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April 19, 2014 / 19 Nisan, 5774
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘international relations’

A Psychological Look Behind Jihadist Terror

Wednesday, June 6th, 2012

Sculptor Alberto Giacometti’s “Man Pointing” gesticulates ominously. Emaciated, skeletal, and tormented, the iconic sculpture is an artistic expression of humankind’s stalwart march toward suffering and recurring annihilation. Resembling the Swiss creator’s gaunt and unnaturally elongated figure, each of us has now become both a potential observer and a prospective casualty.

Today, as I have pointed out before in The Jewish Press, each of us is more or less threatened by jihadist sacrificial murder, a distinctly homicidal ethos that reassuringly (for the perpetrators) masquerades conveniently as “martyrdom.”

Where is Giacometti’s man pointing? Does he gesture toward the masses of still likely victims, or, judgmentally, to the always unrepentant murderers? Does his extended finger indict an entire species, or, rather, does it cast focused responsibility only upon certain discrete individuals or groups? Understood in terms of terrorism, especially the chemical/biological/nuclear threat now hanging perilously over the United States and Israel, the long finger points knowingly in several directions.

In the final analysis, the problem of all jihadist terrorism, including WMD terrorism, is a matter of primal human behavior. Moreover, such behavior is always the result of compelling private needs, and of seemingly irresistible collective expectations.

More than almost anything else, sometimes even more than the normally overriding drive to avoid death, human beings need to belong. This ubiquitous requirement can be expressed more or less benignly, as in familiar sports hysteria, or tumultuous rock concerts. Or it can be expressed grotesquely – in genocide, war, and terrorism.

Oddly enough, the underlying dynamic is always the same. In all cases, the individual person feels utterly empty and insignificant apart from his/her membership in the “herd.”

Sometimes that herd is the State. Sometimes it is the Tribe. Sometimes it is the Faith. Sometimes it is the “Liberation” or “Revolutionary” movement. But whatever the particular herd of the moment, it is the persistent craving for membership that can bring the terrible downfall of individual responsibility, and the terrifying corollary triumph of the collective will.

Unless certain of our fellow humans soon learn how to temper their overwhelming desire to belong, the prevailing military and political schemes to prevent and control anti-American and anti-Israeli terrorism will fail. To succeed, therefore, we will likely benefit more from an understanding of Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung than Carl von Clausewitz.

Today, the overwhelming desperation to belong is most evident in the Arab/Islamic world. How significant is this desperation to a real understanding of anti-American and anti-Israel terrorism? The philosopher Nietzsche can be helpful. Aware of the substantial harm that can be generated by the immense attractions of membership, Nietzsche declared with remarkable prescience: “To lure many away from the herd, for that I have come. The people and the herd shall be angry with me. Zarathustra wants to be called a robber by the shepherds.”

The most primary dangers of jihadist terrorism now stem from the combining of certain susceptible individuals into war-centered herds. Not every herd is terroristic, of course, but terrorism cannot take place in the absence of herds. When individuals crowd together and form a herd, the destructive dynamics of the mob may be released, lowering each person’s moral and intellectual level to a point where even mass killing may become altogether acceptable.

To understand what is happening behind the news, one must first recognize the manifest irony of terrorist objectives. Publicly, all Arab/Islamic terror is sacred violence, animated by the presumed will of Allah. In reality, however, the net effect of suicide bombings and mass slaughters is always to drown out any hint of godliness. By definition, there is simply no room in such “tactics” for human empathy, compassion, comity, or kindness.

In the presumed name of God, Arab/Islamic terror imposes upon the world neither salvation nor redemption, but rather the breathless rhythm of ritual murder and voluptuous killing. Although the killers would have us believe that God is their sole inspiration and their special witness, the inevitable end of all the delirium they create is despair. In the supreme irony of Arab/Islamic terror, the most conspicuous result of all this delirium is to prevent Man from remembering God.

To begin urgent investigations of already ongoing Arab/Islamic jihad against the United States, our scholars and policy makers should look closely at human meaning. To prevent expanding violence against the United States and Israel, Arab/Islamist terrorist groups must somehow be shorn of their capacity to bestow meaning. Even before this can happen, however, those individuals who turn to terrorist group membership must first discover more private sources of belonging. An underlying cause of terrorist crimes is always the continuing incapacity of individuals to draw authentic meaning from within themselves.

