The Political Breakdown

Sep 01

Anonymous said: Hi, I'm not naturally drawn to politics. ( my mind usually goes the artistic route) so I make an effort to be aware of this puzzle that keeps changing. One of the things I've had in the back of my mind for quite awhile is the idea of the fair tax. The more I think about it the more it makes sense to me. I would like to know all the pros and cons of it and if there is even a possibility of it being passed. Maybe more companies would come back and base in the US,drug dealers and illegals would pay

Interesting question! Thanks for asking. I haven’t looked into the Fair Tax too much though I’ve heard the legislation and the concept behind it thrown about from time to time. I’ll try to find some time this week to look into it.

Jul 28

theinvertedtower said: I've written an article on DeviantART, called: Zionism - Holocaust Propaganda/ Sacrificed Jews

Listen, it’s obvious from my writings that I find the tactics of Israel problematic, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to give any credence to someone who talks of Holocaust “propaganda”, or disputes the death toll of the Holocaust. Some things must be treated only with sorrow and respect.

kohenari said: Of course. The problem is that a change of strategy requires a great deal of political will. If Israel left the tunnels intact and agreed to a ceasefire, and then there were more rocket attacks, what do you imagine would happen? I suspect the Israeli government wants to finish as much demolition as possible while they're already incurring the costs of this war.

I feel this is more a matter of politics than it is a matter of what will actually bring about lasting peace. NPR/BBC News are reporting that Netanyahu’s ratings are skyrocketing. Good for him, I suppose? To directly answer your question, I imagine there would be a great deal of fury from Israeli citizenry if after a cessation of violence the rocket attacks continued, and Netanyahu’s support would drop dramatically, something I doubt he’s willing to risk.

I debated this issue with a friend of mine - who I find it relevant to say is Jewish, and understandably supports Israel - who told me he was frustrated I was holding Israel to such a high standard. Why shouldn’t they be allowed to respond to aggression with aggression, fight fire with fire? Wouldn’t I? He’s right - I am, and I understand it’s difficult and maybe unfair. But the counterinsurgency tactics I espoused in my last big article would require Israel to be the “bigger man”, focus heavily on supporting the Palestinian people over fighting Hamas. It’s not glorious and it’s not going to boost Netanyahu’s ratings through the roof like some good old fashioned destruction, but it might actually end the conflict in the longer run.

Jul 25

The Descending Spiral: Why Israel’s Attack on Gaza Is Wrong.

From a tactical standpoint, Israel is terribly misguided in its actions in Gaza. If the goal of Israel truly is to stop the rocket fire from Hamas and keep their citizenry secure, then the primary goal should be marginalizing Hamas, a political organization and terrorist group that runs Gaza. The best way to defeat a terrorist organization? Using the doctrine of counterinsurgency (COIN), as espoused by experts such as Andrew Krepenivich and David Kilcullen. However, Israel not only ignores elementary counterinsurgency methodology, but does the exact opposite. For short lived tactical gains, they sacrifice the peace that might come from long term strategy.

A ten second history lesson on Hamas: Hamas is an Islamic Sunni organization which was founded in the 1980s as an offshoot of the Muslim brotherhood. Its closely affiliated military wing has launched attacks on Israel for years. Though leadership within Hamas has vacillated over the years, the general stance is that Hamas will not recognize the existence of Israel. Hamas was indeed elected by the Palestinian people in 2006 - meaning it won a majority in the Palestinian parliament - and was meant to form a national unity government with Fatah, a more moderate political party. In 2007 this unified government failed amidst violent clashes between Hamas and Fatah, and Hamas took over Gaza. It has ruled the territory ever since. However, its approval rating is at an all time low.

Modern day COIN states that the key to defeating an insurgent group is to secure the support of the people through which it migrates. You do not make killing as many insurgents as possible your priority, as more insurgents will always replace them. The people are the medium through which the insurgents move, and if you can win them over, you will greatly marginalize the insurgents, and most important of all, cut off their source of continuous replenishment as people cease to join their cause. The absolute cornerstone of counterinsurgency is the peace and security of the civilian populace.

