Thursday, August 31, 2006

Ripe Cherries and the Advantages of Seeing in Technicolor

I begin this post with a hat tip to my father who gave me its central metaphor. Someone once commented to him that the moral world was not black and white but shades of gray and he said that was an oversimplification; really the moral world is in technicolor

It is a revealing metaphor. To see in black and white implies some concept of gray. It is a polar way of thinking, but thinking in polarities does not preclude recognizing that some things like between the poles. But (to switch metaphors) it is a one-dimensional way of thinking. Things are either good, evil, or somewhere in between, but no allowance is made for width or depth. To see in technicolor, on the other hand, is to see the world in its full complexity. It may be that black and white thinkers have a point, to see in technicolor is to lose some moral clarity. Judging a dazzling array of colors, it is not always easy to tell exactly which one is lighter or darker, as a black and white thinker can easily see. Be it gives us access to a huge array of information forever denied to one who sees in black and white.

Another important point. People with color vision have some concept of what it means to see in black and white. Indeed, all of us see in black and white when the light is very dim. (Or, extending the metaphor, when we have a poor understanding of a situtation, even people with moral color vision oversimplify and may try to reduce it to a simple case of good guys versus bad guys. As we come to understand it better, we better appreciate its complexity). On the other hand people who see in black and white have no concept of color. Trying to talk to them about brilliant shades of green and purple and gold they are apt to dismiss the whole discussion as absurd sophistry. Black is black and white is white. What is this nonsense about green and purple and gold? Must be some liberal obfuscation.

People who lack color vision can miss important information. Hunters can wear bright orange in the green forest and deer, who lack color vision, cannot see them. (I assume it is not safe for color blind people to hunt alone). I remember well a color blind classmate who said that he cannot see ripe cherries on a tree. The leaves are bright green and the cherries are bright red, but they are about the same darkness (something a person with color vision might well not realize), so he could not look at the tree and see them. I believe that people who see the moral world in black and white can look over differences just as important.

Of course, this metaphor is imperfect. People with color vision know better than to trust their eyes in poor light. If they first see the cherry tree after dark, they will go back in the morning to see if there are cherries. And color blind people know that their condition is abnormal. If they want to know if there are cherries on the tree, they will either ask a friend with color vision, or look up close for round things. But to think in these terms, of the Manichean view as a sort of moral color blindness is, I think, a valuable insight.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Democracy and Human Rights

When Bush or his followers are asked to name a success in their Middle Eastern policy, they are most likely to point to the elections in Iraq as proof that a democracy (admittedly troubled) has been established. What this proves, more than anything else, is the danger of making a fetish of elections and assuming that once a country holds an election, "democracy" has been established. Bush proclaims Iraq as democratic because it has an elective government. Iraq'a elective government is allied with death squads that kill men of military age for being named Omar or Bakr because those were the names of Sunni Caliphs. Given the choice between an elective government that kills men for being named Omar or Bakr and a non-elective government executes only for actual crimes, I trust most people would decide there are more important things than elections.

This electoral fetish did not begin with George W. Bush. It has been Republican policy since Ronald Reagan's presidency. Ronald Reagan abandoned Jimmy Carter's policy of giving at least lip service to human rights and instead backed the most savage violations of human rights by Central American governments so long as they were fighting Cuban-aligned rebels. Yet he also insisted that the Central American governments hold elections so he could claim that they were "democratic," even as their armies ran murderously amuck. This is not the place to analyze whether this policy should be considered vindicated, or to determine what went wrong with Carter's human rights policy. But I believe it is time to revisit Carter's system of classifying human rights because I believe that this approach, though unfamiliar to most Americans, sets a far more reasonable set of priorities than a policy that makes elections the be-all and end-all.

Jimmy Carter's human rights policy classified human rights into three categories and set a clear hierarchy of their importance. The first and most important category were the rights of "personal integrity" such as protection from torture, cruel, inhumane or degrading punishment, arbitrary arrest, invasion of the home, and punishment without due process. Second and intermediary were economic and social right such as access to education, medical care, clean water and sanitation. The third category, given the lowest priority, were "civil and political" rights such as freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, elections and the like. This approach is unfamiliar to our way of thinking. We tend to think (proudly) in terms of our Bill of Rights between rights that makes no distinction personal integrity and freedom of (political) expression, and makes no mention of a right to services at all.

