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Calling a fig a fig

January 14, 2012

I like nuance as much as the next guy, but sometimes something is either right or it’s wrong.

Like many people, I was disturbed this week to hear about the video-recorded incident wherein a few Marines urinated on the corpses of what are purported to be Taliban fighters. And I was angry to hear about Mossad’s alleged ‘false flag’ operation, using American money and passports to pose as CIA when hiring terrorists. These two incidents are disturbing enough in and of themselves, but the defenses, justifications, and equivocations I have heard around them are what spurred me to write.

What those Marines did was wrong. There is no argument you can make that can make it not wrong, though plenty of people seem to be trying. Some have argued that the Taliban do much worse to any dead soldiers they get their hands on. Well, are the Taliban really the role models we want to be following? We are not in the business of trying to be more like the Taliban. I hear this sort of argument used regularly to justify the more questionable activities undertaken by our government in the name of national security, and I find it baffling. Why would the fact that al Qaeda, or the Taliban, or al-Shabaab, or any other like organization, does something serve as our justification for doing the same? Are we not fighting them on the premise that what they do is wrong and criminal and they must be stopped? If that is the case, why would we ever seek to emulate them? And if it’s not the case, what are we doing fighting them?

Many also have made the point that terrible things happen in war; that this type of incident is not new; that war is not sanitary or palatable; that it is ugly, and crude, and people do unspeakable things in its course. This is all true. Horrible things happen in war. However, we can understand and acknowledge that fact without letting go of our striving to be better.

In justifying the ‘false flag’ operation, people leap to Israel’s defense by stating that e.g., Pakistan, or Afghanistan, has been a much worse ally to the United State. Even taking at its face the argument that, to use a favorite example of these arguers, Pakistan has been an overall less reliable ally to the US than Israel, that doesn’t change the fact that what Israel is alleged to have done is wrong and no way to treat your staunchest ally. It isn’t a ‘Crappiest Ally’ contest. We don’t have to argue that Israel’s worse than Pakistan, or France, or Afghanistan, or Burkina Faso, or anyone else in order to make our case that this is not OK: putting our people, our reputation, our operations in danger is unacceptable, is a hostile act, and is no way to treat a nation that protects you, subsidizes you, and goes to bat for you in the UN and the International Community in general even when that’s an overwhelmingly unpopular decision.

As complex as some factors are in both of these cases, some things just aren’t.

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2 Comments
  1. January 14, 2012 10:29 am

    Like the “crappiest ally contest” bit. I wonder, if we learned that OBL for whatever Captain Insane-o on the Wackadoo Express reason was hiding out in Tel Aviv, would we have sent the SEALs after him?

    Diplomacy is hard, it’s made harder by stupid people, and I get that. But the Israel question is one that needs to be answered with some degree of consistency, with consistency meaning something other than “Israel is always right.”

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