21 July 2006

When someone throws a war...

…you might as well show up for it, because the other guys will.

Once again I find my attention drawn to my Christian brothers on the left end of the spectrum.  So, to take my mind off my empty stomach:

The new war in the Middle East
by Jim Rice

What is the proper, appropriate response of a nation to violent attacks by terrorists or other radical extremists? We have seen one model illustrated in the response of the British government to last year's attacks on London's public transportation system, in which 52 people were killed and 700 injured. The British rightly understood the attacks as terrorist acts, but responded in a measured manner, dealing both with the investigation of the terrible crime and the need for enhanced security in its wake. Pointedly, the British did not opt for a military response to these acts of terror.

We have also, of course, seen an altogether different model of response, perhaps most clearly exemplified by the U.S. invasion of two countries - one of which was an actual source of the terror - following the horrors of Sept. 11, 2001.

Unfortunately, it seems to be in the latter spirit that Israel responded to terror attacks in the past fortnight. Provoked by the Hamas kidnapping of an Israeli soldier, Israel not only invaded the northern Gaza Strip but also destroyed a significant portion of Gaza's infrastructure, including airstrikes against Gaza's power grid.

Likewise, days later, when the Syrian-backed terror group Hezbollah seized the opportunity to raid northern Israel and capture two Israeli soldiers, Israel responded with a massive attack on Lebanon's civilian structures, from the Beirut airport to a dairy factory, civilian buses, bridges, power stations, and medical facilities, according to reports. Hezbollah responded by firing hundreds of rockets a day - more-modern, longer-range rockets than in the past - aimed intentionally at neighborhoods in Haifa and other Israeli cities. The result, not surprisingly, has been the death of many civilians on all sides.

The situation is clearly complicated by the role of Hezbollah as a part of the coalition government of Lebanon, which seems unable or unwilling (probably both) to disarm Hezbollah, which effectively controls the southern part of the country. The new warfare in the Middle East is also made worse by the sinister political manipulations of both Syria and Iran, who seek to increase their own power in the region no matter the human cost.

As soon as you called this warfare, Jim, you undid just about everything you were trying to do in the preceding paragraphs.  And you are correct: this is the “new warfare.”

But Israel's use of military attacks in response to acts of terror raises many questions. The most important, perhaps, revolves around the issue of legitimate self defense vs. collective punishment. Israel is indeed surrounded by sworn enemies, including many who are demonstrably willing to violently destroy Israel. But does the real need for security justify the massively disproportionate response to an act of terror? Is the collective punishment of an entire population ever morally and ethically justified? As Cardinal Angelo Sodano, Vatican Secretary of State, put it in statement July 14, "The Holy See condemns both the terrorist attacks on the one side and the military reprisals on the other," stating that Israel's right to self-defense "does not exempt it from respecting the norms of international law, especially as regards the protection of civilian populations." The statement said further, "In particular, the Holy See deplores the attack on Lebanon, a free and sovereign nation."

The collective punishment of an entire population?  It doesn’t help anything if you’re going to exaggerate like that.  If Israel is attacking the entire population, then why are Lebanonese fleeing from south to north?  Hmmm.  Must be peaceful in the north.  I’m just guessing, of course.  (Actually, no I’m not.)

I know it writes well to ask about “the massively disproportionate response,” but, even if I wanted to credit your assertion that Hizbollah’s act was properly a terrorist one and not an act of open war, this talk of proportionality just won’t do.  This isn’t a game of quid pro quo.  This is war.  In war you don’t simply give back no more than the  aggressor sends.  Once war is given, war is what you’re fighting; and you fight war by doing more damage to the enemy than he does to you.  You have to—you HAVE to—kill more of him than he does of you.  You have to destroy more of his than he does of you.  You have to destroy his morale.  More, Jim.  You win wars by doing more, not proportional.  You’re so full of your non-biblical defintion of peace that you cannot, I suppose, be prevailed upon actually to know anything about how a war is fought.  And that’s interesting when one considers just how much your God knows about how to fight a war.

Oh, yeah:  The Holy See can deplore whatever it wants.  But this is not an attack on a free and sovereign nation.  It’s a counter-attack against an paramilitary organization which happens to have outposts in South Lebanon.  And international law is a pipe dream, the product of treaties.  Treaties are entered into either by coercion, or if by free choice, because they are deemed to be in the best interest of the signatories.  Treaties are not eternal covenants.  Besides, I know of no treaty which Israel has with Hizbollah.  I do know that the UN have yet to enforce Res. 1559, which is, let’s face it, pretty typical.  If the UN will not enforce its resolutions then it falls to the nations who should be protected by those resolutions to enforce those resolutions themselves.  Personally, I hope Israel disarms Hizbollah themselves!  THAT will do a whole heck of a lot more than the UN can even talk about doing.

