"A.J. Rose" (Jonathan) (ajrose93) wrote,
"A.J. Rose" (Jonathan)

Middle East Primer, Part IV: "All Stick, No Carrot"

93, all!

BEFORE WE BEGIN our final section, I'd like to redress a possible imbalance in this series: the tilt toward a pro-U.S. and pro-Israel perspective. Besides, thanks to the scarcity (until recent years) of an alternative point of view in U.S. sources, you have quite possibly never read any middle east analysis like the two pieces below,* which I'll just link without comment for your consideration. I think we can take it as read that these two pieces would be enthusiastically disputed by those who favor Israel's side in these conflicts...but I thought it only fair to expose you to another perspective, as given in current mainstream (rather than fanatical nutjob) sources.**

At last, then, our final chapter.

FIRST OFF, to my (and perhaps your) enormous relief, it turns out former U.S. Secretary of State [EDIT: make that National Security Advisor; I think Cy Vance was Carter's Secretary of State. Duh] Zbigniew Brzezinski has made a large number of the practical points I'd hoped to, a hell of a lot better than I ever could have, as quoted in a piece on huffingtonpost.com. Sample (where "Neocon prescriptions" [caution: AJ rant ahead!] means the ones Secretary Rice is cheerleading when she eagerly describes the current crisis in Lebanon as merely "the birth-pangs of a New Middle East," to be imposed region-wide by force of arms (from the apparently endless supply of arms, men and money she cherishes so vividly behind that billboard smile, however limited their actual existence in the real world) -- see the writings of Bill Kristol, Christopher Hitchens, Andrew Sullivan and all those other clever fellows who have proved SO right about that six-week, mission-accomplished cakewalk in Iraq, but shut up, AJ, and let Zbiggy say his piece):

"Neocon prescriptions, of which Israel has its equivalents, are fatal for America and ultimately for Israel. They will totally turn the overwhelming majority of the Middle East's population against the United States. The lessons of Iraq speak for themselves. Eventually, if neocon policies continue to be pursued, the United States will be expelled from the region and that will be the beginning of the end for Israel as well." The whole thing is here:

This (thankfully!) frees us up to cover the broader issues I'd really hoped to, about the use of force -- and imposition of national will -- in the modern age of increasingly-ubiquitous global communications. Forgive a slightly telegraphic style; there's a lot left to cover, and I'm even more tired of writing this stuff than you are of reading it. :/

1. THE BIG ROOM. Maybe forty years ago, mystery novelist John D. MacDonald,*** in a political aside in one of his Travis McGee books, strikingly imagined the spread of global communications: as though the world were a huge, darkened warehouse, and suddenly the lights are turned on. At once, the poor and hungry in the warehouse can see that a very small group of people in the corner have nearly all of the food...and are gorging themselves. In the dark it didn't matter; but once the light is on, resentment begins to grow. The illuminated "big room" of global communication prompts more than material envy, though: more than ever before, atrocities, offenses, even slights, need be neither direct, nor local: people can be offended by the treatment of those they identify with on the other side of the planet. Muslims in (say) Indonesia can take offense -- with deadly consequences -- at the War in Iraq, the treatment of U.S. detainees, or even the shift in traditional U.S. role: from Israel-tilted "honest broker" to one-sided fan of "Ariel Sharon, man of peace" (and God help us all if the Islamic world begins to believe Bin Laden's take: that Christianity and Judaism are making war on Islam). Then too, there's a growing general awareness of conditions affecting the ability to make war: military-economic strength, political will (e.g. U.S. unwillingness to draft additional troops), and so forth. In short: not only are they getting pissed off, they see our vulnerability as never before.

And finally, total war was a good deal more acceptable, to a far greater number of folks, when people all over the world couldn't see real-time pictures of it.

