War as reality rather than cartoon

Israel's candid acknowledgment of its grave errors and failures in the Lebanon war stands in stark contrast to the American right wing's fantasy world.


Glenn Greenwald
May 1, 2007 5:05PM (UTC)

Almost from the start of the Israeli war in Lebanon, Israelis were aggressively critical of their government's prosecution of the war. While most (though by no means all) Israelis were originally supportive of the decision to commence the war, public anger towards the government's ineptitude and refusal to recognize transparent realities intensified seemingly on a daily basis, until Israel finally agreed to end the war and withdraw from Lebanon -- a mere four weeks after the war began -- with almost every one of its proclaimed objectives unfulfilled.

In response to widespread public anger over the Israeli government's conduct of the war, a Commission was formed to investigate what went wrong, and yesterday it issued a scathing report eviscerating "the decisions of senior political and military decision-makers concerning the decision to go to war." In sum, the Commission "determined that there are very serious failings in these decisions and the way they were made," and it "impose[d] the primary responsibility for these failures on the Prime Minister, the minister of defence and the (outgoing) Chief of Staff."

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Among the "main failures" in the decision to go to war, the Commission identified the government's failure to determine if alternatives short of war (namely, containment and diplomacy) could have achieved the Israelis' objectives; the failure to understand that military strikes would not achieve the desired objectives; a refusal to recognize the risks and costs of the war (including missile strikes at Israel); and the fact that "support in the cabinet for this move was gained in part through ambiguity in the presentation of goals and modes of operation, so that ministers with different or even contradictory attitudes could support it."

And once the war began, the Commission documented that "even after these facts became known to the political leaders, they failed to adapt the military way of operation and its goals to the reality on the ground." Finally, the Commission concluded that "the Prime Minister bears supreme and comprehensive responsibility for the decisions of 'his' government and the operations of the army."

There are several important points highlighted by the Commission's report:

First, the contrast between how the Israelis address the failures of their war and the way Americans have addressed our failures in Iraq is depressingly stark. Whereas the Cheney/McCain/ Lieberman/Kristol faction continuously shrieks that recognizing our failures is to aid and abet the Enemy -- and therefore we should simply shut our eyes and yell "Victory!" as loudly as possible until we win -- the Israelis debated the war from the beginning as candidly and critically as can be, and recognized and openly acknowledged that it had gone terribly awry.

Similar efforts in the U.S. to investigate the grave errors made with regard to Iraq were continuously obstructed by the GOP-led Congress. Efforts to investigate how things went so wrong in Iraq routinely prompted -- and still prompt -- accusations of subversiveness and even treason.

The Israeli Commission's stark and open condemnation of the Israeli Prime Minister for his conduct in the Lebanon War is the polar opposite of the mindset embodied by the likes of Joe Lieberman, who infamously warned his then-fellow Democrats that "that in matters of war we undermine presidential credibility at our nation's peril," and who just recently warned that criticisms of the Leader's Glorious Surge should be stifled because they "encourage the enemy." And it highlights just how obnoxious and odious was Bill Kristol's recent attempt to impose on Americans the decisively un-American duty "to remain quiet for six to nine months" with regard to the war.

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Second, such sweeping criticisms of the Israeli war did not merely arise once the war was over. Objections to the war were loudly voiced by Israelis across the spectrum during the war itself, and it was those objections which likely forced the government to end the disastrous bombing campaign and counter-productive occupation. In August, during the war, Michael Totten was in Israel and reported:

The mood here in Tel Aviv is pretty grim, too. The Olmert government looks like it could collapse under pressure at any time. Hardly anyone in this country seems to think the air war over Lebanon was a good idea anymore. Hassan Nasrallahb

Israelis are far quicker to criticize their government during and immediately after a war than Americans are.

The Israeli war on Lebanon lasted four weeks and ended despite its goals not being achieved. The American occupation of Iraq has lasted more than four years and will almost certainly last another two more, at least.

The notion that citizens should refrain from questioning, criticizing or objecting to their country's war is -- aside from being patently undemocratic -- also incomparably destructive, as it eliminates (by design) a crucial mechanism for ending a misguided war: namely, the citizenry's demands that its government cease pursuing a failed or pointless war. Despite how destructive is the notion that war criticisms are illegitimate, that idea is widespread among American political leaders and our most "serious" and respected opinion-making elite. That is why the Israeli war in Lebanon lasted four weeks and the American war in Iraq will last at least six years.

Third, during the Israel-Lebanon war, right-wing devotees of Israel in the U.S. routinely accused those who questioned or opposed that war of being anti-Israel or, even more despicably, anti-Semitic. As always, they attempt to equate blind support for right-wing militarism with "support for Israel," and disgustingly characterize any deviations from their extremist ideology as "anti-Semitism."

