July 26, 2006

The Middle East is Not a Morality Play

The Middle East is Not a Morality Play

Paul Mirengoff, a lawyer in DC with Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld, writes for the blog Power Line. You heard him on The Encyclopedia of American Conservatism and The Republican Coalition. (And if you didn’t hear him, you know you can listen to all of our shows online, right? Right?) Paul, in his response to On David and Goliath, cautions against applying any narrative — biblical or literary — to a very real conflict.

I would say that there are no Davids now. Israel was David at one time, although there was no Goliath, only the large number of (weak) opponents gave Israel underdog status. But now Israel is a regional superpower, with the US behind it.

Fatah and Hamas are terrorists who don’t stand and fight, so they are disqualified, I should think. We’ll see if Hezbollah, terrorists to be sure, stand and fight, but in any case that organization appears to be a creature of Syria and Iran.

Having long ago lost its underdog status, Israel’s best case for sympathy and support today (which is compelling to me) is that its enemies are our enemies. For those who won’t be persuaded by this argument, Israel is left to point out that Hezbollah started the fight. Hezbollah, I imagine, gets some David mileage from those inclined to sympathize, but for the reasons mentioned above, that mileage is undeserved.

In the end, I think this struggle should be viewed more as a geo-political one in the context of a “clash of civilizations” and less as a morality play.

Paul Mirengoff, Power Line, in an email to Open Source, July 26, 2006

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  • EmptySet

    What about the Lebanese civilians, who usually can’t help but live next to Hezbollah—the latter are the ones with the guns (and, more importantly, the willingness to kill in a “good” cause)? Who are they; who are the Israelis, who are not the same as “Israel”?

    He’s right that this isn’t a morality play—but because nothing is. Where he’s wrong is the implicit contention that “friends” and “enemies” are fixed—over the past couple of weeks, the U.S. (and even Israel) have acquired a lot more enemies among the Lebanese, and it didn’t have to be this way, I think.

    I am a Zionist. Israelis have a right to defend themselves, but a responsibility to themselves and their humanity to do it in a way that actually make them safer—violence comes at an awful cost, so it’d better pay for something very worthwhile.

    Easy for me to criticise…what would _I_ have done? As with al-Qa’eda after the fall of the Taliban, the answer is simple: police and intelligence work, mostly. It would be more effective, would moderate the response (because you don’t want potentially friendly sources of information bombed out of existence or into opposition), and it would deny Hezbollah the dignity we usually lend to states—if we treated terrorists as thugs, criminals, people weak enough to be deluded into believing nonsense (Righteous Purifying Violence for starters), it would help spread the meme that they deserve only contempt.

    Some military strikes, but extremely well targetted; interdiction of materiel (harder now that Syria and Iran have a good excuse not to help). Killing terrorists is pretty much useless (more where that came from, and it selects for hard-core terrorists, making it impossible to moderate the organisation), and worse than useless if doing so angers the civilians around them who get killed and maimed in the process.

  • In thinking over my lunch break about the question Brendan raised elsewhere today about the outsized attention given to the Israel conflict here and in the U.S. media in general…

    I’ll disagree somewhat with Mirengoff above. There’s two ways to look at this conflict. One is the geopolitical angle, recognizing how this turn of events touches upon other peoples and states in the region. And one can in fact argue geo-politically (as columnists like Nick Kristof have) that Israel should have shrewdly been patient before launching the response.

    But, when Mirengoff invokes the “clash of civilizations” what he means to say is that there is a moral narrative here (remember that a central tenet of neoconservativism– which I believe Powerline often identifies with– promotes the moral intervention theory of foreign policy). This war is easier to figure out than the morass in Iraq or any of the civil wars in Africa. It is a contest of wills: our will to live shall be greater than their will for mutual annhilation.

    I’ve long been a fan of Yossi Klein Halevi, the Brooklyn-born aliyah (emigrant to Israel) since his 2001 book At the Entrance to the Garden of Good An Evil, which was a spiritual search to seek out common ground among the Jewish, Christian, and Muslem faithful in the Holy Land.

    Covering the war for the New Republic, he feels that we’re beyond dialogue. In today’s piece he starts:

    “Three times in the last century, the Jewish people has found itself on the front line against totalitarian ideologies with aspirations to rule the world, and which defined the Jewish people as its primary obstacle in fulfilling that goal.”

    and he concludes:

    “The Jewish people is once again being forced to act as a brake against evil. This is not a repetition of the first Lebanon war, but a return to our consensus wars of survival–not a Vietnam moment but a World War II moment. That is why Israel fights, and why it will win.”

  • rc21

    Hopefully Isreal will prevail. What scares me is how the media and universities,have slowly been portraying Isreal as the bad guy. Most of this comes from left leaning proffesors at universities in the states and im sure throughout Europe. Throw in the overwhelmingly liberal media.

    My guess is before this latest incident is over it will be percieved as Isreal who instigated this battle. Isreal will also be found to be responsible for all the deaths of civillians. Poor Hezbollah is only trying to protect itself and fight oppression. I can hear the BBC now. In studying ww2 during school I always wondered how hitler was able to come to power,and put in place his final solution. I assumed the people of germany were educated and would never permit such a thing. I am now starting to realize how the holacaust was able to proceed.

