Monday, June 23, 2008


THE ceasefire between the Palestinian terror outfit Hamas and Little Satan in the Gaza Strip is surely good news.

That Hamas calls it a tahdiya, or period of calmness, rather than a ceasefire, may even underline that good news. Hamas does not want to be seen entering a ceasefire when its raison d'etre is armed struggle.

Yet it may well be good news because it may be a sign of Hamas's weakness. Hamas is a savage terrorist group, as it demonstrated in its short but extravagantly violent and sadistic civil war with Fatah for control of Gaza. Hamas is a branch of the Mohammedist Brotherhood and is dedicated to the jihad struggle, unlike Fatah, which is more secular and predominantly nationalist, at least in its rhetoric.

But Hamas has delivered misery to the Palestinian people even beyond the misery delivered to them by the corrupt and incompetent rule of Fatah. There is some evidence that Hamas has lost a significant degree of popularity with the Palestinian people, even though it triumphed in the last Palestinian elections.

Hamas prob won't give up its version of state power in Gaza, regardless of the will of the Palestinian people. Some analysts believe the reverse, that it may just accept reunification of the Palestinian national movement under the nominal leadership of Fatah and go back to unadulterated armed resistance work.

But it may be that several significant forces have started to move against Hamas. The most important of these is Egypt, which was shocked by the Palestinian incursion into its territory several months ago and is building a wall to keep out the Palestinians.

Finally, the two-state solution between the Israelis and the Palestinians is collapsing. There is no sign that the Palestinian movement can provide a state partner that could assure Little Satan she would not be subjected to constant missile and terrorist attack from an independent Palestinian state.

Moreover, the longer you spend in Jerusalem, the less likely it becomes that any Palestinian east Jerusalemite is going to give up the affluence that comes from living in modern Little Satan to live in a fundamentalist Taliban state run by Hamas or a violent and lawless kleptocracy under Fatah.

Yet the Palestinians ultimately must be given full political rights.

A one-state solution is also impossible. Eventually there will have to be new thinking about federations with Egypt and Jordan, but that seems a long way off.


Ben Sutherland said...

You're right, Courtney, that the two-state solution is in serious disrepair. I do think we are actually in a better position than we have ever been on that front, though, as well. Mahmoud Abbas is the most good faith partner Israel has ever had (anyone how lived through the disaster that was Yasser Arafat's leadership can attest to that).

A two-state solution with the West Bank is within reach. I think it's doable in 1-3 Israeli election cycles, possibly, if you get good faith peace partners to sign a deal. The situation is warming with Syria, as well, which would peel her away from any threatening coalition with Iran. I'm in favor of giving up Golan, which is what Syria has set up as a non-negotiable, but perhaps Israel has other reasons for keeping that little slice of nothin' rather than make peace with her neighbors that I am not aware of.

Dealing with Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza, of course, is going to be much trickier.

Internal efforts by the Lebanese government to assert its monopoly of force and possibly get outside support (U.N. or NATO forces would be a logical political choice, though Israeli and American forces would be useful if they are the only ones willing to do the job, if they'd be willing, that is) is the first step to combatting Hezbollah, I think. Those guys need to be brought to justice. Giving them a political outlet for their grievances is not the same thing as letting them off the hook for their murder and mayhem. Amnesty can be negotiated as a part of a peace deal, but I definitely don't recommend it when you have people are still actively killing. I don't advocate it, in principle, is the truth. But definitely not in this case.

But, somehow, the Lebanese government needs to be strengthened to contain and combat Hezbollah's violence, I think.

Hamas is trickier. If Gaza citizens are increasingly disatisfied with Hamas leadership (which does look to be the case) and are open to a Fatah incursion, and if Fatah is willing (which has been the real hang-up under Arafat's leadership, but might be a real possibility with Abbas), then Fatah also needs to step up (also with outside support, if necessary), bring the Hamas leadership to justice, as possible, and only kill them when that is not possible. Hamas is actually a brilliant example of why that principle is important, I think; if there has ever been some assholes who have deserved dying, these are the ones, but popular support for their activities makes it very unwise to kill them, I think, if alternatives are available, which they often are not and they have to do, nonetheless. But it's wiser to bring them to justice, as much as possible, to undercut their political support and to give a public airing of their crimes against Palestinians and Israelis.

In that situation, Israeli intelligence, strategic, and material help would be crucial, I think. But it would be better if non-Israeli forces did the dirty work, I think, if at all possible, to remove any of the concerns about Israeli occupiers taking over Gaza.

If Hamas won't allow elections, and the Palestinians living in Hamas want them removed (if they don't, it's wasted effort, because they will reinstall another version when they do get to vote), then Fatah should lead that effort, I think, which is exactly what Israel has been advocating forever and which has been a major sticking point, from the Israeli perspective, for brokering a peace agreement. Fatah needs to step up. And with adequate support, so they're not engaging in a suicide mission, Abbas might be willing to do that. If not, a future Palestinian leader undoubtedly will. Palestinians aren't going to want to live under the thumb or in fear of those "jerks" (is that better, Courtney?:):) I'm trying not to be such a sailor, but sometimes jerk doesn't quite capture what I'm trying to say:) for good. Eventually, they are going to want to be rid of Hamas. And Fatah is in a better situation to deal with that challenge, given enough overwhelming force. If not, they may need outside help that is sensitive to the political realities on the ground.

