Back in the middle of the seventeenth century the Brits had their interregnum – that time between kings. They beheaded one king and another one didn’t come along until 1660, trailing Thomas Hobbes and Hobbes’ Leviathan in his wake, providing the necessary political theory for the Restoration (that word means more than yuppie kitchen hardware). That particular timeout from monarchy had been nothing but trouble – Oliver Cromwell and the Roundheads, and the Puritans in charge, closing all the theaters so no one had any fun at all. Power vacuums are a real pain – they remind you that what Hobbes said just might be true. The life of man is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short – and Hobbes was thinking that having competent people in charge could lessen the inevitable pain of all that. Mischief is magnified when no one is exercising leadership, or everyone is trying to.
But that’s history. These days we’re simply between presidents for a few weeks, not between kings for almost two decades. The first weekend of 2009 found us with a curiously passive George Bush still in office, possibly realizing that whatever he did or said would be dismissed as, at best, mildly interesting. Grand policies and bold initiatives would be pointless – what little power he now had left to influence anything would be gone soon too. Why bother? And a cautious Barack Obama, not yet president, could not do anything. He wasn’t in charge – simply taking over would be a sort of coup d’état. That’s just not done. There are rules, after all.
And there was mischief:
Thousands of Israeli troops backed by tanks and helicopter gunships surrounded Gaza’s largest city and fought militants at close range Sunday, the first full day of an overwhelming ground offensive in the coastal territory.
Israel acted in its own self-interest. The most powerful nation in the world, and its closest ally, wasn’t going to advise caution or restraint, and urge careful consideration of all the crosscurrents of competing interests in the region, political, cultural, religious and economic – no one was home here. So it was time to act.
And there was the inevitable reaction – Thousands across Middle East Protest Gaza Attack. The main theme was that the Israelis were doing more than reacting to the rockets attacks of Hamas – they had been systematically cutting of a whole people from food, water, power, medical supplies and all the rest since 2006, and now they were carelessly killing hundreds of women and children to get at the few bad guys, who may not be all that bad, considering. Also see Demonstrations Continue Worldwide Over Gaza Violence – same thing, from third parties to the conflict.
And there was this – Worldwide Alarm At Israeli Ground Offensive. That covered the diplomatic side of things, including this:
French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who starts a four-nation tour of the Middle East on Monday, said Hamas bore “a heavy responsibility” for the suffering of Palestinians in Gaza.
In an interview to be published Monday Sarkozy told three Lebanese newspapers that France condemned the Israeli ground offensive.
But he added: “I want to say again here that we condemn with the same firmness (Hamas’) continuing rocket fire, which is an unacceptable provocation.
“Hamas, which decided to break the truce and to resume rocket fire on Israel, bears a heavy responsibility in the suffering of the Palestinians of Gaza,” he added.
Okay – France condemns the Israeli ground offensive, but says it’s understandable, as the Israelis are really not to blame for what they clearly should not have done, for which they should be condemned.
That’s not very helpful, even if diplomatic, but the same confusion spread to the streets of Manhattan, as in this from WNYC:
The fighting in Gaza brought hundreds of pro-Palestinian demonstrators into Times Square Saturday to express their anger about Israel’s airstrikes and ground incursion.
REPORTER: One protestor who didn’t want to be identified told WCBS Radio she’s upset that civilians are being killed and injured in the conflict:
PROTESTOR: Anywhere around the world, it would be horrifying. It doesn’t matter where you come from, when you see innocent people dying for no reason at all.
REPORTER: The crowd later marched along 42nd Street to the Israeli Consulate on Second Avenue. A few dozen pro-Israel activists staged a counter protest, saying Gaza’s Hamas rulers are to blame for firing rockets into Israel.
So some say this Gaza invasion was necessary, and was the right thing to do, and others say it is crazy, and a wildly disproportionate and quite immoral and horrifying response.
If you know the city, 42nd Street runs from the Hudson on the west, past Times Square, Bryant Park and the Library with the fine stone lions, past the Chrysler Building and Grand Central, and ends on the east at the UN at the East River, with all the consulates in the surrounding blocks. Had the Times Square protesters headed the other way, west, that end of 42nd Street is where you find the giant Port Authority bus terminal. You could grab a bus to Altoona. That would be just about as useful.