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Yet now this Commission has concluded that the Israeli attack on Lebanon was ill-conceived, misguided, and harmful to Israel -- just as many opponents of that war argued it was. As is so often the case, the American faux-warriors who (from a safe and protected distance) mindlessly cheer on every act of Israeli aggression are the ones who inflict more damage on Israel, and make it more vulnerable, than virtually any other group.

Though they attempt to manipulate and bully acquiescence to their extremism by depicting themselves as the very embodiment of both Israel and "Jews" (thus rendering disagreement with them tantamount to both anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic hostility), they are nothing of the sort. As Totten reported back in August:

An even starker contrast is noticeable between Israel-supporters in Israel and Israel-supporters in America. Israel's partisans in the U.S. often talk as though Israel rarely makes any mistakes, that because Israel is a democracy with a right to defend itself it can do no or little wrong. Israelis themselves rarely do this.

There are few things that harm Israel more than the right-wing ideologues in the U.S. who run around posing as the embodiment of Israel and who exploit accusations of anti-semitism in order to stifle all questioning and criticisms of Israel and to compel mindless support for their particular strain of radical, endless warmongering.

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Finally, Israel issued this report even knowing that -- to invoke the Cheney-ite cliche -- it would "embolden the enemy." Predictably, Hezbollah immediately cited the Commission's report as "proof" that it won, that Israel lost, and that in light of the report, "no one will take us lightly from now on, especially since we have only gained strength of late." Israel obviously knew that the report would be exploited by Hezbollah this way, but it issued it anyway.

Mature societies do not make decisions by wondering what the Bad People want and then automatically doing the opposite. That is the mindset of a child. Had that perspective prevailed in Israel, they never would have issued this report, and likely would never have withdrawn from Lebanon at all --- because: "hey, Hezbollah wants withdrawal from Lebanon and will be 'emboldened' by it and happy about this Commission report and therefore we can't do any of that. We have to stay and fight and stifle criticisms of the war, otherwise Hezbollah will be happy."

But Israel recognized it did not have the luxury of concealing its errors or continuing to fight a misguided war, notwithstanding what Hezbollah might say about that. As the Commission put it: "No-one underestimates the need to study what happened in the past, including the imposition of personal responsibility. The past is the key for learning lessons for the future. . . One Israeli society greatest sources of strength is its being a free, open and creative (sic)."

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All of this underscores a fundamental difference between Israel and the right-wing faction in the U.S. For Israel -- whatever else you might think about its policies and government -- war is an extremely serious matter. They don't send other people's children off to fight the wars they cheer on; their own children fight the wars. During the invasion of Lebanon, missiles continuously landed deep in Israeli territory, killing killing or wounding hundreds and forcing hundreds of thousands to flee their homes or live in bomb shelters.

Unlike our chest-beating, play-acting warriors here, war is not something that Israelis cheer on for fun like a video game from behind their computer monitor or sitting on their sofa watching CNN or Fox. When they advocate wars, they pay a price. As a result, they don't have the luxury of shutting their eyes and pretending that things are going well -- or exploiting accusations of treason in order to stifle war criticisms -- or cheering on failing wars for years for no reason other than to avoid having to admit error or feel weak.

All of that stands in such stark contrast to the shrinking though still-substantial faction in this country who see war as a fun and sterile video game that never requires them to pay any price -- no matter how profoundly the war fails. That is what enables them to cheer on those wars for years without end, to urge still new and more destructive ones, and to childishly insist that there is something noble and compulsory about keeping quiet, loyally cheering on the Leader's war, and pretending that things are going great and we are on the verge of success.

Indeed, while the Israelis who were actually at risk from the Lebanon war wanted it to end, the crazed (and safe) neoconservative warmongers in the U.S. were furious when the war ended. And -- needless to say -- they ran around accusing everyone responsible for the war's end of appeasement and cowardice and all of their other inane war-cheering platitudes that have driven this country so tragically off-course.

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Only people who have adolescent views of war -- only people for whom war is a distant, cartoon concept and not a reality, the primary purpose of which is to endow themselves with personal sensations of strength, power and purpose in the most risk-free manner possible -- have the luxury of indulging such fantasies. That is why the Israelis do not and cannot, whereas America's right-wing pretend warriors embrace those fantasies with increasing vigor and desperation as the failure of their wars become more inescapable.


Glenn Greenwald

Follow Glenn Greenwald on Twitter: @ggreenwald.

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Washington, D.c.



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