Friday, July 21, 2006

What Might Be True

I'm not interested in writing about what I think, my opinion or what I think is true. Currently, this would not be a good use of my time. What I care about is what I don't understand, what I need to learn.

Right now, when I read of the Israeli incursion into Lebanon, there are some things I worry might be true--the main one is that people in the U.S. government will ride this current crisis to a larger war.

Like the U.S., it seems Israel is not doing nearly enough to prevent civilian casualties. Preventing civilian casualties requires some refusal to bomb or fire upon possible threats. It often requires putting one's soldiers in harms way since bombs dropped from the air are more likely to be indiscriminate than ground attacks. It requires a very measured military response--e.g., prohibition against firing upon civilian targets that provide support to fighters. This is something the U.S. does not do enough of and this is why they can be blamed for many of the deaths they cause. The 'shock and awe' was a perfect example of a failure to take sufficient care to protect civilians. The bombing of Serbia and Kosovo had similiar problems. The bombings in Vietnam were horrific.

Wars against insurgents or guerillas tend to create much larger numbers of civilian casualties because insurgents hide in civilian areas and they depend upon non-military bases of support. The thing is that the attackers--those with planes, for example, have much greater firepower. They are, in a word, more powerful. Thus, the invaders are usually doing the worst things. It generally doesn't matter for just war theory (for issues of jus in bello) but in Iraq, for example, the U.S. has options. We are not defending our families and schools and hospitals and food supply. This makes the civilian casualties even more unacceptable. (If more unacceptable makes sense--since killing civilians deliberately or through disregard is always unacceptable.)

I don't think the same thing is entirely true for Israel right now. They do not have many good options but may have better options than the ones they are pursuing. I don't know about the jus ad bellum arguments. But it seems to me that the response is disproportionate and it seems clear that the Israeli military is not doing enough to prevent civilian casualties, even if they are justified in being there in the first place. Now they may invade Lebanon.

It really seems that there are factions that want to stamp out the threats by using disproportionate force. As in, this is our chance, let's take it. They gave us a pretext, now they will see the mistake they made. I wonder what it means that I find this idea tempting: Wouldn't it be cool if one side in this ongoing conflict was so weakened it pretty much eliminated the conflict? Except I know that, like a lot of other things that involve killing human beings for the betterment of society, it requires horrifying means and almost never works.

Hizbollah--I don't understand what they are up to (why now?) but their aggression might be thought an attempt to stay relevant, to justify their continued existence and influence. I think they welcome these civilian casualties. Anything that makes Israel look illegitimate in its response benefits them.

Historically, it appears to be the case trying to stamp out one's enemies doesn't work well in the middle east. People who are just as bad or worse rush in to fill the vaccum. It works sometimes, in other contexts. Usually, it involves massacres of innocents and other immoral action.

The world's sympathies seem to be turning quickly to the people of Lebanon and against Israel. This is understandable--the Lebonese are dying in large numbers, dying horrifically, cast out of their homes, terrified, deprived. Once again, Israel may feel misunderstood. Israel has a right to defend itself but the extent of that right is what is being questioned by many. (Some people do question the right of Israel to exist but I am not one of them.) Is the price of being Israel a constant low level of devastating violence? Is that the inevitable price? I can see why some find that unacceptable--but what if that is just the price unless Israel engages in immoral and near constant warfare? What if there is nothing better than that? Until, by some miracle, the two state option gets revived and implemented correctly. After the death of many, many innocent Lebonese, will Israel be safe, finally? Will things somehow be better? I doubt it. So I think perhaps the views one has about Israel's right to defend itself are a distraction unless you are thinking of something beyond the right to self-defense; something more like the right to punish, the right to retaliate, the right to total and utter safety by the decimation of your enemies and whoever else lives near them? I don't know. I question whether a widening of the conflict will make Israel safer in the long run. You aren't going to get a pro-Israel Syria.

Reflexively blaming Israel also seems like a distraction of sorts. Everyone is rushing to that bandwagon.

