Tuesday, July 25, 2006

 

Lawyerlike Arguments of Moral Equivalence

Paul Campos, I hope, has not written today a column in the Rocky Mountain News laced with humor (into which parts he can retreat if called on his lack of rigorous logic). He's talking about the war between Israel and Hezbollah in southern Lebanon. He makes the arguments you might expect from a lefty law professor on this subject--moral equivalence. Money quotes:

Note Dershowitz's argument closely resembles that made by Ward Churchill in his repugnant "little Eichmanns" essay, for which Churchill was properly excoriated by people all across the political spectrum. The office workers in the World Trade Center were not truly innocent victims, Churchill claimed, because they had chosen to be part of the system with which al-Qaida was at war. Churchill also endorses something like Dershowitz's sliding scale of culpability, arguing that his claims don't really apply to the janitors in the building.

Alan Dershowitz said that the people in southern Lebanon who have been warned by Israeli leaflet to leave or face being bombed or shelled are somewhat complicit, by their choice not to leave, with Hezbollah, which uses them as shields. Note that Campos is equating Dershowitz's analysis to faux Indian Ward Churchill's calling "little Eichmanns" the people who merely went to work and were killed in a sneak attack against civilians from al Qaeda. Many of us who are not law professors might not see any connection at all between those two statements, between choice after warning and no choice before a sneak attack. Professor Campos must be brilliant to see connection where there is none. But there's more:

It's striking how, when our enemies intentionally kill ordinary men, women and children, we have no difficulty recognizing that such acts are essentially monstrous - yet when we or our allies commit similar acts we find it almost impossible to do so. (I'm using the word "intentional" in its precise legal sense: the commission of an act one knows will have certain consequences.)

Using part of the legal definition of intentional -- almost certain to have an expected outcome -- however, does not make the acts of Israeli soldiers and Hezbollah terrorists equal morally. Hezbollah sets off unaimed rockets in the general direction of cities in Israel. Their intent is to hit civilians and kill them even though they know that some rockets will miss and destroy nothing. The Israeli pilots and gunners are trying to hit only military targets even though they know that their misses may hit civilians and kill them. Campos argues that because the Israelis know that a small percentage of their bombs and shells may kill innocent civilians they intend this regrettable outcome just as surely as the Hezbollah terrorists intend their victims' death. Campos does not complete the analysis and argue that because the terrorists know some percentage of their rockets will miss their targets that they intend their barrages to do no damage. Had he done so, people would laugh at him. But the moral equivalence argument he did make is worthy of no less. But there's more:

It's said the difference between soldiers and terrorists is that soldiers don't want to kill civilians, while terrorists do. But it's easy to overstate this difference. For one thing, given that sociopaths are rare, the average terrorist and the typical soldier would no doubt prefer to achieve their goals in less horrific ways. Each knows that what he does kills innocent people, but each has been taught to believe the greater good justifies his actions.

So, according to Campos, the Hezbollah terrorists don't really want to kill all Jews and wipe Israel off the map, they would prefer to wipe Israel off the map without killing any Jews (kind of like the banishment final solution, discussed at Wannsee and rejected). Here is what the Hezbollah manifesto says:

We see in Israel the vanguard of the United States in our Islamic world. It is the hated enemy that must be fought until the hated ones get what they deserve. This enemy is the greatest danger to our future generations and to the destiny of our lands, particularly as it glorifies the ideas of settlement and expansion, initiated in Palestine, and yearning outward to the extension of the Great Israel, from the Euphrates to the Nile.

Our primary assumption in our fight against Israel states that the Zionist entity is aggressive from its inception, and built on lands wrested from their owners, at the expense of the rights of the Muslim people. Therefore our struggle will end only when this entity is obliterated. We recognize no treaty with it, no cease fire, and no peace agreements, whether separate or consolidated.


Not exactly the stuff of peaceful negotiations, is it?

