Eye for an eye

A couple of sound-bites have been been bandied around the political theatre these past few days. They almost sound like truisms, and have thus escaped any kind of critical examination.

First, we’ve heard Condolezza Rice say that any ceasefire

must be “lasting permanent and sustainable.”

Why? Surely any ceasefire is better than none? Even during a temporary and shaky ceasefire, people aren’t getting killed. There may be strategic – even humanitarian – reasons why it is preferable not to let up on the Lebanon bombardment, but Condi isn’t making those arguments. We’re left with the implication that, if Israelis are going to be attacked in Haifa, we might as well bomb some Lebanese too.

Second, have a look at these comments from Tony Blair, to a question from Sir Menzies Campbell, at last week’s Prime Minister’s Questions:

Let me repeat what I said yesterday. It is important that Israel’s response is proportionate and does its best to minimise civilian casualties, but it would stop now if the soldiers who were kidnapped—wrongly, when Hezbollah crossed the United Nations blue line—were released. It would stop if the rockets stopped coming into Haifa, deliberately to kill innocent civilians. If those two things happened, I promise the right hon. and learned Gentleman that I will be the first to say that Israel should halt its operations.

Forget the debate about proportionate or disproportionate force. The logic here is that because one side are the first to start something, they must also be the first to end it. This kind of justice may work on the playground… but on an international stage this logic leads to a morality contingent on what other people do. Weather-vane ethics. Since Israeli military operations have not been effective at securing the release of the Israeli prisoners, or in stopping the ball-bearing laden rockets being shot into Haifa, it is legitimate to ask whether the bombing of Lebanon is right or wrong in itself.

Given the source of the ideologies on both sides in the conflict, it is unsurprising that this entire situation is being conducted according to Old Testament morality: An Eye For an Eye, et cetera. We need something more radical.

17 thoughts on “Eye for an eye”

  1. Why? Surely any ceasefire is better than none?

    Not if it gives one or both sides breathing space to rearm and continue hostilities at a later date, thus protracting the war. Which is precisely the kind of situation Condi is trying to avoid.

  2. Tim Newman, are you saying then that it’s better for both sides to bomb eachother into such oblivion that neither side can ever again do any kind of war (ie until everyone is dead and/or there’s no infrastructure or weapons or weapon-making capabilites of any kind left)? That’s a bit radical. In fact, I think it’s a bit confused.

    Why do you care about stopping them having wars in the future, if you don’t care about stopping them having a war right now?

    Also, if you don’t want them to have breathing space to rearm, then aren’t you arguing for the side that has the most resources to just “win”? I wonder which side that would be? Aren’t you then saying that might is right? I don’t think that’s a philosophy I want to believe in.

    PS Has anyone else heard about how Israel is apparently using some sort of chemical or biological weapons in this bombing? I gather we are waiting for European doctors to corroborate the evidence before anyone dares to mention it. And why did the Israeli’s target those UN people, unless they’d seen something they shouldn’t have?

  3. Clarice,

    I am of the opinion that some wars are best fought until one side is vanquished, and hence forced into adopting a stance of permanent peace. The defeat of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan are good examples of total submission leading to peace. Examples of ceasefires which have allowed an armed buildup resulting in protracted hostilities are the Korean Armistice and the Treaty of Versailles.

    In the case of Hezbollah vs Israel, I think it is best to let the hostilities continue until Hezbollah is completely destroyed or shunned permanently by its sponsors. Any ceasefire now is simply putting off the inevitable when Hezbollah will have better weapons.

    I suppose you’d have to be of the opinion that Israel are not the bad guys in all of this to be in agreement, and if you do not think Hezbollah to be morally any better than the IDF then we’ll have to agree to disagree.

  4. ‘In the case of Hezbollah vs Israel, I think it is best to let the hostilities continue until Hezbollah is completely destroyed or shunned permanently by its sponsors. Any ceasefire now is simply putting off the inevitable when Hezbollah will have better weapons.’

    Or… until the Lebanese civilians have all fled or been wiped off the face of the planet – which given the current ‘success’ rate of the Israeli attacks seems more likely. Hardly taking the moral high ground – in fact, hard to use the word ‘moral’ at all. I violently oppose military action that consumes innocent life in such quantities to achieve its objectives.

