Gideon Levy, veteran journalist for Ha-Aretz has this to say about the war in Lebanon. It is a near-perfect expression of the PCP trying to grapple with that which it cannot understand, with a heavy dose of moral perfectionism. I give it special attention because this editorial moved some of my progressive correspondants as both wise and rational.
[Levy in bold, blockquote]
Stop Now, Immediately
by Gideon Levy
This war must be stopped now and immediately. From the start it was unnecessary, even if its excuse was justified, and now is the time to end it. Every day raises its price for no reason, taking a toll in blood that gives Israel nothing tangible in return. This is a good time to stop the war because both sides can claim they won: Israel harmed Hezbollah and Hezbollah harmed Israel. History shows that no situation is better for reaching an arrangement. Remember the lessons of the Yom Kippur War.
This is a prime example of the even-handed approach that reflect cognitive egocentrism. Levy shows no sign that he knows what Hizbullah is about — ideology, training, goals, etc. And yet, and yet, how could he not? Perhaps the extensive presence of people reassuring him that Hizbullah, like all other terror groups, are really just interested in power, and ultimately will act “rationally” makes it too easy to miss some essentials of religious madness.
Israel went into the campaign on justified grounds and with foul means. It claims it has declared war on Hezbollah but, in practice, it is destroying Lebanon. It has gotten most of what it could have out of this war. The aerial “target bank” has mostly been covered. The air force could continue to sow destruction in the residential neighborhoods and empty offices and could also continue dropping dozens of tons of bombs on real or imagined bunkers and kill innocent Lebanese, but nothing good will come of it.
This is a good example of Levy’s reknown credulity (or rhetorical excess). Lebanon’s civil war of 1975-90? “destroyed” the country far more devastatingly than this incursion. The Lebanese political system is desperately dysfunctional, and Hizbullah, occupying Syria, meddling Iran, and Western and UN weaknesss, have all contributed to her condition. So Israel can’t be destroying Lebanon politically; on the contrary, this intervention opens a window of opportunity to help Lebanon recover by disarming its militia. And as for the physical damage… how does Levy know what kind of damage? TV?
But “destroying Lebanon” does sound ominous. Our media may, under Hizbullah instructions, show us the same corner of Beirut that’s been destroyed, just as they showed us the same corner of the refugee camp outside Jenin that was destroyed in April 2002, and lead us to think that Beirut and Jenin have been leveled. But why would an Israeli journalist (want to) believe that?
Those who want to restore Israel’s deterrent capabilities have succeeded. Hezbollah and the rest of its enemies know that Israel reacts with enormous force to any provocation. South Lebanon is cleaner now of a Hezbollah presence. In any case, the organization is likely to return there, just as it is likely to rearm. An international agreement could be achieved now, and it won’t be possible to achieve a better deal at a reasonable price in the future.
This is an amazing paragraph that seems to be addressed to a child who knows nothing, appealing to a naïve “even-handed” logic that takes no account of differential attitudes. Let’s take the statements one by one:
- Those who want to restore Israel’s deterrent capabilities have succeeded. There is no reason on earth to imagine that Hizbullah and the rest of Israel’s enemies have learned about Israel’s deterrent capabilities. On the contrary, Hizbullah and Hamas have been raining missile does on Israel the entire time that Israel has been showing it’s “enormous force.” From their perspective, they’re winning, and any halt now will be greeted with the same jubilation as a victory that accompanied Israel’s withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000 and from Gaza in 2005. For all his vaunted “empathy” with the Palestinians and other Arabs, Levy really doesn’t understand much about what motivates them or how they think. He just projects his own mentality on to them. One could not ask for a better illustration of the workings of cognitive egocentrism.
- Hezbollah and the rest of its enemies know that Israel reacts with enormous force to any provocation. So far they have absorbed the impact of that enormous force and survived intact. If anything, stopping now would have the exact opposite effect: Hizbullah would claim victory and feel empowered to push harder.
- South Lebanon is cleaner now of a Hezbollah presence. This is ludicrous. In a matter of days if not weeks of the kind of cease fire that Levy calls for, they would be back, stronger than before.
- In any case, the organization is likely to return there, just as it is likely to rearm.
So why make the previous statement? Was that pablum intended to reassure the reader? Now we get realism: look, they’ll be back and armed anyway, so it doesn’t matter. Of course it is far more likely to return and rearm if the hostilities end now.
