Wars used to end in victory – Hitler dead in his underground bunker, Hiroshima and Nagasaki reduced to radioactive ash and a formal surrender ceremony on a giant American battleship in Tokyo Bay – but since then the end of wars seems to be a matter of one side or the other, or both sides, deciding that fighting on is kind of stupid. Either side can declare victory, but everyone knows that’s nonsense. No one won in Korea. Both sides just stopped fighting, and in fact, that war never actually ended. Both sides agreed on what has now become a perpetual armistice, a formal cease-fire agreement with each side, and their allies, staring at each other across the Thirty-Eight Parallel, ready to rumble, if necessary. No one won.
As for Vietnam, we kind of lost that one, but we maintained that we had achieved Peace with Honor. Richard Nixon, the last inheritor of that odd war that we originally inherited from the French, told us that was our real objective. Nixon didn’t talk of winning. He knew better, and because of other matters that forced Nixon to resign, Gerald Ford got us our Peace with Honor, such as it was. It wasn’t what we wanted, but we were told that we had done the right thing. The South Vietnamese just couldn’t do what they were supposed to do, and similarly, decades later in Afghanistan, the Soviets didn’t lose, they withdrew – no more than a wise tactical decision. In each case that only looked like defeat.
We made the same tactical decision in Iraq. That was not a loss. It couldn’t be a loss. How could it be? Saddam Hussein was gone, and beyond that we never defined what winning would look like, which was actually pretty clever, and then the Malaki government, which we helped create, didn’t want us there any longer anyway. That made things even easier, and, like the Soviets, we will soon withdraw from Afghanistan too. We hope that the government we helped create there will be able to stand on its own, but that’s now their business, not ours. We did what we could. No, we didn’t win, but we didn’t lose either. We need not be ashamed. Hell, we should be proud. The entire Middle East is going up in flames, borders are disappearing as a new and brutal Sunni caliphate is forming and will soon be its own county, but we did not lose either war there.
That’s been the way of it since 1945 or so – not losing is the new winning. No one “wins” any more. They just get tired, or run out of resources, or as was the case with Vietnam, popular support for the ongoing war collapses. When you’ve lost Walter Cronkite you’ve lost Middle America. It’s then that the powers that be, who wish to remain the powers that be, start to wrap things up, even if it takes a few years. The wise tactical decision is also the wise political decision, oddly enough. The only one who doesn’t seem to understand that is John McCain, which might be why he didn’t become our president six years ago. He always wants to “win” – anything else is dishonorable. America looked at Iraq, and Afghanistan, and Iran, and at Georgia, which Russia had briefly invaded six years ago, and decided he was nuts, or very old. Things had changed. Vince Lombardi had said that winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing, but he was talking about football. Geopolitics isn’t football.
That doesn’t mean you can’t make a game of it, as Slate’s Elliot Hannon reports here:
If the deadly conflict in Gaza wasn’t bad enough in real life, there are video games for your phone that allow you to fire your own rockets and drop your own bombs. Google, however, said it was cracking down on Monday and removing some of the most distasteful Android apps from the Google Play store, including: BombGaza and Gaza Assault, among others.
Hannon notes you can find the details at the Daily Dot:
First up, there’s BombGaza, a well-reviewed app that puts you in the cockpit of an Israeli jet flying low over Gaza’s rooftops. Aim to destroy any building filled with black-clad, rocket-toting Hamas operatives, but be wary of collateral damage: When you’ve killed too many innocent civilians, a “Rage” meter tips into the red zone, and your mission comes to an end.
Next up is Gaza Assault: Code Red, which invites you to “take control of an Israeli UAV equipped with powerful weapons in an attempt to secure the region” and rather pointedly asks if you “have what it takes to protect your citizens.” Don’t forget, though, you’re fighting to bring about peace, which is only possible when the enemy’s territory has been reduced to rubble.
Google has now blocked these titles, the BBC reports, along with Whack the Hamas where “the gamer is told to target members of Hamas as they emerge from tunnels and is described by its developer as ‘for fun and relaxation, for the people who are being killed every day by a terrorist group.'” Rocket Pride by Best Arabic Games – in which players attempt to outmaneuver Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system, the BBC reports, has also been taken down.
Hannon seems to think this has something to do with Google’s ban on the depiction of hate speech, and also notes that games “that specifically name groups or enemies” seem to have been the first to be taken down, while “others that are slightly more vague” are still out there, so he might be right, but something else is apparent. The concept of “winning” is something for easily distracted adolescent males with too much time on their hands – these gamers – and for John McCain. It could also be that Google pulled these games because the market for them just collapsed. The whole thing is over:
As a 72-hour cease-fire mediated by Egypt took hold on Tuesday, Gazans emerged to view a shattered landscape with Hamas still in power, while Israel began to debate the politics, costs and accomplishments of the month-long war.
Israel announced the withdrawal of all its forces from the Gaza Strip, and both sides said they would engage in talks on a lasting arrangement to keep the peace.
The whole thing is over and no one won:
Since the conflict began in earnest on July 8, Gaza officials say that more than 1,830 Palestinians have died – most of them civilians. Israel says 64 of its soldiers and three civilians have been killed.