The war in Iraq is the most recent example of the efficacy of this strategy. Despite the painful backsliding Iraq is going through now, back in 2006-2009 this seriously worked to curtail insurgency throughout Iraq. That’s a massive story in its own right, and for more on that, I highly recommend Thomas Ricks’ book The Gamble. Suffice to say in 2006, General Petraeus and Kilcullen, his advisor, put together a counterinsurgency manual and retrained all the army leaders in its methods. Despite a bloody year, by Summer 2007 American losses began to drop sharply as the strategy began to take effect. The core was this:

  1. The more force you use, the less secure and effective you are.
  2. Think twice before launching a raid and consider the consequences.
  3. Treat civilians with respect.
  4. Do not hole up in big bases.
  5. Do not be provoked. Sometimes doing nothing is the best reaction.
  6. Do not abuse prisoners.
  7. Do not take relatives of suspected insurgents hostage.
  8. Gain and maintain national support for a protracted deployment.
  9. Most importantly, establish security of the civilian populace.
It is painfully clear that Israel’s actions are a perfect opposite of COIN tactics. It is even more painful to see the effects their actions have: instead of mitigating the insurgency, they are only vitalizing it. Proof is not hard to find. This story was taken from a New York Times article written on July 24th:

The blast from the Israeli strike was so powerful that it threw an iron door clear over several neighboring houses…When the strike leveled a four-story house in the southern Gaza Strip the night before, it also killed 25 members of four family households — including 19 children — gathered to break the daily Ramadan fast together. Relatives said it also killed a guest of the family, identified by an Israeli human rights group as a member of the Hamas military wing, ostensibly Israel’s target.  The attack was the latest in a series of Israeli strikes that have killed families in their homes, during an offensive that Israel says is meant to stop militant rocket fire that targets its civilians and destroy Hamas’s tunnel network.

…Of those who lived in the house, only four people survived, three men who had gone to pray, and Tawfik Abu Jameh’s toddler, shielded by the body of his mother. The children killed ranged in age from 4 months to 14 years, and included an adopted orphan whose father had been killed in an Israeli strike.  One of the survivors, Bassam Abu Jameh, lay on a mat with a broken leg, his eyes rimmed with red. His wife, Yasmeen; two brothers; and three children, Batool, 5, Sohaila, 3, and Bassam, 1, had all been killed. “There is nothing left,” he said, pressing his hand to his eyes. “It is the end for us.”  He closed his eyes, lying still and letting his neighbors continue the account. After a while, he opened them again and announced, in a shaky voice: “I will marry again four times, and I will have 10 sons with each wife, and they will all be in the resistance.”

This is what Israel is doing. This is what ignoring counterinsurgency tactics does. It lights a flame, a bonfire of hatred in the civilian populace. It ensures the violence will continue into the foreseeable future.

Perhaps Martin Luther King, Jr., said it best.

The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy, instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth. Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate. Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a  night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.

I am not an expert and I do not have all the answers. How best could Israel enact the tenants of COIN to give peace and security to the Gazan people? What facilities and services could they provide to the people of Gaza, and how could they keep their people safe while doing so? These questions and dozens more would need to be meticulously addressed. But I do know this. To the letter, Israel is doing everything, that the manual of counterinsurgency says not to do.

I am not certain what Israel wants out of Gaza. They say security, yet security comes through the end of Hamas. Meanwhile, the civilian casualties of this war with Hamas create a brand new generation of terrorists that will hate Israel for the rest of their lives. Though this article focuses on Israel, do not think I don’t decry Hamas. They hide behind human shields, and the only thing that comes from their violence and refusal to recognize Israel as a nation is the continued suffering of their people. They are truly devoid of morals. But if Israel followed COIN, their already dwindling support could continue to drop. Recruitment could fall off. In the vacuum this created, new governance units and parties could come to power. A new generation of Palestinians could be born without hatred of Israel burned into their psyche through air strikes and bombings. It could take a generation - probably more than one. But peace could come to the region.