I say this without knowing whether a cease fire or agreement will work to keep Hizbollah from sending bombs into Israel. I think, if this ends with some kind of buffer zone with international troops that prevents Hizbollah from firing into Israel then some Israeli response might have been unavoidable. But what do you say about all the civilian casualties? They can't be justified.

See, that's what I don't even know--how much space is needed for a buffer zone? What do you have to create geographically to protect Israel? (I mean--reasonably--Israel is obviously under threat of weapons all around it--but from Hizbollah, right now?) Does Israel have to invade Lebanon and wipe out Hizbollah to prevent the rockets from firing into Israel? And how extensive will the invasion have to be? If it does, then this again becomes a tragic situation. I fear it isn't just tragic. I fear Israel and then the U.S. are going to exploit the situation no matter what better options are available. Then it will be tragic for a different reason. I hope this doesn't happen butt I fear it will.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Should Mention That

I barely know what the fuck is going on. Want to think straight but I can't. Want to bail water from the giant inland sea that is my ignorance and can.t. Too much work.

I think, how do I find out? But if things are as bad as they seem, we will all find out soon enough. Since we live in the U.S. and are stuck with our media, many of the things we will be told will also be false.

On an unrelated point. Again, for the ten-thousandth time, we discover that it actully does matter who is president.

On The Face: I've decided arbitrarily to rely entirely on this blog for all information.

I have a 35 page paper to revise in 3 days. Can't screw around on the internet trying to find out what the hell is happening. Pretty sure that things are going to hell quickly. I'll find out soon enough, I suppose.


Hey, it's WWIII. Let's hope it's a short one. Strange how WWIII is supposed to be the end of the world. If this gets to be WWIII and we survive it, will we move on to WWIV or will we recycle WWIII?

Oh, wait. It might even be WWV.

Digsby's comment

Hizbollah ready to attack U.S. Such a snappy title!

Why international law matters. I couldn't write this if I tried. Or maybe I could. But it would take me all day.

I assume I needn't explain too much here since the reader I care about (the only reader I have) is my future self. I take it, future self, you will remember the context.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

This Was Odd

I actually thought the other day--good God am I a realist?

There's no getting around the power of the U.S. and what do you do with all that power? An isolationist foreign policy seems like an impossibility at this point. It would have to be better than what we've currently got going--almost anything would besides overt world takeover which is where the U.S. may be heading-- but it will never fly.

Then there is the 'moral' foreign policy. It used to be that the assertion of concern with democracy in the non-U.S./non-Europe part of the world meant leave them alone. It often meant that. Now it means all out war.

There's one thing that I find striking and that is that a calculated measure of what was in the interest of the U.S. would have resulted in a much more 'moral' foreign policy. A cool-headed and rational and informed calculation. Perhaps those never happen which is why this meta-realist argument might not work. The argument is: If the Imperial Government of the United States would only think of its interests and its interests alone---primarily geopolitical, not economic (I think)--then what the actions it would engage in would be far more morally palatable than if it actively acted to promote 'moral' foreign policy aims.

Now what we have here could very well be a fake moral foreign policy wrapping with a crunchy economic-driven center. But the rhetoric has turned things on its head. It starts to look a little crazy to say 'I want a moral foreign policy.' What we have now is a moralizing foreign policy. But it's enough to put you off the whole idea of a moral foreign policy.

I often engage in these 'if I ran the world' flights of fancy. If I ran the world and if I were not the ethically concerned person I am with many qualms about war but some old craggy hardcore state department-ish pro-United Statesan. Well, from where I sit now, I would have invaded Afghanistan. With a large number of troops. I would have secured and rebuilt the country, poured bucketloads of money into it. I would have made Afghanistan into Panama, pretty much. And unceasingly, relentlessly attempted to track down Bin Laden. Really, for the public relations angle more than anything else. The simple formula: He attacked the U.S. The U.S. found him, put him on trial, killed him and now he is dead. It's very powerful, that little narrative. Not the solution to all problems, but a nice clear story arc.