It's definitely doable, though. We just need to be patient. And deal with the cards we are dealt at the momment. The cards in the West Bank are the best cards we've had to date, I think, which is encouraging. If Israel can reach some kind of security/peace agreement with Syria, the hand gets stronger. I, personally, think it is wise not to take Iran's bluster too seriously and to engage them on their nuclear pursuits. We've done so with North Korea with mixed but much more success. Israel or the Administration might well try to hit their facilities with air strikes, but not only will the set-back be temporary, but their efforts will almost certainly be doubled, since now they have been attacked by the very folks they were so scared of in the first place to build that bomb. And, with an attack comes popular support for such efforts, as well, which means Ahmadinejad gets to shore up support that he was on his way to losing altogether in his belligerence towards the West, all to secure a temporary set-back. If they are on the brink of sending a missle into Israel I understand and approve. But, until we get much closer to that point, it looks much too premature and counterproductive to make that move, yet. Obviously we would have to do it before they could strike. But we're really not at that point, at all, yet. And I don't see any evidence, at this point, that Mahmoud's rhetoric is any more than bluster. He's a petty tyrant who is losing popular support.

I do think there are a lot of very decent and workable solutions to many of these situations, Courtney. I think what we are often missing is enough patience. We're always in such a hurry to get to solutions that our hurry doesn't seem to get solved more quickly. We've been in a hurry with Iran for 5 years, now, and still no resolution. We've been in crisis mode in Palestine for decades, now, with not enough to show for it.

Slowing down and patiently thinking through workable options is not popular. Everyone wants problems solved immediately (I've long felt that the Administration got a bad wrap on Katrina as they tried to get their heads wrapped around the problems on the ground while liberals tried to score political points with counterproductive political pressure to get needs addressed, but which their efforts undermined rather than supported; that's my concern, at least). But getting our heads wrapped around a problem sometimes takes time and often takes much patience. I know action rather than patient thought is more popular, right now (and always really; thinking is so boring and unexciting, don't you think?), but living by that pride just seems to create more messes than it solves, generally, by my lights.

I should probably get some actual work done, today, Courtney. You've always got great stuff and intriguing analysis. Smart stuff.

Talk later.

Findalis said...

There could have been a 2 state solution years ago, but Hamas has repeatedly said that it wants the whole enchilada and will accept nothing less.

I think that Israel will have to take back the Gaza Strip. I remember a time before Oslo when one could walk from Israel into Gaza and shop. There were no walls or fences. You didn't know where Gaza began or Israel ended.

This could happen again, but the radicals who have hijacked the minds of the Palestinian people have to be eliminated.

Hamas needs a truce more than Israel does. To the Arab mind, they will only scream for a truce when they are weak. The fact that the truce is only for 6 months gives me concern as to what Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran are all planning together. And believe me they are planning something big.

Ben Sutherland said...

I assume, Findalis, that you be willing to man up when that bullshit fails?

Or maybe real men don't apologize for their bloodletting.

I wonder why Palestinians hate Israelis so much.

It's kind of a mystery, isn't it?

Findalis said...

BTW: The truce didn't even last a week. Yesterday (Monday) rockets were fired into Israel. A truce means that both sides stop attacks.

Love the lettering. It is easier to see.

Nikki said...

oops...fires shot today, so much for the cease. Let's try it again. :)N

Findalis said...

First of all I'm not a man.

Second, Israel has been very lenient in its dealings with Hamas. This is the only siege in history where the opposing force has sent food, medicine and fuel to their opponent. Israel has sent over 60 tons a day of supplies into Gaza for the past 2 years, supplies that Hamas has stolen from the Palestinian people. It has increased the amount to 80 tons a day, but Hamas claims to be besieged by Israel. Gaza gets 67% of its electricity from Israel, and what does Israel get back?

Rockets and attacks. If Israel wanted to she could wipe out every living thing in Gaza. What stops her? Not the UN or EU, but her own conscience. Israel is a civilized nation. There is no Muslim nation that can make the same claim. And certainly not Hamas.

GrEaT sAtAn'S gIrLfRiEnD said...

Hi Ben. No way. A 2 state deal with the HAMAS involved has always been a non starter - consider - HAMAS's entire raison d'etre' has been to drive Little Satan out of Gaza. Well, guess what? Little Satan split like 3 years ago. HAMAS has changed their raison d'etre' and refuses to diplo reco Little Satan.

Gee, if HAMAs truly wanted to cut deals and build their mohammedist paradise then recog Little Satan - share ambassadors and maintain the monopoly on violence. This last part is especially interesting as Islamic Jihad just fired off missiles for an incident that didn't even happen in Gaza. If HAMAS were true rulers - IJ would be busted up quick time. And HAMAS could do it if they wanted. I mean, toting around rocket artillery is not something like sneaking in Bibles or dVd's of American Idol or 'The Girls Next Door" - HAMAS's secret police would be all over THAT and put a halt to it very fast.

Pretending to be helpless as armed militias act out is not very convincing.

Now. Let's cut to it about the Golan. Check a map of Syria like a century ago. It was HUGE! Greater Syria (Kuriba Surya) was like Little Satan, Lebanon, Palestine, (sans the Strip) Jordan, Kuwait bits of Egypt and Iraq.

Bashar's inheritence insists that Greater Syria be re estabbed and Golan used to be in the middle of Syria - not on the periphery. Syria would really like it back -

Or would she? Even Arab League knows what has to be done - and have mentioned it repeatedly since 2002 and again at Annapolis. Full diplo recog from all 20 members of the League (Pyramidland and Jordan both have officially recoged Little Satan already).

Nothing magic about it - except that something is magical about Syria and HAMAS - that if other league members can talk of it openly, repeatedly and without restraint or modesty - seems retarded that HAMAS and Syria cannot.

Essentially - that is what hanging on to Golan is all about. And Syria could have it back at anytime. Kinda gives a new geo political meaning to the Arab concept of shame dudn't it?

Ben Sutherland said...