    There is a simple premise that arguments like yours revolve around – that the current ‘bomb everything that moves’ strategy is the best, or only way to deal with terrorists. Moral arguments aside, conventional warfare versus an unconventional enemy is doomed to failure, as has been proven again, and again, and again. Some people need to start learning from mistakes of the past.

  5. Since America, AKA Israel, launched its’ offensive against Iran and Syria, AKA Hezbollah, Lebanon has suffered a deliberate man-made humanitarian catastrophe. This is not disproportionate to the kidnapping of a few soldiers because it has nothing whatever to do with the kidnappings. This is an extension of US Foreign policy, which is not concerned with proportionality.

    Condoleeza ‘Uncle Tom’ Rice made the comment, I think, “that there was no point to a ceasefire unless it was lasting permanent and sustainable” – which illustrates the US foreign policy perfectly. And as you quite rightly point out ANY ceasefire is better than no ceasefire. Ask the thousands of maimed Lebanese and the significantly smaller number of Israelis. Not that it matters which side of a fence you come from when your baby is blown into small pieces in front of you.

    Have you noticed how some media now reports her as Dr Rice, the Dr bit apearing recently in a deeply cynical attempt to give her a veil of decency and humanity, whist she tells the world that the US doesn’t see the point of a ceasefire.

    The US firepower demonstration in Lebanon is designed to intimidate the Iranians and Syrians (top of the US “Axis of Evil” list). Collateral damage is completely acceptable as long as you express “Regret”, because then it’s OK, right?

    The organisation, whose raison d’etre is to stop this kind of UNjustifiable mutilation of a nations population and infrastructure, is UNwilling or UNable to fulfill its’ mandate. Evil will always prosper when good men do nothing. Way to go, Koffi!

  6. Tim Newman – Re. the opinion that Israel is the not bad-guy – that would be kind of a hard position to justify given Israel’s behaviour – they’re clearly not “the good guy” in all of this, are they (if such a thing even exists here)? Unless maybe you think killing innocent civilians in a terribly inappropriate ratio makes one “good”? I’m afraid I cannot agree with that.

    Israel may not be THE bad guy, but they’re certainly A bad guy, and they’re definitely not a very good guy. I think it’s not very helpful to engage in this type of binary, dichotomous, black-and-white thinking, especially over something so complex. I also think that’s part of the reason people are still being killed.

    I also don’t think your “total submission brings permanent peace” argument is terribly strong. You conveniently omit to mention the “total submission” imposed on Germany after the 1st world war, and the link between this and the rise of the Nazis and what they went on to do (eg the 2nd world war). What happened to Germany after the 2nd WW was somewhat toned-down, and a lot more constructive, because of what had been learned from the 1st WW. Remember, you can’t have submission without dominance, and I really don’t think that’s a very nice or justifiable thing to argue for, so I think we will have to agree to differ.

  7. ps Tim, would you continue to hold your view that obliteration of one side is a good thing if it looked like Israel would be the one to be obliterated? If your argument is ethically motivated, it would be inconsistent not to, wouldn’t it?

  8. First, Tim did cite the Treaty of Versailles, which ended the 1914-18 war, as an example of not total submission.

    Second, I don’t think Tim is ashamed of taking sides in this conflict, so I’m not sure how pertinent your latter question is for him. I have a problem with his stance, simply because it does take us into the realm a war ‘proper’, where strategies and tactics are made in the strict Machiavellian sense of what is most effective and most expedient. The decision that you are moral, and the other side is not, has already been made. So ethically those tactics would be valid.

    I agree that the issues are not so clear-cut with regards to Israel, so I would not so readily take sides, and the forces employed or the ceasefire agreed upon are still open issues. But I’m not seeing an inconsistency in Tim’s argument – I just think we start from entirely different premises!

  9. You conveniently omit to mention the “total submission” imposed on Germany after the 1st world war…

    You mean the Treaty of Versailles?

    Erm, I think you need to read my post again.

  10. Ah, I see Robert pointed that out already.

    Anyway, to address Clarice’s other questions (I’ll ignore the fuckwit who refers to Condi Rice as “Uncle Tom”):

    Unless maybe you think killing innocent civilians in a terribly inappropriate ratio makes one “good”?

