Thursday, July 20, 2006

Israel and Lebanon: why I can't condemn Bush (for once)

I've never been in a war. I would prefer not to be. Those who've read me will not mistake me for a Bushie, a neo-con, or a chicken-hawk.


Hezbollah is a terrorist organization embedded in Lebanon deep among the civillian population. They claimed to have 10,000 missiles and they were lobbing them into Israel. How wrong is Israel to invade Lebanon? Certainly they seem to have as strong a claim as the US had to invade Afghanistan (heck, Jimmy Carter supported that!), and a far stronger claim than the US had to invade Iraq.
Early Warning by William M. Arkin -

... When the U.N. high commissioner for human rights and former war crimes prosecutor Louise Arbour raises war crimes and argues that there is 'indiscriminate shelling of cities,' I guess she is referring to Hezbollah's indiscriminate attacks upon Israel. I might not like what Israel is doing, and my personal tendency might be anti-war, but I just don't see war crimes or indiscriminate anything in Israel's conduct.
I remember when Isreal was internationally attacked for going into Gaza City in pursuit of embedded terrorists. They were intensely criticized, and I joined in as well. I read the follow-up, however. In retrospect Israel's conduct during that assault was at least as "cautious" as the US seems capable of executing, and maybe even a cut above what we can do - even when we're trying.

I believe Bush will move with deliberate slowness, barely cooperating with international diplomatic efforts, aiming to give Israel a window in which to attack Hezbollah. This is one of the rare times I'm not absolutely certain Bush is being incompetent or wrong.

PS. Even more oddly, I sort-of-barely-sympathize with Bush's stem cell research veto. I think the nation is very much in denial about the "slippery slopes" in biotech and we do need more public engagement than we've had.


Anonymous said...

I guess that Louise Arbour is referring to BOTH Hizbollah's and Israel's indiscriminate shelling of cities, knowing that the carnage caused by indiscriminate shelling on the part of a $12.1 billion-budgeted military (per annum) will significantly outway that caused by the $2.6 million Hizbollah arsenal. You don't think targetting all trucks is being 'indiscriminate'? You don't think that killing 300 civilians directly, preventing those wounded from receiving medical treatment, cutting off the south from food and water supplies and displacing half a million people (so far) is not slightly overstepping the boundaries of what one can accept as a person with an anti-war 'tendency'? Introduce the idea of the 'terrorist' and all concern for the civilian population vanishes in a huge black cloud of smoke. How can people condemn Hizbollah's killing of civilians yet condone Israel's? I also think it is a dangerous tendency to start using U.S' pretexts for its recent invasions as benchmarks of legitimacy. More reasonable than Afghanistan? Less that Iraq? Although I suppose that the U.S. is now the self-appointed international community so...
Also I am amazed that you can support both a stem-cell veto and a bombardment intent on killing innocents that already happen to be alive.
The neo-cons have been in office for too long it seems, enough time for truth by repetition to start its ugly work.

JGF said...

Your post made me look up a more direct report of Barbour's statement [1], and she was indeed referring to both Hizbollah's attacks the Israeli response. You are right.

We'll only know the the approximate scale and nature of Israel's military response a year from now, when we're beyond the rumor phase. Based on their record in the past ten years their conduct has been comparable to the modern US standard, which, despite Bush, still remains relatively good by the historic standards of guerilla and conventional warfare.

If Hizbollah were lobbing missiles at Canada, Canada would attack them. I can't think of a nation that wouldn't assuming the ability to respond. Since Hizbollah embeds itself in civilian infrastructure, there's no way to separate an attack on them from an attack on civilian life.

Lastly, I didn't support either the stem cell ban or the invasion. I said that Israel's behavior was similar to what nation's do, including the US. I don't have enough information to say whether there were better ways to deal with Hizbollah and Syria/Iran. I suspect there were, but Bush's incompetence comes into play there. Certainly Bush has grievously mismanaged Iran.