2. PUTTING OUT THE LIGHTS... Won't, I am persuaded, actually work; that is, I don't believe the answer to the "big room" phenomenon is attempts at censorship. As with all evolutionary change, the proper response lies not in the futile belief you can turn back the clock, but in adapting to new realities. Okay, fair enough -- but there's only so much food in that warehouse, right? What about the "curse of rising expectations"? I won't try to minimize the difficulties, here: America in the twenty-first century EV, even were she freed from the goofball policies currently destroying her (and, impossibly, of her enormous debt to the Chinese, speaking of "rising expectations"), is facing some knotty problems.

Plug: please consider voting for grown-ups this November, thankyewverymuch. ;)

3. OKAY...THEN HOW ABOUT ROOM-WIDE MARTIAL LAW? ...Which might help to account for the current move toward universal surveillance and policing: the hope of using systems of repression which fascism and communism could scarcely have dreamt of, to keep everyone on earth in line. But come on: while simultaneously eroding all confidence in -- and hence, inevitably, compliance with -- government?; and (through tax-cutting and -evasion), defunding the military-police state you were hoping to build? Not to mention promoting "What's in it for me?" until you can't find enough folks willing to serve, in any case? (thanks to all of which a waggish friend of mine refers to this bunch as "the gang that couldn't repress straight"). Does this sound to you like it will work? Absent huge, and probably unacceptable (and in any case unsustainable) levels of repression, I strongly doubt it. And that (I'll argue) is part of our problem: we're confusing the hardnosed use of force with the effective use of actual power.

4. WWS-TD? -- that is, "What would Sun-Tzu do?" ;) Master Sun (Google "Sun Tzu," then check out the Thomas Cleary translation of his Art of War) understood physical conflict to be only a subset of the art of war (and a perilous one at that); saw what we think of as "war" as itself a subset of his real study, the art of imposing will. The Cold War liberal approach, like Sun-Tzu's, used force when needed, but much preferred to persuade: to inspire, cajole, mislead (when necessary), and charm people into accepting deals which -- crucially -- were also sufficiently attractive to most players that most of their people would acquiesce in them. The remaining people would either grumble (which you'd leave them room to do; most of them will be satisfied with grumbling alone, and your work there is done), or rebel...and only then do you use force, in a careful and measured way, to raise the cost of rebellion.**** (I'll note in passing the utility of international agreements in getting our way: the U.N., the Geneva Conventions, and other such items that troglodytes consider impediments to American will. We wouldn't have approved them in the first place if they didn't serve our interests, and they very much still can, if we'll only let them.)

But wait!, you say, how can one negotiate with terrorists?, inhuman monsters who deliberately kill the innocent?***** Sometimes you can, sometimes you can't; some terrorists need killing, and others would just as soon be "statesmen," given the chance. But we've got to remember how to be as hardnosed in calculation as we are in warfare...and the deft use of negotiation is one crucial tool.

Now, at last, we're ready to examine Israel's current strategy in dealing with her enemies.

5. ISRAEL'S CHANGED POSITION. During the Cold War, particularly after its display of martial prowess in 1967, western (non-USSR) backing of Israel was virtually assured: in effect, it was the middle east forward base for the "free world," keeping the region's oil out of Russian control. In the post-Cold War period, Israel faced the danger that this position, this necessity, might be seen as somewhat diminished; and despite the traditional, blood, social, cultural, financial &c. ties to the U.S., the temptation for the U.S. to cut a deal with the non-Israeli middle east -- i.e., sell out Israel's position -- arguably went way up (particularly, say, in the light of the Bush family's ties to the Saudis, Bush, Sr., being President when the Cold War ended, of course). Anyway, in the post-Cold War world, Israel arguably faced two options: either find a stable peace agreement, or impose her own terms by force: the carrot and stick writ large. Israel is well aware of the manifold dangers of the latter course******...though such a course does (some have argued) have benefits, even if a swift and favorable resolution isn't forthcoming: if the oil-rich middle east is plunged into constant chaos (crisis-induced trouble for the U.S.-backed Hariri government in Lebanon being only the latest example), the western world once again really needs Israel as its only reliable ally in the region.

Anyway, after the 2000 peace deal failed, it was on to a policy of "all stick, no carrot": the attempt to impose an Israeli solution: the "security wall," crackdowns on the Palestinians, the current action in Lebanon, and so forth. Understandable, perhaps, thanks to everything from the Holocaust, through the various Intifadas, to (especially) the rash of suicide bombings in Israel itself. But at what cost?

