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1/3/2009
THE MORAL EQUIVALENCY BRIGADE

With Israel poised to begin ground operations in Gaza - an action that will no doubt set off new howls of outrage from the usual suspects on the left - we might do well to examine the intellectual underpinnings of the moral equivalency that afflicts many liberals as they struggle to frame the conflict between Hama sand Israel in terms that assigns equal blame to both sides for the violence (or sometimes disproportionate blame directed toward Israel).

Further, the Israeli response - even if grudgingly granted that a response was necessary - has to be folded into the larger question of how bombing the Palestinians will hurt the “peace process” and besides, it won’t win the Israelis any friends on the other side and will only radicalize the Palestinian people.

I appreciate the difficulty of their task. In order to achieve such a dishonest result, basic truths regarding the Hamas desire to destroy Israel and its people must be ignored while the terrorist’s provocations must be minimized or dismissed as inconsequential pinpricks. Not only that, a “peace process” must be invented and presented as a viable entity for achieving impossible goals like getting Hamas to recognize Israel’s right to exist.

Finally, to pull off this nauseating conceit, America must be blamed for supporting an ally during its struggle for survival and not being “even handed” toward both the victim and the aggressor. This support is marginalized by playing up the ubiquitous “Jewish Lobby” and the evil neocons who do the bidding of Likud rather than seeing the US acting in its own interests by supporting the Jewish state in its war against those who would destroy them.

The intellectual gymnastics that are necessary to arrive at these conclusions by the left are simply astonishing. Here’s Matthew Yglesias doing a forward double flip with a twist in an attempt to elevate moral equivalency to heights heretofore only imagined in this conflict:

One way to reply to this is à la Ezra Klein who observes that at some point you need to judge based on what’s actually happening. And what’s been happening is that whatever Hamas’ ambitions may or may not have been, they were scattering short-range inaccurate rocket fire on Israel that was causing little damage. Israel struck back with actions that have killed hundreds of Palestinians and pushed over a million more closer to the brink of starvation. And in general this is an important aspect of the conflict — irrespective of intentions, over the years you have many more dead Palestinian civilians than Israeli civilians.

There is no doubt to anyone with the ability to read that Hamas “ambitions” (a queer word to describe genocide) are clear, unambiguous, unchanging (despite Yglesisas’s sly inference otherwise), and central to the matter at hand regardless of the accuracy of their rockets or bean counting civilian deaths.

Yglesias wants to ignore “intentions” because it is the only possible way to place the moral onus for the conflict on Israel. How very convenient. Simply forget that this is the continuation of a conflict with Hamas who, without constant vigilance on the part of the Israeli security services, would make any action taken by the IDF look like a walk in the park casualty wise.

Yglesias’s contention is that because Hamas has been unsuccessful in deliberately murdering Israelis in suicide attacks or rocket barrages, we should ignore their fanatical desire to do so and concentrate on their thankfully puny efforts to inflict pain and terror on the Israeli populace.

Perhaps we should ask the Israeli police to allow a few Hamas martyrs into the country just so that their attacks could even things out a bit and make Matthew feel a little better about “what is actually happening” on the ground in Israel.

That Israel’s response has nothing to do with changing hearts and minds or furthering the “peace process” but rather the simple, straightforward, morally unambiguous goal of making their citizens safe in their homes must be lost in the translation somewhere.

Charles Krauthammer:

Some geopolitical conflicts are morally complicated. The Israel-Gaza war is not. It possesses a moral clarity not only rare but excruciating.

Israel is so scrupulous about civilian life that, risking the element of surprise, it contacts enemy noncombatants in advance to warn them of approaching danger. Hamas, which started this conflict with unrelenting rocket and mortar attacks on unarmed Israelis — 6,464 launched from Gaza in the past three years — deliberately places its weapons in and near the homes of its own people.

This has two purposes. First, counting on the moral scrupulousness of Israel, Hamas figures civilian proximity might help protect at least part of its arsenal. Second, knowing that Israelis have new precision weapons that may allow them to attack nonetheless, Hamas hopes that inevitable collateral damage — or, if it is really fortunate, an errant Israeli bomb — will kill large numbers of its own people for which, of course, the world will blame Israel.

