Friday, January 16, 2009

Learning From Israel

As the barbarism of both American (Fallujah, the destructive intervention of its Ethiopian proxies in Somalia) and Israeli expansionists (Jenin, Gaza, Lebanon) has become increasingly evident, the taboo questions of whether or not Israel is a bad influence over the U.S. or a net loss for U.S. national security have become more prominent. To answer such questions, we need to differentiate between our images of what ideals the two primary religions of Americans and Israelis represent for human morality and what these two countries represent for global affairs.
Learning the Wrong Lessons:

one glance at the realities on the ground in Iraq today reveal that the cornerstone of current U.S. military strategy is less about cultivating human relationships than about limiting them, primarily through concrete walls and checkpoints. And it has been less about minimizing violence than containing Iraq's population and redirecting the battlefield from the streets to the skies above Iraq....

The explosion of walls and enclaves reinforced by aerial violence across Iraq suggest that the primary counterinsurgency lessons being followed by the U.S. military in Iraq today derive less from the lessons of "Lawrence of Arabia" than from Israel's experiences in the Occupied Palestinian Territories over the past decade.

I trust that those who believe in either Christianity or Judaism will agree that the slaughter of children, the penning up in walled camps for generations of whole ethnic groups, the dropping onto cities of white phosphorous bombs to melt the skin off anyone within range, or even the steady expansion of empire enforced by military conquest are not part of the ideals of either religion. Patriots in both countries believe their respective countries offer a special message to the world, but I also trust that patriotic Americans and Israelis will agree that the above-enumerated behavior is not part of the ideals that either country claims to represent.

Nevertheless, an ominous cycle is emerging in which each country is pushing the other into such criminal behavior, and each country is using the other’s criminal behavior to justify its own. In the process, the culture of each country, not to mention the “values” which the rest of the world perceive as being represented by each country, are evolving (or, more appropriately, devolving, in the sense of “decaying”) into values that I trust the vast majority of Americans, Israelis, Christians, and Jews would reject.

Criminal Behavior:

The Israeli army knew the coordinates of this installation,” UNRWA spokesman Christopher Gunness said in a telephone interview. “There has been a direct hit on a UN school sheltering hundreds of people. There has to be an investigation for possible war crimes.” It was the first time a UN official has called for a war crimes investigation over Israeli attacks on its installations in Gaza since the military operation began.

To be more specific, extremists addicted to violence (to my mind that is a redundancy, for “addiction to violence” is the definition of extremism) are setting the agenda in each country, spreading myths that justify absurd and counterproductive levels of violence that only seem appropriate because no one makes the effort to see how these same extremists have created the very situations they cite in defense of their behavior. Blaming Hamas for Israel’s invasion of Gaza, when it was Israel that undermined Hamas’ democratic election victory in 2006 and violated its own summer 2008 promise to moderate its economic war against the population of Gaza, is a classic example.

One fundamental problem is the difficulty for the average person of differentiating between extremist politicians and the whole country. The political elite of the various leading parties in Israel are not “Israel;” their chosen policy for the last generation of creating a “greater Israel” and seeking security through overwhelming military superiority may be in their personal interest as a politician or stockholder but is not necessarily in the interest of the Israeli people. For some member of the elite or the military-industrial complex of either country to call for preventive war against Iran, or Hezbollah, or Fatah, or Gaza, or Syria, or Iraq, or Afghanistan, or Somalia, or perhaps Pakistan some day soon does not mean that such a policy is automatically something that “a friend” of that individual’s country is morally obligated to support. On the contrary, a friend is morally obligated to think about the long-term security implications of such a policy.

Values are shifting from being the superior example (the shining “city on the hill” for others to gaze upon and learn to respect and emulate) to being the irresistible empire that charges forward from one war of choice indiscriminately attacking both enemies and helpless civilian populations to another. The subtle confusion caused by this shift in values was painfully obvious during the 2008 electoral campaign when no candidate capable of articulating moral positions on international relations was able to make any impression on the polls and no major candidate, either during the election or (to date) thereafter, was capable even of articulating the relevance of morality. This is a shocking and fundamental shift for two populations that traditionally claimed to occupy the moral heights of the global political scene.

In each country there no doubt exist powerful individuals and groups that clearly see huge personal benefit flowing from global chaos; Iraq has been fabulous for certain business interests (e.g., Blackwater and Cheney’s Halliburton) ,and Afghanistan is increasingly becoming so as the physical infrastructure of empire rapidly proliferates in preparation for next spring’s surge. Iraq also gave certain politicians a huge—if temporary—boost in personal power. Afghanistan hardly seems likely to do so for American or Israeli politicians, but Iran is being exploited for that reason already. There are also no doubt some true believers in American and Israeli society, just as in Moslem societies, that would readily destroy the world to pursue their own mad dreams. Nevertheless, the above-described devolution of values does not appear to represent the true beliefs of majorities in either the American or the Israeli population; rather, it appears more to be a self-adaptive process that is carrying both societies to a place neither society would actually want to end up in if it could only see where it was going. For two societies that choose to support each other to drive each other to a place neither wants to go is a tragedy.

How much better it would be if America could emulate that which is good in Israel and Israel could emulate that which is good in America, each society encouraging the other to do a better job of living up to its claims of exceptionalism.

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