Israeli Security, Enemy Rationality, And Coming Global Chaos (Second of Two Parts)

Wednesday, May 23rd, 2012

“The blood-dimmed tide is loosed,” wrote the poet W.B. Yeats, “and everywhere the ceremony of innocence is drowned.” Now, assembled in almost two hundred armed tribal camps politely called nation-states, all peoples – not only the people of Israel – coexist insecurely on a plainly anarchic planet. The core origins of this anarchy lie in the Peace of Westphalia (1648), which put a codified end to the Thirty Years War.

In time, even with the United Nations, there will be no safety in arms, no rescues from political authority, and no reassuring answers from science. New wars may rage until every flower of culture is trampled, and until all things human are leveled in a vast and utterly primal disorder.

In history and world politics, anarchy is an old story. Chaos is not. There is a meaningful distinction.

Chaos and anarchy represent opposite end points of the same continuum. Perversely, mere anarchy, or the absence of a central world authority, is normal. Chaos, however, is sui generis. It is thoroughly abnormal.

Since the seventeenth century, our anarchic world is best described as a system. What happens in any one part of this world necessarily affects what happens in some or all of the other parts. When deterioration is marked, and begins to spread from one nation to another, the corrosive effects can undermine regional and international stability. When this deterioration is rapid and catastrophic, as it would be following the start of any unconventional war and/or unconventional terrorism, the associated effects would be correspondingly immediate and overwhelming. These effects would be chaotic.

Aware that even an incremental collapse of remaining world authority structures will impact its friends as well as its enemies, leaders of the Jewish state will need to advance certain precise and plausible premonitions of collapse in order to chart durable paths to survival. Such indispensable considerations are likely not yet underway. Ironically, the principal paths under serious consideration still seem to be the badly potholed highways of a “road map.”

Israel’s leaders are wasting precious time with their polite considerations of twisted and clichéd cartographies. Soon, they will need to look beyond Iran, and consider how best to respond to international life in a global state of nature. The specific triggering mechanism of our disordered world’s precipitous descent into genuine chaos could originate from a variety of different mass-casualty attacks against Israel, or perhaps from similar attacks against other western democracies. Even the United States would not be immune to this starkly remorseless vulnerability.

Chaotic disintegration of the world system would transform the Israeli system. Such a transformation could involve reciprocal forms of destruction. In anticipation, Israel should orient its strategic planning to an assortment of utterly worst-case prospects, now focusing much more deliberately on a wide range of self-help security options.

This is an idea I have considered before here in The Jewish Press. It suggests that, however counter-intuitive, “thinking the worst” can offer both individuals and states their best path to survival.

Truth may sometimes emerge through paradox. Realistic imaginations of collective national immortality – imaginations generally encouraged by false hopes and delusional surrenders of personal responsibility – can actually discourage Israeli steps to enduring self-preservation.

To be sure, it is very difficult to ask Israelis to reject American-style positive thinking and instead to imagine the worst. Yet, as Swiss playwright Friedrich Durrenmatt says, incontestably: “The worst does sometime happen.” Now, however ironically, it would be better for Israel to err on the side of excessive pessimism. Then, literally at the eleventh-hour, spurred on by the most conspicuously dreadful visions of catastrophe, the people of Israel could begin to ward off the genuinely intolerable interstices between Palestinian statehood, Iranian nuclearization, and regional war.

Israel’s persistently one-sided surrender of territories, its mistaken reluctance to accept certain still-timely preemption imperatives and its periodic terrorist “exchanges” may never bring about direct defeat. Taken together, however, these inter-penetrating policy errors will have a cumulatively weakening effect on Israel. Whether the principal effect here will be one that “merely” impairs the Jewish state’s commitment to endure, or one that also opens it up to a devastating missile attack and/or to major acts of terror, is unclear.

For Israel, anarchy and disorder are inevitable. What might still be avoided, are chaos and mega-destruction. What must first be understood, are the differences between rationality, irrationality, and madness.

Israeli Security, Enemy Rationality, And Coming Global Chaos (First of Two Parts)

Wednesday, May 16th, 2012

In the past few years, on these pages of The Jewish Press, I have written several times about critical strategic implications of “chaos” and also of “irrationality” and “madness.” Still, I have never written about the fusion or juxtaposition of these seemingly distinct issues. However, because there are increasingly obvious and important potential interactions between them (military strategists would call such interactions “synergies,” or sometimes “force-multipliers”), I shall now examine these utterly core security matters with a view toward acknowledging their possible ways of coming together.

