Tuesday, July 25, 2006

More on the Disproportionate Response

Michael Byers from the Tablet weighs in on the issue. Key quotes:

"... self-defense must be exercised in a necessary and proportionate manner. Since there is no evidence implicating the Lebanese Government in Hezbollah's attacks, Israel should have restricted its air-strikes to Hezbollah targets. Instead, Israel bombed Beirut's international airport, striking at the heart of Lebanon's economy. It bombed roads, bridges, power and petrol stations, and imposed an air and sea blockade. It promised, in the words of the Israeli Army chief of staff, that "the clock will be turned back 20 years for the Lebanese people".

"Israel's reasoning must be questioned, since the destruction of infrastructure will actually make it more difficult for the Lebanese Government to exert control. The difficulty will only be exacerbated if - as has been reported - anger about Israel's disproportionate response causes support for Hezbollah to rise."

"Israel's actions indicate some disregard for the lives of innocents. ...Under the laws of war, civilians may be placed at risk only for reasons of military necessity. They must never be targeted to create political pressure, or for reasons of revenge."

This is in line with what I wrote earlier. It's worth keeping in mind that "proportionate" is not simply a matter of adding up dead bodies on either side. Rather, the overall evils caused by the military response (not just civilian deaths, but also factors such as destroying the Lebanese economy, targeting the whole of Lebanon for the crimes of a militia that is not supported by the majority, weakening a nascent democracy, and giving a boost to to Hezbollah and its patrons in Syria and Iran) must be weighed against the good of ending terrorist attacks on Israeli citizens, including the future threat of Hezbollah. In the words of the Catechism (#2309): "The use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated. The power of modem means of destruction weighs very heavily in evaluating this condition." It doesn't get much clearer than that.

Michael Walzer in the New Republic makes a valiant attempt to argue that the response may be proportional given that

"...Israel's goal is to prevent future raids, as well as to rescue the soldiers, so proportionality must be measured not only against what Hamas and Hezbollah have already done, but also against what they are (and what they say they are) trying to do."
He's right to take a broad comprehensive approach. But I still find it really hard to see how this is not disproportionate, given the scale of Israel's actions. Of course, as I noted before, most defender's of Israel's actions eschew traditional just war theory. The normally reasonable Jonathan Chait, again at the New Republic, said it bluntly:

"The real question, then, is not whether Israel's counteroffensive is disproportionate but whether it's working."
Hmm, end justifies the means, eh? This is why we need consistent principles of justice that are universal!

6 comments:

Kalle Anka said...

What's happening. No essay of the day? Well, here's a thesis. The Arab countries should muster their forces and tell the world that they will intervene on behalf of the Lebanese people by next Monday if no ceasefire is in place by then. And for the next Rome conference, every participant should receive a folder of 25 color pictures of Lebanese civilians killed and Israeli civilians killed. These folders have to remain open and in plain sight for the whole time of the fruitful exchange of views.

shadhu said...

Well said, but for this thesis have relevance we would need to be in an alternate universe--a place where the Arab government's have spine, where people are still touched by civilian, non-white, casualties, and where "peace" conferences are held in good faith. Of course that's all pure fantasy.

Morning's Minion said...

Sorry, the "essay of the day" model is not exactly sustainable.

While I think the Lebanese army is justified in defending itself against Israel, I would certainly not support of wider conflagration. This will only cause more civilian suffering. We need to put "retribution" from our minds.

kalle anka said...

so we're back to civil disobedience. the majority of the lebanese are doing it -- maybe not necessarily out of their own choice. but where is it happening elsewhere? where are the protests in washington, london, paris, berlin, ... you almost wonder whether the only honest people in this game is the u.s. government. yesterday, congress approved a few $$$ to provide for the displaced U.S. citizens who had to cruise out of beirut, while also providing the israeli army with high precision (sic!) missiles to hit un posts, hm, hezbollah strongholds. maybe someone should start selling wristbands to support the lebanese people. that'll really make a difference.

shadhu said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
shadhu said...

BTW, nice name, Swedish Donald Duck!