Thursday, August 24, 2006

I've been developing a slow ulcer over the recent Lebanon fiasco. Nevertheless, I haven't posted about it simply because I've been under-informed while on the road. Until a couple of days ago, my only source of information was European CNN, manned entirely by clueless Brits with weird accents and weirder first names (Fionnualla?). As a friend of mine from Moscow once pointed out, at least with Pravda, if you had the decoder you could figure out what was going on. CNN is simply an informationless channel.

Anyway, I was predisposed to a particular narrative and, now that I have the basic facts, I think I get it. Two separate wars were fought. The war that was fought by the soldiers on the ground was to free our prisoners and destroy Hizballah. The soldiers were motivated and, in many many cases, downright heroic. Unfortunately, the war they were fighting failed. Israel did not control the timing of the war: the timing of its start, its escalation and its ending were all determined by others. As a result, no orderly progression of intermediate objectives was ever established. In the end, we sued for a ceasefire having achieved none of our ultimate objectives: the prisoners were not freed, rocket fire on the North is merely on hold and the forces who will move in to South Lebanon will hamper us but not Hizballah.

The reason things played out this way is that Olmert et al were fighting an entirely different war than the people were -- they were fighting for European and American objectives, not (entirely) Israeli ones. In the European and American world views, there are two kinds of Arabs: those that are wedded to a dangerous and threatening Islamist ideology and those you can do business with. There are subtleties: the dividing line between the two groups is different for Europeans and Americans. Europeans (think: French) will do business with pretty much anybody while the Americans set the bar slightly higher -- Saudi Arabian monarchs, Egyptian dictators, Iraqi Shiites, Fatah and so forth are the good guys in this narrative but Iran, Syria, Hamas and Hizballah are bad. The word "democracy" should not enter your conscousness here; even for the Americans the only question is whether there's anybody on the other end sane enough to talk to. For the Europeans and Americans, the purpose of this war was to strengthen the Lebanese government, who - from this point of view - are the good guys.

Let's not beat around the bush here. Olmert, Livni, Halutz et al all got where they are by ass-licking and horse-trading. Sharon's stroke simply cut out the middle man. From the beginning their objective was simply to do the American's bidding and empower the Lebanese government. In short, for them this war was not even diplomacy by other means -- it was diplomacy, period. They were afraid that executing the war properly, actually fighting to win, could weaken the Lebanese government or diminish the chances that it would quickly replace us in the South. The early reliance on air strikes against infrastructure (an American tactic), the delay in sending in massive ground troops, the subordination of the timing of attacks to diplomatic maneuvers were all consequences of a definition of victory that is unsuited to the proper execution of a war.

In the end, even the American objective of weakening Iran in Lebanon was not achieved. Honestly, I don't now how much this matters. The next round was inevitable regardless of the outcome in this round and in that round Iran and the U.S. won't be able to continue hiding behind proxies.

As for politics, it is very hard to convince MKs to bring down a government if their chances of personally getting re-elected are slim -- and the nobodies in Kadima are almost all in that category. The likeliest short-term outcome is that Olmert will try to strengthen himself by bringing some right-wing parties into his coalition. (They should stay out and let him disintegrate but I doubt they will.) The long-term consequences will be far greater. This war has made all the more obvious how wide is the yawning gap between the patriots who fight for their country and the craven, cynical opportunists who run it. But that's fodder for future posts.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

No, I have not been fighting in Lebanon. The IDF has been managing quite fine (generally speaking) without my services for several years now. Rather, in the spirit of patriotism, we gave our house to relatives from the North and headed out on vacation abroad. In hard times, we all must make sacrifices.

It's nobody's business where we were, but suffice it to say that there were lots of Swiss people there. Lots and lots. In addition, there were lots of Jewish people there. It seems the particular town we were in (PTWWI) is where Europe's rich and frum-ish gather to do shidduchim. We rented our own place and didn't hang at the hotel where the frum action was but wherever you'd go in the area you were bound to meet members of the tribe. The hills were alive with the sound of Moishies.