In particular, the results could be very important to a better understanding of what is now happening between Israel and Iran. This will be, therefore, a helpful and consciously purposeful look behind the current news.

In defense planning there exist critically important differences between rationality, irrationality, and madness. An irrational leadership may not value national survival more highly than anything else, but it may still have a consistent and therefore predictable hierarchy of preferences. For example, it may always value certain presumed religious obligations more than any other preference, or combination of preferences. This unsettling prospect, as we all already know, is a distinct possibility in present-day Iran.

A rational leadership elite, on the other hand, in the usual parlance of security studies, will always value national survival more highly than all other preferences, and it will always respect this same rank order in its hierarchy of preferences. Significantly, just as with an irrational national leadership, this set of rational decision-makers will also have a consistent hierarchy.

Madness is a different condition altogether; in world politics it means not having any established rank-ordering of preferences. Hence, a mad national leadership, with no consistent ordering of preferred choices, will be more-or-less wholly unpredictable. For Israel and the United States, having to face a mad adversary must always represent the very worst case scenario. But, at least for now, perhaps somewhat reassuringly, it is the most improbable case.

Enter Israel and Iran. According to recent statements by former Mossad Chief Meir Dagan, “The regime in Iran is a very rational one.” However, considering Dagan’s corollary explanations of “rationality,” he is saying only that the Iranian regime is not mad; that it will prudently consider all decisional consequences. Dagan’s notion of Iranian rationality may actually resemble our above-referenced meaning of irrationality – that this regime carefully weighs all expected costs and benefits, and that its preferences will always fall within a consistent hierarchy, or rank-ordering. The bottom line is this: Dagan’s statements notwithstanding, the current Iranian leadership cannot be reliably counted upon to value national survival above all else. Yes, its authority patterns may be entirely reasonable, well-ordered, and even predictable (certainly not “mad”), but there still can be no adequate assurances of ultimate and certain decisional priority for national self-preservation.

It follows from all this that successful “containment” or deterrence of an already-nuclear Iranian regime should not be taken for granted. The resulting balance-of-terror might still not closely replicate the circumstances of mutual assured destruction (MAD) that had once existed between the Soviet Union and the United States. This might not be your father’s Cold War.

This brings us, quite naturally, to chaos.

Chaotic disintegration is an evident fact of life in several parts of the world. Today, substantial and even sudden extensions of this condition to other sectors of our planet are plausible. Even with assorted arms control and disarmament visions, including President Obama’s continuing fantasy of “a world free of nuclear weapons,” it is credible to expect, somewhere, an eventual fusion of mass destruction weapons with irrationality and/or madness. Our current fears, of course, center on Iran, Syria, Pakistan and North Korea, but there are certainly other, as yet unforeseen, areas of peril.

From Israel’s particular standpoint, the dangers may be starkly unique. Confronting not only a growing threat from existing enemy states but also the more or less simultaneous appearance of a new enemy state of Palestine, Israel could find itself engulfed in mass-casualty terrorism, and/or in unconventional war. As to any long-promised security assistance from the United States, President Obama or his successor could offer little more than compassionate American help in burying the dead.

The probability of any genuine Middle East chaos would be enlarged by any future instances of enemy irrationality or madness. If Israel should begin to face an irrational Jihadi adversary that values certain presumed religious expectations more highly than its own physical survival, Israel’s deterrent could, by definition, be immobilized. This could mean a heightened threat of nuclear and/or biological war.

Rationality, Irrationality, And Madness: Core Enemy Differences For Israeli Nuclear Deterrence (Second of Three Parts)

Thursday, May 3rd, 2012

A “bolt-from-the-blue” CBN (chemical, biological or even nuclear) attack on Israel launched with the expectation of city-busting reprisals might not necessarily exhibit irrationality or madness. Within such an attacking state’s particular ordering of preferences, any presumed religious obligation to annihilate the “Zionist Entity” could represent the overriding value.

Here, from the standpoint of the prospective attacker’s decisional calculus, the expected benefits of producing such a “blessed” annihilation would exceed the expected costs of any expected Israeli reprisal. Judged from this critical analytic standpoint, a seemingly “mad” attack decision could actually “make sense.”

