Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Huffpo zeros in on the proportionality issue

For most Leftists, disproportionality seems to be a buzz-word to be tossed off casually. Lionel Beehner embarks on the promising course of actually explaining and applying the doctrine of proportionality. A lot of the paragraphs are like this:
The targeting of civilians, whether deliberate or not, violates the 1949 Geneva Conventions. As such, Hamas sprinkles its militants around population centers as a form of deterrence but also to maximize world outrage when Israel responds with overwhelming force and ends up killing scores of civilians. What's remarkable is that time and again Israel falls for the bait. Regardless of how many Hamas fighters it kills or what kind of signal it sends to Syria and Iran, world perception is what ultimately matters, not body counts. And the tide of public opinion seems to invariably side with the underdog, regardless of who's to blame.
So did Israel use proportionate force or not? One paragraph notes "growing confusion as to what constitutes a legitimate military target." Another begins "Critics say Israel has a history of using disproportionate force." Are those critics correct? Here are the last two paragraphs:
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and French President Nicolas Sarkozy have condemned Israel's "disproportionate use of force" against Hamas. The Obama camp has been mum on the issue, only to issue anodyne statements standing by Israel's right to defend itself and urge a peaceful solution. But this issue -- what is an acceptable level of violence in response to attacks by non-state actors -- will rear its ugly head again, whether along the Turkish-Iraqi border, in northwest Pakistan, or in Gaza. There is no agreed-upon definition of what constitutes a proportionate response to terrorist attacks.

States, especially those with hyperactive militaries and nukes at their disposal, cannot be given carte blanche to retaliate. But it should be in their own self-interest not to respond with disproportionate force. After all, non-state actors tend not to be deterred much less defeated militarily. All that results is a surge in recruits and international sympathy for the non-state actor -- in this case, Hamas. Yes, it's tough for states to sit on their hands in the face of incoming rockets. But to respond, especially with disproportionate force, is suicidal.
That last sentence suggests that somehow, in this course of this article, Israel has actually been determined to be guilty of that disproportional thing, but I can't find an actual argument that leads to this conclusion. This is less hostile towards Israel than the writing of most leftists, but it is just as muddled. The word for what Hamas did to provoke Israel is "bombardment," or "shelling." Some of the weapons pointed at Israel and fired are described as "mortars." In one incident last year a single rocket injured 70 people. What situation could merit a military response more than this one? Once it is admitted that a military response is justified, then all the proportionality doctrine demands is that the force used should not be in excess of what is needed. Compare the arguments that Hiroshima and Nagasaki were disproportionate, which usually involve the idea that Japan would have surrendered anyway. In this case it seems doubtful that the point of sufficient force will be reached, must less exceeded.

Crossposted on Soccer Dad

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