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I was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator and am now a journalist. I am the author of three New York Times bestselling books -- "How Would a Patriot Act" (a critique of Bush executive power theories), "Tragic Legacy" (documenting the Bush legacy), and With Liberty and Justice for Some (critiquing America's two-tiered justice system and the collapse of the rule of law for its political and financial elites). My fifth book - No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA and the US Surveillance State - will be released on April 29, 2014 by Holt/Metropolitan.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Various thoughts on the Israeli/"our" war

(1) As others have noted, it can be dispiriting and tiresome to debate Middle Eastern conflicts between Israel and its enemies because extremists almost always tend to dominate the discussions. Israel is either the angelic victim surrounded by pure evil, or else is pure evil itself sadistically inflicting violence on its poor, angelic neighbors. In general, those who become most knowledgeable about these conflicts do so because they zealously believe in one Manichean view or the other, rendering it quite difficult to sort out competing claims.

That is why I find Juan Cole one of the more balanced commentators on the Middle East. Although he's routinely accused of being some sort of Israel-hater -- and he certainly does fall on the side of criticizing Israel more so than those of its enemies -- he is one of the few commentators who both criticizes and defends each side at various times, raising his credibility level, at least in my view, considerably (which is not to say that I don't often find grounds for disagreeing with his views). After quoting at length a couple of days ago from a speech by Hezbollah's leader, Hasan Nasrallah, Cole said this (emphasis in original):

[Nasrallah] said people were always putting down the Arabs and saying they could not accomplish anything, but, he said, look at the Israeli warship in flames. That was an Arab accomplishment.

Uh, wouldn't an Arab accomplishment be more like, oh, inventing something or building up something nice? Destroying things and killing people is not an accomplishment.

I watched in horror as this maniacal speech unfolded in which Nasrallah actually threatened the Israelis with releasing chemical gas from local factories on civilians in Haifa. Despite fighting them for all those years, he clearly does not understand the Israelis' psyche or the trauma of the Holocaust. A threat like that. The Israelis don't like being caught in a quagmire any more than the next person, which is why Nasrallah could get them to leave southern Lebanon. But his victory appears to have given him megalomania, and he has now gone too far.

Hizbullah's attacks on Israeli civilians are war crimes. The killing of the civilians in Haifa at the train station was a war crime. And threatening to release chemicals from factories on civilian populations is probably a war crime in itself, much less the doing of it.

Obviously, I do not accept that Hizbullah's actions justify the wholesale indiscriminate destruction and slaughter in which the Israelis have been engaged against the Lebanese in general. But they do have every right to defend themselves against Nasrallah and his mad bombers.

What pro-Israeli commentators on the right ever offer such balanced assessments? They will criticize Israel for making strategic mistakes, or for being insufficiently hard-line (just as they are willing to criticize Bush for being strategically misguided or insufficiently hard-line), but never for engaging in wrongful behavior. In their view, balance is a sign of moral depravity, and Cole -- who frequently condemns what is allegedly "his side" -- is hated not because he's too biased, but because he isn't biased enough.

(2) During the protests several months ago against proposed anti-immigration legislation, there were all sorts of angry denunciations over the protestors' waving of Mexican flags. As I noted at the time, there are numerous self-identified ethnic or nationalistic groups within the U.S. who routinely wave the flags of other countries at events, parades and protests -- including Israel, Ireland, Italy -- and yet that does not invoke the same objections. To the contrary, many of the same individuals who condemn the waving of Mexican flags praise and celebrate the waving of these other flags.

Yesterday, in the middle of New York City, protestors clogged the streets of Manhattan for a large rally called the "Stand with Israel" rally. As the photographs taken by one of the attendees reflect, there seem to have been many Israeli flags but, at least in these photographs, no American flags. Despite that, one of the most vocal commentators who lambasted the waving of Mexican flags on U.S. soil lauded the pro-Israeli protest.

With the immigration protests, some criticized the waving of Mexican flags on strategic grounds -- isn't it dumb of the protestors, they argued, to signal that their allegiance is to Mexico rather than to the U.S. Shouldn't they therefore be waiving U.S. flags? As Mickey Kaus put it (emphasis in original): "flaunting allegiance to a neighboring country was not a good way to make most Americans want to let in more people who share your attachment!"

Shouldn't the same thing be said about the pro-Israeli protestors yesterday? If Americans are going to be persuaded to join this war, it ought to be because doing so is in the interests of the United States, not of Israel. Wouldn't it make more sense, then, to wave American flags in order to illustrate the point that intervention is in America's interests, rather than waving the flag of another country in order to persuade Americans to enter a war on its behalf? And what, exactly, is the difference -- moral or etiquette-based or otherwise -- between the heinous act of waving Mexican flags and the inspiring act of waving Israelis flags, both on U.S. soil?

(3) One of the things I dislike about those who venerate U.N. Resolutions and international law is that it always seems so selectively emphasized by whoever is wielding them. Whatever else one wants to say about Israel -- meaning, leave aside the long list of alleged sins -- it is simply the case that there is a U.N. Resolution, 1559 (.pdf), which calls for the Lebanese government to exert full control over all of its territory, and independently, for the disbandment of Lebanese militias, including Hezbollah.

Neither the Lebanese Government nor Hezbollah are in compliance with that Resolution. And since its enactment, Hezbollah has used its position near the Israeli border to fly drones over Israel and to shoot rockets into Israel (before the outbreak of the current conflict). Shouldn't those on the Left who believe in the supremacy of international law and U.N. resolutions be unequivocally condemning Hezbollah, which ought to be disbanded if U.N. Resolutions are complied with and who, by definition, are guilty of war crimes for engaging in these acts in violation of those resolutions? Regardless of the acts of Israel, how can anyone who claims to be a believer in the supremacy of international law in any way justify the acts, or even the existence, of Hezbollah?

(4) Add Andy McCarthy to the list of commentators overtly advocating immediate intervention in this war and waging war on a long list of enemies, including Syria and Iraq. I saw some blogger somewhere mocking my claim the other day that National Review is a neoconservative publication. With McCarthy, Michael Ledeen, Victor Davis Hanson, John Podhoretz, Jonah Goldberg and a whole host of others who blindly and unfailingly defend Israel and who believe the Bush administration needs to wage more war as quickly as possible in the Middle East, it's hard to see how any serious person could contest that view.

Speaking of neoconservativsm, George Will excoriates it today as, among other things, a "spectacularly misnamed radicalism," and asks: "And if Bashar Assad's regime does not fall after the Weekly Standard's hoped-for third war, with Iran, does the magazine hope for a fourth?"

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