As for the stem cell research issue -- I don't think my writing was an endorsement (re-read it).


Anonymous said...

Hey there

Yeah well I didn't say that Israel had no right to defend itself either - but I was responding to your assertion that you saw nothing indiscriminate about the shelling campaign. But now I see that you are saying that because Hezbollah is a terrorist organisation that embeds itself in the civilian population and because Israel has every right to attack Hezbollah then Israel has every right to attack the civilian population (and therefore the campaign is not indiscriminate). This is a very worrying thought.
I guess it all comes down to that scare-word 'terrorist' (never mind that the EU doesn't consider Hezbollah a terrorist orgnanisation, and they don't have those nasty hallmarks of terrorist organisations like suicide bombers, prefering the more conventional rocket). If we call you a terrorist we can just bomb the whole country.
All this discussion ignores the fact that this 'self-defence' of Israel just compounds its future insecurity by creating more and more hatred in its neighbouring populations. Israel has tried to scare, bomb and shoot the surrounding populations into submission (intermittently/continuously depending on who) since its inception. It is not working.
Look I think this is a very fraught issue and I understand that Israel cannot stand idly by while the state is attacked by belligerent forces. But I think blindly accepting the hegemonic discourse of 'terrorist' and all the ramifications of that vis a vis the power of states to punish civilian populations for the actions of the few is a very slippery slope. As someone with a very definite anti-war tendency I would hope that I can call for some restraint from Israel and question the discourse that they have used to justify their response (which is also the discourse that accuses me of negating Israel's right to defend itself if I criticise its methods).

and yes I did read your statement about the stem-cell veto incorrectly, you were not endorsing it. But don't you think it is an interesting moral position for Bush to take at this time? I remember reading about a campaign being mounted by a Christian left movement in the US south and one of their catchphrases was - 'life doesn't end at birth'. clever and telling. You would think that stem-cell research vetos would be more likely to emanate from someone with my views about the sanctity of human life (slippery slopes and all) rather than GWB's.

Oh also I don't think that we are in the 'rumour' phase re: the extent of the destruction/killing in Lebanon. There are a lot of journalists and NGO's on the ground there. There is an excellent source called 'electronic lebanon' on the net and its compiles articles from the international news media and local sources on what is happening in Lebanon and Israel.

Oh and more! I am interested in discussing this because I have found more than ever these days that you are expected to come down on one side or the other or at least I find that many people say Israel has the right to... and cogitation ends at the same time as the sentence. or Hizbollah has the right to... same consequence. I am in it for the innocent bystanders (Israelis and Lebanese), they deserve a little thought on my part I think.

JGF said...

I'm glad you called me on the "terrorism" label. I'd written somewhere previously that it was a limited-value concept, but it's easy to forget that.

I agree with you that we should forget the role of the terrorist label. That is not to say all acts of violence are equally vile, though a strict pacifist would say so.

Better to say there's a spectrum of nastiness between attacking an isolated military installation to attacking fighers embedded in a semi-supportive civilian world to destroying all trucks on a road to flying planes into civilian buildings, to blowing up restaurants and torturing captives, etc.

The targeting all trucks could fall into the really nasty end of things, depends on what warnings are given, what the alternatives are ...

As to whether this is a good idea in terms of Israel's self-defence, it may be that the good ideas were all left behind in 6 years of Bushian incompetence. I can imaging it might help, or hurt, or have little effect.

No argument on Bush's astounding hypocrisy. The man is a louse. It is true, I think, that Americans haven't thought hard enough about where the bounds are in stem cell work. A drowning man tends not to worry who's at the other end of the rope, and there is a lot of desperation around stem cell research -- most of all in parents of children who are suffering.

I do think it takes a while to figure out what's happening in war (or in New Orleans football stadiums - for example). I've had to live through (remotely, I'm among the fortunate) over 10 instances of these kinds of things - including those with intense real-time coverage, and the books that are written later can give an extremely different and persuasive view of what's going on, both for better or worse...