I think you need to read the post, again, before you pooh-pooh the 2-state solution, Courtney:) (which will be the way out of this, I guarantee, regardless of my or your opinion on the matter, at this point; what you're proposing isn't an answer and what I am is both workable and generally what Israel has been working towards for a good long time, now, the present circumstances notwithstanding). I'm mostly interested in you understanding how they will get there, because I'm not bullshitting when I say that, except around the edges, this is the only way out). It won't happen with Hamas in power, unless they hold elections in Gaza and win, which would change the dynamic substantially. But it doesn't look like that will happen or and very likely that they might lose if they did, at this point. That changes as Israel gets more aggressive. A two-state solution happens with Fatah and with Fatah forces, with as much outside help as they might need, taking down Hamas and bring them to justice, as much as possible. But hey, if Israel wants to take a more aggressive approach, then have at it, I say, if everyone wants to stay stuck in the same mess:). It is amazing to me how long people will go on making the same stupid mistakes, I must say. But it's Israeli funerals on the line, so have it.

You will never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever get rid of Hamas or their equivalent as long as there is political support for their activities and the will to continue them. And you will always have them or their equivalent as long as there is occupation and/or an aggressive posture towards Palestinians. If that's frustrating, get used to it. Because that is the political reality that you will be dealing with for as many years as it takes you to get your eye on the political ball.

You're a smart cookie, Courtney. But on this matter you and Findalis are just wrong. There is no resolution to this mess without a 2-state solution. Everything else is fantasy. The Palestinians and the Arabs aren't going way. Any other option gets Israel plenty of grief and more brutal terorist activity and military conflict with her neighbors. It's just not even an option that Israel can seriously explore without being prepared for 100 more years of war. And, this time, bloodier.

I don't care how Golan gets resolved, personally. I have no stake in the matter, at all, except that Syria and Israel need to get to a peace deal. If Israel wants to hold out and it gets them to a workable deal, I'm all in favor. If Syria will recognize Israel and that opens up the talks, sounds good to me. It's a smaller point in a bigger discussion, and I'm much more interested in the bigger discussion than I am in the smaller point. Israel and Syria need a peace deal. However they get there is all good with me. Though I wouldn't put too much bank on the idea that Syria and Hamas and folks are crying in their pillows at night because they don't have peace with Israel. But however you break the impasse is fine by me.

Yeah, Findalis, noone's defending Hamas. Israel's definitely in better faith, here. That's why I take her security so seriously and think Hamas can fuck off, as far as I'm concerned. Sorry I assumed you were a guy. The principle still stands. I assume you will be taking responsibility when that falls through. Because it will. For exactly the reasons I just described. I think it sucks when people screw up serious policy matters. I don't take it personal. I just assume people will be grown up enough to admit when they are wrong. When that happens, don't say you weren't warned.

This is a practical matter, y'all. What you're suggesting just doesn't yield a solution. Would that it would. But it won't. To the contrary, it will very much make things worse. You ignore politics with military strategy at your own risk. There is a reason why the best military historians and scholars are those who understand the politics, better. I don't give Kagan the nod over VDH for no reason. It's because Kagan understands this principle and VDH does not. And so Kagan's better. That's the way it works. And that's why Kagan and Keegan and others get more respect. Because they've earned it. Because they're analysis keeps more people alive.

And all I ask when you screw up a major policy matter, no matter how high the stakes, is be willing to own up. Policymakers make mistakes a matter of course. It is the long, persistent fact of political life. What people in politics don't do as well as they need to do is to admit when they screw up. And why that is so and how to change that is much of the focus of my work.

David Brooks has an excellent column on the matter, today, in the New York Times, that I cite on my blog, that you should check out when you get a chance.

The violation of the truce sucks. And probably wasn't wise for Israel to take out Islamic Jihad folks in the West Bank a day after the truce was signed. The rocket was probably a reaction. Wouldn't advise that in the future. Choices. Consequences.

Sorry if I've gotten personal, Fidalis. I think things just get heated when there are lives at stake. We're all on the same team. We're about saving lives. We just have to find the most workable way to do that and keep the most people alive as possible.

Israel's conscience and some greater wisdom about what's going to get us to a real resolution is going to be needed here. As long as everyone thinks they can obliterate one another out of this thing, the long and senseless tragedy goes on. Until we shake that, Israeli and Palestinian civilians will continue to get killed. For as long as it takes to learn the lesson on this one. That could be 1-3 election cycles. It could be 100 years. We get to decide.

You're post on Zimbabwe and Sudan raises a lot of interesting stuff, Courtney. I should probably get to bed, but I'll try to give my 2 cents tomorrow. Sudan is different than Zimbabwe (though it is possible that Zimbabwe will take a genocidal turn; I hope not and will not be talking such up, but if she does, we will need to do interventions in both countries). The Bush Administration really kind of poisoned the well on an intervention in Sudan that liberals, to their credit, have been calling for for a long time. They've been pressuring, which has been counterproductive. And noone has wanted to ante up troops after the various issues with Iraq, and the problems with such in Lebanon. A lot of bridges to mend to get that situation fixed. All the partisan posturing makes that harder. We posture. Sudanese people die. Tick tock. Tick tock. Posturing makes it hard to get shit done. And, saddest of all, it's all bullshit. Noone really has all the answers. Noone. The dangerous people, as Brooks says, are the people who never figure that out. Robert Mugabe is one such person.

That, actually, is an important focus of my work. To get everyone off their ideological high horses, enough, that they can work together on such matters rather than mucking them up with partisan foolishness that means more people die while we all posture about who knows it all all the time (which is noone, of course, which is why we all look so damned foolish parading about in such ways).

