Tuesday, April 14, 2009

A Right War, Wrongly Waged

According to the NYT, an airstrike by NATO forces - that would mean Americans, since who else has air power - yesterday killed six Afghani civilians. NATO officials denied killing civilians, in the face of confirmation from the local governor - keep in mind that NATO and the local government are on the same side, or supposed to be.

The bottom of the item tells of an unrelated Taliban atrocity elsewhere. The Times wants us to remember who the Good Guys are, and which the Bad Ones.

They are right of course, but wrong. The Taliban are a blot on the face of humanity, and they and their ilk are the mortal enemies of any reasonable person, including many of their own people and just about all their own women. Yet being at war with monsters doesn't mean you needn't think about how you're waging it; the two are quite separate levels of morality and have been recognized as such for centuries. The distinction is being removed by Useful Idiots and pacifists who would condemn all wars, the just with the criminal, because of their inevitable human price; losing the will and ability to wage just wars means condemning far greater numbers of innocents to far worse. By blurring the discussion the NYT strengthens those who would appease, obstruct, apologize and look away.

It is a sign of the weakness of the American public discussion that we need Juan Cole to call our attention to an article on a Pakistani website tallying the figures from American air strikes in Pakistan (not Afghanistan), and they're not pretty: 14 dead al-Qaida to 687 innocent Pakistani civilians. 14 to 687.

I can think of a theoretical scenario in which killing 14 exceptionally potent mass murderers might justify killing 687 innocents, if by killing the 14 one were saving a million. Is that what the Americans are claiming? Then they should say so and the public should have the discussion. Personally I'd be skeptical: the Islamist murderers are part of a deeply sick culture, and I doubt any specific 14 of them are irreplaceable. So far as I can see, however, that's not what anyone is claiming; rather, no-one is having the discussion at all. I don't even know if the numbers are correct, but there again, you need an open, public discussion to reveal if someone is systematically disseminating bald lies about casualties (a not unheard of phenomenon).

Of course I'm holding this up as a demonstration of the fundamental hypocrisy with which Israel is consistently treated. Yet I'm also calling for a real discussion on the merits of the discussion itself, not only so as to level some rhetoric field. The war against the Islamists is the most important war of our day because of the dimensions of the threat; it's necessary and moral. It must be waged morally, too.

Finally, back to Israel: Israelis are often castigated by their detractors for claiming to be morally superior to anyone else in waging war. Some antisemites pretend this claim is the root of their hatred - an unconvincing pretense. Yet this is precisely what we mean. The Danny Zamirs of Israel are not the Juan Coles of America, and IDF spokesmen generally wait until their fellow officers really have investigated before denying false allegations - or trying to learn from authentic ones.

1 comment:

Meryl Yourish said...

I wouldn't trust anything Cole sends you to.

I suspect the ratio of Taliban to civilians is highly different from what that site says it is.