- An international agreement could be achieved now, and it won’t be possible to achieve a better deal at a reasonable price in the future. Let’s not press on what Mr. Levy on what he knows about what’s possible and not in the future, and how he can state these matters with such certainty. Let’s explore the fascinating turn of phrase “reasonable price.” Levy is obviously a tender-hearted individual, as are many people appalled by the devastation in Lebanon. But for those with an historical memory of the kind of devastation, the kind of price exacted by allowing groups like Hizbullah to return and rearm (which Levy thinks is a foregone conclusion, hence not worth fighting), we are nowhere near having reached a reasonable price. The death toll as far as I know at this point is less than 500 (and we don’t know what percent are fighters despite the figures our media give us). The Lebanese war averaged almost 2000 civilians a month for seven years. There’s no better illustration of the short-sightedness, short memory-span, and humanistic panic than Levy’s urgency to put an end to a piece of painful but necessary violence.
All in all, this paragraph is exceptionally vague and misleading, yet expressed with all the certainty of an omniscient narrator. It’s designed especially to appeal to good hearted people who want to see the suffering stopped right away. But what assures us that he is not like a man who rushes into a hospital room in the middle of an operation screaming, “everyone out! we must stop the bleeding now!”?
Israel’s other goals – returning the captured soldiers and the elimination of Hassan Nasrallah – will anyway be more difficult to achieve even if the war goes on for weeks and months. The IDF is now asking for “two more weeks” and in another two weeks it will ask for “another two weeks.” A decisive victory is not in the offing.
And he know this because…? And if it takes longer? I have difficulty understanding these affirmations as anything more than an attempt to define reality (authoritatively) in order to produce the policies he supports. It’s very much what the “peace camp” did during the disastrous Oslo adventure. And unlike many of his compatriots on the Israeli left, Levy has apparently learned nothing like the lessons of Amos Oz:
“Many times in the past, the Israeli peace movement has criticized Israeli military operations. Not this time. … This time, Israel is not invading Lebanon. It is defending itself from daily harassment and bombardment of dozens of our towns and villages. … There can be no moral equation between Hezbollah and Israel. Hezbollah is targeting Israeli civilians wherever they are, while Israel is targeting mostly Hezbollah.”
Apparently, Levy not only can make moral equivalences (by allusion if not explicitly), but, speaking next of the hatred for itself that Israel rightly deserves for their appalling behavior he can reverse it, he can reverse them.
On the other hand, the price is skyrocketing. Every day increases international criticism of Israel and hatred of it. That is also an element in “national security.” As opposed to the choir in Israel that makes a false presentation as if the world is cheering Israel, the images from Beirut are causing Israel enormous damage, and rightly so. Not only in the streets of the Arab world is more and more hatred being sown, but also in the West. Not only hundreds of thousands of Lebanese but tens of thousands of Westerners fleeing from Lebanon are contributing to the depiction of Israel as a violent, crude and destructive state.
Now we get to some of the most noxious elements of the PCP mentality, especially from the Israeli left, but which pick up important echoes among the western Jewish “left” who live in mortal fear of the opinion created in the world media. Instead of a discussion of the deeply self-destructive behavior of the Western media, which can’t keep itself from playing up the devastation in Lebanon and Israel’s responsibility, hence enabling the depraved policy of Hizbullah firing from amidst capitve civilians and counting on world indignation when as a result there are civilian casualties, Levy steps right in the trap laid for him.
“Rightly so,” he comments on the hatred of Israel created not by what it’s doing in Lebanon, but on what the media — himself included — tell people is going on in Lebanon. And even if Israel were mistaken in what they’re doing, and doing unnecessary damage, why on earth would that bring hatred upon them unless you were a proponent of the worst kind of partisan hate-mongering. Can one imagine the humane Gideon Levy claiming that Hizbullah is rightfully garnering the world’s hate for hiding among civilians and preventing them from fleeing? Surely not. Why then, does he feel that the world justifiably hates his own people? Because it helps him make the case for an end to the violence? Because his country embarrasses him in the eyes of a malevolent, media-dazed world opinion?
And, alas, the result is a near-perfect replication of a pattern which, as the horrifying paradox of the 21st century, threatens to destroy the West.
The fact that George Bush and Tony Blair are cheering Israel might be consolation for Ehud Olmert and the media in Israel, but it is not enough to persuade millions of TV viewers who see the images of destruction and devastation, most of which are not shown to Israeli audiences. The world sees entire neighborhoods that have been destroyed, hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing in panic, homeless, and hundreds of civilians dead and wounded including many children who have nothing to do with Hezbollah.