Which led to some cultural difference issues. Take, for example, a particularly well-behaved Jewish family -- mine. We were renting one of a small cluster of houses fairly high up the hill at the top of PTWWI. There was a garbage shack that was shared by these houses. One day we woke up to find the garbage we had put in the shack the previous day neatly lined up on the roof of our car. Apparently, we had used the wrong color garbage bags. Oh, the humiliation. The next day, I was waiting in the car for my wife to emerge from a store and noticed an older Swiss gentleman staring at me with rising anger. Finally, he could restrain himself no longer and shouted at me aufzumachen das motor. I assure you that he worked up more righteous indignation over the pollution my few seconds of idling were causing than all of Switzerland could manage when six million Jews were burnt. Perhaps the Jewish rescue agencies should have pushed the ecology angle.

Anyway, I tell you all this only as a prelude to an epiphanous moment in which I unraveled the riddle of anti-semitism. No, this isn't going to be a rant about badly-behaved Jews or uptight Swiss. This is Big Picture stuff. Bear with me.

One day, my family and I were hiking in the mountains and valleys near PTWWI. We were surrounded by nothing but nature and the invigorating exercise and fresh mountain air had put me in touch with my inner animal. I was a tiger on the prowl. And there below me I saw the following: tall, lean Swiss people wearing skin-tight clothing, walking briskly through the countryside, alone or in pairs, carrying nothing, projecting an image of focus and determination. My tiger eyes saw competitors or, possibly, predators. I laid low. Then I saw them. A family of Jews. The men wore button-down shirts, long pants, sneakers from Costco and baseball caps (so nobody would guess...). The women wore long skirts and shlumpy head coverings. There were kids running ahead and straggling behind. They carried enough pekelach of food to survive the alpine winter and the pace at which they were walking suggested they might just need it. My tiger eyes saw... lunch.

Let me explain my epiphany. There are two approaches to explaining human psychological phenomena. The classical approach explains these phenomena in uniquely human terms. A newer approach, evolutionary psychology, explains such phenomena as part of a class of psychological phenomena common to all life forms, explainable in evolutionary terms. Thus, to take an especially obvious example, the drive for sex is an adaptive trait; those who have it are more likely to produce offspring than those who don't. Far more complex psychological phenomena can be similarly shown to be adaptive, though in less obvious ways. Among the examples of obviously adaptive traits are those which permit an animal to quickly distinguish potential prey from potential predators. These abilities need not be perfect; a small statistical edge is enough to provide enormous long-term evolutionary advantage. (Bear in mind, also, that observable traits need to be explained in terms of adaptability to the environments in which they evolved, not the environments in which we now observe them.)

All species develop instincts that permit them to identify prey and evade predators. Otherwise they could not survive. But only in human beings has a particular trait appeared which actually weakens the ability to react instinctively to prey and predators: self-consciousness. This trait has developed to different extents among different groups of people. There are many mysteries surrounding self-consciousness; why it has developed at all, why it has developed differentially among different populations, what other traits follow from it, what other traits are necessary for survival of highly self-conscious populations, and so forth. What is certain is this: there is a universal instinct to identify highly self-conscious populations as lacking in healthy survival instincts and hence in recognizing them as prey rather than as predators.

In short, as I stood there in touch with my animal instincts, I didn't understand anti-semitism as a cultural phenomenon, I felt it coursing through my animal veins. Swiss meshugassen are all designed to hide the detritus of civilization, to return to the natural state of prowling the wilderness unencumbered. In short, to return to a state of instinctive animal life. Jews can't help but to mock these efforts or -- far worse! -- to self-consciously imitate them. Jews are instinctively identified by others as hopelessly self-conscious people. (This diagnosis is correct; why this is so and what its implications are is a topic for another post.) In short, as I felt so keenly in a rare unself-conscious moment as I looked at the particular homo sapiens nearby (completely oblivious to the fact that I looked just like them), Jews are simply lunch.