    I don’t think you can judge a military operation by looking just at the ratio of innocent civilians killed on either side, let alone make a judgement on what is or is not an inappropriate ratio. I am more interested in whether Israel, by its current actions, is reducing or eliminating the threat to its own people posed by Hezbollah. And I believe the answer to this is “Yes”. Therefore, the second question is could Israel achieve this using other means which would not result in the numbers of civilian deaths we are currently seeing. Given Hezbollah’s methods of operation, I believe the answer to this is “No”. This is the basis of my support for the current Isreali actions.

    Tim, would you continue to hold your view that obliteration of one side is a good thing if it looked like Israel would be the one to be obliterated?

    Under present circumstances, no. But if the Israeli army deliberately and repeatedly attacked a neighbour who had hitherto not attacked them, then the Israeli army suffering a major defeat would be a good thing IMO. If the Israeli army was carrying out these attacks without the sanction of the Israeli government, I would say the obliteration of the Israeli army would be essential.

  11. First, Tim did cite the Treaty of Versailles, which ended the 1914-18 war, as an example of not total submission.

    Yes, I know. But he was wrong. It was a total and humiliating submission for the Germans, directly related, I understand, to the later rise of the Nazis and the second world war.

    Second, I don’t think Tim is ashamed of taking sides in this conflict

    No, it would seem not, but he should be. Taking sides like that is the one sure way to perpetuate the deaths of innocent civilians, and how can that be morally right?

    What he actually said was that there shouldn’t be a ceasefire, both sides should be allowed to continue fighting until one is obliterated, because this would bring lasting peace to the region. He didn’t specify that the obliterated one should be Lebanon, presumably because he couldn’t justify such a specification. So then if his aim is lasting peace, and obliterating Israel would achieve the job just as well, then presumably that would be equally acceptable to him as obliterating Lebanon. If not, then I’m afraid there is an inconsistency.

  12. Hi again Tim

    I’m afraid I disagree with you on both counts:

    – Israel is increasing the threat to itself and its people by its actions; it conveniently does not want to address the question of where the threat comes from in the first place.

    – Israel could perfectly well reduce the threat to itself and its people by non-violent means. But I doubt it ever would, because it seems to enjoy trying to violently dominate its neighbours, and it seems to think it has a right to their land, without respecting the fact that its neighbours have the right to feel just the same. Bullies are always going to be running scared.

    And I’ve just got to point out that your characterisation of Lebanon’s actions is quite inaccurate. They did not attack a neighbour who hadn’t attacked them. Israel has been bullying its neighbours for years. If anyone should be obliterated, it should be Israel, though I personally don’t think obliterating anyone is ever justifiable or constructive or ethical.

  13. He didn’t specify that the obliterated one should be Lebanon, presumably because he couldn’t justify such a specification

    He didn’t specify that the obliterated one should be Lebanon because he was not for one second suggesting this. This is a war between Israel and Hezbollah with Lebanon being the battleground. The one side I am hoping is obliterated is Hezbollah, not Lebanon.

    Israel is increasing the threat to itself and its people by its actions; it conveniently does not want to address the question of where the threat comes from in the first place.

    I don’t believe Israel is increasing the threat to itself, because it is destroying the ability of Hezbollah to carry out attacks on Israel. And it is addressing the question of where the threat comes from: it comes from Hezbollah based in Lebanon, hence they are attacking Hezbollah in Lebanon.

    I am not going to address your other two points, as I believe your reading of Israel’s history to be diametrically opposite to mine; we’re going to have to leave it at that.

  14. Hi Tim

    I do think it’s a little disingenuous to say that it’s Hezbollah that Israel is in the process of obliterating and not Lebanon, since the civilians, including many innocent children, and the country’s infrastructre are also being obliterated. How can you say that Lebanon is not being obliterated in such a situation? What is Lebanon, if it is not the people and the infrastructure? If you destroy those, you destroy Lebanon.

    Also, at the risk of being terribly ignorant, I thought that Hezbollah were included in the democratically elected government of Lebanon – whether they are a true reflection of the people’s wishes or not, don’t they act with that mandate?

    Also, while destroying Hezbollah’s ability to carry out attacks on Israel might reduce the immediate threat from Hezbollah attacks, can you not see the likely effect of this in the long term? Do you think it is winning friends for Israel? I do not. In fact, I think it makes Israel look like a terrible bully. If someone pinches you, you do not chop off their hands so they can never do it again. Unless you are terribly grandiose, violent, paranoid or immature. At the most, you might pinch them back, but you ask them why they did it, and you respect and try to understand their position, especially if you do not condone violence, and do not want to receive any more.

