As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Carnage Breeds Carnage

Despite the UN call for an immediate cease-fire in Gaza, the airstrikes and rocket attacks continued this week. Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas has now urged a cease-fire and called for an international force in Gaza, with Palestinians manning the border.

Israel would be right to accept this. They are in a war they cannot win, without a real political strategy for victory, either:

I spent the morning at a lecture organized by GWU's outstanding Homeland Security Policy Institute's Ambassador's Roundtable Series featuring Israel's Ambassador to the United States Sallai Meridor. It was a profoundly dismaying experience. Because if Ambassador Meridor is taken at his word, then Israel has no strategy in Gaza.

Asked three times by audience members, Meridor simply could not offer any plausible explanation as to how its military campaign in Gaza would achieve its stated goals. Indeed, he at times seemed to offer this absence of strategy as a virtue, as evidence that the war had been forced upon Israel rather than chosen: "we have no grand political scheme... we were forced to defend ourselves to provide better security, period." With current estimates of 550 Palestinians dead and 2500 wounded, and the region in turmoil, the absence of strategy is not a virtue.

That's a stunning admission. They are dropping bombs and creating hundreds of martyrs in the hope that... what, that their families will not be angered enough to fight back? And we wonder why they hate us. There's this defensive argument that Israel couldn't stand by in the face of the rocket attacks. That only makes sense if you don't recognize that the attacks have INCREASED since the bombs began to fall. And without a plan to dismantle Hamas, the group will declare victory and grow more radicalized.

Of course, Israel cannot say publicly that their war is a domestic political matter, one that sadly, is working. But it's most certainly not working in the court of public opinion. Even in the U.S., as Matt Yglesias notes, there has been a much more evenhanded effort of the complex situation in the media. You can actually find a wide perspective on the conflict, from the aforementioned Time cover and this WaPo op-ed, musing about the efficacy of the action from a strategic sense, to a harsher tone in John Mearsheimer in Newsweek to these New York Times op-eds and this from Jimmy Carter and this from Juan Cole. And then there's this incredibly insightful story in the new Foreign Policy blog, again from Marc Lynch, that really makes clear how epic a mistake this attack has been:

Ayman al-Zawahiri has finally weighed in on behalf of al-Qaeda over the Gaza crisis, calling it part of the West's war on Islam and calling on Muslims everywhere to attack Western and Israeli targets. He sounds about as happy as I can remember hearing him of late. He probably can't believe his luck.

Israel's assault on Gaza has really created an almost unbelievable no-lose situation for al-Qaeda. If Hamas "wins", then al-Qaeda gets to share in the benefits of the political losses incurred by its Western and Arab enemies (Zawahiri mentions Mubarak and the Saudis in this tape, but not the Jordanians) and can try to take advantage of the political upheavals which could follow. If Hamas "loses", al-Qaeda still wins. It will shed no tears at seeing one of its bitterest and most dangerous rivals take a beating at Israel's hands or losing control of a government that they have consistently decried as illegitimate and misguided. Either way, the Gaza crisis guarantees that a far more radicalized Islamic world will face the incoming Obama administration -- potentially severely blunting the challenge which al-Qaeda clearly felt after the election (hence Zawahiri's attempt to pre-emptively discredit Obama by declaring the attack Obama's "gift" to Muslims).

The way this crisis is playing out shows the bankruptcy and strategic dangers of trying to simply reduce Hamas to part of an undifferentiated "global terrorist front". The Muslim Brotherhood, from whence Hamas evolved twenty years ago, is no friend of the United States or Israel but is nevertheless one of al-Qaeda's fiercest rivals. Zawahiri himself penned one of the most famous anti-Brotherhood tracts, Bitter Harvest. Over the last few years, the doctrinal and political conflict between the Brotherhood and al-Qaeda's salafi-jihadism has become one of the most active fault-lines in Islamist politics. As ‘Abu Qandahar’ wrote on al-Qaeda's key al-Ekhlaas forum in October 2007, the "Islamic world is divided between two projects, jihad and Ikhwan [Brotherhood]." [...]

From al-Qaeda's perspective, therefore, Israel's assault on Gaza is an unmitigated blessing. The images flooding the Arab and world media have already discredited moderates, fueled outrage, and pushed the center of political gravity towards more hard-line and radical positions. As in past crises, Islamists of all stripes are outbidding each other, competing to "lead" the popular outrage, while "moderates" are silent or jumping on the bandwagon. Governments are under pressure, most people are glued to al-Jazeera's coverage (and, from what anyone can tell, ignoring stations that don't offer similar coverage), the internet is flooded with horrifying images, and people are angry and mobilized against Israel, the United States, and their own governments. That's the kind of world al-Qaeda likes to see.

Nothing makes America and Israel more safe than a more radicalized world that is more receptive to violent extremism. While Jonathan Singer disputes this reading of the Zawahiri message, it's indisputable that the extreme violence Israel has unleashed does not breed compliance, but anger.

Sadly, this broader perspective has not extended to the political elite, who competed with one another to create the more unblinkingly pro-Israel resolution in Congress. While more House members rejected the resolution this time than the pro-Israel resolution during the Lebanon war in 2006, there is still a one-sided debate in Washington when it comes to these matters. There were rumblings that the incoming Administration is prepared to negotiate with Hamas, but the reality of that is probably much less than meets the eye. I think we're finally having a broader conversation in this country when it comes to Israel, with those advocating for peace through intelligence at least publicly vocal, but it's going to take a while to narrow the gap between that conversation and the one inside the Beltway.

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