But the distinction between rights of personal integrity and rights of political expression is a valid one. Consider the following hypothetical. There are two countries, which we will call Country A and Country B. Neither of them allows free elections, opposition political parties, criticism in the press, or anti-government demonstrations. In Country A demonstrations are broken up by government backed thugs who scatter the demonstrators and beat the ones nearest the thugs. In Country B such demonstrations turn into massacres. In Country A people who publish critisms of the government or try to organize an opposition receive rigged trials and sentances of three to six months imprisonment. In Country B such people turn up as tortured and mutilated corpses on the roadside. In which country does a democratic reform movement have a better chance of success?

And whether one wishes to call them rights or services, access to education, health care, clean water, sanitation and the like matter to a country's democratic prospects. The Bush administration has made amply clear that it considers democratic elections valid only if we like the results. The election of certain parties, it fears, amounts to "one man, one vote, one time." These fears are at least sometimes valid. Well, who tends to win elections? The answer is usually, whoever delivers services best. It becomes critical, then, to a country's democratic prospects for either government or pro-democratic private actor to deliver needed services, or some very dangerous people may beat them to it and win elections as a result.

The most obvious flaw in Carter's original concept of human rights is that it was hopelessly naive about how vicious some governments can be. Violations of "personal integrity" are not limited to torture, "cruel, inhumane and degrading" punishment, arbitrary arrest, intrusions on the home, and denial of due process. Over time, the State Department added extra-judicial killings and "disappearances" to the list. But even that is not adequate. The whole formula failes to account for massacres, mass murder, ethnic cleansing, uprooting whole communities, etc. The Reagan adminstration tended to excuse such things in Central America on the grounds that they were happening in the context of a civil war. But that just goes to show that if we favor democracy and/or human rights, avoiding civil wars needs to be our top priority.

So, what do I recommend? First, acknowledge that human rights are more important than elections and, indeed, that respect for human rights is a necessary precondition for successful democracy building and should preceed elections. Next, set some basic priorities for ranking the importance of human rights and governments' records. Governments that engage in massacres, mass murder, ethnic cleansing, uprooting of entire communities, etc. are the very worst human rights violators. Violations on such a scale most typically take place in the context of civil war. So, let us give priority to avoiding or resolving civil wars. Negotiations, diplomatic pressure, assistance to the losing side and, in extreme cases, humanitarian intervention may all be in order.

As for government that engage in such egregious violations of human rights outside the context of a civil war (Saddam Hussein may fairly be called one), there is great controversy on whether a policy of isolation or engagement, pressure or neutrality is best. Much the same goes for government that engage in more ordinary violations of "personal integrity" rights such as occasional killings, torture, arbitrary arrest, denial of due process etc. Throughout the Cold War we tended to fit such governments into one of two categories. Either they were Communists, in which case we sought to isolate and undermine them, or else they were anti-Communist, in which case we actively supported and often aided their human rights violations in the name of fighting Communism. Carter's human rights policy was a clumsy and not very successful attempt to move away from such a policy. George W. Bush is expressing an aversion to adopting adopting such a policy in the War on Terror, but has not come up with any very good alternative. A good starting place would be to recognize that there is a difference between tolerating or dealing with governments that violate human rights and actively assisting them in their rights violations. Let us explore the wide range of intermediate options and see which ones do most to promote respect for rights of personal integrity. This will not happen until we recognize the importance or respect for such rights and make it our clear priority.

Our next priority should be a combination what is known as building civil society and attention to what Carter called economic and social rights. Building a civic society means creating independent institutions outside the control of government and is a necessary precondition for democracy. That is one reason why deomocracy is so hard to build in the wake of a tyrant on the scale of Saddam Hussein; such tyrants set out to destroy all civic institutions as threats to their power. Such institutions need to regrow before democracy can flourish. It has long been U.S. policy to give aid to such institutions in countries where they are weak, and that policy should continue. In building such institutions, we need to pay more attention to delivering education, health care, sanitation and other services. Having a good system of services in the first place is the best way to keep dangerous demogogues from building a following by delivering such services. We should be encouraging governments, as a matter of pure self-interest, to give priority to basic services for the poor. We should also encourage democratic reformers and other friendly actors to get into the service business before someone else does. And since any society's ability to deliver services necessarily depends on its wealth, we should also encourage policies that encourage both rapid economic growth and fairly equal distribution.

