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Koan 1 — Bibi, Walt, and the concept of buffer zones

July 27th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- with sympathy for the real, while holding compassion as the ideal ]
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First, I want to requote two parts of the Times of Israel report titled Netanyahu finally speaks his mind that I quoted a short while ago in my post Israel / Palestine: some delicate balancing acts:

Because, given the march of Islamic extremism across the Middle East, he [Netanyahu] said, Israel simply cannot afford to give up control over the territory immediately to its east, including the eastern border — that is, the border between Israel and Jordan, and the West Bank and Jordan.

and in more detail:

Netanyahu didn’t say he was ruling out all territorial compromise, but he did go to some lengths to highlight the danger of relinquishing what he called “adjacent territory.” He scoffed at those many experts who have argued that holding onto territory for security purposes is less critical in the modern technological era, and argued by contrast that the closer your enemies are, physically, to your borders, the more they’ll try to tunnel under those borders and fire rockets over them. It had been a mistake for Israel to withdraw from Gaza, he added — reminding us that he’d opposed the 2005 disengagement — because Hamas had since established a terrorist bunker in the Strip. And what Hamas had been doing in Gaza — tunneling into and rocketing at the enemy — would be replicated in the West Bank were Israel so foolish as to give the Islamists the opportunity.

I am not blind to the force of that proposition.

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Indeed, what PM Netanyahu is calling “adjacent territory” in the case of Israel and the West Bank is, in my limited understanding of geopolitics, no different from what generally goes under the name of “buffer states” — and what Stephen Walt, not a great Netanyahu admirer to say the least, describes as the “immediate neighborhood” in the case of Ukraine and Russia in his FP piece The Perils of an Itchy Twitter Finger:

No great power is indifferent to potential threats in its immediate neighborhood, and all the more so when it has valid historical reasons to be concerned about particular areas. Furthermore, great powers are usually willing to do pretty nasty things when vital interests are at stake.

Walt approves the existence of the State of Israel, but not Netanyahu’s formulation of the exigencies of that State’s continued existence as a home for the Jewish people — yet in the paragraph I just quoted, he appears supportive of the concept of a buffer zone in the case of a “great power”.

Should “little or no powers” get a say too, Walt? Or are they not major enough to count?

And while we’re about it: Is Israel best seen as a Goliath towering over the Palestinians, or as a David caught between a swathe of Islamic states and the deep blue Mediterranean sea?

What if it’s seen as both?

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Okay, let’s take a step back — reculer pour mieux sauter. Here’s the koan as I see it.

On the one hand, there’s a certain grim reality to the idea that your own people won’t want mortal enemies sitting right on your doorstep — think of those Russian missiles in Cuba, for instance — while on the other, the people whose middle ground would provide a buffer zone between two more powerful powers wind up getting little say in their own affairs if the notion of a buffer zone is accepted and implemented.

Well, about this buffer business — do you don’t you, will you won’t you, Walt?

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I have called this wrangle of rival thoughts and emotions — of ideals and realities, pragmatics and morals — a koan: one of those unanswerable riddles that the zen tradition uses to break the lock of binary logic in favor of holistic insight.

If one starts with a premise that falls on one side or the other of the Israeli-Palestinian koan, there will be plenty of supporting evidence for that side of the matter, and precious little coming from the other side that can’t be argued away or dismissed… as spin, as hasbara, as duplicity, taqiyya even.

The koan itself has numerous variants, grand-parents and cousins:

  • is peace inherently and only peaceful?
  • is peace human nature? really? by no means?
  • must peace be warlike to be achieved?
  • are morals best taken as certitudes, or better understood as ad hoc guidelines?
  • and which came first in any case, the Philistines or the Israelites?
  • I have been smashing my head against these questions for quite some while now. I set out to explore them via the Said Symphony game, but seem to have dropped that particular attempt — and now realize I have been continuing the same exploration in the more informal form of a great many blog posts here on Zenpundit — particularly those in which I use my DoubleQuotes format.

