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Moral Equivalence: Jonathan Chait gets it right
Posted by: McQ on Tuesday, July 18, 2006

On TNR's "the Plank", Jonathan Chait properly takes Matt Yglesias to task over comments made about the Israeli/Hezbolla battle presently being waged:
At Tapped, Matt Yglesias writes that Hezbollah's rocket strikes, as compared with Israel's bombing of Lebanon, are "equally indefensible." Equally? Hezbollah began the crisis with an act of war that included a cross-border incursion and a kidnapping. Israel retaliated by attacking the parts of Lebanon's infrastructure that could be used to spirit the kidnapped soldiers out of the country, and followed it up by trying to destroy Hezbollah's artillery. In so doing they made every effort to minimize civilian casualties, including dropping leaflets warning residents to leave the targeted areas. Hezbollah has been lobbing rockets in the general direction of Israeli cities with no intent other than to kill civilians.

Israel's response seems like a good idea to me, though I'm open to the possibility that it may turn out to have been a bad idea. I don't think we can yet know whether Israel's response will have its intended effect, or if it has been precise enough to justify the inevitable collateral damage. But I don't see how you could morally equate the actions of the two sides.
There is no moral equivalence to be seen between an unprovoked attack by one side and reactive self-defense on the other. What Chait properly points out is that Israel's reaction isn't random. While there is certainly a level of anger, fury and emotion involved, what Israel has done is calculated to destroy the attackers capabilities to continue its attack, be resupplied and move at will on the battlefield. It was also an attempt to block the movement out of Lebanon of the two kidnapped IDF soldiers.

To pretend they are indeed morally inseparable or "equal indefensible" actions is simply ignorant. Yglesais says:
For one thing, they're not just attacking armed Hezbollah personnel; they're dropping bombs on offices in urban areas with all the attendant devastation that entails. But more broadly, they're systematically targeting Lebanon's civilian infrastructure — the airport, fuel depots, power plants, roads.
Command, control, communications (C3) are critical nodes in any fight against Israel. Deny Hezbollah those assets and you seriously degrade their ability to continue their attacks.

Anyone who has been following this story knows militant Hezbollah command structures and headquarters are purposely located in the urban areas of Lebanon. Israel dropped thousands of leaflets into those areas telling people to evacuate because an attack in the area was coming and gave them plenty of time to do so. To date, not a single Hezbollah leaflet giving the same warning has been found in Haifa or other Israeli cities and towns which have fallen victim to Hezbollah rocket attacks. To consider those two events "equally indefensible" is morally indefensible.

The military importance of the other targets should be obvious (it has long been understood that Iran supplies Hezbollah in Lebanon by air, fuel powers transports and electricity powers C3 nodes). And while I've said that Israel risks going too far in their retaliation, continued Hezbollah attacks into Israel speak forcefully to the point that they haven't done so yet.

So good for Jonathan Chait for picking up on moral equivalence argument by Yglesais and calling a foul.
 
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McQ, you seem to have followed Chait into Matt’s clever trap.
 
Written By: Justin Slotman
URL: http://slotman.blogspot.com
It may be a trap but it’s certainly not a "clever" one. It is one apparently sprung out of ignorance. Matt says:
It’s the civilian infrastructure part that bothers me.
I’ve explicitly pointed out why it isn’t the "civilian" infrastructure they’re going after, so I can only conclude that what really is bothering Matt is his ignorance concerning the need to go after C3 nodes in an attempt to degrade your attacker’s abilities. And it is his ignorance of such strategy which drives him to the moral equivalence argument. Those nodes are going to include power grids, road, rail and air networks, etc.
 