If Krauthammer believes such remedial lessons in moral clarity would educate those on the left who need it most, it is obvious he has never read Firedoglake:

So I guess this is good news to the IRA, Basque Separatists, and various others who have blown shit up over the years (killing many) — they now get a pass because they telegraphed their punches via warnings ahead of time. And I guess, by ol’ Charlies’ logic it is morally right to bomb Iran, because he wrote a cloying article about “Peace through Confligration” a couple years ago. So they’ve been adequately warned. So as long as you give a courtesy call it is okay to nuke somebody, because proportionate response just is not a moral question Krauthammer can believe in.

Huh? A bomb being set off by terrorists at a department store in London with warning given has any equivalence whatsoever with the Israelis warning civilians that they are going to destroy Hamas military installations? How novel!

First of all, our IRA heroes were nowhere near the blast site and were targeting a civilian establishments. Only the deliberately self-deluded actually believe that Israel is trying to kill civilians. And it is useless to try and argue the right and wrong of unintentional civilian casualties in war where the enemy, as Krauthammer points out, places its military installations where even pinpoint bombing can cause civilian deaths.

The faux choice between killing civilians or not killing any at all is an artificial standard created for Israel and the US who are supposed to fight wars as they did in the 18th century - gentlemanly conflicts where aristocratic officers weren’t targeted because the conflict might get out of control otherwise, it being fought by commoners and other rabble.

The sterile argument that Israel (or America) killing non combatants violates the Geneva Convention, when one side ignores the GC’s strictures against hiding behind civilian populations, fails to address the unpalatable option of not going to war at all in order to avoid civilian casualties and consequently enduring attacks on your country without response. It is the real world versus the ideal world imagined by those on the left who care less about the Geneva Convention and more about using the treaty as a way to defang both Israel and the US - emasculating them in order to achieve some wildly unrealistic status quo belli  but where the enemies of both nations can violate the GC with impunity and be safely ignored while an absolutist notion regarding civilian casualties is advanced.

Nice trick if you can get away with it.

Secondly, I daresay when the ground assault by Israel begins - as it apparently will, shortly - and if the IDF warns civilians thus losing the element of surprise for their soldiers, the resulting casualties sustained by the IDF will prove the efficacy of Krauthammer’s argument; that Israel goes to extraordinary lengths to protect the enemy population even at a cost to the the lives of their own military.

The weird, idiotic hearkening back to a column written by Krauthammer on the possibility of an attack on Iran being presented as further “argument” that Israel should receive no points for good behavior as a result of their warnings is daffy. A two year old column by a journalist is similar in construct to Israel warning Palestinian civilians?

The preceding by FDL was not an exercise in mental gymnastics but rather a baking class where students are taught how to make a pretzel. Only in this case, the confections were twisted so painfully and into such ludicrous shapes, that it cried out in protest at being abused so ignorantly.

All of this twisting and running in circles stands in stark contrast to the way the left justified fighting fascism on the side of the “republicans” during the Spanish Civil War. On the surface, going to war against Franco and the nationalists could be seen as noble, even heroic. The clerical-fascists backing the Spanish dictator were certainly an unattractive lot, wanting to keep the Spanish people in virtual bondage and peonage while being kept in line using the heavy hand of the Catholic Church.

Franco was supported by Italian and German fascists. And hearing the siren song of war being sung by Stalin and his communist party minions throughout the west, thousands of Americans joined what history has come to know as the Abraham Lincoln Brigade - a kind of super glorified Boy Scout troop that was short on military knowledge and discipline but long on enthusiasm and true belief in the cause.

What was that cause? The Spanish “republicans” were an equally inglorious bunch having made it their first order of business upon assuming power the slaughter of Catholic clergy and laity (more than 7,000 murdered) as well as tens of thousands of others who didn’t demonstrate correct political thinking. This “Red Terror” was followed by the much more brutal and efficient “White Terror” of Franco.

The Abraham Lincoln Brigade was made up of the cream of the American left - many of whom, as was the fashion of the time, were communists. (Being a Communist in the 1930’s was cool - sort of like being a Republican in the ’80’s or a Democrat today.) There were also socialists, Wobblies (IWW members), liberal democrats, the mainstream middle class, and the usual smattering of soldiers of fortune, adventurers, and devil-may-care journalists.

All the ALB cared about was that they were fighting fascism. No doubt the nationalists were deserving of disapprobation given their bombing of cities and wanton slaughter of civilians. But the atrocities committed by the “republicans” were equally vile as they too killed their fair share of non combatants, executing as many nationalist sympathizers as they could find.