Even apart from the ethical questions raised by Israel's massive retaliation, there are significant issues of efficacy: Does it work? Is Israel made more secure by a militarized approach? Israel has destroyed 42 bridges in Lebanon this week, along with 38 roads, communications equipment, factories, runways and fuel depots at the Beirut airport, and the main ports of Beirut and Tripoli. And along with the material devastation, the attacks constitute a terrible, possibly even fatal, threat to Lebanon's fragile and fledgling democracy.

Well, this just shows how much you don’t know, but think you do.  This move isn’t design to make Israel more secure.  You’re not paying attention.  This move is design to get back two soldiers and to retaliate against a first strike.  And it is Hisbollah that constitutes the “terrible, possibly even fatal, threat to Lebanon’s fragile and fledgling democracy.”

Personally, I see Israel’s military action as “planning ahead.”  Unlike you, Jim, they seem to be taking very seriously the role of all this Twelfth  Imam business.  You are not paying attention.

Does the destruction of much of Lebanon's civilian infrastructure, so painstakingly rebuilt after years of civil war and occupation by both Israeli and Syrian forces, bode well for future peace between the neighboring states? In sum, will the Israeli attacks bring long-term security for Israel, or will they further ensure that the next generation of Lebanese and Palestinians - across the theological and political spectrum - grow up with an undying hatred in their hearts?

Well golly gee, Jim.  Let’s see.  Do the recent actions by Hamas and Hizbollah bode well for future peace between the neighboring states?  I am not aware that those neighboring states have given up their oft-professed goal of sweeping the state of Israel in to the sea.  It would great fun to hear you explain how all of the responsibility for peace in the area falls upon Israel.

The violence of Hezbollah and Hamas should be unequivocally condemned and opposed. It cannot be ignored or underestimated that the two terrorist organizations have as their goal the eradication of Israel. However, much U.S. media coverage of this new Middle East war paints a misleading picture of a tit-for-tat equivalency between the two sides: Hezbollah explodes a bomb in Israel, Israel responds in kind. While their intentions are indeed malevolent, the two terrorist groups have nowhere near the military capability of Israel, which wields one of the most powerful military forces in the world (with the aid, of course, of more than $3 billion per year from the United States). The death toll in Lebanon in the first six days of the war has been tenfold that in Israel - according to The New York Times, 310 people, most of them civilians, have died in Lebanon while Israel has suffered 27 casualties, 15 of them civilians, since Israel began its attacks. (Similarly, 4,064 Palestinians and 1,084 Israelis have been killed since Sept. 29, 2000, according to the Palestine Red Crescent Society and the Israel Defense Forces, respectively.)

Your talk of “opposing” the violence of Hizbollah and Hamas is meaningless since you seem to believe that opposing that violence with force of arms is inappropriate.  And as for the fact that neither Hamas nor Hizbollah has the military capability that Israel does, well that’s just too bad.  Didn’t your Lord say to count the cost?  If Hizbollah and Hamas have bitten off more than they can chew and swallow, let them see to it.  They gave war; and war is what Isreal is now fighting.  To say that “The death toll in Lebanon in the first six days of the war has been tenfold that in Israel” means, since this is war, that so far Israel is winning.  Again: you can only win a war by doing more harm to the enemy than he does to you.

One of the most difficult aspects of trying to be a peacemaker in the Middle East context is the "separation wall" of understanding between the two peoples. The very definition of what is happening is understood in vastly different ways by the two sides. Supporters of Israel see the country attacked by its sworn enemies, and see in its response a necessary and justified act of national self-defense. Others see the region's most powerful military force (supported by the world's most powerful military force) illegally occupying Palestinian land and engaging in massive, disproportionate attacks on innocent civilians.

Actually, the real problem with your trying to be a peace-keeper, is the unbiblically narrow definition of peace that you’re working with.  You seem to be of the opinion that Scripture defines peace as the absence of war, or hostility.  You’re wrong—to put it bluntly.  You need to do a word-study of shalom.  Then perhaps you’ll understand why some of us believe that sometimes the way to peace is through war.  Some people, Jim, just have to be beat down:  the Cathaginians; the Muslims (Battle of Tours); the British;  the French, during the Napoleonic Wars; the Germans, the Japanes, the Italians.

As Christians committed to the cause of peace, our role is not to "take sides" in the struggle, in the traditional sense, but rather to constantly stand for the "side" of a just and secure peace. We can ignore neither the horror of suicide bombings against Israeli civilians (including direct attacks on school children) nor the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories (with all its "collateral damage" to Palestinian children). We must have the vision and courage to stand against the acts of violence by terrorist organizations, as well as the massive state violence by the region's military superpower, while avoiding the trap of positing a false "equivalency" between actions that are not equal.