Out here in Santa Monica, Digby has this to say:
You know, it’s one thing for people to dispute whether Israel’s incursion into Gaza is disproportionate. It seems obvious to me that it is, but people can argue that in good faith. However, I’m frankly gobsmacked by the cavalier attitude of some Israeli and American politicians, like Michael Bloomberg, who blithely assert that a disproportionate response is exactly the right thing to do…
It seems she heard New York mayor Bloomberg say this on CNN:
The concept of proportional response is one of the stupider things I’ve ever heard in my life. If it was your family, would you want a proportional response? No, you’d want every single resource to be brought to bear to stop those who are killing innocent people.
Well then, genocide and nuclear holocaust are logically on the menu too, eh?
It’s a good thing she didn’t hear this Bloomberg clip from WNYC:
If you’re in your apartment, and some emotionally disturbed person is banging on the door and screaming, “I’m going to come through this door and kill you,” do you want us to respond with one police officer, which is proportional, or with all the resources at our command?
Ah, so the Israeli Defense Forces invasion of Gaza is kind of like New York’s Finest. Even if one officer, or maybe two, can take care of that nut banging on your door, wouldn’t you feel better if the city sent in the SWAT folks with full backup and the helicopters above and all that? It’s a curious argument. He knows better.
Digby says she’s not surprised:
Once we became a nation whose leaders casually describe torture techniques as “no-brainers” why would anything be off limits? This is the natural snowball effect of a nation which no longer even tries to pay lip service to the idea of international law. Apparently, all such laws are now irrelevant in all things, not just under the Bush doctrine.
And she ironically points to this:
BEIJING, Aug 11 (Reuters) – U.S. President George W. Bush said on Monday he had expressed grave concern to Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin about Russia’s “disproportionate response” against Georgia in the South Ossetia conflict.
As she points out – “You don’t have to a be foreign policy genius to understand why the concept of ‘proportionate response’ is necessary to the survival of the planet.”
Even Bush knew that, once, even if he thought the concept applied only to folks who were giving us trouble.
But what if the Israeli response to the Hamas rockets is not proportionate in the way things are being framed, but quite proportionate is another way entirely?
There is this analysis by Martin Kramer, which argues what is happening may be Israel taking sides in the ongoing Palestinian civil war, playing one side off against the other for its own advantage.
It makes sense, given the basics – in 2006, over the objections of Israel, we decided, since Yasser Arafat had died, it was time for the Palestinians to choose new leadership in open, democratic elections, as democracies always produce good leaders, or at least moderate ones, and this would prove our point, that spreading democracy in the Middle East, even if we had to kill lots of people to do it, would make everything all better. And to our surprise, the Palestinians decided they’d elect Hamas to lead them, the group we have long designated as a terrorist organization. Oops.
We decided not to recognize Hamas, or at least not to deal with them in any way. We deal with the losers, what was left of the old Palestinian Authority, led by Mahmoud Abbas, who, after all the post-election fighting and a bit of a civil war, ended up with the West Bank, while Hamas controlled Gaza. We say they’re the Palestinian government, really, and Hamas isn’t. This is a flexible interpretation of democracy in action.
As for Martin Kramer, his key points are these:
Israel’s long-term strategic goal is the elimination of Hamas control of Gaza. This is especially the goal of the Kadima and Labor parties, which are distinguished by their commitment to a negotiated final status agreement with the Palestinian Authority led by Mahmoud Abbas. The Hamas takeover in Gaza reduced Abbas to a provincial governor, who no longer represents effective authority in all the areas destined for a future Palestinian state. Hamas rule in Gaza is a bone in the throat of the “peace process” – one Israel is determined to remove. …
But how? After the Hamas takeover in June 2007, Israel imposed a regime of economic sanctions on Gaza, by constricting the flow of goods and materials into Gaza via its crossings to Israel. The idea was gradually to undermine the popularity of Hamas in Gaza, while at the same time bolstering Abbas. Israel enjoyed considerable success in this approach. While the diplomatic “peace process” with Abbas didn’t move very far, the West Bank enjoyed an economic boomlet, as Israel removed checkpoints and facilitated the movement of capital, goods, workers, and foreign tourists. So while Gaza languished under sanctions, with zero growth, the West Bank visibly prospered – reinforcing the message that “Islamic resistance” is a dead end.