Any enemy state with such explicitly exterminatory orientations could represent the individual suicide bomber in macrocosm. It is a meaningful and powerful image. Just as individual jihadists are now plainly willing to achieve personal “martyrdom,” so might certain jihadist states become willing to “sacrifice themselves” collectively. From a purely strategic standpoint, the fact that any such suicidal willingness would lack democratic origins would be irrelevant.

Any Iranian or Arab leaders making the decision to strike at Israel would be willing to make martyrs of their own people but probably not of themselves. In this not inconceivable decisional scenario, it would be judged acceptable by these particular leaders to sacrifice more or less huge portions of their respective populations, but only while they, and presumably their families, were themselves able to flee expeditiously to a predetermined, albeit still earth-bound, safe haven.

What is Israel to do? It can’t rely, forever, on even the most creative forms of preemption/anticipatory self-defense. It can’t very well choose to live, indefinitely, with enemies who might not always be reliably deterred by more usual threats of retaliation, and who are themselves already armed with assorted weapons of mass destruction.

Effectively, Israel cannot still decide to preempt against selected Iranian and/or other threatening military targets, because the operational prospects of success would now be very remote, and because the global outcry would be deafening. It cannot place more than partial faith in any anti-tactical ballistic missile defenses, because, after all, Israel’s Arrow would require a near-100 percent reliability of intercept to be purposeful in any soft-point protection of cities. Not even the oft-tested and brilliantly engineered Arrow, together with its corollary elements of active defense, can do this. The same “leakage” problems, for example, would apply to the shorter-range protections of Iron Dome.

The strategic options still available to Israel seem very limited; the associated consequences of failure could include national extinction.

If Israel’s enemies were all presumed to be rational, in the ordinary sense of valuing physical survival more highly than any other preference or combination of preferences, Jerusalem could begin, among other things, to exploit the strategic benefits of pretended irrationality. Recognizing that, in certain strategic situations, it can be rational to feign irrationality, Israel could then work to create more cautionary behavior among its relevant adversaries.

In such cases, the threat of an Israeli resort to a “Samson Option” might be enough to dissuade an enemy first-strike. Recalling Sun-Tzu, any more explicit Israeli hints of “Samson” could indicate a very useful grasp of the ancient Chinese strategist’s advice to diminish reliance on defense, and, instead, to “seize the unorthodox.”

If, however, Israel’s relevant adversaries were presumably irrational in this ordinary sense, there would likely be no real benefit to postures of pretended irrationality. This is the case because the more probable threat of any massive Israeli nuclear counterstrike linked in enemy calculations with irrationality would be no more compelling to Iran, or to any other enemy state, than if it were confronted by a presumably rational State of Israel.

In strategic nuance, Israel could benefit from a greater understanding of the “rationality of pretended irrationality,” but only in particular reference to expectedly rational enemy states. In those circumstances where such enemy states were presumed to be irrational, something else would be needed, something other than nuclear deterrence, preemption, and/or ballistic missile defense.

Although many commentators and scholars still believe the answer to this quandary lies in certain far-reaching political settlements, this time-dishonored belief is born largely of frustration, and utterly naïve self-delusion. Recalling regional histories, it is not the documented product of any deliberate or informed strategic calculation. No meaningful political settlements can ever be worked out with enemies who openly seek Israel’s “liquidation,” a word still used commonly in many Arab and Iranian newspapers, web sites, and texts.

Israel must fully understand that irrationality need not mean madness. Even an irrational state leadership may have an identifiable, consistent, and transitive hierarchy of wants. The first task for Israel, therefore, must always be to identify this hierarchy among its several state enemies.

Although these states might not be deterred from aggression by even the plausibly persuasive threat of massive Israeli retaliations, they might still be deterred by certain threats aimed at what they do hold to be most important.

War, Truth, And The Shadows Of Meaning

Wednesday, April 18th, 2012

To them, I said, the truth would be literally nothing but the shadows of the images. That is certain. – Plato, The Republic

It is time to look behind the news. Operation Iraqi Freedom is officially concluded; U.S. operations in Afghanistan are reportedly moving in a similar direction. More generically, however, debate about combat operations, strategy and tactics remains ongoing.

Inevitably, we can reliably assume that similar debates will arise concerning still unforeseen theatres of conflict. To be sure, there is nothing wrong with the prospect of such debates. But, even in our persistently anarchic and self-help system of world politics, it is ultimately important to seek and understand the more underlying and recurring reasons for war.