Perhaps this sounds idealistic, and it very well may be. However, it is clear that extreme violence in Gaza - and the massive civilian casualties it causes - is not ending the struggle between Palestinians and Israelis. As of today, July 25th, more than eight-hundred citizens of Gaza have been killed in the Israeli offensive. How many future insurgents have those eight hundred generated? Thousands, tens of thousands? I can only imagine. I implore the government of Israel to try something new. Try counterinsurgency. It could be the key to ending this descending spiral.

thepoliticalbreakdown said: I've been writing that I don't understand why Israel isn't following elementary counterinsurgency as espoused by David Kilcullen ("The Accidental Guerilla") and General Petraeus and proven in Iraq. The key: get the people on your side with minimum force and maximum exposure and trust-building. I recognize it's a more complicated dynamic with Israel/Palestine, yet Israel is literally doing the exact opposite. Creating more insurgents through heavy force. What do you think?


If someone is doing the exact opposite of the only strategy that is known to work, what is the most reasonable conclusion to draw? … that they don’t want to achieve that which they claim to want to achieve?

I asked a question of PoliticalProf and he was kind enough to answer. Have to say, I haven’t been able to reach any other conclusion besides his own.

Jul 22

A Response to Yishai Schwartz

I was recently sent an article titled “Israel’s 2014 Invasion of the Gaza Strip is Morally Justified”, by Yishai Schwartz. It has been years since I’ve been so disturbed and disgusted by a piece of writing.

A bit of background: several days ago I got into a…spirited debate on the subject of Israel and Palestine with a friend. This is rare, because though I write and discuss politics on the internet, I’m not the type to jump into one in the real world, especially not such a difficult and divisive issue as this one. But it happened. The viewpoint I gave to my friend was much the one I’ve written of previously - that both sides have legitimate grievances, that Israel has a right to defend itself, but that I find the way Israel chooses to marginalize Hamas both confusing, ineffective, and cruel in its high collateral damage.

Afterwards, my friend sent me Schwartz’s article. I found myself dumbfounded by its threadbare argument. Obviously enough, Schwartz writes that Israel’s recent actions in Gaza, beginning on July 8th with bombings of suspected Hamas militant stockpiles and quarters and continuing with a ground offensive, are morally justified. As of today (August 22nd), 25 Israeli soldiers and 2 Israeli civilians have died. Meanwhile, 550 Gazan citizens have perished, including at least 30 children.

Schwartz writes:

For if Israel declines to fight, we live in a world where terror groups use their own civilians, and twist morality itself, to bind the hands of those who try to fight morally. In this world, cruelty is an advantage, and the moral are powerless in the face of aggression and indiscriminate attack. And make no mistake: The eyes of the world are on Hamas, and terrorist groups worldwide will—as they have for generations—learn from the tactics of Gazan terrorists and the world’s reaction. So if Israel allows Hamas’ human shields to defeat it now, we will all reap the results in the years to come.

But there is an alternative. We can say that there is a principle worth fighting and dying for: Civilians cannot be used to make just wars impossible and morality will not be used as a tool to disarm. And once we have that principle, the proportionality calculation changes. The deaths of innocents are not simply outweighed by Israelis’ right to live without daily rockets and terrorists tunneling into a kibbutz playground; but by the defense of a world in which terrorists cannot use morality to achieve victory over those who try to fight morally.

Schwartz has laced his argument in rhetoric that speaks of principles, morals, and a greater good. But when you actually spend the time to discern and summarize his argument, it is that because Hamas uses reprehensible tactics, human shields are a non-issue that must be ignored.

I was floored. How could an educated man make that argument that Israel is morally justified for no other reason than that the other side is using despicable tactics? His sole argument is this: two wrongs make a right.

That’s it. That’s all there is.

It is childish, it is petty, and it is cruel. There is no appeal to Just War Theory or any substantive argument of political science. Only the belief that we must create a precedent in which the actions of terrorists do not at all constrict our own tactics. And yet he espouses the precedent that in times of conflict, innocent human shields should be blithely ignored for the sake of achieving tactical objectives.

