Thursday, January 01, 2009


Our Miss Brooks and the Myth of Military Victory

Law Professor and LA Times columnist, Rosa Brooks, comes through again with the quintessential, a-historic, lefty take on Israel's recent self defense. Let's review the concept of morally and legally justified war first, starting with Iraq. Saddam Hussein's forces crossed a well established (since 1845) border with neighbor Kuwait nearly 20 years ago. We spearheaded a coalition with UN approval to kick his invading forces out of Kuwait. And we did, rather easily. The war Saddam started, however, did not end in a treaty, but in a cease fire (like the Korean War) with several requirements of Iraq's government. Iraq did not keep up many of these requirements, none over the long haul. Thus, any resumption of fighting against Iraq and the government of Saddam Hussein was both perfectly legal and morally justified. We didn't need any one's permission. The original causus belli survived through the cease fire promises broken. Our president asked for and received an authorization from Congress to use military force against Saddam (it had been established in 1998, under the previous administration, that regime change in Iraq was the official policy of the United States) which Congressional authorization satisfied the requirement in the Constitution that Congress declare war. We don't actually declare war any longer--haven't since 1941. So defense of another, in this example a sovereign nation invaded by a foreign power with no justification, is legal and moral justification for war, and it allows other nations to wage full, even total, war against the invader. It is even more justifiable to wage war against another nation who has attacked you without justification, that is, in self defense, say like when its citizens lob thousands and thousands of rockets and mortar shells over the border into the other nation. OK, background established.

What I call the lefty position on Israel is the idea that Israel cannot morally defend itself. That's it. I call it the lefty position because of all the lefties out there calling the Israeli Defense Force's actions reprehensible and wrong. That is opposed to the right wingers calling the same actions perfectly justified, and there are lots and lots of these opinions out there, even some from lefties. As final support, there is polling from Rasmussen. Nearly two thirds of right wingers support Israel's actions, while less than one third of lefties do. Indeed, only about half of Democrats polled consider Israel an ally. Could any difference between right and left be so clear?

So, what did Professor Brooks say? This:

In a strictly military sense, Israel will "win" this battle against Hamas. For all its threats and bravado, Hamas is weak, and its weapons -- terrorism, homemade rockets -- are the weapons of the weak. Since 2001, Hamas has fired thousands of unguided Kassam rockets at Israel, but the rockets have killed only a handful of Israelis.

Israel's military, in contrast, is one of the most modern and effective in the world (thanks in part to an annual $3 billion in U.S. aid). Israel can easily bottle up the tiny Gaza Strip and its 1.5 million people. On Saturday, the first day of the offensive, Israeli bombs killed at least 180 Palestinians. By Wednesday, the Palestinian death toll exceeded 390.

You see what's being set up there? There's no discussion of Hamas' war crimes (targeting civilians), it barely gets mentioned in passing. It is the difference in ability of the two political entities, the competent and civilized Israelis versus the blundering, criminal Hamas, which is the focus of the article. You could almost think that it wasn't fair for Israel to fight back and kill so many of Hamas illegal combatants (which the overwhelming bulk of the 390 are--Ms. Brooks fails to mention that somewhat important fact). To her credit, she did not actually misapply the proportionality argument, as so many of her ilk do. No, she skips over that to the "it's just so pointless" argument. Behold:

But if there is no reason to doubt Israel's ability to pulverize Gaza, there's also no reason to think this offensive will improve Israeli security. Destruction of Hamas' infrastructure may temporarily slow Hamas rocket attacks, but sooner or later they'll resume.

The Israeli assault may even strengthen Hamas in the longer run and weaken its more moderate secular rival, Fatah. As Israel should know by now (as we all should know), dropping bombs in densely populated areas is a surefire way to radicalize civilians and get them to rally around the home team, however flawed.