We need genuine collaboration on Sudan, both within countries and between major countries willing to commit troops. Zimbabwe and Myanmar are different situations. If we resolve such situations without losing lots of lives, we should. That's why the wisest folks prefer diplomacy over war to solve problems, as much as possible. It's not because Colin Powell is a pussy. He clearly isn't, by any objective standard, when people aren't bullshitting themselves. It's because it's smarter and saves peoples' lives, for when we have not grown callous to the deaths of our countrymen and other living, breathing human beings.

Also, I, personally, really hate futile and senseless death that doesn't accomplish anything or makes problems worse. It's kind of pet peeve of mine.

The Burmese military does not appear to be supported by their population, which would make it a different case, if true. But as the huge plurality for that murderous son-of-a-bitch Robert Mugabe illustrates, that may not be true. And that would change the dynamic, considerably. If they want us to invade, and there are not other options that save more lives, I'm all in favor. If there are other options to save lives, we should use those options, obviously.

More popular support means more counterproductive to invade and more of our guys die. More popular support for invasion, and other sound democratic principles taken seriously, means an effective operation. Some generals can't get their heads wrapped around that principle. Smart ones know better. And I have to say that I'm actually pretty impressed with who usually gets to the top, generally. I do think our current President made a long line of screw ups along the lines of thinking he has more answers than he really does, many of which will likely be repeated by the Democratic candidate and hopefully fewer by the Republican candidate, at this point; though I am wrong often enough to be willing to eat plenty of crow and ice cream on that point. If that proves not to be the case and Obama commits to staying in Iraq, I'll swallow hard on his regressive economic policies and consider an Obama candidacy (that's all I can offer to his campaign at this point, unfortunately). If McCain turns out to be smarter than he lets on and can be reflective in a way that impresses me, then I stick with him. Until then, I go with the guy with the better policies, and, for all of his many, many flaws, that's John McCain, at this point, I think. Campaign finance regulation will hopefully take a serious blow after the Obama move, this week. Post-partisan, indeed, huh? Well, it's a nice thought, anyway. Definitely the direction we should be moving, if we weren't so full of crap all the time. But, in the meantime, McCain has the triple crown of committing to Iraq, consistent free trade positions, and a free market commitment on health care. He'll be a pragmatist on diplomacy, for all of his bluster, right now. Though the more he blusters and the less he engages in honest debate and discussion (how mindless is this election going to get, I must wonder aloud?), the more likely he makes me want to vote for his opponent. I would definitely suggest taking the high road, because he's got too many flaws to take the low road. That's why I like him, actually, literally for all of his shortcomings. Because he knows he has them.

I'll see what I can come up with tomorrow, Courtney, after some sleep. It's a good discussion, y'all. Definitely kept me thinking and on my toes. Discussion stinks without the serious thinking. Glad you have it to offer.

Talk soon.


Ben Sutherland said...

By the way, meant to say this before, but I got caught up in something else.

On forcing the settlers off of settlements. It is very rare that Netanyahu and I agree squarely, since he's such a self-righteous nutball so much of the time, but on that issue he was right and Sharon was wrong, I think.

Those were peoples' homes. Sharon can say, "We're removing all security for you. If you want to stay, you do so at your own risk. You will probably be killed, since you will be surrounded by murderous thugs who want you dead and not have our firepower to support you since we're moving out. But if you want to stay, then have it. Don't say you weren't warned."

Sharon was trying to prevent that and making an executive decision to protect those peoples' lives. But, I think he should have explained the situation to people. And then, if they didn't want to leave, then let them stay and deal with the consequences.

It's a hard call, I guess, because most of the people settling in the territories are kind of half-cocked to begin with and folks who probably have very little realistic clue about what they're dealing with. Sharon just wanted to make sure they didn't die.

But if they want to die, then I say, as long as you've explained the situation to them....

I don't know. Maybe they should have forced resettlement. Maybe they would have been ok (but I doubt it).

Maybe it was a more reasonable call than I realized, at the time.

But the whole operation would have gone off better, security-wise and politically, I think, had he explained the situation to folks more clearly and at some length and let people make their own decisions, as much as possible, and convince their neighbors that maybe staying without Israel forces behind them probably wasn't such a hot idea. There probably would have been some fruit-loops who would have wanted to stay behind and get themselves shot, I imagine. That's the rub. Do you take them by force or let them stay? At least it would have only been a few people had he listened to Netanyahu. And then, I imagine you could persuade them to go with. Or maybe have an easier time persuading people that you were looking out for them if you forcibly removed them.

Tough call.

Anyway. You mentioned it, Courtney, and I thought I'd say something. I'm no ideologue. I just take liberal democratic principles seriously because I understand their practical utility and because it's the way I'd want to be treated, is the truth.

And it was a rare case, along with a consistent and whole-hog free trade and free market position, and an opposition to virtually all regulation, except when other means are wholly impractical or unavailable, a serious concern and opposition to campaign finance regulation, a pretty extreme pro-life commitment, personally, with a pretty consistent pro-choice commitment, politically, a solid commitment to Israel despite all of the pro-terrorist rhetoric on the left, a belief in exceptions on an anti-torture commitment, a pretty serious commitment to religious freedom, and a extremely strong commitment to freedom of politically-incorrect and offensive speech (Imus is an ass, too much of the time, but he's an ass who should have a show as long as people will listen, I say), where I had a position identified with the hard right. I was liberal for the biggest hunk of my life, so you can imagine my surprise when I discovered that right-wing fringe positions were often better positions than moderate conservative or liberal or radical left positions. I'm an independent, today, so I don't carry that baggage, anymore. I go to where the good ideas are at, period.