I'm not speaking merely of the human cost, e.g. to Lebanese and Israeli civilians, though that's worth considering, in moral, legal, and pragmatic senses; nor the P.R. cost, though I will note the dangers -- human and P.R. -- of collective punishment, destabilization of current states, and what strikes many as a sort of reckless disregard for both human life and international opinion which, however understandable, can make for real problems, particularly when occurring outside the context of largescale warfare against a modern army. This sort of thing is one of the biggest reasons that U.S. "restraint"******* of Israel has historically been so helpful. It's the archetypal good cop, bad cop act: "I'm holding him back," the U.S. says, "but you have to help me out, here."

No, beyond these I have another, less visible cost in mind -- a danger virtually never discussed...openly, anyway.

6. ISRAEL'S DEEPEST EXISTENTIAL THREAT? -- is, for my money, the possibility that Mel Gibson's dad and his fellow wackos are not, alas, alone any longer: for the first time in my life, and thanks largely to the Iraq War, I am hearing otherwise sane, reasonable people mutter darkly about covert manipulations of "the Jews." This is emphatically a false charge on Iraq in particular, btw: Israel didn't see the strengthening of Iran as a good idea at all, and is so far resisting neocon efforts to turn the current crisis into a region-wide war, an attempt to "take out" Iran and Syria. But let's not forget that the GOP base -- including, crucially, many of our military families -- is in some cases, to put it charitably, not too many generations removed from a serious belief in a World Jewish Conspiracy.

Finally -- and I won't elaborate, but think about this -- the paranoid amongst us might note that, whether by accident or design, the U.S. government has in less than six short years been defunded, depopulated of its experts (through major loss of stellar career officers: State, Defense, FBI, you name it), and militarily hobbled. Whatever the motives of those recommending the policies that led us here, I shudder to consider the fate of Israel should the same policies be pursued there.

Thank you for reading this, anybody who did. Hope you found it worth the effort. :D

93 93/93 -- AJ

* On the origins of the current Lebanon action, from the Arab point of view (Anders Strindberg, in the August 1 Christian Science Monitor:
-- and on the Palestinian view of Israel's 1948 War of Independence (Sandy Tolan on salon.com, July 11):
** While I'm not going to try to limit debate, btw, I'm pretty sure we won't succeed in resolving these disputes in this thread. That said, if someone wants to weigh in with rebuttals to these articles, I'd sorta prefer links to outside sources to lengthy analyses in comments. Nevertheless, post as thou wilt! :D
*** Rendered non-PC by passing time, alas, but one of the finest prose stylists this country has produced.
**** For those thinking of Halberstam's Best and the Brightest, McNamara's Vietnam policy, and for that matter the under-planning in Iraq, I'd better add that I do NOT ("pinpoint strikes" aside) mean relying on minimal force once one actually goes to war. If you're gonna invade, do it with massive and overwhelming force, and with the resolve to make it work...but if you CAN'T do it that way, look for other ways than war. If that needs further clarification, please ask in comments. :)
***** The issue is too big to handle here, but cf. Noam Chomsky and others on the notion of "pirates and emperors." Briefly, "terrorism" is the low-rent weapon of those who lack big armies and modern weapons systems, when they seek, like the big dogs, to impose their will. For that matter, in sufficiently desperate straits great powers don't hesitate to terrorize: what else were, e.g., Dresden, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the Contra war in Nicaragua?
****** It was tried before, particularly in Lebanon. Results were mixed; they are again today. In particular, I feel sort of sorry for the guy who assumed, and bragged on teevee, that Hezbollah's ability to fire rockets was markedly diminished by last Tuesday...what with the highest number yet (230+) arriving Wednesday, and another couple of hundred Thursday causing the highest civilian losses yet in Israel.
******* Sometimes literally that, if Reagan adviser Michael Deaver's account of the invasion of Lebanon in the 1980s is to be believed.
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