Nation of know-it-alls

We should become at least as skeptical of military power as we are of diplomacy.

August 24, 2006 02:08
4 minute read.
larry derfner 88

larry derfner 88. (photo credit: )


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A long time ago I was reading a magazine article - I think it had something to do with crime in Manhattan - and I came to a sentence that has stayed with me since then. It went: "There are some liberal minds that are impervious to experience." That line came to mind six years ago, when the Oslo peace process got blown up by the intifada, and so many people on the Left immediately blamed it on Ehud Barak's brusque treatment of Yasser Arafat at Camp David, or on the insufficiency of Israel's offer of land, or on the continued expansion of settlements - on anything, that is, except the Oslo peace process itself. The true believers among the Left couldn't bring themselves to admit that maybe this id e fixe they had - that Arafat and the PLO were ready to make peace with Israel - wasn't as fixe as they thought. No, they insisted, it was something else, Israel did something wrong, the Palestinians are really okay, we were right all along and we're still right. Impervious, no? Today, however, true-believing liberals aren't the problem. In the aftermath of Operation Change of Direction, it is conservative minds - and not some of them, but seemingly all of them, in fact about 80 percent of Israelis, I'd say - that are impervious to experience. And when I say conservatives, in the present context, I mean war hawks. This is not, after all, the first time Israel has fought a war against Hizbullah in Lebanon that ended in bitterness and disappointment. It's the second time. Yet the same people who were so gung-ho for this war, who were so sure it was going to be the end of Hizbullah - about 80% of Israelis - still refuse to ask themselves if maybe war isn't the best way to deal with the problem we've got up north. No, they insist, it was Olmert, it was Peretz, it was Halutz, it was Tel Aviv. These weaklings and incompetents didn't let the IDF win, and the IDF would have won. Hands down. And now all the same military correspondents and ex-generals who told us alef-bet-gimmel-dalet why this war was such a good idea are now telling us alef-bet-gimmel-dalet why it failed - as they, of course, warned all along. THEY HAVEN'T missed a beat. They are as sure of their monotheistic faith in military power as ever. And the public still looks to them as experts, as guides. In Israel, old generals never die and they don't fade away, either. It's funny how this war has completely discredited the idea of unilateral withdrawal, and pretty much discredited the idea of military deterrence, yet the idea of war as the solution to all of Israel's problems has come through without a scratch. Everyone's gearing up for the "inevitable" next war against Hizbullah, and the way our soldiers have been opening fire on Hizbullah during the cease-fire, it seems the government and IDF are impatient to get to it. Then, after Lebanon War III, hopefully it's on to Syria and Iran. Axis of evil, you know. Clash of civilizations. Yalla. You would think that between Israel's experiences in Lebanon and America's experience in Iraq that more people here would start to have some doubts about this ideology. But no. They're impervious. Now me, I'm pervious to a fault. First I lost my faith in the Oslo peace process, and now I've lost my faith in unilateral withdrawal and military deterrence. I have no answers anymore. I don't know what, if anything, will work, and I realize that whatever we try, be it the gun, the olive branch or anything else, could make the situation worse. But one thing I am certain of is that Israel's old-new strategy - dependence on military power alone to overcome our enemies - is one more god that's failed. People have to give up this notion that "whatever can't be done with force can be done with more force." At this rate we're going to end up starting not just Lebanon War III but World War III, and while a lot of Israelis and Republicans think this would be a wise move, the rest of the world thinks they're crazy, and the rest of the world is right. Before this last war, I'd given up on peace negotiations. I didn't think they were necessary anymore. Now, while I certainly don't believe in them like I did in the Oslo days, I think we have to consider them again. With Syria, for starters. I know - we'd be negotiating from a position of weakness, after failing at war against Syria's ally Hizbullah. I agree - it would obviously be preferable to negotiate with Syria from a position of strength. The problem, however, is that Israel never negotiates from a position of strength if it means giving up territory, which negotiations with Syria would mean. Israel wasn't ready to deal with Egypt until after the trauma of the Yom Kippur War, and only became willing to deal with the Palestinians after the shock of the first intifada. I'm not saying peace talks with Syria would definitely succeed, and break up the Iran-Syria-Hizbullah axis, and open the way to regional peace and world peace and all that. Negotiations could fail like they did at the turn of 2000; they could even backfire this time. All I'm saying is that we should think about it, we should be open-minded again, we should become at least as skeptical of military power as we are of diplomacy. After this latest disillusionment in Lebanon, now isn't a time for certainty. It's a time for modesty, something that's been missing in this country for too long.

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