People on both sides are wondering if the death and destruction was worth what is essentially another stalemate between Israel and Hamas, the militant Islamic group that governs Gaza, and its ally Islamic Jihad. The cease-fire plan accepted late Monday is essentially the same one that Hamas rejected three weeks ago, before Israel moved into Gaza with ground troops.
All they got was misery:
About 260,000 of Gaza’s 1.8 million residents have been displaced by the fighting, according to the United Nations, and many thousands of them remain huddled in schools or with friends and relatives. Many have no homes to return to.
“We lost in one instant all we had worked for 40 years to build,” said Fouad Harara, 55, who had worked for decades as a laborer in Israel. “The only thing we gained is destruction.”
In the Shejaiya neighborhood in eastern Gaza City, where many Israeli soldiers were killed and where entire streets looked as if they had been through an earthquake, Hani Harazeen, 42, searched the rubble of his collapsed home for anything he could find.
“We used to praise God that we all had work and lived together,” he said of himself and his brothers, who lived with their families in adjacent buildings. “Now we are scattered all over and looking for places to sleep.”
He said he had not seen any Palestinian fighters before he fled the area and had no idea how they had fought.
“The war started, and the resistance responded,” he said. “But does Hamas have fighter jets? Can its rockets do this to a home?”
All they got was misery, but they also got spin:
Hamas’s Al Aqsa radio station alternated between triumphant jihadi anthems and talk shows about how “the resistance” had vanquished the “Zionist enemy” with its rockets, forcing it to withdraw from Gaza.
Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, the Israeli military spokesman, said that Israel had destroyed about 32 tunnels built by Hamas and leading into Israel, and that Israeli forces had killed about 900 militants, a figure that is bound to be challenged by Hamas. He said that Israel had destroyed more than 3,000 rockets belonging to Hamas and Islamic Jihad and that those groups had launched more than 3,300 rockets toward Israel. Israel said it suspected that they had 3,000 rockets left.
Nothing was decided. Like every war since 1945, this one just stopped. Each side got tired, and then each side claimed its tactical decision was actually a victory. Each side may next claim they have achieved peace with honor. It will have to do.
It won’t do. In the Washington Post, Michael Robbins and Amaney Jamal think that Israel’s original blockade of the Gaza Strip was a bad idea in the first place:
Not only has the blockade failed to stem the tide of rockets falling into the hands of Hamas, but it has also failed to weaken Hamas as a movement. If anything, Hamas appears to be stronger and have a broader base of support in Gaza than before the blockade was put in place. Despite the widespread suffering of many Gazans – particularly opponents of the movement – this outcome should not be unexpected. Hamas leaders readily admit that their popularity derives from Palestinian anger at Israeli policies. In a 2008 interview with one of the authors, a senior Hamas official said that his movement’s electoral success boiled down to a single question the movement posed to Palestinians during the 2006 campaign: “Israel and the U.S. say no to Hamas – what do you say?”
That eventually led to this war, but that only trapped Israel even more:
Israel’s direct attempts to confront Hamas ultimately benefit the movement and, insofar as Israel seeks to weaken Hamas, the ongoing blockade is a self-defeating strategy. Given domestic political constraints, it will be difficult if not impossible for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government to lift the blockade, which could be seen as appeasing Hamas. Its lifting would also be a major victory for Hamas, at least in the short term. Yet if history is any guide, its continuation will not serve to weaken or isolate Hamas, but to help maintain its strength as a movement.
In short, Israel didn’t win here, and cannot win here, because the one thing that would bring something like peace with honor, for both sides, lifting their ongoing blockade of Gaza, is politically impossible. Yes, they want Hamas to disarm, but why would they disarm? Bombing them, however, isn’t cutting it. That only makes things worse.
That’s the trap, and in Foreign Policy, Jimmy Carter (yes, that one) and Mary Robinson argue that the only way out of that trap is for Israel and everyone else to bite the bullet and recognize Hamas, and take away the leverage:
The international community’s initial goal should be the full restoration of the free movement of people and goods to and from Gaza through Israel, Egypt, and the sea. Concurrently, the United States and EU should recognize that Hamas is not just a military but also a political force. Hamas cannot be wished away, nor will it cooperate in its own demise. Only by recognizing its legitimacy as a political actor – one that represents a substantial portion of the Palestinian people – can the West begin to provide the right incentives for Hamas to lay down its weapons. Ever since the internationally monitored 2006 elections that brought Hamas to power in Palestine, the West’s approach has manifestly contributed to the opposite result.
Those 2006 elections were a problem for the West of course. George Bush, high on bringing democracy to the Middle East, because only democracy would bring peace to the Middle East, and thus turn it pro-Western, leaving Israel totally safe, insisted on them. Free to choose, the Palestinians would totally reject those Hamas jerks. Condoleezza Rice was his point-person on that, over there telling every government in the region that Bush’s idea was a brilliant idea. This would rid the world of Hamas, in a free and fair election no less. It would be even better than our stunning victory in Iraq, although Iraq was descending into chaos at the time. But that didn’t matter. This would be a second test case of the theory that when you let people choose, they’ll choose wisely, and they’ll choose to be pro-western and they’ll choose America as their best friend. Israel would have nothing to worry about.
