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Monday, December 29, 2008


As in the recent, brief war between Russia and Georgia, Israel's ongoing bombardment of Gaza is a lose-lose scenario for everyone: the Israelis, the Palestinians, and what is left of the U.S.'s reputation as a major world power.

First of all, the Hamas members responsible for the homemade rocket attacks against southern Israel are idiots. I cannot imagine what results they expected their barely lethal actions would achieve. Did they think a massive retaliation would bankrupt Israel, as Iraq did the United States? Surely, they were not naive enough to think that other Arab or Muslim states would intervene militarily. Saakashvili made that mistake in Georgia by thinking the U.S. would stand up for its ally. Ha.

Second, Israel's retaliation is out of all proportion to the provocation and is punishing all the people of Gaza, not just the idiots with the rockets. The Israeli blockade of Gaza, in place since 2007, has two main effects. One is that it reduces Gazans to abject poverty. According to the UNRWA (the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East), 51.8% in Gaza are now living below the poverty line, as reported in the Guardian for December 21, 2008. The second effect of Israel's actions is that they strengthen Hamas, as Tony Blair acknowledged in an interview published in Haaretz on December 21:

'"We have to be very clear on one thing," he says. "The present situation is not harming Hamas in Gaza but it is harming the people."'
See the article for the effects of the blockade on the Gazan economy. Blair does go on to say that 'Israel's options are difficult', but surely the scale of the current bombardment is the worst option of all. Together, the blockade and the bombardment are a one-two punch: the blockade prevents the delivery of medical supplies, and the bombardment fills the hospitals with the wounded and the dead. Both campaigns strengthen Hamas by reducing the capacity of any other entities in Gaza to deliver services and to compete for Palestinian hearts and minds. Bullies thrive in times of lawlessness and desperation.

The timing is interesting. Yes, a truce between Israel and Hamas has just expired, but the leadership vacuum in the States probably plays a role, too. Were both sides trying to get in their last licks before President Obama takes office? Does the Israeli government expect less of a free hand after January 20? That very well could be.

Events in Gaza and elsewhere remind me that the U.S. is no longer the world's policeman, something I never thought I'd be nostalgic for. The New York Times reported the following on December 18:
'In what would be the first modern active deployment of its warships beyond the Pacific, China appears set to send naval vessels to help in the fight against hijackers in the pirate-infested Gulf of Aden.'
Did you ever think you'd see the day when the U.S. could not or would not act decisively to defend petrol supplies from Somali pirates and the Chinese navy had to step in? And it's not just China:
'To help combat the sharp rise of increasingly brazen pirate attacks in the gulf, the European Union deployed its first-ever naval mission this month, a six-ship flotilla. The union’s operation, code-named Atalanta, joined other navies already patrolling there, including those from the United States, Russia and India.'
Will there be more or less warfare and chaos without the U.S. playing global cop? American indifference in Liberia, Somalia, Afghanistan, and elsewhere in the 1990's led to disaster; American action in Bosnia (too late!) and Kosovo stopped wars. If the U.S. withdraws from its twentieth-century leadership role in the world, will the world be better or worse off? Right now, the prospects don't look so good.

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Anonymous 42 said...

I grew up and lived my life during the second half of the American Century. We were an Empire that did not need to colonize. The world was forced to learn our language or their computer programs would not make sense. The movie theaters around the world played American movies. The world's economies looked to Wall Street to see how they should react to everything. Most importantly, we kept the Soviet bear at bay and when it was finally tamed, we stood alone.

I now look at my country and I feel sorrow. My children & their children will never know what it felt like. We have been relegated to also ran status. What took 150 years and two World Wars to achieve has been taken from us in less than a decade.

I look with great hope at the next 8 years. I pray that we will be what we should be. I want to be able tell my grandchildren some day that the great country they live in, has always the place that the rest of the world looks up to and that it won't be a fairy tale.

1:21 AM, December 31, 2008

Blogger Jeff Strabone said...

I can't be as nostalgic about the Cold War as 42 is. The U.S. government made a slew of messes around the world during those decades: Guatemala, Iran, Chile, and the big one, Vietnam. I am well aware of that history and cared deeply about it as a teenager while it was still happening (Angola, Nicaragua, etc.).

But now I look at the absolute chaos that breaks out around the world, and I wonder what was worse: localized suffering in Cold War-proxy hot spots, or the limitless depths to which 'failed states' can descend without major powers to hold things together.

Let me offer some specific cases. As the Berlin Wall was coming down in 1989, a rebellion broke out in Liberia. I knew that Liberia under President Doe, a tyrant backed by the U.S., was a major source of rubber and the site of an important CIA listening post in the region. Yet Presidents Bush I and Clinton did nothing as this strategic ally descended into a failed state in the 1990's.

When Siad Barré was overthrown in Somalia—one need only look at a map to appreciate its strategic location—it never crossed my mind that the meddlesome U.S. would allow seventeen years (and counting) of pure anarchy to follow.

I could provide more examples: Sierra Leone, Afghanistan, and a few others. The rise of failed states around the world has been made possible by the withdrawal of the United States from world leadership.

Israel's bombardment of Gaza this week is another example. Fatalities at Sabra and Shatila in 1982 range from the 300's to the 3000's, but it was not the actual Israel Defense Forces that did the killing. It was the Phalangists. One can argue about what the distinction is worth, and perhaps it's not worth much, but what's happening in Gaza now—massive, one-sided bombardment of Palestinian civilians directly by the IDF—is unprecedented and would never have been allowed in the past.

So, is the world better off without the U.S. as world cop? My mind is far from made up. Your thoughts?

9:39 AM, December 31, 2008

Blogger Jeff Strabone said...

Here is a question to consider. What was worse: Mobutu's kleptocracy in the former Zaire, or the last ten years of warfare in the Congo that have produced as many as five million deaths?

Yes, Mobutu barely held Zaire together and his rule certainly contributed to lawlessness in the eastern half of the country. I acknowledge that. But for me the big variable is superpower interest: were the Congolese better off with France and the U.S. propping up a dictator, or better off now with superpower indifference?

To the extent that that distinction is meaningful, I invite your replies. Or if you have a better question to pose, go for it.

9:45 AM, December 31, 2008

Anonymous Anonymous said...

The answer comes down to this: do you prefer starvation or brutal murder?

3:14 PM, December 31, 2008


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