08 June 2010

So yeah, usually

Jonah Goldberg is an idiot

In what way did it "work". This is like saying the Iraq War "worked". In that we can redefine the political objective that it supposedly achieved repeatedly after the fact to claim success. What are/were the supposed objectives of sanctions and blockades? In the Gaza blockade, the supposed objective was the prevention of weapons reaching Hamas and other radical organisations (which seems like a perfectly legitimate gripe, at least until you start wondering why they want those weapons or why they have a capacity for radical followers of a largely political message), and the supposed objective that punitive sanctions against the Gazan people would discourage them from continued support for Hamas, which they had just selected to be in power in a democratic and free election (far more free than those of Iraq or Afghanistan for that matter). To be sure, Hamas is no model saint for opposing oppressive rule. But any country which decides that some of its jurisdiction should not even have legal access to cement and water purification systems, much less cilantro and fresh meat kind of has to be seen on the oppressive side.

Meanwhile, we're supposed to believe that the critics of such actions do not likewise oppose harsh economic sanctions like those directed at Cuba, North Korea, or potentially (and actually already) Iran. I admit that some SUPPORTERS of such sanctions are inconsistent about who they should be applied to, and for what reasons. I think largely the support logic is based on several unrelated factors to the efficacy of the end policy, or namely that it represents a desire by a government to signal a desire to another government that it should change its leadership to be more accommodating toward the rest of the world (or usually, American demands). In that light, the most effective policy prescription isn't a blockade or sanctions. It's targeted assassination programs, international arrest warrants for human rights violations, or, simply and cleanly, full-fledged and full throated calls for invasions since all those pretty quickly change the views of leaders in other countries.

Naturally those choices have very high negative costs in long-term strategy (particularly if a war or assassination is seen as unprovoked, as much of the world views the second Iraqi invasion and the subsequent and continuing occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, much of the Muslim world in particular), but they have the benefit of having generally predictable effects on the targeted country itself (which were ignored in Iraq especially by war planners and their political masters), and they represent usually an attempt to zero sum the game. I don't necessarily and automatically think these are always useless approaches, but generally they can have unpredictable or at least very considerable costs that may make them less practical for resolving the problem of an uncooperative or pariah regime.

Economic sanctions on the other hand are entirely a negative sum approach. They're like reverse mercantilism only without responsive markets because of nationalistic effects. All they do is punish the local populations of both the country which enacts them (by cutting them off from trade goods that they must substitute or acquire on the black market), and especially the people of the target country. The hated leaders themselves suffer not at all and, indeed, gain advantages which they can then use to further manipulate and control the population to their delight. I recognized the folly of economic sanctions on Cuba in an essay written in high school. It's not like this is rocket science to notice what they do. They work, but only the context that the desired outcome is, usually, to make other people suffer the consequences of other people's decisions. Not only are they ineffective, but they seem highly dubious morally.

I suppose what is attempting to be said is that people who are comparing and complaining about Israeli blockade measures against Gaza are thus comparing that government and that country to other pariah regimes. To the extent that this is true, it is very much viewed that way in other countries, other than the US and, up until recently, a few others. Turkey for instance, the very country which helped organise the blockade running convoy(s). North Korea is a fair parallel internationally. Even though we hate it, it has erstwhile alliances with China and Myanmar and Zimbabwe, other marginally hated state actors with somewhat similar political systems. The list of strong Israeli supporters who back each action is probably similarly short at this point, but with a Great Power to ingratiate itself with, there is little the international community can do to resolve the troubles that are caused. We cannot simply attack North Korea in response to its belligerence just as other Middle Eastern countries (including the Palestinians) can do little to attack and defeat Israel. I am much more sympathetic to the country and peoples of Israel than the leadership regime of the DPRK, but that does not mean that I would hold back any criticisms I might have of its sometimes belligerent and aggressive actions. Especially where they intersect with American foreign policy entanglements as this blockade and general relations with Palestinians most certainly do. And very especially where they appear to be ill-thought out strategically, as a policy of broad sanctions most certainly is.

Also, observe Jonah's work here is eliding a crucial factor: Hamas had to seize power in a coup after an election it WON power in. When popular perceptions of the same sort of stolen elections occurred in Iran, many such pundits were quick to paint those elections as fraudulent and a scam whilst proclaiming popular support for Iranian revolutionaries and demonstrations. It is true that Hamas is a much less cuddly movement than the Greens in Iran (though on many basic points, they are hardly distinguishable), but it seems like the fundamental point of introducing "democracy" in the Middle East is to let it be practiced. Except when it produces unfavorable results in its popular elections. That fundamental hypocrisy leads us to discard those results as invalidated and proclaim some perfectly reasonable subsequent actions (toward American interests) as acts of hostility and aggression. (See for instance, Jonah and other pundits claiming Turkey's acts of "hostility" lately).

The realism is to ask what can be done to separate Hamas' policies of radical action from their ability to carry them out. That is, so far as I can tell, a question not much different from that of asking why an American citizen would travel to Pakistan and come back and attempt to blow up a bomb in Times Square. It doesn't surprise me in the slightest that realism, which would include the recognition that other actors have specific motivations which can be blocked or achieved for victorious or mutual ends, is being ignored in order to support a view that there are no legitimate contentions and complaints underlying a violent and aggressive reaction that includes state-sponsored or sanctioned terrorist and terrorizing activity and that those contentions and complaints could and should be combated where they are impossible to alleviate, but where they can be accommodated, they can be diplomatically gamed and seized upon. Hamas isn't going anywhere. Sooner or later we're going to have to come to grips with that just as people have apparently accepted that Ahmadinejad isn't either. At that point maybe something constructive will get done and Israel won't have to send its commandos into hostile riotous crowds in order to do something.

Alternatively, realism would ask why a policy remains in place for years or even decades without denting the control of an ill-favored regime (indeed, often increasing its base of support and methods of internal control) if that is the supposed end for which a policy exists. One would think that a realistic approach to state interests would be to seek methods that actually serve those interests rather than methods which do not work.
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