The Israelis told her this was nuts, the Palestinians in Gaza would elect Hamas, and told her to tell George – but that only made George Bush more adamant. Democracy was the cure for everything. Let them vote – you’ll see – and they did vote, as the Israeli government seethed, and Hamas won in a landslide. Bush and Rice then ate enormous amounts of crow – and now Jimmy Carter is saying Bush should have followed through instead of working with the CIA on ways to overthrow the newly-elected Hamas government – because if you actually believe in democracy that’s what you do. The Palestinians in Gaza chose Hamas. Deal with it. Or don’t you believe in democracy? Or do you believe in Israel more than you believe in democracy? You must be confused.
Of course he was confused. He was George Bush, a simple man who liked that one simple idea. For him it was democracy – democracy, good. For McCain the one simple idea was winning. The Israeli government also has that one simple idea. It’s no wonder this all fell apart.
Obama, however, distrusts simple ideas, one reason he was elected in 2008 and perhaps the one reason so many thought he was unfit to be president, and still think so, because now he criticizes Israel. Can he do that? Zack Beauchamp considers the implication of that:
In the past few days, after the sixth Israeli strike on a Gaza UN shelter for Palestinians fleeing the fighting, the Obama administration sent some pretty harsh words Israel’s way. The attack on the UN facility in Rafah was “indefensible,” according to Senior Adviser to the President Valerie Jarrett, who added that you “can’t condone the killing of all of these innocent children.” UN Ambassador Samantha Power called the Rafah strike “horrifying;” a longer State Department statement named it “disgraceful.”
It’s hard to imagine a clearer signal of administration outrage with Israel at the Gaza campaign, short of a personal statement from the president. The US is clearly upset with Israel, which isn’t all that rare, but this level of public criticism is very unusual. Given the US’s strong commitment to supporting Israel, the Obama criticism probably does not augur any substantive change in that pro-Israel US foreign policy. But it could still matter by impacting domestic Israeli politics, which are highly sensitive to fears of “losing” American support.
Andrew Sullivan chimes in:
I hardly see fear of “losing” America in the current onslaught. I see an Israeli prime minister openly treating the president and secretary of state with contempt and derision, secure in the knowledge that in any battle between Obama and Netanyahu, the Congress will back Netanyahu every time.
That may be so, but a few days earlier, before Israel just stopped what they were doing, Paul Waldman sensed a shift here in America:
If this conflict drags on and the civilian casualties mount, more Americans could begin questioning their position on this issue. That doesn’t mean they’ll go from being “pro-Israel” to “anti-Israel,” a pair of perniciously simplistic ideas that discourage us from thinking rationally. It means that they might start seeing the issue as a complex one, where sometimes Israel’s government is right and sometimes it’s wrong, and a contest to see which politician can wave an Israeli flag with the most vigor doesn’t serve America’s interests (or Israel’s, for that matter). If that happens, politicians might actually feel free to enter into real debate on this topic.
Sullivan isn’t so sure:
Look at the contortions of Rand Paul to see how that will work out. He has had to renounce all his previous views on the subject and now backs Israel with a blank check and wants to cut aid from the only moderate group among Palestinians. And that’s just the price for even entering a nomination battle, let alone winning it. But the shift among the younger generations is a sign for a more balanced approach. Alas, by the time that gains real political clout, the West Bank will be all settlements.
Jonathan Ladd, however, doesn’t expect empirical reality to break out everywhere:
First, because Americans are so inattentive to the details of political controversies, and hold such consistent views on every Israeli-Palestinian violent clash, we shouldn’t see their opinions as a reflection on the details of any specific clash. The American public’s endorsement of current Israeli policy largely isn’t a reaction to that policy because most people aren’t following the details at all.
Second, the one thing that could change U.S. mass opinion would be if party elites changed their messages. The one group attachment powerful enough to potentially overwhelm group attitudes is party identification. For instance, if most Democratic politicians in Washington came out against an Israeli military operation that could potentially lead ordinary Democrats to follow those cues rather than their group attitudes when forming an opinion. If that happened, American mass opinion would likely become much more split than it is today.
That’s possible, but unlikely. Israel, good – that’s what people know is true, even when it isn’t true, but they also know that no one wins wars any longer. The last time that happened was almost seventy years ago. Someone in their eighties might remember that, although Hitler kept losing that war every day on the History Channel in the nineties, when people used to call that the Hitler Channel. Now he loses that war every day on the Military Channel, which then became the American Heroes Channel. Few watch. One day that might be renamed the Old Stories from the Past When Things Were Different Channel. Things were different.
This is now. This war in Gaza is over for now, but it’s not over at all. Everyone knows this. Wars don’t end. The nostalgia of old men like John McCain is only that, nostalgia, and the vaguely bored young guys, with their odd little war-games phone apps, are only playing games, and they know it. Victory became quaint long ago.