Anyone who equates Hezbollah's efforts to obliterate Israel with unguided munitions aimed generally at cities with Israel's efforts to stop Hezbollah's barrages by an air and shelling campaign designed to cut off command and control and means of retreat and resupply (before a direct ground assault against the terrorists themselves), is a fool.

In Campos' case, he is a well educated fool.

Comments:
"Alan Dershowitz said that the people in southern Lebanon who have been warned by Israeli leaflet to leave or face being bombed or shelled are somewhat complicit, by their choice not to leave, with Hezbollah, which uses them as shields."

What nonsence. When will the rich realize that its just not that easy for those of lesser means, particularly the elderly, the sick and disabled, to stop their lives and leave their homes.

This is the same kind of bullshit that was said about the poor who failed to leave New Orleans before Katrina. Where does Alan suggest they go?
 
Dershowitz also talked about the people being "punished".

This bombing campaign is directed at the Lebanese people as a whole. Not equating it with the atrocious acts of Hezbollah fails to give it proper weight.

What Israel is doing right now is criminal. No less.
 
Bad and lazy thinking Anon. Bad, bad, bad.

Hezbollah pays rent so they can cache their weapons in civilian households and use civilians as shields.

If you are going to allow your village, house, or outbuildings to be used as cache for weapons or a home for terrorists, then you had better be prepared to sacrifice them all and walk away into the hills when the bombs begin to falll or the Israelis shoot rockets back.

Perhaps those who took Hezbollah's coin should have thought of their elderly and infirm on the front end.

Your analogy is a poor one. Katrina was a natural disaster.
The rain of rockets from Hezbollah was as main made as the computer upon which you type.

Where does Alan suggest they go? I daresay Alan probably thinks they should have told Hezbollah to go.
 
Mike, the bombing campaign is just as I described it. Cut off command and control by bombing the terrorists' offices just south of Beirut, cut off roads on which the Syrians could resupply rockets and other arms (and cut the means of retreat) and then follow that up with 155 mm bombardment in preparation for ground assault. It's not against Lebanon generally nor is it trying to kill Lebanese who are not Hezbollah. It's not a crime at all--it's fully justified war. Looks like we won't be seeing eye to eye on this one.
 
Criminal? Certainly not.

I'll crosspost (with a bit of rewriting for clarity) something I wrote at ResurrectionSong this morning:

As I see it, Lebanon (the official government) must either be complicit, incompetent, or opposed to Hizballah, so let’s examine each of those cases:

If Lebanon is complicit, the people of Lebanon bear the full responsibility for its actions and have no place to complain about Israeli retaliation, even if that retaliation results in significant civilian casualties. That’s what happens when you commit acts of war.

If Lebanon is incompetent to control the actions of Hizballah to the extent that it completely lacks control over the south of the country, it has no claim against the actions of any other party defending itself against depredations from such uncontrolled land.

I suppose Lebanon could have announced to the world that it is not responsible for anything in the south, but they have not done this. Instead, Lebanon has fiercly defended its authority over the south. With authority comes responsibility. Since Lebanon has claimed authority, it is reasonable to assign it responsibility as well, which reverts to the first case above.

Finally, if Lebanon is both competent and opposed to Hizballah, then it made the choice that controlling the problem was too expensive to undertake. (There is certainly no credible claim that this is a new problem or that Lebanon has taken reasonable actions to prevent attacks from the south into Israel.)

If you decide that changing your timing belt is too expensive to undertake and it breaks and destroys the engine of the car, the responsibility is entirely yours. You knew the odds and could reasonably be expected to know the costs.

Lebanon's timing belt has broken and now the bill is due.

FWIW, I think the situation in Lebanon is a bit of all of these. Lebanese competence is questionable, there are elements of the society that support Hizballah, and there are elements that thought opposing Hizballah would be too expensive. But since none of these should reasonably immunize the country from response individually, I’m afraid that they’ll now have to accept the consequences of their actions/inactions.
 
Well reasoned, Doug.
 
Doug,

I don't think Lebabnon has had ample opportunity to disarm Hezbollah. They have (had) an anti-Syrian government in place for less than a year.

If you know anything about Lebanese history and politics (which I'm assuming you do if not, I wrote something brief that might help which you can read here) you would realize what a difficult situation they are in. Disarming Hezbollah is not something that will happen overnight which I think you will see shortly.

I argue that this task is something that Lebanon would need some assistance in accomplishing. Did anyone offer? Hell no. No one wants to disarm Hezbollah. It would be a total disaster. Case in point.

Roger,

That is fine, we can agree to disagree on this one. I just hope we can all refrain from delving into the-lebanese-people-deserve-this arguments.

They most certainly do not. Any talk of "punishment" is disgusting. I literally became sick reading the Dershowitz piece, his rationale juxtaposed as it was with the pictures of dead babies I've been browsing. It was a little much.
 
"I argue that this task is something that Lebanon would need some assistance in accomplishing. Did anyone offer? Hell no. No one wants to disarm Hezbollah. It would be a total disaster. Case in point."

Had the new Lebanese government publicly repudiated Hizballah and requested aid in disarming them at any time in the last year, your point would be stronger. To my knowledge, they have not even hinted at such a request. (If I've missed something, please let me know.)

Had the Lebanese immediately requested assistance upon the kidnapping/capture of the Israeli soldiers, your point would be stronger. To my knowledge, they have not hinted at that either.

I make no claim that the situation of the Lebanese is an easy one. The cost to which I referred would have been quite high. The Lebanese decision to defer or completely avoid paying that cost was arguably a rational one. But that decision was a gamble, and the Lebanese have lost that gamble.

That decision has strongly negative externalities: The Israelis are dying under rocket attack and invasion by terrorists. The Lebanese, by virtue of their decision, bear a part of the responsibility for those externalities.

War does not allow a fine discrimination of responsibility between enemy nationals. (And make no mistake, Lebanon is functionally an enemy of Israel, regardless of whether any particular citizen of Lebanon bears any animus toward Israel.) The difference between civilians and combatants dressed as civilians is difficult to discern from 15000 feet.

C'est la guerre.

Perhaps the Lebanese and others will remember the price the next time they make a decision to risk war.
 
Perhaps the Lebanese and others will remember the price the next time they make a decision to risk war.

First of all, Doug, attempting to disarm Hezbollah would not be risking war, it would be a signed contract for the resumption of the civil war that they spend nearly half my lifetime embroiled in. I think the Lebanese have come to the point where beginning hostilities with any domestic force is taboo. Better to risk war than to sign up for it.

Secondly, and much more importantly, what you are saying is that, yes, this is punishment. That the Lebanese people ought to think twice before they don't bow down to every Israeli or UN demand despite the implications for their own security. Essentially, terrorism of the Palestinian people, indiscriminate killing of women, children, and refugees, the destruction of a whole nation, in fact, is justified so that next time they will know to do exactly as they are told.

Isn't this precisely what terrorists do? They try to force your behavior through fear. This, as you describe it, is nothing less than terrorism. As you say, it is hard to discern from 15000 feet. Dosen't that fact make the killing indiscriminate?

But most enjoyablle of all must be the talk of rhetoric. You argue that if Lebanon would have paid lip-service to disarming Hezbollah, everything would be fine. This would vindicate the Lebanese.

Well, I suppose that from an American perspective, this argument is perfectly sound. I mean, if the United States Government can say, "we don't negotiate with terrorists," on one day, and then fund and train guerillas who engage in terrorist acts (i.e. killing of entire villages, smashing babies skulls, rape, torture...) and call them "freedom fighters," I suppose it makes sense.

So it is just like my Mom used to tell me. Do as I say, not as I do. So, I guess she was right!

That reminds me why Putin had Hamas over for dinner. He just told them, "look, tell them what they want to hear. You can't go around saying you want to destroy Israel. You can think it, you can even try to do, just don't say it, and you are fine."

