2006 August 09 Wednesday
Israel Refuses Neocon Game Plan Against Syria

Tom Regan of the Christian Science Monitor has put together a collection of links to stories about how Bush Administration members and neocon supporters want Israel to attack Syria but Israel's government and commentators think the neocons are nuts. In one sense this isn't really news. The neocons have advocated the overthrow the Alawite Assad government in Damascus for years. But in another sense the continued neocon embrace of this proposal is worth noting: The neoconservatives have not learned anything about reality from the Iraq debacle. They still think panacea solutions are waiting to be had if we would only act boldly enough and pay the price to enter utopia.

Neoconservatism is utopian and therefore is not a form of conservatism. People who advocate panaceas and use abstractions that are disconnected from empirical evidence are not thinking like classical Burkean conservatives. One shouldn't be anti-conceptual and anti-abstraction. But one should recognize that abstractions are usually simplifications of reality and that abstractions should be developed from empirical evidence and not built from one's fantasies and desires.

Noah Millman of Gideon's Blog offers a more conservative analysis of Israel's problems with Syria and Hezbollah. Millman does not believe overthrow of the Syrian government would solve anything or that Israel can achieve a huge lasting gain in Lebanon. (my bold emphasis added)

- Similarly, after the withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000, I presumed that Israel would have to return. Israel had no territorial claims on Lebanon; its presence was entirely security-driven. Yes, the long occupation produced Hezbollah. But there was no reason to think that withdrawal would result in Hezbollah withering away, as indeed it has not. So now Israel has had to launch a full-scale war merely to "degrade" Hezbollah's capabilities - capabilities that can be rapidly rebuilt, at a fraction of the cost for Israel to degrade them. Israel's stated objectives are to make it possible for the Lebanese army and some unspecified international force to come in and "control" the region in which Hezbollah operates. But Hezbollah is more popular than ever in Lebanon, and it is inconceivable that an international force will actually use, well, force. In terms of restraining Israeli action any such force will be worse than Israeli settlements, and in terms of restraining Hezbollah they will be inferior to the Syrians who, if they chose to, certainly could force some restraint.

- Which brings us to Syria. Various hawkish voices have called for Israel to take the war to the source - that is to say: to Damascus, which never seems to suffer adequately for the wars it provokes (see, e.g., 1967, 1973). But there is no mystery about why Israel has declined to take any action against Syria directly: because the Assad regime is the best Israel could plausibly expect in that country. Were the Syrian regime to fall, it would be replaced not by a friendly Arab democracy but by one of three possibilities: a new military dictatorship (not obviously better than the current regime), a radical Sunni Islamist regime (obviously worse), or a state of anarchy such as obtains in Iraq (also obviously worse). If Israel were certain that the Syrian regime could survive a direct Israeli attack, then, perhaps, Israel might launch such an attack, which would make the Assad regime *fear* collapse and take the necessary actions to prevent it, even if these meant acceding to Israeli objectives such as reining in Hezbollah. The fact that Israel is being very careful with Syria is a testament not to Israeli weakness but to their perceptions of Syrian weakness, and their recognition that the fall of the Assad regime would be unlikely to benefit Israel. Israel will not turn decisively against Damascus until such time as it appears that Assad has been "captured" by Hezbollah, and has forgotten who is the patron and who is the client. That doesn't appear to have happened yet.

The problem with overthrowing the Assad regime is so incredibly simple: A replacement government will be as bad or even much worse for Israel. Why? Because it would be made up of Syrians and the majority of people in Syria have no affection for Israel. Israel's problem is not the particular regimes in power in Arab countries. Israel's problem is that Arab Muslims are predisposed for deep seated reasons to feel hostile toward Israel.

The US overthrow of Saddam Hussein in Iraq has not made the Iraqis any better disposed toward Israel. A US or Israeli overthrow of the Syrian regime would similarly not make the Syrians any more friendly toward Israel and very likely would have the opposite effect. Currently Israel benefits when neighboring countries are not ruled by majority groups. The overall trend in human affairs in the last century has been toward rule by members of native elites. When the ruling elites are not representatives the majority group (e.g. minority Alawites rather than majority Sunnis rule Syria) for each country the regimes have to tread more carefully. Forcing the Middle East to move even further toward the global trend is likely to produce governments that even more strongly see Jewish Israelis as minority outsiders who should be booted from the region.

Noah Millman says serious thinkers do not believe the US can impose a better regime on Syria.

- (Side note: some*might* think it in Israel's interests for there to be an *American* effort to topple the Syrian regime, on the assumption that America can simply *impose* a more friendly government on that country. I think that since the Iraq campaign, no one serious in America or Israel still believes that America has that ability.)

