A behavior is strategic if it influences others by affecting their expectations. This principle of conflict resolution is one that is particularly relevant to the threats in today's world. Neatly defined and bounded states like the ones on political maps don't matter so much anymore. It's people that count. The safety of people across borders is as important as the safety of people within borders. This means that if you want ultimate victory, persuasion deserves as much firepower as coercion. American counterinsurgency doctrine enshrines civilian protection for Iraq and Afghanistan -- but this responsibility to protect people has huge implications for our general situation in today's world: Killing lots of people on the other side is not only ineffective, it is counterproductive. It hurts your cause. It gets more of your own people killed in the long run. Like Israel -- whose overwhelmingly violent response to Hamas rocket attacks seems to lack the most basic strategic or political meaning -- and where language such as "self-defense" -- words from the disconnected and bygone era of nation states -- seems quaint and almost entirely inaccurate.
"Defense" doesn't mean the same thing when one antagonist is a state and the other a networked organization. It's like the US Army fighting the Salvation Army. It's like Bin Laden versus the USA. The same sets of policies and tools don't work anymore. They make things worse. So political leaders (including our own) need to stop framing this deadly mayhem as some sort of justified or normal behavior. If we don't start with our best friend, when will we ever understand how the nature of danger has changed for good?
Yes the Hamas leaders are crappy and pathetic. Yes they risk their own civilians. That is not at issue. But these Israeli leaders are pathetic, too, so desperate to look tough. So concerted in their effort to spin the news-cycles of the world to their script. "Airpower" is another one of those words that needs to go on the vocabulary scrap heap. Why any of us ever believed that bombing terrified civilians would somehow inspire them to overthrow their horrid leaders is beyond me. And why any government thinks that killing lots of civilians on the side where the leaders use civilians as human shields will somehow be a dealbreaker has got to be the new definition of insanity. If the leaders are insufferable, work with others, like these folks.
It rings pretty hollow when those of us viewing can not only see who is doing the killing, but who is doing the dying. Policemen? Shoppers? University personnel? United Nations employees? Little kids? 3 Israelis vs. 300 Palestinians?
Israel, you are so better than this.
There are so many of us out here who want you to be successful, who admire the Jewish faith for its love of humanity and knowledge. We want you to prosper and to survive -- many of us have no personal dog in this fight. I've been in the Middle East once -- on a completely tourist trap trip down the Nile. I've never been to Israel -- but I identify with you like most Americans do.
You are draining your reservoir of goodwill -- Stop it.
Like many Americans who grew up in the '70s, I became fascinated by Israel after seeing "Holocaust" on television. In fact, I lived in Germany and traveled Europe for years trying to understand how the Holocaust could have happened. I am no scholar of history. But from Vilnius to East Berlin, I've found the old synagogues. I've sat outside in the rain on dark cobbled streets listening to ceremonies through open windows, I've seen where they used your ancestors' headstones as pavement to walk upon. I've beheld the stolen art. I'm sitting here now looking at a black and white photo of the Jewish cemetery in Prague that I snapped before the end of the Cold War. The sadness there seemed to me to reflect the entire continent. For years, I felt compelled to seek out these places -- I suppose partly out of curiosity, but also out of horror and shame that -- for whatever goddamned excuse -- we did not save the victims of the Nazis. That the rest of us did not protect your families. I apologized for this at every stop. I still do. I wept.
Israeli newspapers offer fine alternatives. Here's an example:
The line of self-control and the awareness of the obligation to protect the lives of the innocent in Gaza must be toed even now, precisely because Israel's strength is almost limitless. Israel must constantly check to see when its force has crossed the line of legitimate and effective response, whose goal is deterrence and a restoration of the cease-fire, and from what point it is once again trapped in the usual spiral of violence.
In less than two decades, the measures of national security have gone from being rational, linear and technological, to random, chaotic and very human. Those who want to survive need to modernize their toolkit accordingly: More persuasion, less coercion. More prevention, less reaction. More participation, less exclusion. More people, less machines, More life strategies, less death strategies.
Israel, you are better than this. You are not just typical. You have the wisdom of the universe in your borders. You have profound knowledge of why death doesn't fix a problem. You have the USA to help you.
Please, put the gun down. Move away from the gun.