Freud understood. Whether we will choose to support or oppose any particular conflict, core causes and correctives of all war lie deeply embedded in the largely unchanging nature of humankind. It follows that until we can begin to understand and reform this corrosively destructive nature, our entire species will remain both predatory and imperiled.

At its most basic or “molecular” level, what we have witnessed in Iraq, and what we still see clearly in Afghanistan and other places, especially Syria, Pakistan, Sudan, and North Korea, is the malignant tribalism of a chaotic world order. There exists, also, in several regional “theatres,” a resultant or at least associated fusion of sectarian violence with various explicit (aggressively non-negotiable) claims of “sacredness.”

The 19th century German philosopher Hegel once commented: “The State is the march of God in the world.” This observation now applies equally to certain sub-state, jihadist terrorist groups. Faced with the dizzying unreason of both already-sovereign and sovereignty-seeking “tribes,” states and aspiring states that routinely extend compelling promises of inclusion and immortality in exchange for “martyrdom,” our global system stands a steadily diminishing chance of permanent survival.

We must also consider another, unprecedented fusion, one that is quite literally dreadful. This is the coming together of atomic capability with possible leadership irrationality. Presently, such an ominous combination is most readily worrisome in Iran, and perhaps North Korea and Pakistan, but there are also many other areas in which decision-making elites could sometime choose to value certain presumed religious obligations (“holy war”) more highly than any “normal” preference for national or group self-preservation.

As a species, we cannot hope to “fix” any particular conflicts until we have first understood the underlying human basis of violent world politics. The grinding chaos of Iraq and Afghanistan is more productively identified as a symptom than as an actual disease. More noteworthy than any immediately recognizable issues of separatism, insurgency, and suicide bombing, is the tangible consequence of individual human death fears, and the corollary individual terrors of social or national exclusion.

Always, global violence and disorder have their roots in the much deeper pain of individuals. In the end, this primal malady is the ubiquitous incapacity of people, everywhere, to discover authentic meaning and comfort outside the (state or terror) group, and, instead, within themselves. In our own intellectual history, this trenchant observation was already offered in the mid-19th century by the American Transcendentalists Emerson and Thoreau.

Despite the undying worldwide hopes still associated with the United Nations, a system of collective security can never save us. Any enduring rescue must always lie elsewhere. Above all, we must first acknowledge that there is always a crucial inner meaning to world order and global civilization. This individual human meaning can only be uncovered amid a widening willingness to look beyond assorted group promises of personal salvation (“You will not die”) in exchange for organized barbarism (war or terrorism).

“Just wars,” as we have known from Grotius to Jefferson, have a valid place in the world. They must, however, be fought only to protect the innocent, never to slaughter anonymous noncombatant “others” in sordid and bloody bargains for personal immortality. More than anything else, perhaps, it is the “denial of death” by individuals that ultimately spawns war and terror.

Although still unrecognized, even in universities, there is no greater power in world affairs than the power over death. From the beginning, all principal violence in world politics has been driven by a contrived tribal conflict between and within nations, and by a conspicuously “sacred” promise to reward the “faithful” with freedom from mortality. A related promise has been to include each loyal believer in a privileged community of the elect.

This lethal and usually irresistible promise is not unique to the present moment in history. It was as plainly evident in the “secular” policies of the Third Reich, as it is today throughout portions of the dar al Islam, the World of Islam.

Whether we know it or not, without an outsider to despise, a “heathen,” an “other,” we humans are generally apt to feel impotent, lonely, and lost. Drawing almost all of our benefits of self-worth from the collective, from what Freud (following Nietzsche and Stirner) called the “primal horde,” we technically superior beings remain unable to satisfy even the most elementary requirements of peaceful coexistence. Ironically, our substantial progress in certain technological and scientific realms has had absolutely no counterpart in fostering civilized human relations. We have advanced aircraft and advanced telephones, but still remain locked into fully barbaric patterns of social interaction. Recalling William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, we know that we can be taught manners and gastronomy, but that, when the chips are down, the veneer of civilization can become utterly thin.

The Pianist And ‘Palestine’ (Second of Two Parts)

Thursday, April 12th, 2012

In strategy and law, war, terrorism and genocide are not mutually exclusive. Now, following the “Arab Spring,” even as the usual suspects maintain their explicitly genocidal threats against Israel, certain “progressive” Jews proudly lead various rallies and publications for “peace” and “democracy” in the Middle East. Such “progress,” we might learn from Roman Polanski’s film “The Pianist,” could only be fashioned upon yet another generation of Jewish corpses.

