05 January 2009

Just war theory and the Gaza crisis

I haven't posted so far about the latest Israeli-Palestinian shitstorm because it started while I was home for Christmas, and because I didn't really have anything to post about, besides that it looks like, as I say, a shitstorm. Now, Andrew Sullivan takes a look at the ongoing mess through the lens of just war theory. It's a good piece, taking a more serious approach to the justice of Israel's response to Hamas than I've seen or heard in my usual Liberal Media mix. (Although NPR did run a very good interview with an Israeli government spokesman Saturday.) Sullivan's conclusion isn't a surprise, but it's good to see in print:
I need to repeat: There is no "just war" excuse for Hamas' murderous terrorism or for its refusal to acknowledge or peacefully co-exist with Israel. But there's no reading of traditional just war theory that can defend what Israel is now doing and has done either. Maybe I am missing an element here. Or maybe just war theory cannot account for modern terrorism.
Bingo. Why does just war theory have difficulty with terrorism? Maybe because terrorism isn't war - it's crime. Reading this, I immediately thought of something Bruce Schneier wrote back in October, about a study of terrorists' effectiveness at achieving stated political goals. Which, it turns out, is generally nil. This is because terrorists are more like street gangs than governments:
Individual terrorists often have no prior involvement with a group's political agenda, and often join multiple terrorist groups with incompatible platforms. Individuals who join terrorist groups are frequently not oppressed in any way, and often can't describe the political goals of their organizations. People who join terrorist groups most often have friends or relatives who are members of the group, and the great majority of terrorist are socially isolated: unmarried young men or widowed women who weren't working prior to joining. These things are true for members of terrorist groups as diverse as the IRA and al-Qaida.
This means Israel's approach to Hamas (and much U.S. anti-terrorism policy) is a little like the government of California dealing with its drug problem by bombing inner-city Los Angeles. No just war theory exists that can support it.

Nearly immediate follow-up: Informed Comment's recent post (regrettably under-referenced, but recommended by a friend who knows the region) suggests that the present situation is more like the government of California provoking a drive-by shooting as an excuse to bomb downtown L.A.

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