If you're a conservative reading this, I know what you're thinking - typical liberal. Part of the blame America first crowd. How could this war between the Israelis and Palestinians be America's fault?
First, I love America. I chose to be an American. I think this is the greatest country on earth. And part of what makes it great is that it is self-correcting. It can take criticism and use it to make itself better. It is a country confident enough to not shout down dissenters.
So, let me offer you something you hardly ever hear in the American media. The American government had a great deal to do with the outbreak of violence in the Gaza Strip right now. The Bush administration demanded - against the advice of nearly every expert in the field and the Israeli government - that the Palestinians hold elections. They did. Hamas won.
When Hamas won, we could have pulled them in toward the direction of political action and reconciliation. Instead, we chose to isolate them, start a coup against them (read this terrific article in Vanity Fair about our attempt to overthrow Hamas) and further radicalize them. We made a mockery of the idea of democracy. We proved to them that we never meant a word of the so-called Freedom Doctrine. We only wanted elections in which our guys won.
This kind of hypocrisy has consequences. It sends a message that democracy and voting doesn't work. And our botched coup against Hamas had the effect of sending the message that violence is the answer. If you don't get your way, the proper course of action is to try to change the results through use of force.
We should have never insisted on the elections that everyone - but the inane Bush team - realized Hamas was going to win. It's not that elections are a bad idea, but it was too early in this instance. We should have laid the groundwork for Palestinians to vote in a direction that would have led to more constructive solutions. Instead, as usual, Bush was lazy and insisted on getting his way right away.
And if we were going to have elections, we absolutely, positively should have recognized the legitimate results of those elections and dealt with the consequences. In fact, this might have pulled Hamas into a governing role that demanded more pragmatism and a less radical outlook. It's easier to be a radical when you don't have to get anything done.
And on the Israeli side, we never urge caution. We always encourage over-reaction. Before Israel started this assault on Gaza, there was one Israeli casualty since the end of the cease-fire. Within the first couple of days of the Israeli assault, there are already 64 Palestinian civilians killed. And five more Israelis killed from more - not less - rocket fire from Gaza.
So, the attack has not accomplished its objective of stopping the rocket fire from Hamas - in fact, it's made it worse - and it has also killed a disproportionate number of civilians in Gaza. I do not find the argument that these civilian deaths are just "collateral damage" persuasive. It's easy to call them collateral damage when they are not your kids.
Which American would stand by and let another country bomb our cities, kill our children and then accept the excuse that the enemy was targeting military complexes but they just killed our kids as simple collateral damage? Would that sound persuasive to you if you lost your family members? Your wife? Your grandfather? Your daughter?
The US government's immediate reaction was to say all of this was Hamas's fault and that Israel was 100% justified in retaliating in any way they saw fit. And it wasn't just the Bush administration; Democratic leaders put out nearly identical talking points.
So, what does this lead to? More bombings from Israel and a further escalation of the circle of violence. We are not doing Israel any favors by encouraging their most hawkish instincts. Violence begets violence. They will never have peace of mind as long as these seemingly endless cycles of violence continue.
Of course, Hamas and Israel are also responsible for their own actions. It would be absurd to claim otherwise. But we can give them the right incentives and disincentives or the wrong ones. We can either push them toward reconciliation and settlement or we can push them toward more violence, war and mayhem. We have done the latter, for which we must take responsibility.
No doubt the next time a Muslim fanatic attacks American interests, we will say, "Why do they hate us?" The answer is very clear. We have pushed them toward it. They are ultimately responsible for their actions. But we must also be responsible for our own.
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