Some may criticize this approach for slighting "civil and political" rights such as freedom of the press, political parties, and free elections. More reasonably, I am laying the basis for such rights. Civil and political rights are best developed by local initiative. Democratic reformers can operate in a non-democratic society that shows reasonable respect for rights of personal integrety. They are most likely to gain a following if they address people's immediate and concrete needs (such as bread and butter issues) and note merely abstract rights and principles. Imposing democracy at gunpoint is, as we are seeing, unlikely to be a successful policy. Democracy is far more likely to take hold if it is the product of local initiative and local movement.

If society is non-democratic but peaceful, if it offers due process and refrains from abusive treatment and other violations of personal integrity, if it experiencing economic growth widely shared and delivering basic services, if it independent institutions outside of government control, then the final push to democracy is far more likely to be successful and lasting than if a tyranny is suddenly replaced with elections before society has any chance to recovery. And if there is no local movement for democracy, perhaps it is because most people perceive such a society as really not so bad after all.


Saturday, August 26, 2006

This Time It's Rich Lowry

Just when I thought I was going to give Hezbollah a break, yet another column comes up that I cannot let go. Why, oh, why do I keep letting the warmongers get to me? This one is by Rich Lowry at the National Review Online.

Lowry is outraged that the French, after tricking us into agreeing on a ceasefire in Lebanon by promising a large force that would take on Hezbollah and is now only agreeing to send in a small force that will not take on Hezbollah. He regards the treacherous French as undermining our noble and idealistic attempt to "craft a long-term solution" to the problems in Lebanon. Omitted from this account is that our noble and idealistic attempt to craft a long-term solution in southern Lebanon included supporting the Israelis as they uprooted the inhabitants of southern Lebanon (as much as a quarter of Lebanon's total population) and demolished much of Lebanon's infastructure. The treacherous French "snookered" us into agreeing to an end to the war.

What Lowry appears to want is not an end to the war, but a continuation of it, only with a UN force (which would be led by the French) fighting instead of an Israeli force. The French said, no thanks. Treacherous frogs! A dose of reality for Lowry, Krauthammer and any other warmonger who considers Hezbollah's existence to be intolerable. Hezbollah is not going to disarm voluntarily. The Lebanese army is no match for Hezbollah. No one else is willing to undertake the prolonged, messy, bloody business and significant casualties that will be required to disarm Hezbollah by force. Ergo: Hezbollah is going to be around a while. Deal with it.

Significantly, even Israel was not willing to undertake the large-scale ground campaign that would be needed to crush Hezbollah. International pressure obviously had a great deal to do with this. The casualties involved were also a factor. But undoubtedly another reason is that Israel (unlike purportedly pro-Israeli hawks) understands that Hezbollah's offensive capacity is minimal. Hezbollah is not an existential threat to Israel, only an annoying border war. Over the past six years (since Israel withdrew from Lebanon) far more Israelis have been killed in suicide bombings related to the intafada than in border clashes with Hezbollah. And if the Israelis, who are by far the most menaced by Hezbollah, are unwilling to do what it takes, why should the French, who are not menaced at all?

Lowry then goes on to lament everyone else's weak will in contronting North Korea, Iran, Iraq, etc. He calls the United States "the world's only responsible power." Apparently no one else is willing to be as responsible for starting wars as we are.

He concludes with a warning:

When Bush is gone, conservative foreign policy will change. But it won't be a change the foreign-policy establishment likes. . . . It will be something more selfish and hardheaded, something more French in its motivation -- Bush without the soft touches. Then, the world will miss the earnest do-gooding United States of old.

Well, of course, this depends on what Lowry means. If being more hardheaded means being more reality-based and requiring a good reason for the wars we start, I am all for it. But I suspect that he means U.S. policy in the Middle East will more and more resemble Israel's recent policy in Lebanon -- only on a larger scale.


Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Charles Krauthammer Gears Up For Round Two

It's amazing. The guns have scarcely fallen silent in Lebanon, the blood has scarcely had time to dry and Charles Krauthammer is already gearing up for Round Two. Israel, he complains, failed to disarm Hezbollah on the first attempt by trying to do it mostly by air power. Neither the Lebanese army nor the U.N. force that will supposedly arrive in southern Lebanon, has any prospects of doing so. We have merely restored the status quo ante that was so intolerable, setting the stage for the inevitable round two. The only way to avoid it is for the U.N. force to disarm Hezbollah and fast. Otherwise Israel will have no choice but to initiate Round Two and do it right.

Krauthammer is certainly right about a few things. Hezbollah is not going to voluntarily disarm, and no serious person ever expected them to. When a war ends more or less in a tie, expecting one party to mark the peace by disarming is completely unrealistic. What are the prospects of either the Lebanese army or the U.N. peacekeepers disarming Hezbollah by force? I would say zero.

