Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Andrew Sullivan: Proportionality and Terror

Proportionality And Terror
by Andrew Sullivan
The Daily Dish (The Atlantic)

Noah Pollak asked me to provide some framework for a discussion of proportionality and just war theory with respect to the Israeli attack on Gaza. In re-reading my Catechism and brushing up on just war theory, I am struck first of all by how alien the context seems for the current war. The asymmetric nature of the threat and the emergence of failed states run by mafioso religious fanatics makes everything more complicated. You could argue that this makes just war theory more important, rather than less, since we are in danger of having the rules of war dictated by barbarians. Or you could argue, along with the neocons, that Jihadist barbarism demands a response in kind. I favor the first view. And it is nonetheless fair to say, I think, that Israel's actions in Gaza fail every traditional just war justification.

In the history of the West, the laws of war are clear enough. You do not launch a just war if it leads to greater evils than the status quo ante. There must be a reasonable proportion between means and ends. Both sides should be able to acknowledge common human values, even as they fight over territory or ideology. And yet Hamas has never done this; has no capacity for abiding by even minimal moral norms, believes it has a moral responsibility to eradicate the Jewish state, and certainly finds the universalist and liberal moral law embedded in Western and largely Christian culture meaningless outside Islamic hegemony. Israel, for its part, is on a different moral plane than Hamas. Its internal critics write op-eds; they are not taken out and shot. But, in the face of what is, essentially, a 60 year war against enemies on all sides and within, it has long since disappeared down the self-reflecting mirrors of survivalist logic and existential panic. It looks to me like a society in danger of losing its sense of restraint to the logic of violence. It is lashing out because it feels it can do no other and senses its long-term survival at stake. Even if violence does not solve the problem and may make it worse, war can seem a better option now than disappearing passively in the next couple of decades. The stunning near-unanimity of Israelis behind the Gaza attack is proof of this. In Israel, it seems, it is always America in 2002.

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