Wednesday, July 19, 2006

The New York Times, Lebanon, and Jus in Bello 
Is the Times serious about intelligently covering war?

Apparently not.

Steven Erlanger, reporter for the New York Times, manages to write a feature news article on the debate over the proportionality of the Israeli response against Hezbollah without once making reference to the well developed intellectual tradition of Jus in Bello.

The asymmetry in the reported death tolls is marked and growing: some 230 Lebanese dead, most of them civilians, to 25 Israeli dead, 13 of them civilians. In Gaza, one Israel soldier has died from his own army’s fire, and 103 Palestinians have been killed, 70 percent of them militants.

The cold figures, combined with Israeli air attacks on civilian infrastructure like power plants, electricity transformers, airports, bridges, highways and government buildings, have led to accusations by France and the European Union, echoed by some nongovernmental organizations, that Israel is guilty of “disproportionate use of force” in the Gaza Strip and Lebanon and of “collective punishment” of the civilian populations.

Let's lay to one side, for the moment, this stupid conceit that casualty figures, in war, should be disproportional. (Under maneuver warfare theory, I would argue that casualties should be disproportional or overall casualties will be needlessly high, as the side with the advantage is not effectively exploiting it to pursue a speedy end to the conflict.)

The Times is reporting in an intellectual vacuum.

Had the editors of the Times bothered to educate themselves on the fundamental issues undergirding the ethics of war - issues so fundamental that they are among the first things covered in the freshman year of any ROTC candidate - they would have learned that there is nothing in Jus in Bello that implies that the proportionality of force applied should be considered in relation to the level of force used in provocation.

Rather, the doctrine of proportionality, under Jus in Bello, applies not to the level of force used by the provocateur at all. Instead, the use of force must be proportional to the military objective. In other words, the force applied must be sufficient to attain the desired military objective. (There is no point at all in applying force insufficient to attain the desired military objective.)

If the desired military objective is to permanently eject Hezbollah from southern Lebanon, push them out of Katyusha range from Israeli population centers, and destroy the capability of Hezbollah to wage war - then the Israelis are wholly within the Jus in Bello doctrine of proportionality so far.

Yes, the Israelis targeted some civilian infrastructure, such as bridges and airfields. But this was military neccessary in order to prevent Hezbollah from moving their hostages out of Lebanon and into Syria or elsewhere. The Israeli application of force is consistent with and proportional to that required by their military aims.

Similarly, Israel is wholly within its rights, under Jus in Bello, to take out Hezbollah's leadership. Anywhere in the country. For its part, Hezbollah, as the weaker power in an assymetrical conflict, will deliberately set its headquarters on the bottom floor of civilian apartment buildings - as close as possible to the local elementary school, and ideally within a "baby milk factory" (signage in English, of course), in order to make an Israeli strike as unpalatable as possible.

This is how weaker powers effect deterrence. It's the only card they have to play.

And the only deterrence the Israelis have is the perception that they are willing to strike Hezbollah in their lairs wherever they are.

Israelis may not destroy an entire city from the air in order to get one office. That would not be proportional to the military aim.

But there is no doubt that they can destroy that office, and the part of the building the office is in, if there is no other practical way to get at them. (The alternative, of course, is to set off a truck bomb outside the windows of said office. But that would just invite further equivocating - "see, the Israelis use the exact same terror methods."

Further, truck bomb ordnance is generally not directional. Ordnance directed from the air is, and (to some extent) can be calibrated to achieve the desired effect and not more.

But the New York Times editors, while content to raise the issue (to Israel's detriment), are not intellectually equipped to understand it or provide the reader with any kind of context.

If they can't wrap their brains around these fundamental concepts, how well do you think they can cover the war in Iraq?

Splash, out


The NYT reports not out of a desire to present news but to present the propoganda that they think supports their poltical positions.

Huh! Fight to win! Who would of ever thunk of that?
Maybe I'm reading the wrong blogs or watching the wrong TV, but I am maddened by the failure of someone, anyone to point out that all of Hezbollah (and their supporters/enablers in Southern Lebanon and the Beirut suburbs)are...CIVILIANS. They don't belong to an army, they don't wear uniforms, they don't answer to constituted authority and I'll bet my house they don't observe the Laws of Land Warfare.

I'm sure some innocents are being caught in this - like the Lebanese family from Detroit on vacation - but the only way for the Israelis to avoid civilian casualties is to KILL NO ONE.

Yeah, that'll work.
A question I predict no reporter will ever ask someone who's calling Israel's response "disproportionate":

"Um... what would a 'proportionate' response look like?"
I am maddened by the failure of someone, anyone to point out that all of Hezbollah (and their supporters/enablers in Southern Lebanon and the Beirut suburbs)are...CIVILIANS.

Well, except for the Iranian military, that is. They are not civilians.
Here's a tirade by an officer who has his own notions of what a "proportional response" would be. (Hint: Israel is Always Wrong)
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