As my craggy hardcore patriotic and yet reasonable self (the old and wise--where are they? They are nowhere to be found. Especially not in Washington, D.C. They've all retired.) I would have stayed very far from Iraq. Very far. Would I mess with Iran? Not directly. No, my craggy old white male self would do everything sneakily, smartly behind the scenes.

And I think--except for global warming, the empire would have lasted--although not remained untroubled--for decades. Decades and decades, a century or more. If I were Marcus Aurelius in the State Department.

Thursday, July 13, 2006


OK, my post below lacks context since it is very clear that some rather small acts by those without much (planes, for example) have the capacity to start very large wars. I hope to God that's not what's happening in Israel and Lebanon right now.

Hilzoy's post gives some background as to the events leading up to the kidnappings. And mentions that the absence of U.S. diplomacy is a very bad thing right now.

Chris Bertram flatly states the Israeli response was wrong.

This very detailed post makes the point it's not so clear. By Jonathan Edelstein. The rules of war were not violated initially by either side (Hamas or Israel), he claims. True perhaps if we assume, I think, that the Gaza border itself was a war zone. Are there no agreements as to engagement after the initial Gaza pullout? I guess anything agreed to is long ago obliterated. It all starts to seem like splitting hairs. Here is where you might want to focus on outcomes. If a larger war results from Israel's reaction and we assume (as we have to, I think) that there were alternatives to Israel's choice then doesn't Israel bear some responsibility for that war?

Wednesday, July 12, 2006


I don't know the first thing about Hamas other than the obvious, which is that they support terrorism against Israelis.

This is sort of an odd review. It barely mentions the book at all!

Its point is to describe Hamas, how bad they are, how nefarious their plan is.

What seems strange to me is when people talk about how the Muslim [somethings...'supremicists' seems as good a word as any] have this grand plan to conquer the earth, Dr. Evil style. Is it not relevant at all that the Muslim Supremicists are hardly in any kind of position to conquer the earth Dr. Evil style? At least not at the moment.

OK, maybe they will be in such a position after some sort of cataclysmic upheaval we can't foresee. Rising seas, chaotic weather, a rogue nuclear weapon followed by a total economic collapse and then a plague that wipes out the overwhelming global supremacy of the U.S., Europe and most of Asia. But right now, is it even relevant that the Muslim [whatever you want to call them] have a grand plan to conquer the world. We must act now, before it is too late. They want Spain back!!

It would surprise me if Hamas weren't extremist but this review, it's a kind of genre you see lately. The "hide your children, the Muslims are coming!" genre. It is depressing and scary that Islamic terrorists pose a threat to my child, a statistically small threat but a real threat. And God, it is horrible to think of what the Israelis must live with. But doesn't it also matter that the children of 'Islamists' as the author calls them are currently being killed and terrorized by bombs in Iraq or Palestine and/or desperately poor? Their rhetoric seems to strike such terror in the heart of this reviewer. But why not just do a little comparison for a minute?

This is not to deny that Hamas's rhetoric, even if misrepresented by the reviewer, is not militant at the least and whacko anti-semitic or even genocidal at the most. But then what's the implication? What is to be done? It always seems to me that the implication when someone emphasizes just how out of bounds some elements are that there's only one option: Wipe 'em out.

Basically, the hope is that by emphasizing the unsavory elements of their politics our wiping them out is justified. We are wiping them out because they wanted to wipe us out first.

I always wonder why groups like Hamas take root. It's not all injustice on its own that makes any group take the road of violent extremism. Its injustice plus an unhealthy cultural ferment that tends to lead to extremism. Forgive the stereotype, but lots of Cubans in Miami are kind of nutty while the ones in New Jersey are relatively sane. Something about the exiled community in Miami drives some people around the bend. Exile alone is not sufficient.

Still, why is the actual situation--that Muslims have absolutely no hope of currently taking over the world-- never relevant, I wonder? Is it reasonable for those who beat these drums to say 'but the current takeover of large portions of the Islamic world is just a side effect of self-defense. As long as we don't plan to take over the Islamic world, the fact that we are taking over a part of the Islamic world is unobjectionable? Don't you see, they plan to take over the world."