Here we are, back to the media and its images, which apparently Mr. Levy believes in whole and in its parts. Israel doesn’t get this because, to be honest, it can’t afford to pour its sympathies out on soil where the products is further hatred. I do not know an Israeli here now who does not regret the loss of civilian lives in Lebanon. But we have no idea how many civilians have been lost in Lebanon, and given the madness that swept through western media circles during the “Jenin Massacre” where reports of damage were overestimated by a factor of at least 10 [!], it behooves us all to temper of humanitarian impulse. John Podhoretz has speculated on whether the liberal and humanitarian principles of the West have not rendered it incapable of defending itself in a war. Levy’s piece becomes exhibit A; and the way in which liberal opinion in America finds such reasoning “rational” (as opposed to the rest of Israelis’ warmongering), exhibit B.
Which brings us back to exhibit C, the eagerness with which the media fill the minds of tender-hearted westerners with images of destruction. It goes well beyond, “if it bleeds, it leads…” It has a moral dimension: these are not fires and floods whose damage is tragic but natural; these are man-made disasters, and the finger points inexorably at Israel. The scapegoating loadstone that draws heavily on our media’s storyline — the Palestinian Victim narrative — inevitably reasserts its mastery, here with Levy, in the coming days and weeks, among those he hopes to win over to his “inevitable” reading of coming Israeli failure.
Of course, it would not be difficult to present all this exactly the other way around: the responsibility of Hizbullah for the civilian casualties, the exceptional lengths the Israelis go to to avoid civilian casualties — at the risk of their own soldiers’ lives, the extensive failures of the Lebanese government to control the maleficent forces in their midst who have declared war on a neighbor… But that would mean siding with Israel, and that wouldn’t be “even-handed,” would it?
The continuation of the war therefore is neither moral nor worthwhile. The economic blow the war caused to Israel will even remain limited if the war ends now. A lethal summer will exact a much greater economic price.
Economics? What universe does this man inhabit? This is not an optional war you can turn on and off like a faucet, depending on how you want your economy to flourish. And what about the price of the next round of hostilities that are certain to break out in the not-too distant future? What’ll that do to the economy. Levy seems to think that this is all really not serious, that if we just stop the aggression, somehow everything will go back to normal.
The Israeli rear, which has so far displayed impressive resilience, will not remain indifferent in the shelters for much longer. Slowly, the cracks will open and citizens will begin to ask why we are dying and what we are killing for. That’s just the way of war. At first, nobody asks why, but the more entangled they become, the more difficult the questions become.
Of course there are answers. And my sense is that Israelis in general are far more astute on what’s going on than Levy, who seems to have learned nothing from the Oslo process except that people didn’t listen to him more. He reminds me of the kind of person who participates in making his predictions come true. Say it enough, dupe enough well-intentioned liberals in America who hate to see babies killed into joining in, and affirm the hatred and virulence of the anti-Israel voices around the globe, and maybe things will begin to look really bad for Israel. Then they’ll do what I’ve been telling them to do.
We’ve been here before, more than once. Wars began with broad national approval and ended with a great crisis. Those who bask now in the consensus should know that nothing lasts forever. The war will become an imbroglio. When it becomes apparent that the air force is not enough, the ground invasion that has already begun will intensify. The cliche about the Lebanese quagmire will be revalidated, and when the soldiers are killed, as is already happening daily, in house to house hunting, the protests will rise and divide society.
Exhibit A2: here we have the journalist, using his reading of the past to project an inevitable cast of failure on the future, using his own platform to help produce the very effect he pronounces upon. There is no effort here to ask if that pattern (or, rather, its dominance) may not constitute a serious flaw in the ability of nations who respond this way to war, to survive when attacked by cultures who want war. And if so, in what more responsible ways the press might inform the public of what’s going on.
Now Israel is hoping for the elimination of Nasrallah. That’s an atavistic impulse, even if understandable, which seeks the head of the enemy in order to prove our victory over him. There’s no wisdom or practicality in it.
This constitutes one of the more exceptional examples in this piece of cognitive egocentrism. Speaking as a medievalist, I can assure you that Nasrallah’s head is an absolutely crucial part of this story, if not by killing him, then (joke, alas) by having him condemned for crimes against (Lebanese and Israeli) humanity. Here we have Levy, the beautiful soul who is big enough to renounce such atavistic impulses, not realizing how his actions play out on the screens of those who embrace and nurture the ugliest dimensions of these atavistic impulses towards blood vengeance, and who dream of genocide.
Once again it is worth reminding ourselves of the dozens of people Israel assassinated in Lebanon and the territories, from Sheikh Abbas Mussawi to Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, each replaced by someone new, usually more talented and dangerous than the predecessor.