Oh, I get the picture. Not only is the bombing of Hamas fighters and rocket caches merely temporary but it is counterproductive as well, by rallying the Palestinians around the "destroy Israel" flag. Unremarked on is the reason the bombs are falling on densely populated areas. Hamas is committing another war crime in stationing its combatants and war materiel among civilians. The leaders of Hamas counted on Israel acting like the good nation it is and avoiding civilian casualties by not attacking at all. It worked for a long time. No longer. Although Charles Krauthammer lets us know the IDF soldiers still call up to warn the Arabs that bombs are coming to the apartment in which they dwell. Are the Israelis mensch or what? Yet of course Israel gets the bad press for killing a few unavoidably, which bad press should go to Hamas for its criminal act of putting its forces and rockets, etc, in the heart of a dense civilian population. (And Hamas seems to have avoided most of the bad press it deserved for the thousands of rockets it has sent to kill Israeli civilians. I guess we expect them to be criminal, evil. They certainly are).

But here is the sine qua non of the lefty view here:

There's just no clear route from bombardment to a sustainable peace.

Huh? While it is true that the bombardment of Germany and Japan 65 years ago did not 'break' the fighting spirit of the civilians and cause a collapse of their will to fight on, it did have a serious effect on their ability to fight. Indeed, in both theaters of the war the fighting ended about the time we ran out of targets to bomb. The destruction, from the air, of the means with which to produce and move about war materiel was essential to our rather swift victories in WWII. If history is any guide, you can achieve victory and a very sustainable peace through bombardment, and in Japan's case, through bombardment alone. Look at the former Yugoslavia, bombed into submission (of a kind) when President Clinton, without any UN or Congressional authorization, attempted to stop genocide from 20,000 feet.

Ms. Brooks and the other Hamas apologists, don't appear to know this central military fact of history, which ignorance makes their opinions rather worthless.


International law (to the extent that such a creature exists, of courese) requires that military action be both in pursuit of a legitimate objective and that collateral damage is proportional to the objective sought*.

Stopping an attack on your citizens is clearly a legitimate goal. Self defense is one of the principal reasons for a state to exist.

The only question, then, is whether the force used by the Israelis is proportional to their goal. This sort of attack is a clear casus belli, which would justify a full-scale invasion, involving involving the sort of destruction inflicted on Berlin by the Soviets or the Ruhr by the western allies. The Israelis have chosen to use less force in the (I believe mistaken) view that such lesser force will solve their problem. Since greater force is justified, lesser force must necessarily be justified as well.

* Note that retaliatory force is also contemplated in the law of land warfare, and that is required to be proportionate to the trigger for retaliation. But the stated goal of the Israelis is to stop the attacks, not to retaliate for them, so the only proportionality required is that noted above.
Do the laws of armed conflict actually spell out proportionality as a criteria for legally waging war in response to aggression? I don't ever remember hearing that in my LoAC briefings back in my USAF days, but since that's an issue that falls to policy makers and not individual military units, we may not ever have been briefed on it.

Explain the border since 1845 inasmuch as Iraq was not created until after WW I and I could not figure the Kuwaiti border part of it.

Please check your e-mail.

Well said Doug. Thanks for the memory, Eric. T, Kuwait was recognized as a seperate sultanate from the Sultanate of Baghdad and enviorns as early as 1845. Of course both were part of the Ottoman Empire then and had been for centuries. Indeed, national borders were drawn post WWI, but some of the earlier separateness was recognized (eg. Kuwait) while others were not (eg. Kurdistan). I'll call you with directions to the party.
The only question is whether the IDF goes in or not? With present Israeli leadership. I think they blow it, but I am naturally pessimistic lately.
I think the point Miss Brooks was trying to make about bombardment not leading to a settlement was that it would not in this particular case. I don't think it was a generalization.

If indeed she means in this case only, I'd have to agree with her.
If that was her point, and I don't think it was, I agree with you and her, bombardment here, alone, won't irradicate the problem--the IDF is going to have to go in and mop up, a difficult task to to correctly. I will call it an Israeli victory if the missile launch numbers after they leave are at 2004 levels. Which means they'll eventually have to do this again.
If you define victory in those terms, well then I suppose it is achievable.

The invasion is on, and the media is not allowed in.

My friend just got back from Syria....very interesting perspective.
I will change that definition of victory slightly, as a result of more reading--2004 level of rockets and the embargo, or whatever, still in place, even in Egypt. Anything else will be a failure like in south Lebanon a few years ago.
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