That leaves Israel. Krauthammer says that once Israel began the ground offensive in earnest, they would eventually have destroyed Hezbollah, "albeit at great cost to itself, Lebanon, and Israel's patron, the United States." That is why Israel agreed to a cease-fire. For Round Two, Israel will show no "hesitency" and not try to win by air power, but will fight the messy, bloody ground war necessary to root out Hezbollah. Krauthammer skips over just how messy and bloody that will be. Hezbollah is formidable, at least on its own soil. It has an impressive network of underground bunkers, high-tech modern weaponry, and a dedicated and disciplined force with a lot of experience resisting Israeli invaders. Krauthammer says that Hezbollah has been weakened by the war, but it will rearm fast. What makes him think that the next war will be any easier than this one?

And then there are those pesky rockets. The usual estimate is that Hezbollah had some 13,000 of them and fired less than half at Israel. Particularly, they withheld the longest range of rockets. This means that even defeating Hezbollah south of the Litani, and perhaps even further, will not make Israel safe, so long as Hezbollah retains its rockets anywhere in Lebanon. Perhaps tolerating rocket attacks during the war may seem like an acceptable trade-off in exchange for complete safety afterward, given the minimal damage Hezbollah's rocket caused. This makes the analysis of CIA analyst Ray Close truly frightening -- that the limited damage caused by Hezbollah's rockets was not because of their limited fire power, but their lack of aim. Close believes that with better aim, the rockets could have killed thousands. He also anticipates that Hezbollah will now make improving its guidance system a top priority. In Round Two the air power may not be all on one side.

All of which leaves an important question unanswered. Why was the status quo ante so intolerable as to make all-out war worthwhile? It is pointless to say that Hezbollah's evil intentions were a mortal threat to Israel. Evil intentions are deadly only when backed by the force to carry them out. Hezbollah's prospects of actually invading Israel were nil. Hezbollah's rockets so far were singularly unimpressive. Nor was Hezbollah terrorizing Israel with suicide bombings, as were the Palestinians. What Hezbollah and Israel had was an ongoing, low-grade border war. This was not pleasant, but it was a manageable threat, considerably less than the threat of terrorism from the West Bank. Nor does Hezbollah seem as crazy as some people believe. After all, it has been pointed out, Hezbollah did not begin firing rockets on Israel until after the war began, and generally observed the 48 hour aeriel cease-fire in mid-war. In short, the status quo ante did not amount to much more than an annoying border war. Perhaps I am a rash optimist here, but the presence of the Lebanese army in southern Lebanon just might serve as a restraining influence and and prevent even border clashes.

But to Krauthammer, the threat to Israel is only one reason to want to destroy Hezbollah's military structure. The other reason is the grand plan for freedom and democracy, which Syria, Iran and Hezbollah were trying to derail. Naturally to Krauthammer, democracy means the right to elect the candidate of our choice. He is greatly displeased that Hezbollah "insinuated" itself into Lebanon's democratic government. Hot news flash, any government that is truly democratic has to take into account the wishes of some 40% of its population. Trampling on Lebanon's Shiites is not "democratic." Either acknowledge that democratic elections will lead to some results we do not like, or stop pretending to support democracy altogether.

Of course, Krauthammer is right that Lebanon was always in trouble having a private army outside the control of its government that was more powerful and the official army and had the support of a large portion of the population. But he is dead wrong if he thinks that resolving the problem by brute force and war will do Lebanon's fragile democracy any good. So maybe he should come right out and admit the truth. We don't care about either Lebanon or democracy. What we really care about is our own power and influence.


Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Families of Duty; Families of Choice

Thanks to Orcinus blog for offering a link to an excellent article that takes a serious, insightful, compassionate view of a subject that so frustrates liberals -- why so many working class people vote Republican when it seems so much against their economic interest. The article, "Red Family, Blue Family" by Doug Muder, takes a serious, in-depth look at the appeal of (social) conservatism to working class families and discusses why seemingly innocuous liberal proposals can be very threatening to them.

The liberal/conservative distinction is describes is one between what he calls Inherited Obligation families and Negotiated Commitment families. An Inherited Obligation family is a typical extended family of the kind commonly seen in pre-industrial times. Extended families form a close-knit support network, helping and protecting each other. Unmarried adults live with their parents until they marry. Newly married couples stay close to the community to participate in it. Children care for their parents in their old age. People form life-long attachments within a network of kin. This entails obligations and duties to one's family and rules and roles that must be followed, but in exchange ensures protection against ever being alone and offers a regular network to draw on for material and moral support.

