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.