Friday, August 8, 2014

Leon Wieseltier Goes Wobbly

In 1776 Thomas Paine wrote:

These are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.

Two days ago Leon Wieseltier wrote in The New Republic:

Wartime is a test of one’s clarity, and independence, of thought. This is not to say that solidarity with a side always marks a collapse of clear and independent thinking. It all depends on who the sides are, and whether their actions can be adequately justified. 

Paine was exhorting his countrymen to prepare for a long war against Great Britain. He was arguing for loyalty to country in the fight against tyranny.

Wieseltier believes that the conflict between Israel and Hamas is a test of his independence of thought.

It is good to know: the Israelis and Hamas are fighting to test Wieseltier’s independence of thought.

Of course, he understands that, in wars, people are obliged to take sides. You might wish to place yourself above the fray, the better to assert your moral superiority, but still wars are about one side winning and the other side losing.

Wieseltier goes on:

Of course there are wars in which one feels that one already has a side, because one’s own country or people or worldview is a party to the conflict; but identity is not a sufficient guide to loyalty, because it may be legitimately expressed in various ways. Prior commitments and enthusiasms cannot tell the whole story: The conduct of a war must influence one’s judgment of it

War is not the time for a citizen to reflect on whether or not he likes the way the war is being conducted. When your side is engaged in mortal combat, be it your nation or your ally, you do not have the decadent luxury to sit back and pass judgment on military tactics.

First, because that assumes that you know enough to evaluate military strategy and tactics. Second, because that assumes that you possess accurate information.

In the fog of war, these are both dubious, especially for people who know nothing about military operations.

During World War II the United States incinerated three population centers, one in Germany and two in Japan. Some questioned the decision; some disputed it. No one in America repudiated the outcome of the war for as much.

While a war is being fought, commentary becomes psy-ops. It becomes part of the propaganda campaign.

Hamas cannot win militarily. Its strategy is to soften up the resolve of Israel and its supporters, the better to legitimize its movement to overrun Israel and to kill Jews.

Wieseltier does not seem to understand. He says:

Dissent about matters of life and death may disturb those who worry about morale, but not those who worry about justice.

Wieseltier is wrong to believe that morale is less important than some airy ideal, like justice. Demoralizing the troops might spell defeat. It might prolong the war unnecessarily. It will probably produce more unnecessary casualties.

If Israel’s war against the terror state of Hamas is not just, I don’t know what is. Wieseltier likes to affect an above-it-all intellectual’s vision of the war, but justice, such as it is, will only be served by the defeat of Hamas.

Wieseltier refuses to say that the war against Hamas is just. He says that it is not unjust. Why the convoluted phrasing?

A war against Hamas is not an unjust war. Hamas has been a failure at everything except murder. Its strategy is the targeting of civilians, those of its enemy and (since the brutal response of its enemy is an important element of its the-worse-the-better calculus) of its own. The callousness of Hamas toward the sufferings of Palestinians is unbelievable. A combat manual of the Shejaiya Brigade of Hamas advises its fighters to deploy in densely populated areas because “the soldiers and commanders must limit their use of weapons and tactics that lead to the harm and unnecessary loss of people and civilian facilities,” and adds that “the destruction of civilian homes” is a boon to the cause, because it “increases the hatred of the citizens toward the attackers and increases their gathering around the city defenders.” This plan for Palestinian carnage is no less repugnant than the missiles and the tunnels designed for the slaughter of Israeli citizens. These are monsters. 

Once he has had his moment of clarity, Wieseltier takes it back:

But the population of Gaza are not monsters and the Palestinian people are not monsters; and I will confess that I have found myself unable to be satisfied, in the analysis of responsibility in this war, by the assertion, which is incontrovertible, that the killing of non-combatant Palestinians by Israel in Gaza is one of Hamas’s war aims, and so Israel is completely absolved if it obliges. A provocation does not relieve one of accountability for how one responds to it. For this reason, the war has filled me with disquiet, which my sympathetic understanding of Israel’s position has failed to stifle.

Let’s untangle this mess.

The people of Gaza voted Hamas into power. They danced in the streets to celebrate 9/11. They cheered when terrorists murdered three Israeli teenagers. They have devoted their lives to the destruction of Israel and the murder of Jews. They have sacrificed their children to the terrorist cause. They have happily strapped suicide vests on their own children, the better to kill Jews. They built the tunnels that were designed to facilitate terrorist attacks on Israeli civilians.

It may offend your delicate sensibility to call them monsters, but they are certainly not innocent bystanders.

Wieseltier understands that Hamas wants to provoke the Israelis into murdering innocent children, but this, to his mind, does not justify the fact that Israel is defanging it. He seems to be saying that Israel should not take out rocket launchers that are in schools and mosques.

If Israel were to accept his superior wisdom, it would no longer be able to defend itself.

Shooting rockets into Israel is not a provocation. It’s an act of war. Wieseltier talks about his “sympathetic understanding” of the Israeli position, but when he steps back from it in a moment of “disquiet,” he is failing to understand the stakes. He is more interested in keeping in close touch with his guilt than he is in supporting the right side in a war against civilization.

You see, Wieseltier believes in “philosophical reasoning.” Well, goody for him. But as philosophers go, he is not at the head of the class. One would have to stretch the term even to call him a philosopher. He seems to want to exalt his own status as a thinker, but he is doing it no favors by using his thought to undermine the Israeli war effort.

Nothing to be proud of, IMHO.