The tactics of the enemy influence our own. They always have and they always should. I can not imagine the slope that such a belief would take humanity down. Do we mow down the next gunman that takes a hostage, just to show future criminals that we won’t allow innocents to determine our tactics? Because this seems to be precisely what Schwartz is arguing for.

Like Nicholas Kristof, I believe both Israelis and Palestinians have legitimate grievances. I personally do not believe Hamas is justified in its tactics that trade civilian life for potshots at Israel, nor do I believe Israel is justified in accepting extremely high collateral damage in exchange for mediocre tactical gains. I believe that there are better ways for Israel to end the rocket fire. Yet with a terrorist group firing rockets into its territory, I am certain a plausible argument could be made that Israel’s Gazan offensive is morally justifiable, even though it is likely I would ultimately disagree.

This however, is not one of those arguments.

Jul 21

Israel, Palestine, and Elementary Counterinsurgency.


Israel is a smart nation full of very smart people, so I can’t help but wonder why they aren’t applying the most basic - and by far most critical - tenant of counterinsurgency doctrine to their relations with Gaza.

Let’s back up for just a second. Insurgents, by their nature, do not fight an open war. They fight in the shadows, attacking and then blending back into the arboreal or urban jungle from which they came. You cannot fight them like you would fight an “ordinary” war - you have to dramatically change your strategy in order to have any real effect. The United States had to learn this lesson the hard way when they invaded Iraq in 2003. For the first several years, casualties were climbing and despite our force’s best efforts, conditions were not improving. Things did not start getting better until 2006 when General Petraeus, under the tutelage of counterinsurgency master David Kilcullen, completely changed the way the military was operating.

Now, Kilcullen has a lot to say about counterinsurgency (abbreviated COIN), and it is all fascinating. But here is the keystone to it all: the way to defeat insurgency is not to attack the enemy, but to protect and win over the people.

If insurgents are fish, the people are a coral reef. If insurgents are snakes, the people are the grass. If there is no grass, no coral reef, then the inhabitants within will have no place to hide.

Back to Iraq. The number of attacks did not decline until Petraeus took command in 2007. Technology did not help. Missiles, bombs, and bullets did not make the situation more stable. Instead, General Petraeus got the troops among the people, protected them, stayed with them, and they began to talk to him and give him much needed information. Petraeus convened a meeting of experts to make a new manual, retraining army officers how to think. The manual adhered to classic tenants of COIN: Minimum firepower and force must be used. Winning over the population is the objective.

What if Israel decided to follow basic COIN in their fight with Hamas? What if instead of enraging the Palestinians and the Arab world, they sought to win over the Palestinians through education, social services, reliable utilities, etc? It has worked in the past and could work in the future. If the Israeli government focused on winning over the Palestinian people, it could do much more for their security than missile strikes ever could.

Another gratuitous self-reblog. But since everything is exactly the same as last time, as this cycle repeats itself to the letter every two to three years, I’ve little to say that I haven’t already said before. Why is Israel ignoring the most basic tenants of counterinsurgency as espoused by David Kilcullen and other experts in the field? There are better ways to defeat terrorists like Hamas - by winning over the people.

Jul 20

On the contrary, this is a war in which both peoples have a considerable amount of right on their sides. The failure to acknowledge the humanity and legitimate interests of people on the other side has led to cross-demonization. That results in a series of military escalations that leave both peoples worse off.

Israelis are absolutely correct that they have a right not to be hit with rockets by Hamas, not to be kidnapped, not to be subjected to terrorist bombings. And Palestinians are absolutely right that they have a right to a state, a right to run businesses and import goods, a right to live in freedom rather than relegated to second-class citizenship in their own land.

Both sides have plenty of good people who just want the best for their children and their communities, and also plenty of myopic zealots who preach hatred. A starting point is to put away the good vs. evil narrative and recognize this as the aching story of two peoples — each with legitimate grievances — colliding with each other.

