Monday, January 05, 2009

The World Supports Hamas? Of Course, They Do!

The Hamas lobby

I got more than the usual nasty letters this week over voicing support for Israel. Here are some of the critics’ counter-arguments.

1. You talk big time of supporting democracy in the Middle East, but then turn on democratically-elected Hamas when it is convenient!

Two points: (A) In summer 2007 Hamas eliminated the Palestinian Authority (i.e., erstwhile Fatah) opposition through intimidation, occasional summary execution and attacks on its party infrastructure. It then, following a Hitlerian 1930s paradigm, took over complete control of Gaza well beyond its parliamentary mandate, and began turning Gaza into an armed camp and veritable appendage of the Iranian terrorist apparatus. Then it soon began shelling Israel.

(B) Israel left Gaza. Hamas at that point could either have (a) done what terrorist organizations always do (e.g., kill their opponents, rob their own people to subsidize an idle thugocracy of young males [cf. al Qaeda in Anbar], and terrorize their opponents), and claim Israeli withdrawal was not a concession, but a fatal sign of weakness and thus an incentive to go after the Jewish state itself; OR (b) welcome in foreign investment by guaranteeing security; monitor the border with Egypt and ensure non-violent commercial transit; welcome in Gulf oil money and protect such investment; declare a permanent truce with Israel; concentrate on fostering its own economy now to prepare for diplomatic solutions later on; and utilize abandoned Israeli infrastructure to encourage economic growth.

Guess what path they followed.

2. But why does Israel kill so many, and Hamas so few if Israel is the defender, Hamas the aggressor?

No one likes to see anyone die, but no one likes either to see a nation blanketed with 6,000 rockets to the amusement or neglect of the world community

First, read military history on proportionality. Japan attacked the US in World War II and ended up losing 10 times as many soldiers—and over a million times more civilians—as did we: quite disproportionate; but that did not ipso facto make Japan a sympathetic player. Ditto Nazi Germany. Military incompetence or even impotence does not equate to either legitimacy or sympathy—nor mask evil intent.

Second, again, hundreds of thousands of Jews have been subject to over 6,000 rocket attacks. That such crude terrorist weapons kill few, given sophisticated Israeli counter-measures and Hamas’s military impotence, means little, if commerce, daily life and calm in Israel are impossible under constant barrages.

Third, Israel could not do so much damage to Hamas terrorists and so little to civilians unless (a), it was getting all sorts of help and intelligence from Palestinians, and tacit support from Arab governments, and (b), going to historical lengths not to kill civilians, even to the extent of text-messaging and cell-phoning anonymous families to vacate impending targets.

3. Ah, but this is all hopeless for Israel. They always start out with a bang and end with a bust, as terrorists melt back into the civilian populace and defy conventional military tactics.

Perhaps. But inaction is not an option either. Israel has learned after 2006 to tone down its rhetoric, use alternative media to get out its message, pick dates and times to lower its profile, and use computer-enhanced methodology to target the culpable in uncanny ways. It has only bad choices, but must make the best of them nonetheless. It does not wish to reoccupy Gaza or even stay there for any extended period. Instead, it simply wishes to harm and humiliate Hamas on the principle that on any given day, at any given time the IDF can cost Hamas billions of dollars in losses, dismantle its hierarchy, and inflict years of rebuilding costs—all at very little cost to itself and to quiet relief in Arab capitals.

Both the suicide barrier and the damage done to Fatah have led to a virtual end in suicide bombing and aerial barrages against Israel coming from the West Bank. If Hamas comes to comprehend the equation that for every salvo of rockets, it will cost them untold misery, they will either quit or lose support from those around them who want them to quit. Hamas’s chief interest is surviving as Hamas, a sort of sinecure for thousands of young toughs who otherwise would have to get a day job; it will do what it takes to continue, even if that means stopping the rockets to prevent the annhilation of its material and human infrastructure. Very soon expect it, not Israel, to begin talking of truces.

4. Well then, why is the world supporting Hamas, and not Israel—if, as you say, Israel enjoys the moral high ground?

The better question would be, why would Israel gain world support? After all, the world is mostly authoritarian in Russia, China, and much of Asia, the Middle East, Africa and Latin America; when has it ever been a barometer of morality? If it had been, some would have rallied to stop the murder of 6 million Jews during the Holocaust, or stopped the Rwandan killing or the Cambodian genocide. Only the US and its NATO allies put an end to Milosevic, the Taliban in Afghanistan, and Saddam—mostly to world criticism.

Examine the composition of the Human Rights committees and commissions at the UN. An Obama as Prime Minister is unthinkable in most of liberal Europe. Try having rich Russia or China match US AIDs relief in Africa. In fact, what most of the world wants—given its history, present governments, and ethos—is usually reason to do the opposite. I was amused by the Hamas spokesman who just warned that Israel followed “the law of the jungle”—this from an organization that legalized crucifixion, sends rockets into schools, and executes dissidents—and of course enjoys global support. Even sadder, if Israel muzzles Hamas, world support will gravitate back toward Israel; if Hamas “wins” (how to define that?) then the world will be even more anti-Israeli–given that most are amoral and have no firm ideologies but simply gravitate to the perceived stronger side.