And that was one situation where the Israeli hard right candidate had a better position than the moderate President, I thought. Even as I understand why Sharon did what he did, the more I think about it.

Anyway. Talk later.


GrEaT sAtAn'S gIrLfRiEnD said...

Hi Ben, True - mind candy indeed!
Democratic Imperatives by Miliband make a great case for marginalizing and decreasing the desire or need for HAMAS and they are vulnerable.

Currently though - the two state deal seems dead. For a variety of reasons. And until that magical international community gets cranking on applying the DI the concepts that got Little Satan and the Strip to where they are now had an old school nom de guerre of 'Land for Peace". The Political coalition that the ancient armored surging general Sharon forged called K'Dima was all about it.

K'Dima is wrecked now with Sharon's succcessor. Land for Peace is a non starter (Like Golan).

A true believer in Democrazy tends to agree that HAMAS is neither democratic appearing or particularly jazzed about taking care of their own people.

As long as Iran feeds and funds the Strip's regime or kindred fanboise in IJ in WB those cats will continue to act out.

These cats have had a desire to try and force Little Satan to act out militarily in order to cry massacre! massacre! Using their innocent civies as intelligent innocent shielding.

Violating the sovereignity of the state and the R2P clause. Reason enough to put HAMAS out of biz. Legally - with the full support of the UN technically.

Neither callous or naive or dissing pet peeves yet history shows how Mother Russia handled that one. She leveled Grozny - not once but twice.

The world's silence was deafening.

As VDH might say "HAMAS might get got the war they asked for" and of all the things that war entails - Kagan and Keegan know way better than most that annexation and refugees are way up on the list.

Pyramidland would be in especial position to help protect precious innocents for reasons previously noted.

Factor in the ideas that sunni Arab states may be secretly jazzed to witness Persian proxies get just desserts by the naughty IDF.

And Egypt may very well have to do some federating with her ex colony or may not really care who runs Gaza as long as it's not Iranian fanboys.

Any 2 state deal may be years off - just the time to create a Palestinian intelligentsia that is more interested in bling than 'shame' and 'honour' and revenge is considerable.

And a war may happen sooner rather than later - but if war did come - then the 2 state deal could follow though battle field results would frame the negotiations.

In WB - looks like Little Satan's checkpoints and tight tight patrols are the main obstacle for HAMAS taking over WB.

GrEaT sAtAn'S gIrLfRiEnD said...

Thanks Findalis - I embolded the print so I hope it's cooler to read! Thanks!

GrEaT sAtAn'S gIrLfRiEnD said...

Hi Nikki - WB rockets are bad news to Little Satan who runs WB pretty tight.

Ben Sutherland said...

"And a war may happen sooner rather than later - but if war did come - then the 2 state deal could follow though battle field results would frame the negotiations."

Yeah, Hamas thinks the same thing, Courtney. That's why they keep up the fight. I suppose some dumbasses never learn.

I'm sure it will all go away with an invasion, Courtney. You and I will sit eating ice cream thinking about the bad ol' days when Israel had enemies and not the biggest dog on the heap.

Hitler thought that way too. As you point out, Russia did too.

It's really done wonders for those regimes, hasn't it?:):)LOL:):).

Some people will never learn:):)LOL:):).

It's all academic, though, really, Courtney. The scenarios I painted are the only ones that make sense. VDH is a fine historian when he is writing about battlefields. He's kind of shitty, though, when it comes to the big picture. There's a reason why Kagan and Keegan are more respected in military history. And it's not some left-wing conspiracy. It's because VDH doesn't know what he's doing as long as he ignores the politics, and as long as he thinks, foolishly, that politics is a tool of military conquest.

It's dumb. But if that's the direction that all the kids are taking these days, then have it, I suppose.

As long as you don't mind being wrong a lot:).

But VDH doesn't seem to mind, so who am I to quibble. He's got a cushy job where he prognosticates poorly, often, and have as more fundamental misunderstanding of warfare and politics. It's a living, I suppose.

Me, personally. I'd get tired of being wrong so often. And engaging in all kinds of conspiracy theory about why the people in my field who are respected more than me just don't know what they're doing as well as I do. If VDH was right about that, I'd really admire him. But he's not. He's just cynical about military calculations in warfare, just like his best buds in Hamas and Hezbollah, Hitler and Stalin, and all of the great military leaders in the world who all turned out to be not so great when all of the political smoke had cleared.

But, hey, ignoring evidence of failure in the face of a theory of military success was exactly what Hitler and Hamas do best. Why should I expect better of Victor Davis Hanson. Smart. Arrogant. Wrong. Hardly a new tune in military and political affairs, Courtney. To the contrary, a long repudiated tune that some people like VDH just can never come to terms with.

And that's why we don't let people like VDH run the country. Because they're dangerous.

Choices. Consquences.

I might just buy you that ice cream, anyway, Courtney. Call it my peace offering:).

Nice post by Tsvangirai, Courtney. That's the best idea on Zimbabwe I've seen yet. We'll see what happens.

NeoConstant said...


Just wondering if you're still interested in posting at NeoConstant. Let me know!


Ben Sutherland said...


I've been spending a lot of time with Davis Hanson and piecing out my sloppy reasonsing vis a vis his work.