” — The absolute gospel truth according to Nicholas Kristoff, which is admittedly very similar to what I said in my opinion article Neither is Justified. This is the article I’ve been searching for. It’s not the one Israel supporters or Palestine supporters want, but it’s the one both desperately need. Read it. Reread it. Take it to heart.

(Source: The New York Times)

Jul 18

The number of people seeking sanctuary in UN shelters in Gaza rose from 22,000 to over 40,000 on Friday, said Christopher Gunness, a spokesman for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA).

"We have also launched a $60m (£35m) appeal for our emergency work," he added.

The BBC’s Yolande Knell in Gaza City says Israeli aircraft and artillery intensified strikes in the north, east and south of Gaza on Friday. Meanwhile, air raid sirens sounded in towns across southern Israel as rocket attacks from Gaza continued.

At least 48 Palestinians have been killed since the ground offensive began, officials in Gaza said. One Israeli soldier also died. The dead included three Palestinian children killed by Israeli tank fire in the north of Gaza, medics added.

At least 290 Palestinians - three-quarters of them civilians - have died since the start of the wider Israeli operation on 8 July, officials in Gaza say. One Israeli civilian has been killed by mortar fire and several Israelis have been seriously injured.

” —

BBC News, “Gaza Conflict”.

It happened in 2008, it happened in 2012, and it’s happening again now. The situation is gross and festering and complicated and I can’t take sides, but I will admit I always find Israel’s actions extremely problematic, bordering on morbid. I recognize Israel’s right to safety, but when you look at the numbers, it becomes civilian slaughter - a far cry from self defense.


Jul 17

On Israel and Palestine: Neither is Justified.


l’ve been avoiding this.

With the world and the internet blowing up with opinions on the conflict between Israel and Hamas, I feel the need to throw my own into the ring. I didn’t become a political blogger to avoid the heavy issues. I’m going to do my best to condense an opinion I carried throughout Israel’s ground offensive in Gaza four years ago; an opinion that has remained more or less constant to this day.

Let me get one thing out of the way, before I begin. The question of who is “right” and who is “wrong” in the conflict between Israel and Palestine is so impossible to answer as to be ridiculous to ask. I suppose if one studied the centuries long conflict over the disputed territories they could reasonably say who they thought was in the right. However, while I have delved into the last sixty years of conflict and the founding of Israel, I have neither the time nor the inclination to go back millennia in search of whether the Palestinians or the Israelis are “right”. With that being said, let me continue.

I was privileged to attend an extremely multicultural and international university four years ago when Israel’s last Gaza offensive occurred. I patiently listened to the opinions of Jewish classmates, former Israeli soldiers, and Palestinian supporters. While both sides had heavy-hitting, plausible arguments, there was only one thing I absolutely could not abide. The one thing I cannot stand is when a person attempts to cast either Israel or Palestine - in this case, it is actually correct to say Hamas - as morally justified in their actions. I cannot say this enough. Neither is just. Neither’s actions are justified. The actions both take are entirely reprehensible. Why?

Whether the Israeli government is right or wrong in terms of expanding settlements, blockades, etc, Hamas’s firing of rockets blindly at Israeli citizens is morally reprehensible.

Whether you have the “right to defend yourself” or not, blowing up buildings that you know innocent women, men, children, and babies reside in is morally reprehensible. 

Hamas is cruel and cowardly. They hide behind the innocents and blame the Israelis for deaths that come from retaliation.

Israel is cruel and draconian. Their counterstrikes on the homes of “suspected militants” have killed far more innocents than Hamas’ cruel rockets ever have.

As far as the disputed land is concerned, whether you believe Israel is right, Palestinians is right, or this two-state solution using X year’s boundaries is the correct answer to this dispute, that is fine by me. I will listen carefully and add your justifications and arguments into those I have heard before. But do not ever have the gall to attempt to convince me that one side’s violent, murderous actions are just.  

In the wake of such mind-numbing fatalities such as Israel killing a group of children playing on a Gaza beach, I thought this self-reblog to be relevant.