Committing evil to fight evil? Who’da thunk it. Very few voices on the left were raised in opposition to these tactics on the republican side and indeed, those that were pointed to “disproportionality” between atrocities committed by Franco’s government and the Republicans.

Fighting Franco was almost certainly the right thing to do. Standing on the sidelines and positing a “pox on both their houses” would have ignored the moral framework of the conflict in favor of a safe intellectual harbor where kibbitzing from the sidelines as the nationalists murdered their way to victory would have been cowardly. No one knows what kind of government would have emerged if the republicans had been victorious but given the history of communist movements worldwide, its a safe bet to say that Spain may very well have eventully been gobbled up by Moscow.

But we have the advantage of 20/20 hindisight and at the time, fighting on the side of those who supported liberal democracy was the correct moral choice.

The point is, the left had no trouble taking sides when the moral choices were much less clear given the ravages committed by both sides. But correctly identifying the side in the right in the current Hamas-Israeli War seems to be beyond their capacity despite the fact that the issues here, as Krauthammer points out, possess “a moral clarity not only rare but excruciating.”

By: Rick Moran at 11:56 am
10 Responses to “THE MORAL EQUIVALENCY BRIGADE”
  1. 1
    Glenn Cassel AMH1(AW) USN RET Said:
    12:36 pm 

    The kill circle on a Mk. 83, 1000 lb. General Purpose Bomb is 3,000 feet. Even with the JDAM electronics attached to allow it to hit precisely, it is still 3,000 feet. I do not know what the kill circle on a 2,000 pound Mk. 84 is but rest assured it is substantianlly larger.
    Precision is use to hit the target. Isuppose it is better than carpet bombing. But then again carpet bombing is quite effective in it’s own right.

  2. 2
    Postagoras Said:
    12:47 pm 

    Ah, you’ve gotten the broad brush out again for the New Year. You, Rick, have a singular voice that does not run in lockstep with “the right”, or the conservatives, or the Republicans. But “the left”, on the other hand, has two bloggers which represent the ideas of many liberals, a extremely homogeneous group. How convenient!

    I guess I’d better burn my ACLU card, and get rid of my frequent-flier miles on the UN black helicopters, because I agree with you about Israel’s moral right in their current actions in Gaza.

    I realize there are many liberals who are as supportive of Israel as I am (many at The New Republic). I tried not to draw too broadly but then, if I had to guess I’d say that 75% of the lefysphere agrees with Greenwald, Yglesias, Ezra Klein, and FDL and numerous pundits at mags like The Nation and American Prospect.

    In this case, generalizing a reaction is perhaps more true than in others.

    ed.

  3. 3
    Jim Said:
    1:39 pm 

    Rick:

    The left has nothing against violence, killing or even genocide - so long as the people who are killed are th ones they want deae. To them “we” - Americans and Israelis - are the right people. Why else do they spend so much time objectifying us and projecting their violence fantasies on us? Most leftists are destructive authoritarians with a true hatred of individual freedom and a not-so-closet love for murderous dictators.

  4. 4
    cdor Said:
    1:50 pm 

    If the Israelis weren’t so much like the Greenwalds, Yglesias, and Ezra Kleins of this world, this whole issue would have been resolved a long time ago. They would have thrown out all the arabs from within their midst and kept all the land they have conquered in the numerous defensive wars they have been forced to fight. This would have left them with defensible borders, an homogenous population, and countries devoid of a death wish surrounding them.

    Therein lies the irony and why I want to puke when I hear the left equivocate with their pansy ass sensitivities.

    Devoid of these so-called palestinians agitating from within and a stones throw away there would have been peace in the area 10 years ago.

  5. 5
    Thats Said:
    2:15 pm 

    Gallup Poll Daily tracking finds support for Barack Obama among liberal Democrats holding steady at 93% despite news reports that his core supporters are disappointed with some of his cabinet appointments and other decisions. Meanwhile, in recent weeks, Obama’s ratings have improved among conservative Republicans, up from 23% to 29%.

    Very informative but what the hell does that have to do with the post? In the future, any non germane comments will be deleted.

    ed,

  6. 6
    Arthur Said:
    2:41 pm 

    (ref Spanish Civil War)
    > But we have the advantage of 20/20 hindisight and at the time, fighting on the side of those who supported liberal democracy was the correct moral choice.

