Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Cole's End Game

Juan Cole made a good point on all this. What's the end-game here?

What I can't understand is the end game here. The Israelis have pledged to continue their siege of the civilians of Gaza, and have threatened to resume assassinating Hamas political leaders, along with the bombardment. The campaign of brutal assassinations launched by Ariel Sharon earlier in this decade were, Sharon, promised us, guaranteed to wipe out Hamas altogether. Do the Israelis expect the population at some point to turn against Hamas, blaming it for the blockade and the bombardment? But by destroying what was left of the Gaza middle class, surely they a throwing people into the arms of Hamas. The US experience of bombing North Vietnam and mining Haiphong Harbor, etc., was that it only stiffened Hanoi's resolve. The massive Israeli bombardment of Lebanon in 2006 did not achieve any significant objectives. In fact, Hezbollah was politically strengthened; it now sits in the Lebanese cabinet and has been recognized as a formal national guard for the south of the country. Its stock of rockets has been replenished. There is a UN buffer now, but in the past such buffers have been removed when hostilities threaten.

If the Gaza population doesn't turn on Hamas, and Israeli measures don't destroy the organization (which they helped create and fund back in the late 1980s when they wanted a foil to the secular PLO), then what? They'll just go on half-starving Gaza's children for decades? Malnourished children have diminished IQ and poor impulse control. That would make them ideal suicide bombers. Plus, sooner or later there will start to be effective boycotts of Israel in Europe and elsewhere over these war crimes. The Israeli economy would be vulnerable to such moves.

Of course, there are only 1.5 million Gazans, and they increasingly are being forced to live in Haiti-like conditions, so in the short term the Israelis can do whatever they want to them. But I can't see this ending well for the Israelis in the long term. Very few insurgencies end because one side achieves a complete military victory (I think it is about 20%). But by refusing to negotiate with Hamas, Israel and the United States leave only a military option on the table. The military option isn't going to resolve the problem by itself. Gaza is a labyrinth. Those Qassam rockets are easy to make. There is so much money sloshing around the Middle East and so many sympathetic Muslims that Gaza will be kept just barely afloat economically, making Hamas hard to dislodge. And the Israeli blockade of Gaza is so distasteful to the world that eventually there is likely to be a painful price to pay for it by the Israelis.

There is this fantasy that continually arises in the minds of western military planners, for whatever reason: that foreign pressure—including foreign military pressure—will so demoralize a native population that they will turn on their own government, destroy them, and embrace the outside aggressors.

But that never happens. Ever. I can't think of a single conflict in modern history where that has been the case. Hell, outside of maybe Herodotus I can't think of a single ancient conflict that worked that way. To believe that the Gazans will act this way defies belief.

And yes, I'm sure that's what all the anti-Hamas rhetoric is supposed to do. But it won't work. The world isn't listening. You cannot dictate people's reactions to your own use of force. You can influence them, and guide them, and hope for the best, but you cannot dictate them. Police can't do it, militaries can't do it, and you'd better believe that the State of Israel can't do it.

I think the smarter people know that, which is why I presume that the architects of this are interested more in rhetorical cover that will justify the pre-existing prejudices of domestic constintuencies. But let's not pretend it's a military strategem. It's not.

Then again, western governments haven't been thinking much about end-games for a while now, have they? Ignorance or cynical excuse-building. Your choice, I suppose.

No comments:

Post a Comment