I'll say, up front, that using battlefield results to frame political negotiations is wrong, I think, and is exactly the kind of reasoning that has us in this mess since Hamas and Hezbollah use such logic to rationalize every last brutal terroristic impulse they embody. That is why they keep up the fight, Courtney. It is why Palestinians support them, in far too large of numbers than their long-ago failed efforts ever warranted. It is the logic of Palestinian terrorism, more narrowly, and terrorism, generally, more broadly. It neither has effectively achieved those aims, nor would an climactic military victory remove such claims and the motivations of Hamas or Hezbollah or any of the terrorist groups for fighting or the motivations of the Palestinians who support them. They lose frequently. That's the nature of assymetrical warfare. They don't care. Hardcore Hamas and Hezbollah and other terrorists will fight until they see the destruction of Israel or until they are imprisoned or killed. Their terrorism, though, will not end until political support for their cause is undermined by political efforts that satisfy legitimate claims on self-determination and Palestinian statehood that Palestians seek. This is the source of their hatred of occupation, despite Israel's legitimate security concerns that have clearly been undermined by its occupation of Palestine, by any objective standard.

VDH, as it turns out, seems to prefer political solutions to military solutions, does not rationalize military gamesmanship for political ends, in the little bit I've read and reread since this discussion - the historical piece I had read that had led to me conclude otherwise I spent some time with, recently, and I think maybe my frustration around political disagreements that Victor and I had about the use of force, generally, perhaps led me to what I think may may have been a mistaken conclusion.

In fact, what I have found quite notable in my searches on his views on Iran is how little he has written on Iran, how skeptical he has openly been about an attack on Iran ending their nuclear ambitions - he wrote to the effect, in a blog post I recently read from the last couple of years, that he thought an attack would be ineffective; he is clear that he does not want to see Iran with nuclear capabilities in a 2006piece, that, while I disagree with his conclusions about to pressure the Iranians to give up their nuclear ambitions, is the most persuasive case I have heard for that argument.

In fact, it reminded me that what I love about VDH is his capacity for submitting evidence to build a strong argument. And while I don't always agree with VDH, what I really came to appreciate about his work, reading over much of it in the last 2-3 weeks, is that he comes by his arguments and thinking honestly, it is clear.

I don't like power being used to manipulate me or anyone who disagrees with a line of reasoning unless there is clear and present danger. But the danger with that quite reasonable exception is that it is this line of reasoning that is perpetually used to rationalize every abuse of power; it is the line of reasoning used by Hamas, Hezbollah, Sadr's forces, Al Queda, Iran, North Korea, Sudan, Mugabe, Castro, the Nazis, the Soviets, and every last despot or thug who has ever inhabited the earth and which is exactly why we need a presumption against its use, generally, lest we abuse it similarly and all the corruption that all people, no matter how noble they claim to be, are subject to in the presence of power. The failure to recognize this fact of human existence has very much taken hold of both liberals and conservatives during this period, and it not only undermines honest policy discussions, it makes it hard for even participants involved to know whether or not they really believe in liberal values or not, or just for the causes they favor.

Having said all of that, the more I read of Davis Hanson, the more I am reminded how impressed I have always been with how much he actually takes such values and the need for argument and reason to determine choices in politics and battle seriously. His work is one of the most healthy antidotes to the notion that argument and reason do not matter in the most practical of fields - military strategy - of any I have read, frankly. And what I appreciate about Hanson, after spending some more time with him after slandering him:), is that he takes the arguments seriously. I disagree with him on many things. I think he misunderstands, for instance, the nature of the border question, thinking that a focus on closing borders makes us safer, which I think misses the point that border efforts that spread our limited energies too thin do not prioritize well enough the real security threats that we face, unrealistically focus our energies on the swarms of decent, non-threatening aliens who come across the borders, and undermines our needed relationships with immigrant communities, legal and illegal, whom we need to route out the serious bad guys, but who will withhold such support as long as they think that we are out to get them or their family members. But VDH actually comes at those arguments much more honestly and with a more genuine engagement of those he disagrees with than, say, Charles Krauthammer or E.J. Dionne, both of whom are journalists, obviously, but both of whom are much less genuinely open to the arguments of those who disagree with them.

That's been my impression, at least, in the last couple of weeks. Perhaps I am looking through rose-colored lenses because I thought I had jumped the gun with a hasty conclusion about Hanson's work with not nearly enough serious reading of his most serious work. But what I've seen, so far, satisfies me that I was likely hasty in that conclusion.

He makes arguments honestly and well. And he takes reason and debate seriously, not just as some obligatory afterthought that doesn't really matter anyway since most participants seem to think they have all the answers to every question anyway. And I respect that. He is subject to those same problems of reasoning like every other author, I think. I've read stuff by him that I thought was far too dismissive of those who disagreed with him, and often in ways that I thought missed bigger and credible arguments than the level at which he was engaging. But, generally, I can count on Victor to engage people honestly and to take a discussion to a level that is not common among most political writers, even when I disagree with him.

And, at this point, Courtney, I don't think I've read anything by VDH which would lead me to believe that he agrees with this line of reasoning about an Iran invasion. He definitely wants to apply pressure to Iran, which I think is counterproductive. And, somewhere in the recesses of his mind, he might appreciate efforts to threaten military action to apply pressure, if he is not making those arguments openly.

I think that's a mistake. And I think it seriously misunderstands the dynamics involved and all the reasons why Iran is not cooperating, at this point. But it's an honest disagreement about a political strategy for dealing with the threat of Iran's nuclear capabilities and the capacity for nuclear blackmail that Islamists in Iran and its surrogates could potentially engage in.

I think the pressure escalates that problem substantially. And I would be open to being proven wrong that Iran's nuclear ambitions have not substantially escalated since 2003 when this standoff first started. But, by my lights, our efforts have made the problem worse, rather than better. And what conservatives are engaged in, now, with efforts to open up the political flank with talk of invasion and legitimize Israeli and/or American attacks on Iranian nuclear facilities, continue with that same failed line of reasoning. And what I find dishonest, after 5 years of war in Iraq, is the notion that as long as Hamas and Hezbollah engage in such dishonest maneuvering for purposes of power, it's murderous and wrong. But if conservatives or liberals do that with their fellow Americans or with others, its just the way the democratic cookie crumbles. It's manipulative, is what it is. It's dishonest. And it's wrong. And it is what has created this whole mess in the first place, when we aren't rationalizing all that manipulation. And it has rationalized illiberal and autocratic trends in the illiberal world, as much as the liberal democratic world, for quite some time, now.