If no one serious believes the US or Israel can impose a better regime on Syria then a lot of unserious people are setting policy in the United States and writing articles for neoconservative journals and think tanks.

A conservative analysis of the Middle East should start with the insights that humans are not perfectible, that human cultures differ from each other in important ways, and that the habits and beliefs of other peoples are at best extremely difficult to change. As Mick Jagger pointed out, "you can't always get what you want". Even worse, you can't even always get what you need (e.g. get a diagnosis of advanced liver cancer and the need for a cure will not magically cause a cure to be produced). A rational empirical analysis of the Middle East that attempted to determine what policymakers could hope to accomplish should consider the role of consanguineous marriage (marrying cousins) and tribalism in determining the nature of Arab governments and societies. An emprical analysis would consider how Islam and a cultire which sees all relationships as based on submission and dominance pose extremely intractable obstacles for liberalizers. A conservative approach to the Middle East would also eschew a set of assumptions and a logic that leads toward genocide as the solution when neocon utopian schemes inevitably fail.

Some Israelis will continue to die every year due to Arab terrorists. Wanting that to change will not make it change. Bold utopian schemes to stop this are more likely to make the problem worse than better. What Israeli policy change in recent years has done the most to decrease Israeli deaths at the hands of Palestinian terrorists? The construction of a border barrier between the West Bank Palestinians and Israel. Walls and fences are not utopian. They do not produce ultimate solutions which totally eliminate a problem. Yet they do provide real substantial benefits.

The gap between reality and US Middle Eastern policy has reached a point of creating splits within the Bush Administration. Condi Rice wants to take a more moderate position in the Middle East but Bush has begun to overrule her.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has become increasingly dismayed over President Bush's support for Israel to continue its war with Hezbollah.

State Department sources said Ms. Rice has been repeatedly stymied in her attempts to pressure Israel to end strikes against Hezbollah strongholds in Lebanon. The sources said the secretary's trip to the Middle East last week was torpedoed by the Israeli air strike of a Lebanese village in which 25 people were killed.

"I've never seen her so angry," an aide said.

The splits within the Bush Administration bring to mind the famous comment by a Bush aide that people who want to use empirical evidence to make policy are part of the "reality-based community". That's the community I belong to but that's not the community that Bush and the neocons belong to.

The aide said that guys like me were ''in what we call the reality-based community,'' which he defined as people who ''believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.'' I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. ''That's not the way the world really works anymore,'' he continued. ''We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality -- judiciously, as you will -- we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.''

Now we get to study the debacle in Iraq. We get to study the decay in American communities hard hit by massive Hispanic immigrants. The Bush policy makers are making new realities. Unfortunately, those realities are more nightmares than utopias.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2006 August 09 06:54 PM  MidEast Arabs Versus Israelis

Stephen said at August 12, 2006 9:01 PM:

The accuracy of the underlying premise - that Syria is an unfriendly country - remains unexplored. But that's just par for the course in much of the 'debate' one hears.

The US polity is no more enlightened than a rampaging mob - the neocons recognise this (giving credit where it's due).

John S Bolton said at August 13, 2006 12:33 AM:

The US electorate is a model of self-discipline and enlightenment in comparison to the neocon Jacobins.
Neocons want to buff their image for anti-racism, anti-xenophobia, etc.
Selection events, as in natural selection, work on differences; not on that which is shared all across a species.
If you want to force a selection event on the moslem countries, which is itself a rather presumptuous attitude, you have to exploit their difference; not appeal to the equality, brotherhood and love of freedom of all humanity.
If moslems were concealling a love of freedom from aggression, and a strangely silent impulse towards feeling brotherhood with the infidel, it might have bubbled up some time in the last 1,000 years.
Only a racist would say that there are enemies, they scold, while preparing for one war after another.
We have to kill these non-enemies because some demented scholar said that there can't be any enemies, if people are people and the same everywhere?
We have to kill them because all men are brothers?
You will have to be killed because all men are equal.
This is how government gets away with doing damage, which malice and power-seeking drives them to do.
In the name of peace we spread war.
In the name of love, we inflame hatred.
In the name of equality we force privilege by means of aggression.
In the name of brotherhood we foment civil war.
In the name of anti-bigotry, we force racial quotas.
in the name of freedom, we spread aggression.
The use of some real or fake ideal, to denominate the occasion for the new aggression, is like the classic big-lie method, intended to paralyze thought, debate and resistance.
The new aggression is the constant element, the stated ideals are dishonest.

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