    So this post too, along with a passel of recent posts on Gaza, continues that search — not the search for which side to support, but for enough altitude to see clearly across both sides of the Wall.

    **

    So: is the Wall enough of a buffer zone?

    Is it an affront that should be torn down, like the Berlin wall — or should its remit be expanded, perphaps, to encompass the whole of “Greater Israel”?

    Geopolitics seems to be pretty firmly rooted in the idea of the “outside world” — the world around us. And yet each person in that “world around us” has an “inside world” of their own, and in that “inner world” may find themselves “conlicted” or “at peace”. So that’s another dividing line, another border, another wall.

    **

    When I limit myself to the world around me and consider peace, it seems to me that the peace doesn’t arise in the absence of a sense of justice, at the very least a sense of justice agreeable for the sake of peace to those on both or all sides.

    But “inner peace”? — where does that fit into the “war and peace” picture? That seems to be a question that geopolitics by definition sets aside, ignores, and effectively denies: geopolitics is by definition inter-human, not intra-human.

    When I open myself to the possibility that “inner peace” and “peace-making” — in the sense of conflict-resolution — are somehow inextricably interwoven, I see the koan, the dilemma with fresh eyes.

  • Which comes first: the compassion, or the negotiated concession?
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    And her maid

    July 27th, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron -- the comparative values of single individuals captured by Boko Haram in Cameroon, as illustrated by a report from the BBC ]
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    The point was very nicely observed by Elizabeth Pearson, who tweeted:

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    Paragraphs 1 and 2 of the Beeb’s report mention “the wife of the country’s deputy prime minister” and “A local religious leader and mayor” — but you have to wait for paragraph 6 to read “and her maid”.

    What can I say? I both understand and regret the way this works..

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    New E-Book from John Robb

    July 26th, 2014

    [by Mark Safranski, a.k.a. "zen"]

    I have been a long time fan of John Robb’s Global Guerrillas blog for many years and strongly recommend his military theory book  Brave New War for anyone interested in changes in warfare in the 21st century.  If you have been following GG, you know that John’s interests have turned in recent years  from the destructive part of  Boyd’s strategic continuum (tactics-operations/grand tactics -strategy) more toward the constructive ( grand strategy – theme for vitality and growth) with increasing examination of economic, ethical, legal, cultural and moral dimensions of societal rule-sets.

    John has a new E-Book out, first of a series, that lays out his thinking in this area and how we can fix what ails America.

    The American Way

    My new booklet, “The American Way” is now on Amazon.  

    If you are wondering what is wrong with America.  This booklet provides a concise answer.  

    Also, this booklet provides a way to get us back on a path towards economic progress.  

    Be forewarned, this booklet is just the start.  I’ll have more concrete ways to do it in booklets to be released over the next three months.  

    Enjoy.  

    PS:  I’ve got a booklet on iWar coming out next month too.

    John gave me a preview of the manuscript and I thoroughly endorse the direction in which he is going with The American Way. America’s economic and political problems and strategic dysfunction have epistemological and moral roots.

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    Gaza: A Tale in Two Tweets

    July 24th, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron -- this is far from the whole story, just a mild irony really, an echo, and IMO more descriptive of our common humanity than anytning else ]
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    Here’s another of those “compare and contrast” things I do. Tweet the first:

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    And tweet the second:

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    I take these two tweets, juxtaposed, as indicative of something in human nature.

    I don’t much like it, that something – but I’ve never been put in a position where I regarded myself as invaded and occupied, nor one in which I was fighting people who use what I only call “humanitarian shields” such as schools and hospitals in which to hide themselves or their arms and munitions. I can’t say how I’d behave in either circumstance, and until I can, I’ll refrain from judgment and simply express my sorrow at the suffering shared by those on both sides in recent days — and tomorrow…

    Your take may be very different, of course. I’ll hear yours if you’ll hear mine, okay?

