Our endless "War on Terror": The truth behind an incoherent foreign policy

U.S. officials say Israel should not have to accept rocket fire aimed at civilians. But what about other nations?

Published July 14, 2014 8:33PM (EDT)

John Kerry                     (AP/Jacquelyn Martin)
John Kerry (AP/Jacquelyn Martin)

The implicit rules of what counts as a just or fair attack -- and what doesn’t -- can be discerned from recent statements by White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest and Secretary of State John Kerry. On Wednesday, Earnest made the following statement:

MR. EARNEST:  Well, let me start by saying that we strongly condemn the continuing rocket fire into Israel and the deliberate targeting of civilians by terrorist organizations in Gaza.  No country can accept rocket fire aimed at civilians, and we support Israel’s right to defend itself against these vicious attacks. (emphasis added).

Earnest, responding to a reporter’s question about whether there was any chance of negotiating a ceasefire between Hamas and Israel, insisted that countries have a right to defend themselves when their civilians are attacked. This appears to be the White House catchphrase, as Secretary of State John Kerry repeated the statement nearly verbatim.

The ironies of these statements should be obvious.

If it is completely unreasonable for countries to have to tolerate attacks aimed at their people and if those same countries have the right to defend themselves against external fire, then it must be acceptable for Palestine to defend itself. Yet, there is a resounding silence from the White House and most consumer news outlets in extending the same standard to Palestine. Surely, it must be an omission.

When NBC and Washington Post and other consumer news outlets confirm the clearly disproportionate response by Israel, then it’s plainly obvious that Israel’s line — that they are trying to kill Hamas’ commanders -- is a barely veiled excuse to “pound Gaza.”  Palestine’s rockets rarely kill anyone, due to their lack of precision and modest payloads, while Israel’s precision missiles are substantially more accurate and lethal. Even Israel’s National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror confirms that the rockets launched by Palestine are hardly a “game-changing Doomsday weapon.” Amidror is right: over the last few days, Palestinian-fired rockets have killed very few, if any, Israelis. Yet, scores of Palestinians have been destroyed by Israel’s missiles (100 civilians dead, including 18 children, according to the most recent count).  Surely the advocates of just war would agree that if it’s unreasonable for Israel to accept rocket fire, there’s even less reason for Palestinians to accept continuous assaults by precision-fired missiles.

Diane Sawyer (unknowingly) agrees. As Rania Khalek reported last week, the horrific scene of demolition by missile attack that accompanied Sawyer’s sympathetic telecast about the horrible deeds done to Israeli human beings were in fact of Palestinians in the aftermath of missile fire in retaliation for three Israeli teens who were killed last week. Surely, if Sawyer (and the CBS technical team that chose the clip accompanying Sawyer’s sympathetic narrative) found that clip emotionally heart-wrenching when they thought they were depicting Israeli victims of attacks, they would be inclined to extend the same condolences to the actual victims who are Palestinian. Sawyer has already tweeted an apology for the mistake. I’ll look forward to her heartfelt condolences for the Palestinians who are suffering — right around the time we hear similar sentiments from the White House.

In the meantime, the logic of Kerry and Earnest’s statements lead me to believe that the U.S. government well understands what Glenn Greenwald and others have been saying for years: that drone attacks exacerbate anger towards the U.S., and could contribute to the creation of new terrorists seeking revenge for the harm caused to their loved ones by the U.S.’s attacks on Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Syria and elsewhere. Presumably, the U.S. would agree -- by its own logic — that these countries do have a right to defend themselves against U.S. aggression. Is it any wonder that the War on Terror seems to have no end in sight?

By Falguni A. Sheth

Falguni A. Sheth is a professor of Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies at Emory University. She writes about politics, race, and feminism at translationexercises.wordpress.com. Follow her on Twitter at @FalguniSheth.

MORE FROM Falguni A. Sheth

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Drones Foreign Policy Glenn Greenwald Israel John Kerry Josh Earnest Palestinians White House