    Huh? Which side of the SCW supported liberal democracy?
    Or are you saying that because some members of the ALB weren’t commies that the ALB was on the right side?

    > Fighting Franco was almost certainly the right thing to do.

    I’m no fan of Franco but I’m not convinced that having Stalin (or a Stalinist puppet) running Spain would have been the “the correct moral choice”.

    I agree with all your points. At the time, however, it was a little murkier and you may recall that the commies were seen as a better choice than the fascists back then. Plus, we didn’t know back then how the communists would take power by sweeping aside all opposition and ruthlessly crack down. That didn’t become clear until after the war when it was repeated several times in eastern Europe.

    ed.

  7. 7
    funny man Said:
    3:40 pm 

    Just a few points I wanted to add. I agree with Postagoras that there are quite a few on the left who strongly support Israel against Hamas. Hitler was also democratically elected and the German people (and many others) suffered for it. I do believe that there really is no solution with Hamas. However, not all of Israel’s actions (mainly the settlements) is helpful for a just solution. BTW, that is also majority opinion in Israel and quite a few conservatives such as Buchanan point out that the United States should have been less one sided. As far as Franco and the Spanish Civil War is concerned, one has to consider that there was a coalition fighting the Fascists e.g. George Orwell was definitely not enthused about the increasing influence of the communists. Once the Germans with ‘Legion Condor’ started supporting Franco the republican side was desperate for help (unfortunately Soviet).
    Anyway, Hamas, Hesbollah and the whole islamist gang is definitely something entirely different and moral equivalence with Israel is ridiculous.

    Before someone beats me to it…

    Hitler was NOT elected. It was months after his defeat in the presidential race by Hindenberg that he maneuvered Von Papen into getting the President to ask him to form a government as Chancellor - a government Von Papen thought he would control in the wings.

    Not the last to underestimate Hitler.

    ed.

  8. 8
    MlR Said:
    4:39 pm 

    “I agree with all your points. At the time, however, it was a little murkier and you may recall that the commies were seen as a better choice than the fascists back then. Plus, we didn’t know back then how the communists would take power by sweeping aside all opposition and ruthlessly crack down. That didn’t become clear until after the war when it was repeated several times in eastern Europe.”

    Were seen (by whomever), of course, does not mean fact. It is also misleading. Plenty of people saw the Communists as they were, at the time, and what they were doing to the Republican movement from the inside. Others also knew what they’d done to the Ukrainian and Belorussian nationalists, Georgians, Central Asians, and every other group and interim government that’d already been demolished and cleansed in the early 1920s following the reversal of Lenin’s opportunistic minority policy.

    I understand the point you’re trying to make, but no need to whitewash the stupidity of the Soviet apologists - who had plenty of evidence available, but didn’t want to see, or blacklisted the sources that made it available. Much of course was spread through the efforts of emigres or otherwise “reactionary” origins, though even liberals and social democrats were labeled reactionaries for saying bad words about the intelligentsia’s previous opium.

    As it was, the Republican movement as a whole was as much to blame for the Civil War as the Nationalists anyway, and hardly a prize to begin with, even before the Stalinists began purging the better elements.

  9. 9
    MlR Said:
    4:47 pm 

    “I understand the point you’re trying to make, but no need to whitewash the stupidity of the Soviet apologists”

    Not to imply you’re doing it intentionally, because I know your political opinions too well for that to be the case.

    But it is amazing how much of popular history concerning that time period is absolute crap, most of it being written by academics and journalists politically, ideologically, and emotionally invested.

    I suspect history books 30 years hence covering the hot-topic events of today will be the same.

    Luckily, or unluckily, as a young person I’ll probably have the opportunity to read them.

    Just don’t read Chomsky whose take on some aspects of history - social history - is fascinating. But I made the mistake of reading that piece I linked prior to writing my post which only confused me a little.

    ed.

  10. 10
    funny man Said:
    5:43 pm 

    It is true that Hitler only got a bit over 30% of the vote (and then there were other undemocratic parties e.g. national conservatives, communists) (thanks for pointing that out). It was only after the ‘Ermaechtigungs Gesetz’ that he seized power and got rid of any opposition. However, as in Germany and Gaza these people have (had) popular support. I just wanted to point out that when you have someone like Hitler or Hamas running the show, innocent people will be killed through no fault of their own.

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