Written By: McQ
URL: http://www.qando.net/blog
Justin:

Maybe you’re being sarcastic with the whole "clever trap" thing, but Bruce seemed to answer Yglesias’ charges in his post:
To pretend they are indeed morally inseparable or "equal indefensible" actions is simply ignorant. Yglesais says:

For one thing, they’re not just attacking armed Hezbollah personnel; they’re dropping bombs on offices in urban areas with all the attendant devastation that entails. But more broadly, they’re systematically targeting Lebanon’s civilian infrastructure — the airport, fuel depots, power plants, roads.
Command, control, communications (C3) are critical nodes in any fight against Israel. Deny Hezbollah those assets and you seriously degrade their ability to continue their attacks.
Yglesias doesn’t raise anymore than this same (rather tired and ill-informed) rant about the number of Lebanese civilians that died and the civilian infrastructure that has been attacked.
No objection to destroying Hezbollah’s artillery from me. It’s the civilian infrastructure part that bothers me. Jon wants to say this is justified because Israel needs to prevent the captured soldiers from being moved out of the country. I don’t think this holds any water — surely Hezbollah can transport two guys across the Syrian border even if the roads, ports, and airstrips are destroyed. It only takes one off-road vehicle. Nor does this theory really explain why Israel hit Beirut’s power plant.
Perhaps by "clever" you meant "redundant"?

The moral equivalence argument fails for precisely one reason: Hezbollah started this mess without provocation. How Israel chooses to react may be questionable from the standpoint of strategy or efficacy, but there is no legitimate moral approbation here.
 
Written By: MichaelW
URL: http://
Yeah, Israel doesn’t really have the option of targeting the "terrorist infrastructure". There is no terrorist infrastructure. Like the US in Afghanistan, Israel can either attack generally with some effect, attack specifically with little to no effect...or they can not attack at all.

The notion that Israel could or should avoid attacking infrastructure, though, is just absurd. You can’t disaggregate the terrorist infrastructure from the Lebanese infrastructure.
 
Written By: Jon Henke
URL: http://www.qando.net/
By the way, let’s not forget Hezbullah did not only capture 2 soldiers, they killed several others...that to me is the more serious act of war.

BTW, Lebanon is a signatory to the Ottawa treaty banning landmines (I think) let’s see if Hezbullah lives up to it. They have used an anti-tank mine already, but those are allowed.
 
Written By: Harun
URL: http://
Anyone willing to bet that if Haifa port was mined the media would explain very patiently that 90% of all Israeli arms are imported through that civilain port?

 
Written By: Harun
URL: http://
I’m cynical today... I don’t believe in a "moral equivalence" between Hezbollah and Israel, but Yglesias is right, in part. Israel and Hizbollah ARE BOTH targeting the neighboring state and populace to draw out concessions. Yeah Israel is ALSO accomplishing a number of military missions, as McQ points out, but this is also about making the Lebanese "pay a price" for harbouring Hezbollah. The difference is that the Israeli strikes are fairly precise and designed to limit collateral damage. Hezbollah can’t and even if they could WOULD they, respond as precisely. Hezbollah has only Katyusha rockets, great weapons when used en masse but from their inception fairly inaccurate.

Bottom-Line: differences in MEANS can yield a difference in moral outcomes, EVEN IF THE ENDS ARE SIMILAR. Israel’s efforts are much more "just" than Hezbollah’s and it yields the moral outcome that Israel NOT Hezbollah is the better player, they ARE NOT equivalent.
 
Written By: Joe
URL: http://
The difference is that the Israeli strikes are fairly precise and designed to limit collateral damage. Hezbollah can’t and even if they could WOULD they, respond as precisely. Hezbollah has only Katyusha rockets, great weapons when used en masse but from their inception fairly inaccurate.
The biggest difference is Hezbollah is deliberately targeting civilians and killing them while Israel is deliberately targeting military targets and accidentally killing civilians.

Not even close to being moral equivalents.
 
Written By: McQ
URL: http://www.qando.net/blog
Moral equivilancy, or my new favorite meme- the one of Israel’s "disproportinate response" is as always, a load of crap. A simple way for one to hide their Jooo-hating heart while maintaining respectability.

