A game of pong

In today’s Washington Post, Richard Cohen aligns himself with such bellicose pundits as Victor Davis Hanson as he argues for unhinged and indiscriminate violence against any and all associated (if only geographically) with Hezbollah terrorists. To suggest otherwise, as he *imagines* serious people have done, is pernicious anti-semitism:

>It also includes a whole bunch of European newspapers whose editorial pages call for Israel to respond, *it seems*, with only one missile for every one tossed its way. Such neat proportion is a recipe for doom.

>The dire consequences of proportionality are so clear that *it makes you wonder* if it is a fig leaf for anti-Israel sentiment in general. [emphasis mine]

Two points. First, those who have urged restraint have not suggested (and even Cohen admits as much with “it seems”) Israel engage in a game of missile pong–one for one. Proportionality is a principle of just war–of *jus in bello* to be exact. Those who urge it have rightly suggested that Israel not obliterate innocent civilians who are no more capable of controlling Hezbollah than Israel is. This argument is made on two independent grounds. First, it’s morally wrong to kill civilians. Second, as a matter of prudence, Israel cannot achieve its goal of eliminating Hezbollah by advertising for it’s most extravagant claims–that Israel engages in terrorism.

Second, to criticize Isreal’s reaction to the kidnapping of two soldiers (remember that) is not anti-semitic:

>These calls for proportionality rankle. They fall on my ears not as genteel expressions of fairness, some ditsy Marquess of Queensberry idea of war, *but as ugly sentiments pregnant with antipathy toward the only democratic state in the Middle East.* After the Holocaust, after 1,000 years of mayhem and murder, the only proportionality that counts is zero for zero. If Israel’s enemies want that, they can have it in a moment. [emphasis mine].

First, no one seriously urges the kind of silly military policy Cohen suggests; second, sometimes, believe it or not, Israel can be in the wrong–not because it’s *Israel*, but just because, like anyone or anything human, it errs.

So, Cohen, show how Israel is not wrong this time, not how anyone who criticizes them secretly wishes its annihilation.


It’s hard to say the author of the following in today’s Washington Post has in mind a straw man: we have seen in recent days on this site various iterations of the argument he attacks. Read the whole thing, but especially:

>Unfortunately — as the United States itself discovered during World War II and Vietnam, to cite just two examples — strategic bombing has almost never worked. Far from bringing about the intended softening of the opposition, bombing tends to rally people behind their own leaders and cause them to dig in against outsiders who, whatever the justification, are destroying their homeland.

While this point had already been made by Mr.Grey in a comment a few days ago, it’s worth repeating.

2 thoughts on “A game of pong”

  1. I’m tired of pundits irresponsibly assuming because a nation is democratic that it can do no wrong. Democratic nations can and have done many terrible things.

    Furthermore, isn’t Lebanon democratic? Iran? Perhaps not in the vein of a secular Western democracy, but they do hold “seemingly” fair elections within a constitutional system.

    Is Israel a secular democracy, or a Jewish democracy?

    Let’s stops reducing our “friends” and “enemies” to such simplified terms as “democracies” and “dictatorships” when it is apparent that political systems are as varied from one country to another as language and style of dress.

    Perhaps a secular democracy is a good in itself on one level-by offering internal freedoms to all its citizens-but secular democracies do not always act responsibly toward other nations in virtue of their being secular democracies.

  2. Pundits seem to miss the point when it comes to just war, in this case they claim that Israel is engaged in a just war because Hezbollah poses a threat to Israel’s freedom and security. The ultimate end of a war, if one so whishes to engage in one, is to achieve peace (or should be to achieve peace), to prevent further aggression, or to correct a wrong done to a nation. This does not mean that a nation has the right to use overwhelming force to achieve peace and stability, which the Israelis seem to be arguing by attacking Hezbollah. The idea that the end justifies the means to achieve peace, which seems to be what Cohen is arguing for, completely abrogates the idea that Israel is engaged in a just war. By targeting populated areas the Israelis are in effect undermining their efforts for peace, since those civilian deaths will most likely increase support for Hezbollah, and hence further increasing the level of violence, which won’t bring the much sought peace and stability.
    When it comes to “friends” and “enemies” of the US or Israel it is really a term of convenience, it seems that when a nation is deemed useful for the US , regardless of their democratic inclinations, it is considered a “friend”. If said nation is not willing to be cooperative or is not deemed to be a free nation (this is usually a key word for a nation that is unwilling to accept US foreign policies, as in open markets and so on), then it is an enemy. I think Jem is right to point out that the term “democracy” , “friends” and “enemies” are very subjective terms. This reminds me of Orwell’s “1984”, where the much hated enemies of yesterday would become the allies of tomorrow out of convenience.

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