In the United States, and also in Israel, Jewish university professors are typically leaders in organizing campus protests (1) against an alleged Israeli occupation, and (2) for expanded Arab rights in “Palestine.”

Significantly, few if any of these Jewish professors would murmur an audible objection to Arab murders of their fellow Jews in Israel. This is the case whether the murderers prefer lynching, shooting, or suicide bombing.

Nor would any of these Jewish humanitarians suggest any Palestinian wrongdoing when Hamas’s next round of rockets is fired at cities and towns in Israel, or, soon enough, when Palestinian Authority “security forces,” assiduously trained by the United States, begin to initiate massive Fatah terrorist outrages against Israeli civilians. About these American-trained Fatah fighters, we can be assured that they will also use their newly-honed homicidal talents against their American benefactors.

Credo quia absurdum. “I believe because it is absurd.” Offered a choice to act on behalf of their own imperiled and abused state, or to combine their own self-destruction with even broader patterns of injustice, certain segments of Israel’s Jewish commonwealth will fail even to recognize the underlying and overwhelming ironies. Always, it seems, these smug archaeologists of ruins-in-the-making overlook something primal, that is, that any complicity with evil is destined, deservedly, to fail. We still have much to learn from “The Pianist.”

The Jewish police in Warsaw, we know now, were decidedly foolish and arguably indecent. Today’s “Jewish police,” mainly American and Israeli academic supporters of Israel’s enemies, don’t wear a uniform or carry a truncheon, but they are similarly indecent and equally foolish. In some respects, they are vastly more odious than their Warsaw antecedents, as this current generation of Jewish collaborators does so willingly and boastfully, and plainly without any defensible need for personal or familial self-preservation.

Too often, sometimes hiding behind their academic robes, and behind sanctimonious calls for “academic freedom,” the consuming cowardice of contemporary Jewish police is not merely stifling, it is also very dangerous. Intermittently reinforced by well-intentioned but similarly-uninformed Jews outside the academy, Jews who believe that marching ceremoniously for Palestinian statehood is the moral equivalent of marching for civil rights with Martin Luther King, these pitiable minions unwittingly represent the advance guard of Israel’s physical destruction. Left unchallenged by those who should know better but who nonetheless remain silent, they will soon sit by bewilderedly, but likely without any remorse, as rockets rain down upon Israel.

In Los Angeles, always a Mecca for Jews who live unknowingly in intellectual darkness, there will be feelings of betrayal. Perhaps these Jews will go so far as to write angry letters to their Congressional representatives or to the Los Angeles Times. Surely, however, they will not be sufficiently upset to interfere with their local Temple’s busy oneg schedule, or with the Sisterhood’s annual deli lunch.

Another thought dawns. In Warsaw, the great majority of Jews did not feel any personal responsibility to speak and act on behalf of Jewish survival. Rather, they believed, communal safety was exclusively the codified responsibility of specified community leaders; ultimately, that is, of the Jewish Councils, who both sanctioned and sustained the Jewish police.

Today, an even larger majority of American Jews remain silent in the face of hideously distorted depictions of Israel, sometimes by their fellow Jews. Many of this “silent majority” is professional and well educated: doctors and lawyers, business people and social workers, teachers and accountants, entertainers, and (of course) professors. They are silent, they claim, only because they are not sure what is “true.” They are, after all, not “experts.”

But the truest reason for their desperate silence is something very different. This reason is their infinitely irrepressible inclination to confront unwelcome and annoying news with capitulations, fear, and an unceremonious trembling.

What are they afraid of, these gentle and caring Jewish Temple members, who can routinely be counted upon for regular and generous donations to help the homeless in Sudan and Somalia? How can these good people fail to see that the jihadist anti-Jewish world is once again mustering for an organized genocide, this time for a more thoroughly modernized mass killing, one in which the technology of annihilation will more efficiently bring exterminatory gas directly to the target populations? Don’t they see that they have a sacred responsibility, as Jews, and also as human beings, not to sit idly by as readily identifiable portions of the Arab/Islamic world prepare openly to blot out the despised Jewish state?