  • jdyer

    There is a larger aspect to this conflict that we are in danger of forgetting:

    The battle lines seem to be drawn between two adversaries. On one side there are what I will call the Western democracies which also include Japan and even countries like India.

    On the other side there are those countries and systems of believes that challenge these democracies for various reason, economic, religious, social. However this latter group which includes Iran, Venezuela, North Korea, as well as the organizations they sponsor such as Hezbollah have a tendency towards totalitarianism.

    In the west many people of the “new” left (the totalitairan left) have endorsed these “third world” coutries and movements.

    An example of what I mean can be found here:

    “Among brothers in a model social state”

    http://hurryupharry.bloghouse.net/

    It clearly shows a convergence of anti-democratic forces and their challenge to the democratic world is as serious as it was in the 30’s when Tokyo, Berlin, and Rome also challenged the democracies in an attempt to impose a totalitarian world order.

    The war in Lebanon needs to be seen in this context.

  • mulp

    Not a morality play??

    Victim status justifies discriminating against the residents of the territory they move into, refusal to assimilate and adopt local customs, illegal immigration, terrorism against Britain, retribution against those who reacted against their European actions in a Mediterranean territory.

    For nearly a century, people in Palestine have been walking hand in hand toward eternal conflict and transforming society from pluralistic to religiously fanatic.

    And the culpability of the supposedly civilized, moral, and guided by rule of law Europeans can not be dismissed. By what logic would supposedly democratic (using democratic to mean republican) governments make decisions about the destiny of a people by selecting, and relying on the decisions of, people who had no real tie to the peoples affected, while denying those affected any voice.

    We can point to multiple cases of society commiting wrongs to people, and these wrongs taking so long to be acknowledged that no justice can be done, but societies have responded and continue to respond, debating the past, the current steps being taken to address the wrongs, and the future. In the US we have slavery and the ripple of effects, from creating theories of race to justifying the enslaving of people as an act of charity. America’s past wrongs, which go back to day one of the nation, was redebated just this month with the voting rights act. Germany and other European countries debate the issue when drawing the line on free speech. Japan faces the issue when pushed to supply military troops by the same country that demanded a prohibition on a standing army in their Constitution.

    So, isn’t it time for a nation that calls it self a peace loving, law abiding democracy acknowledge its history of resisting the rule of law by refusing to obey limits on immigration, its history of systematically discriminating against others on the basis that they aren’t chosen, its history of using terrorism to wear down the authorities trying to enforce the rule of law, and its current clear pattern of declaring 20% of its citizens to be second class.

    While I know that throughout history, enforcing some religious belief on a people was common, I thought that this issue had been largely put behind those of us with European background. The US Constitution is absolutely clear about no religious test, and quickly specifically spelled out a prohibition on state religion, a statement about the US government, which was quickly adopted by every State but one (the Commonwealth of Mass). And those dirty commies banned religion from government and society.

    So, how is it that a supposedly democratic state formed in the post WWII cold war ends up being a religious state? And what role did this state, culture, and economy of a superior religion over all others drive other states in the region to adopt the same language of a state religion superior to all others? That is certainly part of the history of walking hand in hand down the path to hatred, conflict, discrimination, persecution, and war.

    Well, maybe it isn’t a morality play. Morality was abandoned long ago in favor of the ends justifying the means.

    Hey, the US clearly has dirty hands in all this. Truman calls for jamming 100,000 unwanted immigrants on Palestine, saying that he would work to change US immigration law and the laws of other nations to be accomodate the needs of refugees. Clearly the US didn’t want those dirty immigrants to come flooding into the US. Why 250,000 immigrants into a nation of 100 million would be an excessive burden, but sending 100,000 into a region that wasn’t a nation, that had a conflict over immigration, and a population of less than a million was somehow reasonable? Even as the US was excoriating the Soviet Union to free the Jews, the US immigration rules limited the number that the US would admit to a far less than the evil empire would allow to go free.

  • jdyer

    “So, isn’t it time for a nation that calls it self a peace loving, law abiding democracy acknowledge its history of resisting the rule of law by refusing to obey limits on immigration, its history of systematically discriminating against others on the basis that they aren’t chosen, its history of using terrorism to wear down the authorities trying to enforce the rule of law, and its current clear pattern of declaring 20% of its citizens to be second class.”

    I don’t know which nation you are talking about.

    Are you talking about Syria?

  • jdyer

    Mulp, you got your facts mixed up.

  • jdyer

    “Hey, the US clearly has dirty hands in all this. Truman calls for jamming 100,000 unwanted immigrants on Palestine, saying that he would work to change US immigration law and the laws of other nations to be accomodate the needs of refugees.” mulp

    You need to read some history, buddy.

    You have no clue about what you are talking about.

    In 1948 the Soviet Union had offered as much if not more support to Israel than did the US. That support was soley diplomatic. The US did not enter into an alliance with Israel till after 1967.

    Israel, besides, wasn’t founded as “religious state,” and most of its citizens then and now are secular. This fact has led to sharp tensions with the ultra Orthodox Jewish community in the country.

    Your other points above are equally false.

    Try reading a history of the country against which you are so blithely preaching genocide.