pain on the civilians — the families and employers of the militants — to restrain Hezbollah in the future.
Glenn Greenwald responds that Friedman's approach to asymmetric warfare sounds an awful lot like terrorism.
The war strategy which Friedman is heralding - what he explicitly describes with euphemism-free candor as "exacting enough pain on civilians" in order to teach them a lesson - is about as definitive of a war crime as it gets. It also happens to be the classic, textbook definition of "terrorism."...

Other than the fact that Friedman is advocating these actions for an actual state rather than a "subnational group," can anyone identify any differences between (a) what Friedman approvingly claims was done to the Lebanese and what he advocates be done to Palestinians and (b) what the State Department formally defines as "terrorism"?
I'm not endorsing Friedman's interpretation here. As is his wont, he's describing what's happening in his own mind and projecting it onto the rest of the world. But really, it's a deplorable position and one likely to result in even more blowback.

Friedman yammers about how he believes Israel's infliction of pain on Lebanese civilians has deterred Hezbollah from launching missile attacks during Israel's Gaza invasion but, in giving a rather skewed history, he glosses over the fact that Hezbollah and Hamas have different political agendas, and also are of different religious sects. And why even if we assume that Hezbollah has been "deterred" from small attacks, that means next to nothing if hostilities again break out between Israel and Lebanon. As Dan Larison has repeatedly argued, if you choose a strategy of disproportionate response, you may deter smaller conficts, but at a significant potential cost:
If every incident, no matter how small, results in a large-scale response, there is nothing – short of their physical annihilation (which may or may not be achievable) – to keep those whom you are trying to deter from making ever larger and more destructive attacks. They will attempt to do the maximum of damage before the inevitable large-scale response comes. The more disproportionate the response now, the less restrained an enemy will be by deterrence in the future.... The disproportionality of response seems effective in pummeling your adversary this time, but it is only truly effective as a deterrent to others if the adversary is wiped out or permanently disarmed (an objective that would currently require an even more disproportionate response than Israel has so far employed).
Perhaps Friedman hasn't been paying attention, but by all appearances Hezbollah has rearmed and has better, longer-range rockets and missiles and better defenses than ever before. And it's political standing in Lebanon seems undiminished. For what use does Friedman imagine Hezbollah has amassed its new arms, and how much of a popular uprising have the battered civilians of Lebanon managed to present in order to prevent its rearming? Meanwhile, let's look at an important international relationship - Israel's relationship with Turkey. How his all of this going over in Turkey? (Don't you hate it when facts get in the way of armchair chest-thumping?)

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