Lebanaon is faced with a difficult situation, just like Pakistan, India, Indonesia, Somalia, Iran, Syria, Jordan, and a host of others. Rouge elements within nations plague the world over. It is always a difficult thing to deal with, and few can say they have been successful.

Destroying a country is not going to fix anyting, it will only exasperate the problem. It will strengthen the disenfranchised by making more of them.

And one final thing. What would you say if you knew that the Israelis were captured inside Lebanon?

Then would Israel's actions be just?
 
"Secondly, and much more importantly, what you are saying is that, yes, this is punishment."

No. What I'm saying is that all decisions have costs and that the Lebanese applied an inappropriate discount for future costs. Once they allowed Hizballah any foothold, there was pain in their future. Either they would be fighting Hizballah or they would be fighting Israel. (Barring, of course, the prospect of Hizballah leaving off its fight with Israel.)

If you find that you have allowed termites a foothold in your house, there's pain in your future. The decision about what to do with the termites determines how much, what sort, and when. It does not determine "if"; that's predetermined.

"You argue that if Lebanon would have paid lip-service to disarming Hezbollah, everything would be fine. This would vindicate the Lebanese."

More than lip-service would have been required. Lebanon could have said something like, "We was our hands of what is currently South Lebanon. We cannot solve the problem, and it's really Israel's problem anyway; let them solve it." This would have allowed for a solution without war with Lebanon proper.

If it wished to maintain (regain?) sovereignty in the south, Lebanon could have taken visible and effective action to rescue the soldiers and punish the perpetrators. If incapable of this, it could have requested military aid from someone competent.

Lebanon took none of these actions.

"Destroying a country is not going to fix anyting, it will only exasperate the problem. It will strengthen the disenfranchised by making more of them."

I'll assume you mean exacerbate, though we're all pretty exasperated. 8-)

South Lebanon is already a stateless area; you've as much as said this yourself in this discussion. If the remainder of the country were to be reduced to a similar condition (a position for which I've not seen compelling evidence, BTW), the difference would be one of degree, not kind. The problem comes not from the number of angry people but rather from their resources and their proximity to their targets. Israel's actions seem aimed at reducing resources and proximity.

"And one final thing. What would you say if you knew that the Israelis were captured inside Lebanon?

"Then would Israel's actions be just?"

If the Israelis had been captured in Jordan (for instance), I'd find the distinction important. In Lebanon, however, the border has been just a safe haven for terrorists, so I'm not particularly exercised over which side of a notional line the soldiers were captured on. (Do you have evidence that the soldiers were not captured in Israel? If not, this seems a non sequitur.)

The captures/kidnappings were not isolated incidents. The analysis I provided works equally well if we start from an earlier date than the latest depredations.
 
Once they allowed Hizballah any foothold

So, like with Roger we will have to agree to disagree. I just don't see Lebanon as allowing Hezbollah any foothold. They didn't "let" Hezbollah stay in the south anymore than I "let" termites infest the shack out back. It just happened.

Lebabnon could not do anything to stop them or get rid of them. Declaring them "fair game" for the Israelis is not a politically viable solution either, in my view. A state is tasked with providing security for it's people, and like it or not, Hezbollah has been doing that in the south for quite some time.

And yes, there is quite a lot of evidence that the Israelis were in fact captured inside Lebanon, but that is irrelavant to you. (You can find it, it was well reported by at least a half dozen new agencies but completely ignored by the mainstream press).

Essentially your arguement is that anything less than a hard-line miltary stance against Hezbollah is unacceptable on Lebanon's part, and I argue that is not a viable solution from the Lebanese perspective.

Sorry about the spelling. Yes, I am a bit exasperated.

I disagree with this thesis...

The problem comes not from the number of angry people but rather from their resources and their proximity to their targets. Israel's actions seem aimed at reducing resources and proximity.


All it takes is a lady with a suicide belt, or a nut-job with a dirty bomb to blown that theory to shreds. The palestinians have proven that even those with few resources can inflict great pain if they are sufficiently motivated.

So let's just throw some more fuel on the fire, shall we?
 
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