The Negotiated Commitment family, on the other hand, has no fixed roles or rules, but allows the members to work out whatever arrangements suit them best. And, as Muder points out, there is a basic asymmetry here. An Inherited Obligation family poses no threat to a Negotiated Commitment family. Indeed, many people who live in Negotiated Commitment families look upon the security and closeness of Inherited Obligation families with a good deal of warmth and nostalgia. But the reverse does not apply. Negotiated Commitment families pose an inherent threat to Inherited Obligation families, simply by making family membership and rules voluntary. Everytime liberal call for gay marriage or other actions to "broaden" the definition of family or make it more "inclusive," they threaten families of Inherited Obligation by making more and more rules voluntary.

Economics plays a role here, too. Professionals and people relatively high on the income and education scale don't need protection and security from the sort of family network that people closer to the margins need. General economic upheaval and dislocation make working class people more and more dependent on extended families. The weakening of government-funded social programs again makes the support of family and church more critical. And (although Muder does not address the issue) the weakening of unions has also undercut another important support system for working class people and once agan forced them to fall back more on relatives. All of which means that anything that allows families to self-define and makes family obligations voluntary is not merely a threat to moral values. It presents a real threat to economic security.

So, then, what is wrong with Inherited Obligation families? Who does not feel a certain attraction and nostalgia for families that stuck together and helped each other out? What is wrong with a close-knit network of mutual protection and support? One simple liberal answer is that it unduly infringes on the individual. Everyone's role is clearly set forth in such a system. A lot of square pegs are forced into round holes. But, one might say, what of it? Perhaps the benefit to society is worth the inconvenience to a few eccentric individuals.

Muder give the answer in another article, "It's Not Hypocrisy", namely, the Inherited Obligation model just does not work very well in today's society. A variety of factors are undermining it. Modern industrial capitalism call for a degree of individual mobility that undermines close-knit communities (as do the economic upheavals industrial capitalism can create). Growing ethnic variety introduces new groups of people, all with different concepts of Inherited Obligation. And mass media and general culture are calling the old obligations into question. The modern world cannot be shut out. As Muder puts it, "[O]nce the questioning starts, people who have been trained not to question are in trouble, because they have no answers. On the other hand, people who have been trained since childhood to question the rules until they find answers that satisfy them -- the liberal model -- are in much better shape." He goes on to point out that conservative states and conservative churches have higher rates of divorce (and drop-outs and teenage pregnancy, and crime) than liberal ones. In short, the old rules can no longer be maintained. Families with overly rigid rules are breaking; the only way to save families to to make them flexible enough to bend.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Hezbollah and the Drawbacks of Seeing in Technicolor

Sometimes I understand all too well the attraction of seeing the world in black and white. To the hard Right, life is simple. We are the good guys, anyone who opposes us is evil; therefore anything that advances our interests is good and no mercy need be shown to anyone who would interfere. To the hard Left, things are only slightly more complex. We are Great Satan. Our interests are therefore inherently evil and anyone who opposes us is, if not actually admirable, at least not all bad and therefore definitely the side to root for. The more fuzzy liberals do not see things so much in black and white, but do have a fairly standard formula to apply to conficts. Empathize with victims, root for the underdog, and be highly self-critical not, as with the hard Left, because you regard America as inately evil, but in hopes that if we do right, we can save the world.

But to those of us who see the world in Technicolor, things are far more complex and fraught with moral ambiguity. Victims deserve our empathy, but it takes more to deserve our applause. We regard as good guys only those who are genuinely good. And genuine good guys are all too rare.

Hezbollah is an excellent example. Hezbollah simply does not classify easily for one who believes in moral ambiguity. Hezabollah hold odious Islamic theocratic views, though speaking for a religious minority in more or less democratic country they do not try to force their views on non-Shiites. Hezbollah was trained by Iranian intelligence and supported the Syrian occupation force, yet they also have the strong support of the local Shiite population. They did an excellent job of providing social services for Shiites that no one else was able to provide and (as I understand it) their medical facilities and the like are open to members of all religions. They also maintained their power through relentless propaganda and partisan mobilization, a crypto-totalitarian enclave in a democracy. Hezbollah is a rigidly centralized, authoritarian organization, yet in a very real way it allows impoverished and marginalized Shiites a place at the table of power and a degree of control over their lives that they never had before. They offer honest administration amidst the corruption that is rampant in Lebanon, and also have a private army that threatens the fragile democracy. And finally, while Hezbollah fought as a legitimate resistance force against a hated foreign occupation, they also practice terrorism and maintain a constant, forever inflamed hatred of Israel as a unifying principle. So what is such an organization, good guy or bad guy?