    To say that the threat comes from Hezbollah, and leave it at that is also not terribly informative or constructive – it is a conveniently limited analysis of the situation – why is there a threat from Hezbollah? Have you thought about that? Even crazy or unreasonable people have logical motives behind their actions, which can be uncovered by careful analysis. Israel is looking pretty crazy and unreasonable (and nasty) to me at the moment, but I can still respect the fact that their feelings and motives are worth considering a) out of basic human respect and b) if the violence is to stop. If Israel expects this degree of understanding, then surely it must afford the same to others?

  15. Also, at the risk of being terribly ignorant, I thought that Hezbollah were included in the democratically elected government of Lebanon – whether they are a true reflection of the people’s wishes or not, don’t they act with that mandate?

    We discussed this before. If Hezbollah were elected by the Lebanese, who then enact the will of the Lebanese people by mandate, then that would mean that it is indeed Lebanon, and not just Hezbollah, that the Israel is at war with.

    However, since it is an armed militia, I worry at just how democratic Hezbollah’s political power actually is.

  16. Yes, I wasn’t sure about this. Thanks. I haven’t seen anything about how the Lebanese people in general feel about what Hezbollah is doing – the question is whether Hezbollah’s actions reflect the general will of the population.

    We ourselves are sort of in the grip of a war-mongering megalomaniac with no regard for the will of the people who elected him – perhaps someone should bomb OUR homes, transport links and children, not because they hate US, heaven forbid, but because they hate Tony? That’d be both ethically sound AND constructive, wouldn’t it?

  17. If you are interested in reading some comment on the Israeli spin on the current war, which Tim Newman apparently subscribes to, I can recommend Jonathan Cook’s piece here:
    http://www.counterpunch.org/cook07262006.html

    An informative backgrounder by Lara Deeb on precisely who Hezbollah are and whether they are indeed the aggressors in the conflict with Israel can be read here: http://www.merip.org/mero/mero073106.html

    Note that the UN has recorded Israel as violating the Blue Line ten times as often as Hezbollah operatives since Israel’s withdrawal in 2000, which problematises the suggestion that Israel is responding to a deliberate escalation on the part of Hezbollah.

    Tim writes:

    “I don’t think you can judge a military operation by looking just at the ratio of innocent civilians killed on either side, let alone make a judgement on what is or is not an inappropriate ratio. I am more interested in whether Israel, by its current actions, is reducing or eliminating the threat to its own people posed by Hezbollah. And I believe the answer to this is “Yes”. Therefore, the second question is could Israel achieve this using other means which would not result in the numbers of civilian deaths we are currently seeing. Given Hezbollah’s methods of operation, I believe the answer to this is “No”. This is the basis of my support for the current Isreali actions.”

    The first part of this argument is facile. The reason International Humanitarian Law was introduced is precisely to minimise the effects on civlians of international conflict. Tim’s lack of interest in this issue only echoes the disinterest of the Israeli generals and ministers responsible for the ordering such war crimes. The second part of this argument is also bogus. An independent report by Human Rights Watch explicitly contradicts the argument that ‘Hezobllah’s methods of opeation’ are responsible for the level of Lebanese civilian deaths. According to HRW, Israel’s attacks on civilians in Lebanon are “indiscriminate”. As HRW writes: “In some instances, Israeli forces appear to have deliberately targeted civilians.” (See: http://www.hrw.org/english/docs/2006/08/02/lebano13902.htm)

    It is worth considering, I believe, what the US and UK’s endorsement of these attacks (through political lobbying, the provision of and transportation of military hardware etc.) is having on the view of the West in the Middle East. It certainly doesn’t endear people here to politicians there.

    Finally, and on the issue of Israeli security (which Tim appears to believe should be of greater concern than the security of Lebanese, Palestinians, and others), we should note the following: Israel has five fronts: Egypt, Jordan, ‘Palestine’, Lebanon and Syria. Two of those fronts are quiet because Israel made peace agreements with the states involved. The others are not. Isn’t it about time that Israel reconsiders its rejection of the Arab Peace Initiative of 2002, which promised full peace for full withdrawal from occupied Palestinian and other Arab territory? (See: http://www.al-bab.com/arab/docs/league/peace02.htm)

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