The Pianist And ‘Palestine’ (First of Two Parts)

Thursday, April 5th, 2012

Roman Polanski’s film masterpiece “The Pianist” can be taken as a timely parable for Israel’s current survival. Today, when Israeli society is sharply divided on the question of “Palestine,” sensitive issues of Jewish “collaboration” will inevitably arise in public debates. This essay argues that certain apt insights for Israel’s future may be discoverable in the terrible choices that fell upon Holocaust-era Jews in Europe, especially in Nazi-occupied Warsaw.

On the surface, “The Pianist” is “merely” the true tale of a talented Jewish musician, Wladyslaw Szpilman, caught up in the unfathomable depths of Nazi occupation and terror. More profoundly, of course, it is a disturbing visual microcosm of the generic human struggle between good and evil, a titanic contest that is sometimes utterly clear but at other times distressingly “gray.”

The Nazis in Poland were monsters, to be sure, but what are we to say about the others, including Jews, who were sometimes forced to become collaborative perpetrators? What pertinent lessons can we still learn from this 2002 film for insight into Israeli and even Jewish preservation in our own time? Is there, for example, a discernible message here concerning Jewish cooperation in creating “Palestine”?

Let us first recall the basic film. Emaciated, skeletal, starving, and disoriented, the pianist endures German-occupied Warsaw with aid offered by both Jews and gentiles, and, also, with torments meted out by both Jews and gentiles. Yes, some Polish Catholics risked their own lives to save him, as did several Jews, including a member of the Jewish police. But some, mostly non-Jews, took considerable comfort, and occasionally delirious joy, in the Nazi-orchestrated mass murders.

What can we say more precisely about the Jewish police in Poland? Shall we be ashamed that thousands of Jews rounded up, abused, beat upon, and deceived their fellow Jews in what turned out to be a grotesquely futile attempt to save their own lives, and the lives of their families? Or shall we be more understanding, recognizing the overwhelming and ubiquitous human inclination to survive at all costs, even if the cost is, at least in retrospect, unmentionable? Let us be fair. What would we have done in identical circumstances?

However we might choose to judge the Jewish police in Warsaw, what really matters more is that we learn from this grim past to identify all future forms of active collaboration with our enemies as not only foolish but unforgivable. Now, and certainly with the benefit of an ineradicable hindsight, we must understand that our moral and intellectual imperative to survive together as Jews is also the only way we shall ever survive separately as individuals. Nowhere does this seemingly paradoxical understanding hold greater meaning than in regard to present-day Israel and in particularly to the question of “Palestine.”

Learning from the Holocaust, from the particular and perplexing existential circumstances of “The Pianist,” it is plain that we must never again do the grotesque bidding of assisting our intended murderers. It will also be insufficient if we should choose only to think about our anti-collaborative actions and associated policy prescriptions. We Jews are already good enough at thinking. Now, however, we must also learn to feel these actions and prescriptions, and to feel them as Jews.

Interestingly, in modern philosophy the human imperative to combine feeling with thinking can be located in its purest, boldest, and most compelling form in the magisterial writings of the twentieth-century Spanish Catholic scholar, Miguel de Unamuno, especially in his The Tragic Sense of Life. Perhaps more than anyone else, Don Miguel understood that our perishable world is built on “the man of flesh and bone,” or upon ashes.

As “The Pianist” opens, the protagonist (played by Adrien Brody) is describing new anti-Jewish laws to a gentile friend, who quite naturally proceeds to comment, “This is absurd.” How, she asks the cultured Szpilman, can an intelligent people, the Germans, prescribe such gratuitous harms against a singularly capable, innocent, and caring people? Why shouldn’t Jews be allowed to drink coffee in cafes or sit on park benches? Incomprehensively, can the modern world once again have become medieval?

The correct answer, of course, is plain to all who know history. Absurdity can become normal. The veneer of human civilization is exceedingly thin. Beneath this veneer always lurk utterly primal needs and ferocities, persistent barbarisms that usually remain latent but that can explode with unimaginable fury when encouraged to emerge by a respected, or feared, public authority.

Why shouldn’t six million Jews (the particular number is ominously noteworthy, as that is roughly the number of Jews in present-day Israel) now be permitted to live safely in their own tiny mini-state, a country smaller than Lake Michigan, when an Islamic world of over one billion people already has several dozen states, not one of which has risen to even the most minimal standards of democratic rule?

Obama’s ‘Nuclear Weapons-Free World’: Some Implications For Israel

Wednesday, March 28th, 2012

President Obama continues to favor the creation of a “nuclear weapons-free world.” This explicit preference is more than naive; it is also undesirable in principle. For Israel, in particular, Obama’s solution could likely open the doors to unendurable enemy aggressions. However unintended, therefore, it could become an utterly Final Solution.