But, for some reason, I trust that Hanson is considering those arguments more than many of his less scholarly fellowtravelers. I trust that Fukuyama is too, actually. I just think that Fukuyama's failure to come to terms with the rationalization led to a rather bullshit apologia piece for the Chinese totalitarian regime rather than squaring more honestly with liberal values that distinguish that regime from liberal democracies that China should not be confused with.

Anyway. I think the reasoning is a serious mistake that we will need to come to terms with when we are ready to own up for the failure. And I think people holing themselves up, intellectually, and just reassuring themselves that the criticisms are all just the blindspots of those who don't agree is just not going to wash, I'm afraid. Because the nature of this kind of mistake is that the problem persists until we face up. And it's definitely not going away with either a hit on Iran's nuclear facilities - which will likely rally support around Ahmadinejad, unless Iranians all of a sudden get rational and elect someone else, who will still insist on Iranian right to self-defense, rest assured, since no country would accept less, and, in the meantime, we keep taking hits to the trust that we undermine with the world community as long as we behave like there is no consequences to our behavior - and definitely not with talk of regime change.

We can whine that the world just doesn't understand how much good we do for them. Or we can face this mistrust as the consequences of our behavior. Or we can keep dealing with those consequences, namely the degree of antagonism that we provoke in the world community, among liberals in America and Europe (a group I have to spend a lot of time repairing such mistrust with, all the time), and with the populations of people in places like Iraq and Iran, on whose behalf we claim we are working. If that is true, then we need to take their concerns seriously. If not, we should stop pretending that this is an honest concern on our part. Because, increasingly, Courtney, they don't care what our excuses are for ignoring their concerns. They just stop trusting us.

Anyway. I'm glad our little exchange gave me some time with Mr. Davis Hanson. He writes well. And it's been a good reminder to me to take my time with writing this book and to do a nice job and know that some people, at least, will take the evidence and arguments seriously and not just ideology or some damn fool notion that they or anyone has more answers than they really do.

Talk later, Courtney.


GrEaT sAtAn'S gIrLfRiEnD said...

Hi Ben, yeah VdH is certainly one of Great Satan's intelligentsia (kinda like us. Just teasing!!) seriously - that cat is just plain awesome - and like you point out - even when you totally disagree with him.

I am kinda stumped that you wouldn't make the connnection between Battlefield results and poli negotiations though. History seems very clear about that. BField results frame and dictate the poli side.

My case about a Great Little Satan that annexs the Strip is really straight forward. If HAMAS acts out and Little Satan responds with a Strip Blitz that pretty much takes over the Strip - Little Satan would not be too particularly jazzed about handing it over to anyone especially since Egypt swore off the Strip.

About Iran - it looks like the regime has semi succeeded in making nukey stuff a Persian Pride thing. OTOH some sources in Iran like JAdi say ppl laugh all the time about it and say jokes like "Decent food is our right!" or "Decent for teachers is out right!" mimmicking Iran's fiery little rocketeer.

No invasion or series of airstrikes of swift spinning centrifuges is really necessary. Just kill the regime.

Essentially - cut off the serpent's head and a ton of probs in the ME are instantly solved. Looks like Bashar negotiated himself off the short list - though HiZ'B'Allah is prob going down too.

Ben Sutherland said...


I just think your assuming that such "solutions" really resolve problems they clearly do not. The reasoning you are suggesting is exactly what got Israel into this mess in the first place. It was the reasoning behind the expulsion of 700,000+ Palestinians during the War for Independence. It is the raison de entre for Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and every terrorist organization that operates in Palestine, today, and it is the reasoning of terrorist groups like Hezbollah, today. It is the reasoning of virtually every warring force. Which is why wiser minds pay attention to the long term political consequences of such reasoning and its lackluster consequences.

60+ years of conflict are based on the reasoning you are articulating, Courtney. Israel has won most of those fights. So, when exactly is the final victory/resolution of the hostilities supposed to come? After this next, "final" conflict? You mean like after the last Lebabon invasion? Or the last Intifada? Or the first Intifada? Or the First Lebanon War? Or the Yom Kippur War? Or the Six Day War? Or even the original War for Independence?

Which one of those conflicts demonstrates that overwhelming military force finally resolves the political claims, namely an end to the deaths of innocent Israelis, and shapes a sustainable political resolution?

The delusion that it does, Courtney, which by all objective evidence it does not, is what drives Hamas and Islamic Jihad, and, separately, Hezbollah in every aim they engage in. They are clearly wrong that it does achieve those aims, by any objective measure. And the ugly part of their reasoning that leads me to favor Israeli interests at all, is that this reasoning distorts priorities and callously pretends that control of land somehow compensates for the loss of innocent Israeli and Palestinian lives. That's the only reason why I would support Israelis more in this conflict. I'm an American, after all. I have no vested interest in the fate of Jews at the expense of Palestinians or any other Arab group and certainly have no interest in any government to the extent that they would rationalize foreign policy like terrorist organizations, which, if they followed your suggestions, they would be doing. Fortunately, you and Noam Chomsky are wrong. This is not the way that Israel is conducting her foreign policy, to her credit. She has fought largely defensive wars and has, lately and generally, followed a much more good faith path of pursuing peaceful negotiations to nearly 72 years of unending conflict in the region.

