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Monday, July 31, 2006

Paul Krugman: Shock and Awe

Paul Krugman wonders why Israel is heading down the same disastrous path followed by the US as it went to war with Iraq:

Shock and Awe, by Paul Krugman, COmmentary, NY Times: For Americans who care deeply about Israel, one of the truly nightmarish things about the war in Lebanon has been watching Israel repeat the same mistakes the United States made in Iraq...

Yes, I know that there are big differences in the origins of the two wars. There’s no question of this war having been sold on false pretenses; ... Israel is clearly acting in self-defense. But ... [i]t’s a terrible mistake to start a major military operation, regardless of the moral justification, unless you have very good reason to believe that the action will improve matters.

The most compelling argument against an invasion of Iraq wasn’t the suspicion ... that the ... case for war was fraudulent. It was the fact that the real reason government officials and many pundits wanted a war — their belief that if the United States used its military might to “hit someone” in the Arab world, never mind exactly who, it would shock and awe Islamic radicals into giving up terrorism — was, all too obviously, a childish fantasy.

And the results of going to war on the basis of that fantasy were predictably disastrous: ... Iraq has ended up demonstrating the limits of U.S. power, strengthening radical Islam — especially radical Shiites allied with Iran, a group that includes Hezbollah — and losing America the moral high ground.

What I never expected was that Israel — a nation that has unfortunately had plenty of experience with both war and insurgency — would be susceptible to similar fantasies. ...

There is a case for a full-scale Israeli ground offensive against Hezbollah. It may yet come to that... There is also a case for restraint — limited counterstrikes combined with diplomacy, an effort to get other players to rein Hezbollah in, with the option of that full-scale offensive always in the background.

But the actual course Israel has chosen — a bombing campaign that clearly isn’t crippling Hezbollah, but is destroying Lebanon’s infrastructure and killing lots of civilians — achieves the worst of both worlds. Presumably ... people in the Israeli government ... assured the political leadership that a rain of smart bombs would ... intimidate Hezbollah into submission. Those people should be fired.

Israel’s decision to rely on shock and awe ..., like the U.S. decision ...[in] Iraq ..., is having the opposite of its intended effect. Hezbollah has acquired heroic status, while Israel has both damaged its reputation as a regional superpower and made itself a villain in the eyes of the world. ...

What Israel needs now is a way out of the quagmire. And since Israel doesn’t appear ready to reoccupy southern Lebanon, that means doing what it should have done from the beginning: try restraint and diplomacy. And Israel will negotiate from a far weaker position than seemed possible just three weeks ago. ...

[T]he United States... response has been both hapless and malign. ...U.S. policy seems to be to stall ... a cease-fire as long as possible so as to give Israel a chance to dig its hole even deeper. Also, we aren’t talking to Syria, which might hold the key to resolving the crisis, because President Bush doesn’t believe in talking to bad people, and anyway that’s the kind of thing Bill Clinton did. Did I mention that these people are childish?

Again, Israel has the right to protect itself. If all-out war with Hezbollah becomes impossible to avoid, so be it. But bombing Lebanon isn’t making Israel more secure. ... The hard truth is that Israel needs, for its own sake, to stop a bombing campaign that is making its enemies stronger, not weaker.

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Previous (7/28) column: Paul Krugman: Reign of Error
Next (8/4) column: Paul Krugman: Centrism Is for Suckers

    Posted by on Monday, July 31, 2006 at 12:15 AM in Economics, Politics | Permalink  TrackBack (0)  Comments (35)

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