Historically, risks of war are not generally heightened by presumed powers of destruction. Rather, they are the result of assorted adversaries who may convincingly promise cooperation and coexistence, but who in reality dream of victory or conquest. Most worrisome, to be sure, are those jihadist leaders who might combine diplomatic recalcitrance and nuclear capacity with irrationality.

For Israel, of course, the pertinent overriding concern is now Iran. By themselves, nuclear weapons are not the problem. In themselves, these weapons are neither good nor evil. In certain cases they can actually provide the only credible basis for existentially viable deterrence.

For Israel, as I have frequently pointed out in The Jewish Press, nuclear weapons, whether deliberately ambiguous or selectively disclosed, can serve as indispensable impediments to a major war. For Israel, a world without nuclear weapons would be a world of perpetual insecurity and intolerable vulnerability.

The president of the United States is thinking against history. Instead, he should now be looking toward a world that is freer of risks for war and terror. He should focus, especially, on creating an improved U.S. strategic doctrine that would target not only principal jihadist adversaries, but also still-prospective national foes in Russia, North Korea, Iran, and a possibly post-coup Pakistan. Importantly, any such doctrine could have profound and determinable security implications for Israel.

The United States first began to codify various doctrines of nuclear deterrence during the 1950s. At that time, the world was tightly bipolar and the enemy was the Soviet Union. American national security was openly premised on a strategic policy called “massive retaliation.” Over time, that stance became “flexible response.”

Today, the world confronts multiple and inter-penetrating axes of real and potentially violent conflict. There are almost four times as many countries as existed in 1945. In this expressly multipolar world, Russia, which had assumed diminished importance in optimistic American strategic calculations after the fall of the Soviet Union, is once again a major security concern.

Russia’s leaders have issued plainly belligerent declarations on the resumption of Russian long-range bomber flights, and on corollary Russian intentions to expand production of intercontinental ballistic missiles. Presently, Russian nuclearization proceeds with nary a nod of respect for President Obama’s high-minded stance on “a world free of nuclear weapons.” Quite the contrary.

The Russians are largely spurred on in their ambitious nuclear invigorations by an understandable fear of planned U.S. ballistic missile defenses in Europe. Such active defenses, at least in the Russian view, threaten the unassailable and mutually agreed upon deterrence logic of “mutual vulnerability.”

What should we do? This is the single most important question that needs to be asked, by the president of the United States and also by his Republican opponents. In fact, unless they can all answer this existential question satisfactorily, nothing else in their respective platforms will matter at all.

There are answers. It is time to gather together America’s best strategic thinkers and put them to work on a present-day equivalent of the Manhattan Project. This time, the task would not be to develop any new form of super weapon, yet it should also not become a pretext to oppose nuclear weapons per se. Without a nuclear “balance of terror” during the Cold War, it is likely there would have been a third world war.

Among other things, an American strategic brain trust will need to consider controversial matters of nuclear targeting. These issues would concern basic differences between the targeting of enemy civilians and cities (“countervalue” targeting), and the targeting of enemy military assets and infrastructures (“counterforce” targeting).

At a time when the American president draws strategic policy options from idealized assumptions about nuclear disarmament, and when his Republican opponents ignore complex national defense subjects altogether, Americans need to understand that they are at renewed risk of unprecedented enemy attacks. For Israel, a similar risk of enemy aggression stems from the obvious interrelatedness of our national goals and strategies.

There is no intellectually defensible reason for Americans or Israelis to argue for a “nuclear weapons-free world.” There is incontestable cause, however, for creating an improved and thoroughly up-to-date U.S. strategic doctrine. In contrast to empty presidential witticisms concerning global denuclearization, or to Republican candidates’ total disregard for U.S. strategic doctrine, such a comprehensive and feasible plan could serve critical national security needs in Washington and Jerusalem.

Louis René Beres, strategic and military affairs columnist for The Jewish Press, is professor of political science at Purdue University. Educated at Princeton (Ph.D., 1971), he lectures and publishes widely on international relations and international law and is the author of ten major books in the field. In Israel, Professor Beres was chair of Project Daniel.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/columns/louis-bene-beres/obamas-nuclear-weapons-free-world-some-implications-for-israel/2012/03/28/

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