Wieseltier thinks that it is alright for Israel to defend itself, but he does not like the means. How then does he propose that Israel go about destroying the tunnel network and the rocket launching pads? He is so worried about the poor Palestinian children who are being sacrificed by Hamas but he has little apparent visceral concern for the Jewish children who are growing up under constant threat of terrorism.

He denies that he has gone wobbly, but surely he has.

When it comes time to offer a solution, Wieseltier puts the burden, again, on the Israelis. He declares that Israel must make peace with Abu Mazen, aka Mahmoud Abbas. It must find in the Palestinian Authority a negotiating partner.

And yet, isn’t this what our hapless Secretary of State has been trying to do over the past couple of years, to no avail. Wasn’t the result of the Kerry diplomatic initiative an alliance between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas? And didn’t Abbas reject all efforts to reconcile with Israel?

Perhaps this suggests quells the conscience of Leon Wieseltier but it is pie-in-the-sky, unworthy of consideration.

As it happens, the Wiesltier plan is also the Obama administration solution.

Caroline Glick debunked it well in a column today:

Hamas and Fatah are partners. Hamas’s demands are Fatah’s demands. Hamas’s goals are Fatah’s goals. Giving Fatah control of the borders means giving Hamas control of the borders.
Abbas said himself in a speech broadcast on the PA’s official station in December 2009 , as he was trying to form the sort of Fatah-Hamas unity government that he established in April, “There is no disagreement between us [Fatah and Hamas]: About belief? None! About policy? None! About resistance? None!”
Earlier this week the Jerusalem Post’s Khaled Abu Toameh explained that almost from the outset of the war, Hamas and Fatah have been working in perfect harmony.

Fatah officials have served as Hamas’s spokesmen to the Western media.

 As Hamas conducted its terrorist war against Israel, Abbas led the diplomatic war against Israel.

Moreover, Abu Toameh reported that during the course of the hostilities Fatah paid the salaries of Hamas members….

From the outset of Hamas’s campaign against Israel, Fatah militias in Gaza participated in the mortar and rocket attacks against Israel. And far from trying to hide this fact, Fatah’s leadership reveled in it. They posted news of Fatah’s mortar attacks on Israel on their official social media sites.
Fatah published a poster on its official Fatah Facebook page on July 9 under the title, “Brothers in Arms.” The poster depicted terrorists from Fatah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad and read, “One God, on homeland, one enemy, one goal.”
As for the cease-fire talks, last month Abbas travelled to Qatar where he met with Hamas terror master Khaled Mashaal. The result of the meeting was a coordinated Palestinian position regarding ceasefire demands. Those demands, which require Israel and Egypt to open the borders, are silent on the issue of demilitarizing Gaza. This is the unified position of the Palestinian delegation to the ceasefire talks in Cairo which Obama noted hopefully, is being led by Fatah.

This tells us that Wieseltier is so caught up in his guilt-ridden idealism that he has been blinded to the facts on the ground.


Anonymous said...

"Of course, he understands that, in wars, people are obliged to take sides."

Why should Americans takes sides with Palestinians or with Jews?

This is not our fight.

If Jewish-Americans wanna side with Israel and if Palestinian-Americans want to side with Palestinians, that's their business. But, as 97% of Americans are neither Jewish nor Palestinian, I don't see what this has to do with us.

As I recall, the great majority of Jews were for US disengaging from Southeast Asia in the 1970s even if it meant communist victory in Vietnam and Cambodia. And when the Khmer Rouge were killing millions, most American Jews said that was not our business.

And Jews loved Bill Clinton but didn't mind that he didn't lift a finger to save a single life in Rwanda. Indeed, Clinton refused to use the term 'genocide' for a full month just to avoid getting involved.

Jews had no problem with that, so why do they insist we take sides in the Israel-Palestinian conflict?

And why does Israel need our support when they are doing most of the killing and when Palestinians are doing most of the dying?

Anonymous said...

Mr. Anon: We have a stake in this. Islam (Muslims) has been at war w/WCiv for 1400 years. It nearly won a few times, the most recent being 1683.

Thereupon followed a few centuries of "Truce" (Islam Never signs Peace Treaties. With incursions and occupations by England and France ending in tears and blood.

Islam knows the true enemy (in its Belief System, despite NO provocation). It was chummy w/Hitler & atheist Soviet Union, fer Pete's sake!

It's more confident now. A young growing population will do that. OTOH, the 20th C has decimated and demoralized WCiv.

(Napoleon: The moral is to the physical as 2 is to 1.)

Plus, until a century ago, it was Haram (forbidden) to live under a non-Muslim ruler. Theologians found a loophole. Establish the Ummah there.

Islam flows to WCiv now. Hostilities began in 1948, w/Israel. A tiny strip of land, tiny population, within the whole of N.Africa & Levant (today's pop. 7M vice 300M+).

Islam won't tolerate an outpost of WCiv, however small. It Did, however, conquer & rule Spain for 800 years (a loss Bin Laden lamented). Came close in France too.

Khomeini named a duo: Big Satan & Little Satan.

Israel is Little Satan. USA is Big Satan.

Like it or not, we're involved. For an indefinite period of time.

I've read Mr. W. for decades. Didn't always agree, but admired his insights, literary skill, and knowledge.

He's lost in this situation. He's an intellectual, his life in offices and books. He can parse most things. But not War, Death, possible (as Islam wants) Genocide. Whew. -- Rich Lara