Big Rock Candy Mountain

The official voice of the Deseret Liberation Organization

The Gaza War as political theatre

Gary Brechner catches us off guard, as always:

The Israelis attacked now because of two non-military cycles: the news cycle and the presidential cycle. This was like a war by an astrologer: the stars had to be in exactly the right position before the Apaches could start blasting and the Merkavas could roll.

The most important cycle of all is the news cycle. This war happened during international media dead week, between Christmas and New Year. Ordinary people are drunk or hungover or snowed in, and the people who matter, the media players, are off in Cancun and Phuket, soaking up rum and sun with their blackberries turned off. They’re not going to bum out their call girls watching the news from Gaza.

Almost a genius as the Six Days’ War, innit? I mean, aside from the messy ground offensive, which hadn’t started when Gary posted the story anyway. In a later post, he uses the Gaza conflict as a springboard from which to analyze what he calls “The Era of Squeamishness,” a more than 50 year hangover from the apocalyptic first half of the twentieth century:

With that difference in mind, let’s replay the war in South Lebanon in 2006 as if it happened in the 1930s. Hezbollah has dug in along the border, set up a network of bunkers, and they fight hard and well in them. But the Merkavas of the IDF still roll over the defenses eventually, and when they do the IDF follows with military police and intelligence to round up all Shia civilians. Some are deported, some are thrown in prison camps, and a lot more are shot and bulldozed into mass graves. That would have been standard practice pre-1945, and it would have justified almost any casualties the IDF suffered in the initial advance. The ethnic composition of Southern Lebanon would change for good.

Now look at what actually happened. The IDF knew from the start that it couldn’t wipe out the enemy civilian population, the Shia of Southern Lebanon. So its goal was to “wipe out Hezbollah,” which even the IDF itself must have known was total nonsense. You can’t wipe out the guerrillas without wiping out their civilian base; you can’t hope to make some neat distinction between bad, evil Hezbollah and nice, harmless Shia civilians. It just doesn’t work that way. So the IDF was doomed from the start. When they tilted toward old-school total destruction, the media was there to film every wounded kid; when they veered over to squeamishness they lost soldiers for no reason. And the Israeli public knew these troops died for nothing, so when Israeli TV showed a dead soldier’s mother collapsing on his coffin, the real cost to the government was huge. You have to factor in press coverage from the start in war these days: how much is one Hezbollah bunker worth, vs. the TV coverage of the mothers of the soldiers killed taking it? Under the new Squeamish rules, that arithmetic very rarely works out to make the attack worth doing.

This is why war simply doesn’t work anymore. Leaders can’t get away with what they used to due to globalization. It’s not that economic ties are preventing anybody from nuking anyone else, as the liberals argue; it’s the fact that realistically, nobody can pull off a big war anymore. Liberalism works because it builds off of tradition while getting rid of the nasty bits. Idealistic liberal theory and ideology has nothing to do with it.

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