Ceci n'est pas une Analogy


Over at Harvard's Olin Center Middle East Strategy blog, Brookings Institution scholar Daniel Byman is puzzled by Israel's endgame strategy (if one exists) in its ground operation in the Gaza Strip. Amongst most mainstream commenters, there is little doubt as to whether or not Israel is morally justified in defending its citizens from Hamas rockets attacks—there is the issue of proportionality, of course, and more on that below—but it's an open issue as to whether or not its military response will further radicalize and already radical population. As Byman says, "Part of Israel's lesson from its war in Lebanon in 2006 and its withdrawals from Gaza in 2005 and before that in Lebanon in 2000 was that it did not hit back hard enough when provoked. Israel seeks to restore fear in its deterrent capabilities."

It is undeniable that as civilian casualties mount, Hamas, whose leadership frequently explains to those listening that it "loves death more than Israel loves life," understands that a steady stream of gruesome news footage will likely translate into even more support (hence the launching of rockets from civilian areas, the wiring of schools with explosives, etc). As one Gaza resident told Dutch radio, the people are, at this point, pretty united in their support of Hamas because "[Palestinian President Mahmoud] Abbas only talks, but does not take any initiative. Hamas is now the leader in opposition to Israel." As Byman points out, "If the world and most Palestinians come away convinced that Hamas won, then Hamas will simply recruit more, and its overall stature will increase. In addition, a perceived Hamas victory would further weaken the stature of moderates like Abbas and Fayyad, who look feckless as Israeli bombs kill Palestinians. This could ultimately lead to exactly the result that Israelis fear most: a Hamas take-over in the West Bank."

But back to the issue of a proportional response, which has been debated far and wide since the beginning (or, I should say, the latest phase) of the Hamas-Israel conflict, so there is little point in revisiting the arguments here. But just yesterday, the ubiquitous and omniscient lefty blogger Matt Yglesias decided to break it down for his readers using this simple analogy:

One time when I was riding my bike, someone threw a smallish rock at me from a housing project across the street. As it happens, the kid didn't hit me and everything was fine. But I suppose if he'd hit me in just the right way I could have been knocked down and injured. And depending on what the cars on the road were doing, it's conceivable that I could have wound up being run over and terribly injured. Long story short, it was a pretty terrible thing for the thrower to be doing. And this has been a sporadic problem in the city for a while. But obviously it wouldn't have bene (sic) right for me to stop, get off my bike, pull a bazooka out of my bag, and blow the houses from which the rock emanated to smithereens while shouting "self-defense!" and "double-effect!" And had I done so, and killed some innocent people in the course of things, and then I'd tried to say that the real blame for the deaths lay with the rock-thrower who'd started it everyone would look at me like I was crazy.

Now, having visited Sderot last year (where, incidentally, I spent the day with an Israeli peacenik), I have an enormous amount of sympathy for those hyperventilating bicyclists of Southern Israel, and I am obviously quite hostile to an illiberal political movement that hates dancing, gays, and dancing gays. But leaving that aside, lets fine-tune Yglesias's analogy: Imagine if Matt rode his bike by this project every day—and was attacked with rocks everyday. And imagine that the rock thrower was attempting to obtain bigger and more deadly rocks to target him and his Dalton School classmates. And imagine if the rock-thrower organized everyone in his project to, say, write a charter that demanded the liquidation of Dalton and its students. And one day, rather than tossing the requisite rock, the young project-dweller decided to kidnap Matt for a few years. And so on.

But I'm making a spurious argument, after all, because as Yglesias explains in the same post, he doesn't "believe in analogies, so don't read that as one." We won't.