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    Rape as Strategy: Gaza and London

    July 24th, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron -- at least three ways of looking at a pair of tweets ]
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    If there can be Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird, there are at least three or four ways of looking at these two tweets:

    The similarities are eerie, the differences are enormous.

    **

    You could, I suppose, look at it as an Israel to London comparison, although I don’t think that approach would be particularly insightful. Or gang-members vs academics, which might be a little more interesting. I’d suggest, however, that the first way many people will read the comparison above will be as a statement about the Israeli-Palestinian situation: London fades into the background, a professor’s (from my POV intermerate) statement of a seemingly intractable problem gets equated with an actual gangland threat and praxis:

    On that reading, the juxtaposition is an indictment of the Israeli side in the current Gaza conflict. And that’s a huge pity, because the professor’s words were specifically not about “what should be done” but about “what it would take” to do the job — in this case, of getting suicide bombers to refrain from killing themselves and others.

    So from my POV the second reading, which critiques the first (IMO appropriately) is of a comparison between what in my diagram I’ll call “thought experiment” and “threat, tactic” — the latter word indicating that the threat is one that is carried out in practice, ie in the form of selective, vengeful, punitive rape of the daughters and sisters of enemies:

    Here is a little more of the context — note the professor’s disclaimer, “I’m not talking about what we should or shouldn’t do. I’m talking about the facts”:

    “The only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped.” This assertion was made by Middle East scholar Dr. Mordechai Kedar of Bar-Ilan University about three weeks ago on an Israel Radio program. “It sounds very bad, but that’s the Middle East,” added Kedar, of Bar-Ilan’s Department of Arabic. [ .. ]

    “You have to understand the culture in which we live,” said Kedar. “The only thing that deters [Hamas leaders] is a threat to the connection between their heads and their shoulders.” When presenter Yossi Hadar asked if that “could filter down” the organization’s ranks, Kedar replied: “No, because lower down the considerations are entirely different.

    Terrorists like those who kidnapped the children and killed them — the only thing that deters them is if they know that their sister or their mother will be raped in the event that they are caught. What can you do, that’s the culture in which we live.”

    When Hadar said, “We can’t take such steps, of course,” Kedar continued: “I’m not talking about what we should or shouldn’t do. I’m talking about the facts. The only thing that deters a suicide bomber is the knowledge that if he pulls the trigger or blows himself up, his sister will be raped. That’s all. That’s the only thing that will bring him back home, in order to preserve his sister’s honor.”

    Now, is that a valid disclaimer — or a slippery slope?

    Mileages, I fear, will differ greatly on the answers to that question.

    **

    But wait.

    What if you’re not a partisan of the Palestinian or Israeli side, but of a humanity long weary of wars but seemingly woven into them by nature and nurture — warp and woof on the loom of history?

    What if you’re a woman?

    I’m not a woman, and it is only through the promptings of friends like Elizabeth Pearson and Cheryl Rofer that I eventually get around to looking at this particular juxtaposition — and other analytic complexities as appropriate — with an eye to gender differences.

    Here the picture may overlay one or both of the previous ones — or obliterate their carefully-drawn distinctions completely. The picture is this:

    Wives, of course, too, aunts, nieces — wherever it hurts, whoever the adversary is honor-bound to protect.

    And some will say, that’s the nature of war! — and not be entirely wrong.

    What a world. And in it, across time, the minds and hearts that gave us the books of Isaiah and Job, the masses of Bach and Beethoven, the Mezquita of Cordoba and the Taj Mahal, Abhinavagupta and Chuang Tzu, Gell-Mann and Francis Crick

    **

    Sources:

  • Guardian: Gangs draw up lists of girls to rape as proxy attacks on rivals
  • Haaretz: Israeli professor’s ‘rape as terror deterrent’ statement draws ire
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