Yes, their plans are crazy as hell and who knows how many Muslims are on board with these batshit plans to take over the entire world? Millions, undoubtedly. Isn't it always millions? It's a bit of a problem and will become an increasing one if people obsessed with the evils of Islamic radicalism are drivivng the boat. It's as if Islamic Supremacy is a disease that affects both its proponents and its opponents in almost the exact same way.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Crucial Climate Change Case Now Before The Court

Editorial--NY TIMES
Global Warming and the Courts

Published: July 8, 2006
In a move that has caused both delight and apprehension among those who worry about global warming, the Supreme Court has agreed to rule next fall on whether the Environmental Protection Agency has the authority under the Clean Air Act to regulate carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. The case is among the most important environmental disputes ever to come before the court.

The outcome will have much to say about whether the country will be able to act more aggressively on a problem with potentially grave consequences for the earth and its inhabitants. It could also determine whether states that have acted on their own to limit global warming emissions from vehicles — as California and 10 other states have done — can proceed without fear of a federal veto.

President Bush has advanced many reasons for not pressing for strong controls on greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles, power plants and other industrial sources. But his ace in the hole has been the claim that the federal government has no authority to regulate greenhouse gases.

The case turns largely on a simple reading of the Clean Air Act. The administration argues that the act mentions carbon dioxide only in passing, and that if Congress had been truly worried about global warming it would have given the gases that cause it more emphasis and instructed the E.P.A. to take aggressive steps to control them, as it did with sulfur dioxide and other pollutants. The administration argues further that the science on global warming is too "uncertain" to justify anything more than a voluntary effort to deal with it.

The plaintiffs — a formidable collection of state governments and environmental groups — argue that the plain language of the Clean Air Act gives the government jurisdiction over "any air pollutant" that threatens "public health or welfare" and, further, that "welfare" specifically includes effects on climate and weather. This interpretation of the act was first set forth by President Clinton's E.P.A. and stood as agency policy until Mr. Bush reversed it (without consulting his own E.P.A.) in 2001.

As for the science that the administration finds so shaky, the plaintiffs will argue that the science has grown steadily more persuasive since the Clean Air Act was last revised in 1990; that the administration has cherry-picked arguments about details while ignoring the vast preponderance of the evidence; and that the consensus among mainstream scientists — a consensus reinforced by a recent National Academy of Sciences report — is that the earth is inexorably heating up and that industrial emissions are largely responsible.

This is a case of global importance, not least because America's failure to act decisively has discouraged the rest of the world from acting decisively. On the face of it, the law plainly gives the government the power to regulate greenhouse gases. A ruling that tells the administration that it has that power does not mean that it will actually use it. But it will no longer be able to hide behind a legal fiction.

Full text above--link to NY Times Opinion Page

If the administration's position is what this editorial says it is, that's freaking absurd.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

London Bombings: One Year After

I don't know why but I wasn't afraid after 9/11. I was after the London bombing.

7/7 made me realize how inevitable it is that more attacks will happen and more innocent people will die. It also made me realize something frightening: That ordinary people can and will become suicide bombers. Some may even be idealists. Manipulated by others with darker aims, but ordinary people nonetheless. Of course, I don't agree with where their ideals take them. I don't say it's understandable in the sense it can be justified. But it can be understood in the framework of expected human behavior. And this is what frightens me.

Strange, I was in London and rode the tube about a week or so--two weeks?--after the bombing and I wasn't afraid. No one else appeared to be. How quickly things go back to normal for those who didn't suffer or weren't directly affected. For those affected, it's hard to imagine what they go through. But that's to be expected. We live in a world where we are constantly made aware of unthinkable tragedies and still we have to go collect the mail or eat a bowl of shredded wheat or everything else pointless or necessary.

Still, you have to stop sometime and think about it and today I did. There's nothing I can do from so far away to alleviate the pain of 52 people dead and so many people injured. I just it wish that wasn't so.