And Hezbollah is not the only one. Throughout the Middle East, Islamic fundamentalists with vile ideologies and long-run goals are often also the best at providing social services and honest, uncorrupt officials. Hamas, too, became popular by a combination of anti-Isaeli militancy, social services, and anti-corruption, despite advocating a theocracy that almost no one supports. Even Muqtada al-Sadr and his Madhi Army provided security, trash collection and services to Badgad's poorest neighborhood, even as they terrorized unveiled women. (On the other hand, the more the Madhi Army becomes a death squad killing Sunnis for their religion, the easier it is to write Sadr off as a simple villain). Nor did this begin with Islamic fundamentalism. The roles played by such organizations now were once played by the Communist Party. And the crypto-Communist Hugo Chavez of Venezuela emulates his hero, Castro, taking genuinely idealistic measures to provide services to poor and marginalized people while also creating domestic spy network modeled after the one in Cuba.

And so it goes. While there are certainly people who deserve to be unequivocally condemned as evil (Osama bin Laden, Saddam Hussein, and al-Zarqawi, for instance), in many other cases things are simply not so clear cut. Moral ambiguity abounds in the world of technocolor. And sometimes the technocolor can strain one's eyesight and make the world of black and white look appealing. How I long, sometimes, for a straightforward good guy I can unambiguously root for.


Thursday, August 10, 2006

Evil Intentions versus Fire Power

I think I will scream if I read one more time that Israel has no choice but to keep pounding Lebanon to smithereens because Hezbollah intends to destroy Israel. If evil intentions alone could destroy Israel, Israel would have been destroyed many times over. Arab states have kept up a non-stop stream of evil intentions towards Israel since 1948, and look how far it has gotten them.

This is not a defense of Hezbollah's provocations toward Israel. Hezbollah should be absolutely condemned for killing several Israeli soldiers and kidnapping two more at the outset of the war. But a border clash of that kind stops well short of a mortal threat to Israel’s existence. The rockets Hezbollah is firing on northern Israel more serious. Indeed, even people who are no fans of Israel have pointed out that, since Hezbollah's rocket have such poor aim as to serve no valid military purpose, they are being used solely to terrorize a civilian population, which is a war crime. Even so, Hezbollah's rockets are causing only a fraction of the casualties and damage to Israel that Israel is causing to Lebanon. This is certainly not due to any lack of evil intentions on Hezbollah’s part; it is because Hezbollah lacks the firepower to do any more.

Even more grotesque are people who say that Lebanon's suffering is all Hezbollah's fault for caring nothing for the casualties they bring upon Lebanese civilians and continuing to provoke Israel by firing rockets on Haifa. Hezbollah is, indeed, showing a spectacular indifference to the suffering it is bringing on countless innocent Lebanese, and I suspect that once the shooting dies down Hezbollah will pay the price. (This also gives Hezbollah an incentive to prolong the war and inflict ever increasing suffering on Lebanon, which, once again, should absolutely be condemned). But this is a pathetically poor excuse for Israel's conduct. Once it becomes clear to the Israelis that Hezbollah will not stop its rocket attacks despite the brutality of Israeli retaliation and the suffering inflicted on innocent Lebanese, Israel's conduct becomes inexcusable. What possible justification can there be for reducing Lebanon to rubble when it is admitted that doing so will not make Hezbollah stop its attacks on Israel?

Early on during this war, I commented that to make war on Hezbollah is to make war on the Shiite plurality of Lebanon, and that Israel appears to be acting accordingly. That continues to be the case. Israel's defenders are effectively in the position of arguing that because of their support of Hezbollah, all Lebanese Shiites are fair game. But the fact is that once a faction gains a certain critical mass of popular support, that in itself tends to legitmize that faction. Whoever justified treating all Lebanese Shiites as fair game can end up justifying actions too appalling to consider.

In short,Israel's defenders are right about Hezbollah's evil intentions. But evil intentions form a mortal threat only when backed by sufficient firepower to realize them, and Hezbollah does not have anything approaching the firepower to creat an existential threat to Israel. Israel, on the other hand, has enough firepower to reduce Lebanon to a smoldering heap of rubble. When two enemies have such unequal fire power, it poses a certain moral obligation of restraint on the stronger party.