Blog Credo

The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.

H.L. Mencken

Friday, July 18, 2014

Deadly Folly

Two world leaders who most give off the vibe of "Bond Villain" have stumbled into a situation that Barbara Tuchman described as folly in her book The March of Folly.  Folly is basically a self-made error that people at the time recognize as being a self-made error.  This isn't something that benefits from hindsight, people at the time can see the error, but the powerful people in charge keep on marching.

Vladimir Putin exploited Ukrainian discord (that he helped nurture) in order to achieve the goal of re-annexing Crimea.  But in order to solidify his gains, he felt the need to arm a bunch of whackaloons in eastern Ukraine in order to keep the Ukrainian government back on its heels.  Yesterday, the readily apparent folly of arming extremists with advanced weaponry lead to the death of almost 300 people.

Sadly, the fact that those 300 people were overwhelmingly European means that we will care a little more than we will about the other massive act of folly unfolding right now.

Netanyahu's decision - which has a certain McCain-like simplicity - of "force now, force forever" has not worked.  It will not work.  There is nothing that raining rockets down on Gaza will accomplish - unless what you want to accomplish is more violence.

I am 100% in support of Israel's "right to exist" - as if that were really a debatable issue outside of the fringes of Islamic extremism.  But that support simply does not extend to waging war on one of the most densely populated areas of the planet.  The excuse I keep hearing is that Hamas is hiding their rockets in schools, hospitals and residential neighborhoods.  All of Gaza is a residential neighborhood.  And of course, they are going to hide their rockets in places that create moral problems when you attack them.

The idea that this is a "war" seems laughable when you look at the relative casualties.  This is a punitive exercise designed to kill Gazans.  This is a naked show of force, and it is the logic of occupation and oppression.

It may have some short term positive effects for Israel.  Tactically, they may achieve some goals, parade some captured Hamas rockets on TV.

But Israel was created out of global moral revulsion at the crimes perpetrated against Jews during the Holocaust.  And increasingly, their actions in Gaza are creating a similar wave of moral revulsion, if on a smaller scale.

Netanyahu's folly is thinking he can kill Hamas.  You can't kill an idea - even a repulsive one like the kind Hamas represents.  If you wanted to undermine Hamas, you would try and make life in Gaza less miserable, for every moment of suffering and pain in Gaza can currently be blamed on Israel.  Yes, Hamas' actions have led to the blockade, the bombardment and now the invasion.  But that sort of fine distinction is lost in the psychology of oppression.

If conquering the Palestinians would bring peace, we would have peace already.  If you could kill your way to a solution, we would have a solution now given the river of blood that have been spilled.

Both Putin and Netanyahu have reacted to the moment.  They are reacting tactically.  Neither one has a strategic plan to allow them to get what they want.  So despite his Bond villain vibe, Putin's folly is precisely his lack of a plan.  "Annex Crimea, Arm Separatists....And...."  Netanyahu has become the hammer that sees every problem as a nail.  He no longer has any long term vision for peace in his country.  I would hate to think he's as cynical as to create the conditions of permanent war in order to create a permanent Likud government, but you have to wonder if THAT is his real goal.  Few Israelis are dying in this conflict, so whatever mayhem he unleashes on Hamas and the civilian population in Gaza isn't hurting his electoral chances.

But the "World" still matters.  Putin's energy reserves can only buy him so much cover for the death of hundreds of people that his folly caused.  Netanyahu can only rely on American cover for so long.  We have excused and aided Israel's bad actions for the last decade or so as they moved from trying to find peace to embracing the logic of the occupier and the geography - yes - of the ghetto.

Things are shit right now.  The US didn't "do" this - except in our blank check for Israel, which no one in either party will condemn.  Putin and Netanyahu did this.  They created the chaos that has lead to death.

It's perhaps too hippie and simplistic to say, "War is not the answer" but really what else can you say?  You fight wars because you absolutely have to.  Putin and Netanyahu seem to have lost that thread.

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