Someone on Facebook recently wondered why it’s okay for the United States to bomb the ISIS positions in Iraq but not okay for Israel to bomb the Gaza strip. By “okay,” I’m pretty sure she was asking why the mainstream news media and our political leaders applauded one and not the other. She was correct to observe that while there has been almost universal approval of Obama bombing Iraq (except for those who think he should be doing more!), the press and politicos have expressed mixed feelings about Israel’s actions.
In my mind, both the United States and Israel are pursuing the worst possible courses from both a moral and a political standpoint. Neither country will achieve the stated goals on its acts of violence.
The Iraq situation is much easier to analyze, for the simple reason that no U.S. lives are in harm’s way and no one has attacked our country.
We hear two main reasons to bomb: 1) ISIS is becoming a destabilizing force in the region after having carved out major territory for itself in both Syria and Iraq; 2) We owe it to Iraq, which is a kind of “we broke it so we have to fix it” argument.
This second argument often comes from Republicans and their supporters as part of their program of blaming the President for the situation since he authorized final withdrawal of American troops from Iraq a few years ago. It’s as short-sighted and self-serving as the argument that Obama caused the Great Recession. Iraq has always been a glued-together country. Even in ancient times, the territory that was Iraq consisted of two and sometimes three national entities. Just as Yugoslavia fell apart as soon as strongman Tito died, so did Iraq splinter when the United States destroyed the strongman government of Sadam Hussein. The violent fractionalization of Iraq was predictable, and many people predicted it. It has also been painfully obvious to anyone willing to look the facts straight in the face that the country would remain a seething pit of terrorism as long as United States troops remained in the country and that it would soon break apart soon after we left. That’s exactly what has happened.
All the U.S. bombing can do now is shore up a corrupt and weak regime that does not represent all its citizens. It does not offer a permanent solution. Instead, U.S. bombing slows down the inevitable process of the various factions in Iraq coming to terms with one another, either in a unified country or in a number of smaller countries. It’s not likely to be pretty and will probably be violent, but with the United States bombing, it is definitely going to be violent and will take a lot longer to achieve. It’s time for us to leave bad enough alone by not bombing or committing any military action in Iraq, while increasing our non-military support for a newly elected government of Iraq that would be willing not to play ethnic or religious favorites. I’m not saying that ISIS is not a grave threat; what I’m saying is the U.S. position is too compromised from past actions in Iraq to help in the fight against ISIS. We should stay on the sidelines of the military battle, and instead increase humanitarian aid, call for and uphold an arms embargo in Iraq and Syria and coordinate with the United Nations on evacuation and diplomatic efforts.
Like the United States in Iraq, to a large degree Israel made its own untenable situation through years of harsh treatment of the Palestinians, brutal execution of wars and unwillingness to be flexible at the negotiating table. To be sure, Israel has not been alone in its unwillingness to confront the other side peaceably. Moreover, Hamas and its predecessors have conducted terrorist campaigns against Israeli citizens.
But Israel’s past harsh ways have never worked, unless the country’s real goals are to keep a population that it believes to be inherently inferior in a political and social structure akin to apartheid, no matter how much violence it takes. I do not believe this patently anti-Semitic characterization of Israel’s actions, which is why I can’t understand why Israel’s political and military leaders keep answering violence with an escalation of brutality. The numbers speak for themselves: 1,800 Palestinians dead since the latest conflict began, 70% of whom were civilians; fewer than 70 Israelis killed of whom only three were civilians. No wonder the mainstream media is giving the Israeli attacks a mixed review. And it’s no wonder anti-Semitic acts have increased in Europe. The contrast between 1,800 and 70 feeds the imaginations of anti-Semites everywhere. It makes Hamas even more recalcitrant and it encourages the funders of terrorism to give more money to their violent clients.
In short, the Israeli way to meet a slap with a sledgehammer has never worked and never will work. It would have been much better if Israel had reacted to the act that started the latest wave of violence—the kidnapping and killing of three boys—with a more studied, more nuanced approach. First and foremost, it should have insisted on due process to find and punish the killers of the boys. By not bombing civilian targets, it would have won the admiration of many in the West for restraint and perhaps convinced the other side that it was willing to consider a peaceful solution to the Palestinian problem. Secondly, it might have considered using drones to target known terrorists in civilian areas or tried some surgical operations similar to when it dismantled a Syrian nuclear reactor years ago.
But instead of trying to think of new approaches, Israel and the United States have both decided to default to the unworkable. And so “business as usual” continues in Israeli and the occupied lands and returns to Iraq. It’s a bloody status quo that shows absolutely no signs of transforming into something better.