Matt, what should Israel be doing? (Besides either sitting there and being good little victims, or throwing themselves into the sea)

When a terrorist force hides themselves amongst civilians- well, Hezbollah doesn’t hide actually, they’re quite open about it. Anyway, once a belligerent stations themselves amongst civilians, the only thing the opposition owes is a warning for said civilians to evacuate. After that, once the bombs rain down, the fault for any loss of life lies squarely and solely with those who would use innocents as human shields.

 
Written By: shark
URL: http://
As you wish McQ...I think it is indisputable that that one point of the Israeli strikes is to punish Lebanon. I certainly wouldn’t put Israel on the same level as Hezbollah but I won’t be an apologist either.

Rather than an Interim UN Force, which will an utter failure I would propose that the G8 AND Israel pledge reconstruction costs to Lebanon, it at least recompense Lebanon for the costs that have been inflicted.
 
Written By: Joe
URL: http://
As you wish McQ...I think it is indisputable that that one point of the Israeli strikes is to punish Lebanon. I certainly wouldn’t put Israel on the same level as Hezbollah but I won’t be an apologist either.
I’ll dispute it. I’m willing to bet that if Israel had a magic gun that could instantly wipe out every member of Hezbollah, without causing any damage to unaffiliated Lebanese people and infrastructure, they’d use that weapon with a happy heart.

But magic gun technology has a long way to go before we achieve this capability.

The Lebanese govt. has said it can do nothing about the aggression by Hezbollah. Fair enough. Israel has simply decided it CAN do something about it. It’s a tragedy that Lebanese are dying in the process, but Israel cannot be expected to sacrifice it’s own citizens to avoid imperiling the citizens of the nation from whence the attacks originate.
 
Written By: CNH
URL: http://
I would propose that the G8 AND Israel pledge reconstruction costs to Lebanon, it at least recompense Lebanon for the costs that have been inflicted
Why? Hezbollah is there because Lebanon can’t deal with the problem, so why does Lebanon deserve any sort of recompense for Israel’s legitimate self defense actions?

Let Iran and Syria be required to pay.
 
Written By: shark
URL: http://
Let Iran and Syria be required to pay.

Because they won’t....
 
Written By: Joe
URL: http://
Shark,

Matt has it wrong, but he is just wrong, he shouldn’t be lumped in with "Joooo-haters." I disagree with Matt a lot, but there is no need to make the same kind of indiscriminate labeling that we have seen applied to Glen Reynolds or other bloggers by the Mona’s and Glenn Greenwald’s of the world. It is okay to just point out that on this issue Matt is not in his element. Matt is the kind of left wing blogger we should support. He is generally civil, makes thoughtful arguments as opposed to just repeating cant and is willing to take on bad arguments within his party and on the left generally when he feels it is warranted. Obviously he sees fewer of those than you or I, but unless disagreement automatically makes one unintelligent or morally suspect then Matt is a positive, not a negative.

 
Written By: Lance
URL: http://
Let Iran and Syria be required to pay.

Because they won’t....
So why should Israel be forced to?
Shark,

Matt has it wrong, but he is just wrong, he shouldn’t be lumped in with "Joooo-haters." I disagree with Matt a lot, but there is no need to make the same kind of indiscriminate labeling that we have seen applied to Glen Reynolds or other bloggers by the Mona’s and Glenn Greenwald’s of the world. It is okay to just point out that on this issue Matt is not in his element.
Indeed, I was indiscriminate in my words, and while I think my point stands in the large sense (which I meant it to be) it doesn’t apply to Matt apecifically.

Thanks for pointing that out, so I can clarify :)
 
Written By: shark
URL: http://
Shark,

Your welcome. I figured as much, but I wanted to draw it out. Otherwise the net monitors might say I was just making excuses for you if questioned on the subject later. (We need to be real quiet...Glenn has his spies everywhere, he knows what we think, he knows what we feel, he knows when we’ve been bad or good.)

"No Mona, I was on Firedoglake. Shark? No, I wouldn’t be talking to that hater, nooo. Not me. Seriously, DONT TELL GLENN!!!"
 
Written By: Lance
URL: http://

 
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