Now this is interesting. The big surprise of killing Yassin and Rantisi, was that the punditocracy immediately jumped in with predictions of many more killings — “We’ll open the gates of Hell!” threatened Hamas, even though, overall matters became remarkably quiet. And yet Levy has turned this into an illustration of his first point, a strategically highly debatable point: for him (as for us) targetted killings of people who aspire to suicide terrorism should be out of the question. And to support his point, he reminds us of a highly questionable “reading” of recent history. On the contrary — he does not understand the atavistic world whose behavior he feels qualified to predict.
The goals of the war should not be dictated by dark impulses, even if they come in response to the wishes and demands of the mob. The only advantage that would benefit Israel from the elimination of Nasrallah would be that maybe it would bring about an end to the warring. But it can be halted even without that. The other desired goal, the return of the prisoners, will anyway only be achieved through negotiations to release prisoners. Israel could have done that before the war.
The dark impulse. Here is exhibit D for Podhoretz’s argument. The desire to have your mortal enemy dead, i.e., one of the healthiest emotions in the repertory of self-preservation, here appears as a “dark impulse.” And yet, in comparison with the dark impulses that reign on the other side of the battle-line, this is a pale shadow. If the world of people and nations is not a jungle (or need not be), that doesn’t mean that sometimes, jungle rules come in to play. To see self-preservative instincts as “dark impulses” to be rejected if necessary by having the media pump images of human suffering in your face, is to prevent a culture from defending itself existentially. Europe has precisely the same problem with its own variants of the same moral turn.
What if those “mob” wishes happen to correspond with precisely what is so important about this war: that any leadership that could use a quiet border to build up this kind of machinery of hatred and war be removed. That is in everyone’s interest: Israel’s, Lebanon’s, the forces of decency in the Arab world, the European’s, the West’s, civil society’s, the globe’s. Should we deny ourselves a legitimate and strategically valuable satisfaction, merely because it is also related to destruction. Are we so afraid of our own strength tempting us to do evil, that we bind ourselves down for sacrifice to those who only want our strength specifically to do what we shrink back from in horror?
It is still too early to weigh out the balance of achievements and failures of this war. The day will come when it will become clear that it was purposeless, as are all wars of choice. Ceasing it now guarantees a limited achievement at a limited price. Continuing it guarantees a heavy price without any guarantee of a suitable reward. Therefore, Israel must cease and desist. The president of the United States can push us to continue the war all he wants, the prime minister of Britain can cheer us in parliament, but in Israel and Lebanon, the blood is being spilled, the horror is intensifying, the price is rising and it is all for naught.
Okay, sentence by sentence:
- The day will come when it will become clear that it was purposeless, as are all wars of choice. Now the catechism. Gideon Levy believes that all wars of choice are purposeless. To any historian, even one who did not specialize in war, such a statement would come as a stunning assertion. And yet, it appears in his article not as a desperate prayer for a distant messianic age, but as a confident statement of historical fact. And for those of us to whom such earnest wishes appeal (me no longer), we then agree with Gideon to read his serene knowledge backwards on to a time to when “it is still to early to weigh out…” No let’s weigh in now, and stop the carnage. “Enough blood!”
- Ceasing it now guarantees a limited achievement at a limited price. Nothing of the sort. Stopping now is an immense victory for global Jihadi forces, who will put this victory up with chasing the Russians from Afghanistan in 1989 and attacking the US in 9-11, as one of the great victories waged by Islam in the mid-15th century. The specific lesson of Oslo (2000) and Gaza (2005) is that ceasing and withdrawing, and seeking to calm to roiled waters, lead to further aggression. But Levy has not even begun to glimpse the problem. He can serenely continue to promise Oslo-like results.
- Continuing it guarantees a heavy price without any guarantee of a suitable reward. And that, sadly, is the condition of existential wars. Just because we want things to be basically OK doesn’t mean that they are, and just because we’d like to go back to “normal” doesn’t mean that we can. As another Israeli put it: The lesson of Oslo was learning that it was not in our hands to decide.
- Therefore, Israel must cease and desist. So two wildly wrong assurances about the future and the nature of the conflict add up to “Israel! Cease and Desist.” Nothing better illustrates the basic elements of the PCP world: a) the fantasy of omnipotence: Israel is the critical agent here; her behavior creates the situation, and b) the moral condescension for the Hizbullah: they have no agency and we should not even waste our time making any demands. (Of course, beneath this condescension, so pervasive also in Europe and among American progressives, lies fear of the reaction were we to make any demands on groups like Hizbullah.)
- The president of the United States can push us to continue the war all he wants, the prime minister of Britain can cheer us in parliament, but in Israel and Lebanon, the blood is being spilled, the horror is intensifying, the price is rising and it is all for naught.
“All for naught…” cause Levy knows. Trust him. He thinks like you. He cares. He wants the best.