Hamas in power, from the outset, sought to break out of what it has called the Israeli “siege” by firing rockets into Israel. Its quid pro quo was an end to Hamas rocket fire in exchange for a lifting of the Israeli “siege.” When Israel and Hamas reached an agreement for “calm” last June, Hamas hoped the sanctions would be lifted as well, and Israel did increase the flow through the crossing points, by about 50 percent. Fuel supplies were restored to previous levels. But Hamas was fully aware that sanctions were slowly eroding its base and contradicting its narrative that “resistance” pays. This is why it refused to renew the “calm” agreement after its six-month expiration, and renewed rocket fire.
So you see the dynamic here – Israel cannot lift the economic sanctions, as that, as Kramer says, would (1) transform Hamas control of Gaza into a permanent fact, (2) solidify the division of the West Bank and Gaza, and (3) undermine both Israel and Abbas “by showing that violent ‘resistance” to Israel produces better results than peaceful compromise and cooperation.” The point is that rewarding “resistance” just produces more of it – basic behavioral psychology.
So Israel wants a ceasefire – no more rockets – and to keep the sanctions in place, to make sure the right side wins the civil war. Think of the French helping us with our revolution, our civil war against the Brits.
And there’s this:
Many Western and Arab governments see the logic of this. They would like to see Abbas and the Palestinian Authority back in authority over Gaza, thus restoring credibility to the “peace process.” Because they wish to see Hamas contained if not diminished, they have moved slowly or not at all to respond to calls for action to stop the fighting. The question now is how Israel turns its military moves into political moves that achieve the shared objectives of this coalition of convenience.
That will be tricky, and after he explains just how tricky, Kramer adds this:
What could go wrong with this scenario? A lot. Hamas assumes (probably correctly) that its Palestinian opponents fed Israel with much of the intelligence it needed to wage precision warfare against Hamas. There is likely to be a vicious settling of scores as soon as a cease-fire is in place, if not before, and which could approximate a civil war. This could open space for small groups like Islamic Jihad and other gangs, which could shoot off rockets at their own initiative (or that of Iran). If something can go wrong in Gaza, there is a good chance it will.
Those are words to remember.
And Andrew Sullivan adds this:
As a way to enforce the cease-fire, Israel might also want to use Palestinian Authority officials and military to go into Gaza. The trouble is: I’m not sure who would replace Hamas in “governing” Gaza. If it were the Palestinian Authority, there could be a brutal civil war in which the potential for more terror – as well as more human devastation – is real; and the threat to Israel could even worsen. Kramer himself acknowledges…
And not much good comes of any of it:
So Israel will have killed many innocents, wounded itself in international opinion, lost soldiers and treasure … to create an even more unstable and beleaguered Gaza. Maybe they hope to cede Gaza to Egypt; or maybe this is the beginning of a war Israel wants with Iran sooner than later. Or maybe it’s just another blind military leap whose full consequences were not fully thought through. Imagine that.
Yep, we know all about such things.
But the Iran thing is not that farfetched. In the Los Angeles Times, Michael Oren and Yossi Klein Halevi say it’s all about Iran:
If Israel successfully overthrows Hamas in Gaza, it would strengthen anti-Iranian forces throughout the Mideast and signal the region that Iranian momentum can be reversed. The Israeli military operation could begin the process that topples a terrorist regime that seized power in the Gaza Strip in 2007 and has fired thousands of rockets and mortar shells into Israeli neighborhoods.
And whether or not Hamas is ultimately overthrown, Israel can achieve substantial goals.
The first is an absolute cease-fire. Previous cease-fires allowed Hamas to launch two or three rockets a week into Israel and to smuggle weapons into Gaza through tunnels. To obtain a cease-fire now, the international community should recognize Israel’s right to respond to any aggression over its international border and monitor the closure of Hamas’ weapons-smuggling tunnels.
Above all, the goal is to ensure that Hamas is unable to proclaim victory and thereby enhance Iranian prestige in the Arab world.
Sullivan isn’t buying that:
The trouble with apocalyptic movements like Hamas is that they will proclaim victory regardless, no? Hamas will only be defeated by the Palestinians, in the end – which is why Kramer’s notion of pitting the Palestinian Authority against Hamas makes more sense.
But the idea that this time, pure violence and enforcement of a blockade will force a change of heart among Palestinians and Arabs more generally seems utopian to me. The risk is that this could ignite pro-Iranian Jihadism across the region.
Well, such things happen when no one is in charge, or everyone is trying to be.