The Soviets rationalized the exact same way you are reasoning, here, Courtney, post-WWII. And, short-term, it captured land for them. But it didn't resolve the political claims, which is why, long term, they lost all that land and control over those peoples. And, in the meantime, everyone recognized their policy as one of aggression and not one that was legitimate by any democratic standard.

That is what is at issue in Iraq that American conservatives nor anyone cannot just blow off with the "we've got overwhelming military force therefore we will do whatever the fuck we want," line of reasoning. It does not work that way, no matter how much combatants may pretend otherwise. Aggression is recognized, and political claims trump mililtary aggression, in the long run, without fail. Every independent Soviet state, today, is a monument to that fact.

Hitler's reasoning was not all that complicated, Courtney. He reasoned the exact same way. And it was not just that such plans were evil and aggression without end, it is that he was wrong. It didn't turn out that way. Because the political claims trump military aggression every single time. As long as people have a reason to war, they will marshall the military resources they need to win in battle for a political claim that is legitimate.

Stephen Ambrose argued, and I agree, that the question of WWII was not, "Would the Allies win the war or not?" The question was, "How long would it take the Allies to win the war and how many people would die in the process?" And the reason is that the Allies would have fought without end to defeat the Axis powers. The question was only how long it would take them to finally defeat them. And the reason why they would fight without end to defeat the axis powers was because they had a more fundamentally legitimate and motivating cause: their own self-preservation and self-determination. Many Americans would have survived had Hitler won the war. But they wouldn't have been free or been able to elect their own democratic government, and Americans would have been willing to die for centuries, if need be, for that freedom.

Hamas and Hezbollah are definitely the worse bad guys in the Middle East. But as long as they have legitimate political claims attached to their fight - self-determination and territorial integrity, in both of their cases, with different application of those principles in each case; Lebanon has real borders, at this point, and Palestine does not, but there is recognized areas of Palestinian land that will only be finally resolved in a peace agreement, but which are tied to Palestinian claims of self-determination independent of that resolution - they will fight and Palestinians will support them.

There is no final military conquest that ends this. There is no battlefield results that will finally determine negotiations on a political deal. There will just be more political negotiations until the land claims are resolved, which could last well into any period of relative peace.

To think so is to ignore 60 years of history of the state of Israel, almost 100 years of history of the Jewish-Arab relations in the Middle East, and most of the political history of the world over the course of the 20th century, but really its history since the beginning of humanity, if you look broadly and do not stop at any one particular cessation of military conflict. It is easy to look at any end to conflict and say, "There. Success means more land and spoils for the victor." But it is shortsighted. Because the conflict never ends there. Ever. Just ask the allies in World War I. French, British, and Russian officials, today, would have much to share with you about that experience, over the course of the 20th century, I am sure.

There are places where such conflicts are still seeking resolution. China's control over Taiwan, Tibet, and Hong Kong is one such place, for example. But those situations will never, ever, ever, ever, be resolved until those people are able to determine their own fates independent of China. China is just hoping to wait it out. But the international consensus in favor of their right to democratic self-determination is a pretty clear sign that noone else will ever accept that as a resolution. China can behave all it wants like it will do whatever it wants because it has overwhelming military force. But noone will ever accept that, and eventually, by war or by peaceful negotiations, those people will have self-governing territory. The question, as Ambrose said of WWII, is not if. It is when, and how many people will have to die in the process. Cuba, North Korea, China, Syria, Iran (the most democratic of this group, you notice), Myanmar, Zimbabwe, Sudan, and all the rest will move in that direction, as well.

They are fundamentally self-determination claims, not claims of American, Israeli, or anyone elses' security. And insofar as we behave as if they are - Iraq being the most glaring case in point, at this point - we will deal with the consequences of that poor reasoning. Those are the consequences we are dealing with, right now, in Iraq. It means more Americans dead, as well as more Iraqis dead. Ignore that at the risk of those peoples' lives.

That is why the great military historians are those who understand the politics better and not just the battlefield. That was my concern reading Victor Davis Hanson, the first time around. I may still have been right and just giving him too much of the benefit of the doubt, right now, as I finally get around to reading Culture and Carnage. But I do know that this is what distinguishes great military historians from not so great ones: they understand that military operations are a function of politics, not the other way around.

Hanson aspires for greatness. That's why I give him the benefit of the doubt on this (that and the evidence I've seen seems to reinforce for me that he is more thoughtful about such matters than I gave him credit for initially). He cannot, however, aspire for greatness and miss this more fundamental fact of politics and warfare. They are mutually exclusive. It is too fundamental a understanding of the political and military affairs to miss and be ranked as a great military historian. There is a reason why Keegan and Kagan come to mind, immediately, for me, amongst conservative military historians (the same goes for Ambrose and McPherson among liberal military historians). Because they understand this better. Hanson might too. I'll keep reading. But if he doesn't, it would explain why Keegan is cited more often than he as one of the greats.

But what encourages me, on his behalf, is that he clearly understands that reasoning matters, on the battlefield as much as in historical thought and writing about the battlefield. I've also seen him write, more than once, that he prefers political solutions to military solutions, which is a sign of someone with more humility about the prospects of military success equating with political success, and, consequently, final military success, than I had thought reading his description of the Greek victory over the Persians at the Battle of Salamis. And what I've read of his work encourages me that he understands the political context of warfare, and the limits of warfare to resolve political claims, much more solidly than I had initially believed.

Thanks for inspiring me to give Mr. Hanson another read. I've learned a lot. If you haven't read his description of the Battle of Salamis, I highly recommend it.

Talk later, Courtney.