The Decline Industry

Yet another European gloom and doomer (the British columnist Matthew Parris of the Times) is now salivating over supposed American decline. It’s odd, however, to see a piece in which almost everything written is factually wrong.

And when I visited America, first as a boy then as a postgraduate student (in the 1970s), what struck me was not the modernity of modern America, but its inefficiency and old-fashionedness. The bureaucracy was Stone Age, the postal service unreliable, medical and dental treatment twice the cost of private treatment in England, and government officials treated you like serfs. People lived richly and worked hard - that was undeniable - but in a parallel universe clumsily and wastefully managed, and beset with internal friction. You couldn’t even get a bank account that worked properly outside your state; and, for all the ostentatious vigour of retail competition, there was a curious lack of diversity in product choice. Though infinitely more successful and politically free, it was in some indefinable way more like the Soviet Union than either country would have wished to acknowledge.


Does anyone believe going to the National Health Service in the UK is a streamlined experience in comparison to the US postal service (which I have found considerate and mostly reliable [its rural carriers are fine])? Mr. Parris should compare the dental status of average British subjects with that of Americans before commenting on our relative dentistry systems. Just a few years ago, we heard from Euros that we were tooth-obsessed—orthodontics, capping, whitening—as proof of our vanity, frivolousness, and crass wealth.

I fear excessive government as much as anyone, but to compare the bureaucratic classes in Europe with those in the US is still at this late hour absurd. Has anyone gone into a Greek bank, a Spanish government travel office, or a French ministry? Does anyone think our top-heavy government is less efficient than Europe’s bloated bureaucracy, which takes the trouble to measure, calibrate and modify the most intimate details of its citizens’ lives, from the size, nature, and definition of bananas to what sort of public vocabulary is permissible and what illegal.

On product choice in the 1970s or now: Mr. Parris has not gone into a K-Mart, Safeway, or turned on a US television. The problem is not an absence of diversity and choice, but exhaustion at the sheer number of brands, styles, and subsets that make informed selection almost impossible.

But Parris gives away the game with his ridiculous and puerile comparison to the USSR that once killed 30 million of its own and enslaved all of Eastern Europe. Had he written the above about the US in 1970 in America he would have fit in well with the trendy anti-American campus elite; had he taken on the USSR while in Russia with such a screed, mutatis mutandis, he would have ended up in a Gulag—if he were lucky.

And as far as relative current freedoms, I suggest he review carefully European attitudes toward habeas corpus, preventive detention, summary deportation, and libel laws, and then in serious fashion compare them to their counterparts (or lack of) in the United States. The entire article (it gets worse) is one of the most poorly argued and written op-eds I have seen in years. I was waiting for the inevitable British “this happened to us, and so it will happen to you” Schadenfreude. And then, sure enough, there it appeared right on schedule:

“We British know something about the loss of empire. Successive 20th-century prime ministers struggled both to manage relative national decline and to make it explicable to the electorate. It is upon this road that 21st-century American presidents must now set foot.”

So let me get this straight: Not long ago were demonized by the European community for unilaterally runningthe globe (remember “hyper-power”?), wallowing in cash, decadent in our lavish lifestyle, and imperious to the world abroad;and suddenly in just a few years we are falling apart, weak, and about ended?

I’m sorry, but whether we are ascendant or in decline is more than, say, a five-year process—and in either case there will always be those envious and angry at the idea of America, up or down.

True, we owe too much to too many. But as a percentage of GDP American debt is more manageable than is true in much of Europe. Russia, Japan and Europe are shrinking; the US is growing. Radical Islam threatens the major cities in Europe, not here. China has a rendevouz with labor strife, environmentalism, suburban blues, and political instability—and, like India, trillions in infrastructure investment. Africa and Latin America are, well, Africa and Latin America. Americans have overspent, but they are the most innovative, hard-working, and free people in the world. That is why millions line up to get in, and why we have little strife given our mind-boggling racial and religious diversity, and why our armed forces are the most competent in the world.

With a $11 trillion economy, debt can be paid down rather quickly without a decline–if we muster the political will. Britain declined after centuries because it was in the end a small island nation, in comparative terms with a small population and few natural resources. It never ended its ossified, unfair and stifling class system, could not incorporate or integrate immigrants effectively, was bled white in two World Wars, took centuries to deal with the Irish problem, adopted socialist paradigms in the 1950s, and (quite unlike the US) as a Roman-style empire had real old-fashioned colonies the world over (we have not annexed anyone’s land since the late 19th century) that were expensive to maintain and proved to be sources of guilt for generations.

Yes, the British know something about the loss of empire; but not about those who never had an empire remotely similar to theirs to begin with. No wonder Parris must go back to faulty memories of the 1970s for guidance.

(C) 2009 Victor Davis Hanson