Massive state violence?  You haven’t seen any massive state violence on Israel’s part, Jim.  Not even.  Right now, Israel is delivering a thump on the head.  Hold onto your lug nuts, brother.

We cannot allow ourselves to be paralyzed by the political, strategic, and moral complexity of the situation to stand back and do nothing. A first step toward a more comprehensive resolution is an immediate operational cease-fire. But that must be followed by a new way of thinking because, as a U.N. official put it yesterday, "The Middle East is littered with the results of people believing there are military solutions to political problems in the region."

It’s all very well and good for you to assert that we can “stand back and do nothing.”  But in order for us to do something Christians (which, I assume, is the antecedent to the pronoun we) must have standing to act.  We do not.

One has to wonder just how well you have really thought this through, as opposed to merely emoting, which is what it looks like you have done.  You call for an operational cease-fire.  One of the questions for which we still await an answer from Israel’s critics is:  How do you have a cease-fire with TERRORISTS???

You also call for a new way of thinking because, as you imply, we cannot have “military solutions” to “political problems.”  First, your authority for the claim is a “U. N. official.”  Are you kidding, Jim?  As long as we’re talking about solutions, do we really want to look to the U. N. as a body of experts on political problem solving?  Uh, I don’t think so.  Second, all sorts of political problems have had military solutions.  The (legal) causes of the American Revolution were political problems.  Military solution?  I’d call that a big “Yes.”  The causes of the Texas Revolution were political problems.  Military solution?  I’m thinking pretty much “Yes.”  The two Great Teutonic Migrations of the first half of the twentieth century were political problems.  Military solution?  Affirmative.

It is interesting to see the phrase, political problem.  In what way is this a political problem?  A political problem just must be a problem within a political system, involving the issue how a problem is to be resolved within a group.  The Israelis and Hizbollah are not members of a political system.  Hisbollah is a political party in Lebanon, a political party with—get this!—a military wing, like the Nazi Party had.  (Can you say, “SS”?)  What if one of  our (i.e., American) reform parties had its own well-financed and well-armed (probably by Halliburton) militia and started shelling the Mexican state of Sonora from Arizona, and that (playing make-believe here) neither the government of Arizona nor the U.S. federal government could do a thing about it?  What should Mexico do?  Call Interpol?  This is not a political problem, Jim.  It’s a military problem.  Just so you know for future reference:  When people start firing deadly weapons on you, you have a military problem.  Besides, (as Clausewitz said, and as everyone who has studied the profession of arms quotes), “War is but the extension of policy by other means.”  You may dream that those means aren’t truly necessary, but that doesn’t make it so.

Jim Rice is editor of Sojourners magazine.

A few things that can be done:

Be consistent in denouncing the violence of both sides - especially when it is deliberately aimed at civilians (or targets where great civilian "collateral damage" will be the result).

Well, insisting that there be not even “collateral damage” will, in this day and age, pretty much do away with “total war,” but only on the part of everyone but groups like Hamas and Hizbollah.

Pray for the emergence of new political leadership on both sides - both of which seem bereft of creative, courageous, moral, or even pragmatic leadership.

Only because you have defined your terms such that war is prima facie evidence of a lack of creative, courageous, moral or even pragmatic leadership.  And, uh, given that your God Himself commanded war, up to and including “civilian” targets, what does that say about Him?

Challenge any religious voices that seem utterly one-sided, completely neglecting the suffering and legitimate grievances of both sides.

Accepting reality, unlike you, doesn’t mean that we neglect any suffering or grievances.  That being said, however, while I will stipulate to Hizbollah’s suffering, I reject the legitimacy of their so-called grievances.

Pray for new ways for Christians and our churches to join our Jewish and Muslim brothers and sisters in finding real and practical solutions for a just peace in the Middle East where two states can live with security and democracy.

Given war’s success in bringing about peace in the past it is probably a more real and practical solution than your “Can’t we all just get along?” approach.  Many Muslims do not want peace; they want to rid the world, or at least the Middle East, of Israel.  Are you saying that you are willing to go that far, if that is what it takes?

And pray for better solutions than endless war to solve the real threats of terrorism in our world, because if we fail, all of our children will be at risk.

So far, no war in human history has been endless.  As a Christian, you should know what kind of world you live in.  As such, you really shouldn’t be surprised by war; you should really be surprised by peace when it breaks out anywhere.

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James Frank Solís
Former soldier (USA). Graduate-level educated. Married 26 years. Texas ex-patriate. Ruling elder in the Presbyterian Church in America.
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