Monday, April 13, 2009

Learning to Wage War?

You've got to feel for these fellows, the Juan Coles and Glen Greenwalds of the world. Back in 2001, when the Islamists finally managed to catch the attention of the Americans after years of unsuccessful attempts, it just so happened there was a Republican in the White House. How much difference this made to thousands of professionals in the various security and legal branches of the American government I have no way of knowing, but since the Cole-Greenwald brigade disliked many of their actions, they attributed them to the Bad Man at the top. (As did Andrew Sullivan, after a while). Their delirious expectations of Obama were fired partly by his different rhetoric on such matters as waging wars, and interrogating and jailing Islamists.

Alas, it appears the professionals had reasons for doing what they did, irrespective of whether an election had been stolen in 2000; now that Obama is at the top, they're still doing them. So you have Cole who can't understand why American forces are killing civilians in Pakistan, and Greenwald is getting ever more strident about the incarceration issues.

Personally, I can empathize with both of them. Killing innocents is awful, though in some contexts it is inevitable; jailing people without due process seems wrong to me, no matter who's in the White House. Yet they're refusing to see the threat to which those professionals are responding. The enemies of the West these days play by different rules than the enemies of previous generations; while the fundamental rules shouldn't change, applying them is a constant, never-ending deliberation. Israelis have known this for decades, as we've been facing the same enemies for that long; the derision that has been meted out to us for trying to find the correct balance looks ever more hypocritical.

Actually, it seems to me the Americans have not yet found the correct balance - a point on which I may say more later; but at least they're trying. Lots of others aren't, probably secure in the knowledge the Americans are.


Jay Adler said...

Yaacov, Cole isn’t worth discussing, but as to Greenwald and your closing remarks, Bush, Cheney, et al. have made finding the balance more difficult. To a great degree, this is an argument in the U.S. between those who believed the post 9/11 period to require law enforcement measures and those who recognized a new kind of warfare, with a new kind of combatant. This is, of course, not a new reality for Israel. In the U.S. this division was largely along left/right lines – but not exclusively. There were those on the left who saw the altered paradigm for war and supported new, hard thinking about it. Unfortunately, as in every other way, the Bush administration was the wrong one at the wrong time. Its constitutional subversions – best and most wholly summarized by its promotion of the dictatorial “unitary executive” notion – betrayed the reluctant, patriotic faith many placed in it. Instead, all Bush did was reaffirm a core American belief that increased power will be increasingly abused. Obama appears, perhaps, to be a true liberal who is also truly pragmatic and, maybe, even tough – a rare bird in American politics. But short of another 9/11 catastrophe, there may have been only one chance at finding both the balance you speak of and a national consensus for it – and Bush squandered it. I’ll look forward to the further thoughts on the subject you suggest may come.

Jay Adler said...

As a P.S., I wonder if you have ever seen the exceptional 1943 English film by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp.