Tuesday, July 25, 2006

How "proportionality" destroys the best chance for peace 

The criticism that Israel is not acting "proportionally" is so unbelievably asinine that I cannot help but pound away at it in post after tiresome post. Fortunately, I have friends and allies. Ed Morrissey takes the proportionality myth outside and just beats it senseless:

[I]f someone is stupid enought to bring a knife to a gunfight, it doesn't mean that those holding the guns have a moral obligation to fight with knives instead. Proportionality demands exactly that, and it leads to nothing but longer and more destructive wars. Part of the reasons nations build strong militaries is to deter people from committing aggressive acts against them. The United States did not build the military it has just to provide "proportionate" reponse. Such a limitation would invite any tinpot dictator or kleptocrat to attack us, knowing that we would only respond in proportion to their ability to attack. It makes every fight even-up from the beginning, odds that would encourage a lot more fighting, not less.

For too long, the world has expected Israel to fight with one hand behind its back, even when others commit acts of war against them. Israel withdrew from Gaza and from Lebanon to avoid the implications of occupation, where Israel had to act in a law-enforcement mode where proportionality makes more sense. Now, however, Hezbollah invaded Israel, killed eight soldiers, and captured two others -- an act of war that no other nation would abide, with the possible exception of Jimmy Carter's United States, circa 1979.

If Hezbollah finds itself holding a knife in a gunfight, then the blame falls on Hezbollah and the Lebanese government that granted then de facto sovereignty in the south. Wars do not get fought through "proportionality," and they certainly do not end that way. They end when one side overwhelms the other with superior force and dictates terms to the loser, or when one side decides they've had enough and sues for peace. Demands for proportionality lead us to where we are today -- long, bloody wars of attrition that solve nothing and embolden asymmetrical warfare.

The left claims that the powerful states of the world, especially the United States and Israel, need not fear for their security because they can use their military power to deter aggression. To a post-Cold War lefty, the magic of deterrance supposedly obviates the need to intervene preemptively, or to remove regimes that commit "petty" acts of war against us or even declare themselves to be our enemy. See, e.g., the most frequently offered reasons why we should not have removed Saddam, or should not consider military options to deal with Iran. We can, after all, obliterate any power that actually attacks us, so why worry?

What your basic anti-defense lefty does not admit, however, is that effective deterrance requires not only the capability to retaliate, but that the threat to retaliate be credible. The former without the latter is worthless.

The requirement that retaliation be proportional reather than "massive" destroys the credibility of the threat to retaliate and therefore the effectiveness of the deterrance. Why? Because it allows the attacker to determine the price he will pay for launching the attack. If the attacker knows that he can absorb a blow equal to the one he delivers, then he will not be concerned that the defender has the capability to retaliate massively.

This is like limiting the penalty for property crimes to restitution. Why not rob the bank? If you're caught, you only have to give the money back.

The advocates of "proportionality", therefore, are undermining the effectiveness of threatened massive retaliation as a means for preventing war. If the left succeeds in promoting this ridiculous idea as a new norm of international behavior or requirement of international law, it will have destroyed the effectiveness of deterrance, the one means that we know reliably prevents war in the first place. Surely this is not what the left and the Europeans hope to accomplish.

Now, since all of this is so obvious that one is almost embarrassed to mention it, there is but one real reason why the left and various nettlesome countries are demanding that Israel's response be proportional. They want Israel to lose.


By Blogger Habu, at Tue Jul 25, 04:42:00 PM:

Yes..hurt them, but don't leave any marks.

There are only a few times in history when things made sense.
The first time was when I was born, and I can't remember the second.
My friend Possumtater says don't even try to figure out the entire continent of Africa. I think he's right.  

By Blogger Habu, at Tue Jul 25, 04:48:00 PM:

Oh yeah I forgot.
As a member in good standing of the Curtis LeMay Group I should have mentioned ow gratifying and theraputic it would be if we just firebombed the major Islamic cities.
MOAB's are good things and should be used more often. I'll be happy to provde a list if necessary.  

By Blogger Habu, at Tue Jul 25, 05:04:00 PM:

OK, so your site doesn't catch crap on the equal time deal here's the other side.

America is evil. Allah is magnificent and benificent.Jews cause all the worlds troubles.
Spandex is evil. T-backs are really evil. Cutting of heads is appropriate for most crimes.
Allah is good, really good. Jews are monkeys and pigs.

There are variations on this logic but the shear force of it would make Rene Decartes happy and proud.

Ok equal time compliance done in stunning fashion ..oops wait Possumtater just came in and wants to say a few thangs
"Taint never seen a raghead who new truth from ly'in. 'tanit never.  

By Blogger CDN Observer, at Tue Jul 25, 05:59:00 PM:

Futility and peace:
Rule #1: It is futile to expect peace if the belligerent party knows that the aggrieved is limited to proportionate response.
Rule #2: It is futile to expect peace if the belligerent party knows that they will be judged based upon "neutrality".
Rule #3: It is futile to expect peace if the belligerent party has no desire to participate.
Rule #4: It is futile to expect peace if the belligerent party continues to prepare for war during a ceasefire.
Rule #5: It is futile to expect peace when the world holds only the aggrieved side to the terms of the Geneva Convention.
Rule #6: It is futile to expect peace when the belligerent party cries foul very time he gets the crap beaten out of him...and the referee steps in to save his sorry a$$.
Add your own...  

By Blogger Escort81, at Tue Jul 25, 06:09:00 PM:

I think you are slightly off point in your proportionality argument, although there is still a great deal of solid reasoning and validity to it. The BBC would not care at all if the IDF was pounding away at Hezbollah, inflicting casualties in a one-sided manner and eliminating its fighters as a threat, provided that no Lebanese civilians were hurt or infrastructure damaged. Obviously, that's not a real world scenario. It's the collateral damage that has people concerned, and I am sure even the IDF leadership has a degree of regret over what it must do in Lebanon. The irony is that Hezbollah fighters, according to a number of press reports quoting the IDF as well as TH's oft-cited StratFor analyses, are giving as well as they are getting (this isn't your father's terrorist/militia organization a la the old PLO days), so asking the IDF to hang back against a formidable tactical opponent (albeit with no air cover or armor) seems a bit odd.  

By Blogger Cardinalpark, at Tue Jul 25, 06:35:00 PM:

Escort81: patience my friend, Hez will soon be overmatched. The ground bit has just gotten started. As to the point about civilian casualties, please keep in mind that Hez don't wear a uniform and are embedded in civilian areas. And they have no compunciton launching unguided rockets into civilian areas. Why that last point doesn't dominate the discussion on the civilian casualties point I have no idea. I guess Israeli munitions are simply more effective.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Tue Jul 25, 07:39:00 PM:

There's ethics, and there's efficacy.

This whole argument presupposes that the best way to beat a terrorist is to be a terrorist. But it's completely unclear to me how killing hundreds of bystanding Lebanese does anything to make Hezbollah less likely to cause trouble in the future. You're killing some, but at the same time just manufacturing MORE Hezbollah.

As for proportionality, I think all but the craziest of the crazy instinctively believe there is such a thing, you just draw the line in very different places. Here's a mental exercise: if it succeeded in "defeating" Hezbollah, would it be justifiable to kill every single resident of Lebanon? Kill every Arab in the Middle East? Most people would probably say no. (At least I hope so, though some of your commenters probably would think it's ok).

Most people who worry about this sort don't want Israel to lose, they want Israel to survive, AND some of us who are naive want Israel to MEAN something. OK, that's vague (Now, this idea is probably nearly as inherently racist in its own patronizing way, as those who want to nuke all the towelheads, but that's another topic).  

By Blogger Final Historian, at Tue Jul 25, 07:56:00 PM:

"Here's a mental exercise: if it succeeded in "defeating" Hezbollah, would it be justifiable to kill every single resident of Lebanon? Kill every Arab in the Middle East? Most people would probably say no. (At least I hope so, though some of your commenters probably would think it's ok)."

What if that was balanced against the life of everyone in Israel? Such blanket statements mean little.

Hizb'allah has made the use of civilians as human shields into a fine art. Frankly, a few hundred dead, for the intensity of attacks, strikes me as rather low. Israel is holding back, and I worry that means more deaths in the long run.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Tue Jul 25, 07:59:00 PM:

"Proportionality" is assinine lunacy in warfare. The sad thing is that the Left does not even know that because they have no clue on how to conduct warfare. From the days of Sun Tzu to Clausewitz to modern American military doctrine, the opposite is preached: Overwhelming force delivers victory.

Synergy of forces, lethality and mass of attack are key doctrines in warfare and indeed taught at the US Air Force and Army.

In addition, in total warfare (which the world has not seen since WW2) advocates attacking every facet of a society and its warfare capabilities; including the civilian populations that sustain the warfighting ability of an enemy. We're not the Japanese and German workers who cranked out milions of pieces of weapons systems legitimate targets in WW2? Of course they were. We would not have achieved total victory unless the entire warfighting culture of Japan and Germany been engaged and defeated.

The first rule of warfighting also seems to be forgotton: Break the enemy's will to fight.

You certainly do not do that with tit for tat warfare.

War is hell. I think if Israel simply announced they were going to kill Hizbullah wherever they fought regardless of any civilians in the area, Hizbollah would lose their one tactical advantage in terrorism.

Hence we Americans and indeed all Westerners will inevitably lose this war because we have self-imposed insane limits to our ability to wage warfare.

Actually there is one country capable of defeating the Islamists if they ever so choose (which they will not):

France. Ironic huh?

Think about it.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Tue Jul 25, 08:10:00 PM:

Quote: "This whole argument presupposes that the best way to beat a terrorist is to be a terrorist."

That is a typical disingenious statement. And typically a disingenious "moral equivalency" argument that the left falls back on in every debate they choose to engage in. (Because in the end, that is all they have)

If you cannot see the difference in Israeli tactics and the tactics that Hizbollah employs, then you are simply not worthy of the debate. You might as well get on to your "Bush was behind the 9/11 attacks" thesis lurking underneath. Please spare us the time and let us know where you stand on that....


By Blogger ScurvyOaks, at Tue Jul 25, 08:19:00 PM:

I think Anonymous #1 is largely correct. I want Israel to fight a just war, and one of the just war principles is that the response to aggression needs to be appropriate in light of the nature and extent of the aggression. (I deliberately use "appropriate" because I think the word "proportionate" is the source of a lot of misunderstanding with respect to the current situation.) The dispute really is about where you draw that line.

I think Israel has been quite restrained in its response thus far. Most of the parties criticizing Israel's response as disproportionate are tossing around a term that they understand very poorly and are using it to reach an unreasonable conclusion.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Tue Jul 25, 08:38:00 PM:

Allow me to pick up on my theme above: "The first rule of warfighting also seems to be forgotton: Break the enemy's will to fight."

Palestinians who willingly send their sons and daughters to blow themselves up are legitimate targets in this war against Islamofascism.

Palestinians who willingly hang out with their men fighters and act as human shields are legitimate targets.

A Lebanese Islamic family who symphathizes with Hizbollah terrorists who has their house used by same terrorists for rocket attacks are legitimate targets.

A Lebanese "civilian" who smuggles weapons in an ambulance to sustain warfighting of Hizbollah is a legitimate target.

A truly innocent civilian who somehow manages to get caught up in all these situations above is still a legitimate target and need not be mourned too long.

Such is warfare.

Break the will of the enemy to fight. Unfortunately breaking the will of Islamists is damned near impossible due to their religious fervor. Hence you must break their religious fervor first.


Well, it seems to me that you deliver a crushing blow to the whole Islamic society who chooses to fight warfare.

In simply comes down to this: If indeed Palestians as a whole wish to engage in warfare (they elected Hamas did they not?) then the whole of Palestine must be broken of its will to fight. That has yet to be done in over 40 years. Hence there will be more fighting for decades to come until their will to fight is broken.

It is simply a cardinal rule and cannot ever be forgotten. Will to fight.

The West will lose because we will lose the will to fight before the Islamists do unless we change the way we fight wars. The Left will ensure of that.

The whole notion of a "clean" war is a losing strategy against Islamists and they know it full well.

I pray for my children's children's children. Sharia law will be a living hell.


By Blogger ScurvyOaks, at Tue Jul 25, 08:42:00 PM:

I need to refine and amend my previous comment. In classic just-war theory, the proportionality principle is a "jus in bello" restraint requiring action to be limited to what is reasonably necessary to accomplish lawful objectives. Under that standard, Israel's actions thus far generally seem to be proportionate. My point remains that a lot of those criticizing Israel for a disproportionate response are not using proportionate in a way that matches up with its long-established meaning in this context.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Tue Jul 25, 08:52:00 PM:


I'm anonymous #1. Let me re-state. Actually, I think it's the other side that is engaging in a sort of moral relativism -- i.e., because this terrorist organization is immoral, then it's ok AND EVEN NECESSARY to be immoral in fighting them. I can see why you misread what I wrote to mean Israel is taking terrorist actions -- I don't really -- but what I meant to say was your side seems to think that they should and that it's the most effective way of dealing with them.

My major concern is that I don't see what they're doing -- forget about whether it's ethical or not --- is going to work in the long-term. Not that a "cease-fire" will help much either.

PS - If you really care, I find the 9/11 conspiracy theorists to be offensive in the extreme. It's easy to assume that someone who disagrees with you is a crazy nutjob, isn't it? Be careful, my friend. I could just as easily say you obviously would like to vaporize all Muslims everywhere. But I know you don't really.


By Blogger John Hinds, at Tue Jul 25, 08:54:00 PM:

When the U.S. fought WW II there was no "proportionality". The Germans, the Japanese, the Italians are now our friends and allies to one degree or another. When we fought the "cold" war against the hegemony of the major communist states there was a measure of proportionality; yet, Russia and China, though not our friends in the same way as Germany, etc., are nonetheless involved with us in a more or less civilized way. As regarding the Korea and Vietnam wars, I would say they were more battles in the cold war than wars in themselves; and yes, we used proportionality in those conflicts. As a result we are still dealing with a major failure vis a vis North Korea. Vietnam, unlike states whose ass we properly kicked, is still pretty much an economic basket case whereas if we had used our full force then they would be much better off today; though I still claim we won that battle, just not decisively.

I think the problem with the current emerging world wide conflagration is that these people are so much different from us. We might as well be fighting aliens from another world. This is different from our previous conflicts in that these people are pre-medieval in their world view. We fail to understand what motivates them. We seem unable to accept that they don't want something "from us". They just want our destruction. One of their leaders said as much many years ago in a moment of candor.

We don't understand them. We are doomed to failure because we do not "know" our enemy. Lacking this knowledge we have a difficult time anticipating his next act of aggression. In fact, I am not so sure we even know ourselves anymore. This is a failure of leadership as much as anything. But I will tell you one thing. I believe our enemy is human enough to have his will broken and to do this the blood, as foretold in the Bible, will have to run in the streets to the depth of a horse's bridle. This can happen. Let them send a WMD into Tel Aviv or deal a major blow to America's heartland again.

The Greek historian Herodotus, writing about the Persian wars of 490 and 479 B.C., quotes the Persian king Xerxes:

"I intend to throw a bridge over the Hellespont, and to march an army through Europe against Greece, that I may punish the Athenians for the injuries they have done to the Persians....I...will not rest till I have taken and burnt Athens....if we shall subdue them, and their neighbors....we shall make the Persian territory co-extensive with the air of heaven; nor will the sun look down upon any land that borders on ours; but I...will make them all one territory, marching through the whole of Europe...no city or nation of the world will remain, which will be able to come to a battle with us... Thus, both those who are guilty, and those who are not guilty, must equally submit to the yoke of servitude."

Some of the rhetoric of the enemy is a mere echo of these sentiments.

Three hundred Spartans, at a mountain pass at Thermopylae, fought to the last man against Xerxes' army. In the valley below, the Greek army used this precious time to prepare to do battle against the invaders. The Greeks prevailed.

In a sense, Israel now fills the place of the Spartans giving the U.S. time to get its act together for the next chapter in this sad tale of which the current events are but a foretaste. God bless them for their service to a seemingly indifferent or even hostile human race. I for one, wish they would take the gloves off. Hell, I wish we would take the gloves off.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Tue Jul 25, 08:55:00 PM:

I'm in a posting mood tonight Tiger. Let me answer the above:
".....one of the just war principles is that the response to aggression needs to be appropriate in light of the nature and extent of the aggression."

This statement is false. "just warfare" is only a moral underlining for conducting modern warfare. It is wholly a Western concept that has evolved out of the ashes of the cataclysmic WW1 and WW2. It is indeed a good concept. It allows us a civilized society to sleep at night when they are engaged in a "just War"

Certainly the war against Islamists worldwide is a "just war".

But having a "proportionate" response to agression is a matter of debate when you are fighting Islamists. That is the whole crux of the matter. For who doubts that they would use nuclear weapons if they had them?

If we merely damage (an "appropriate response" yes?) their ability to WAGE war (destroying their weapons) yet leave them the WILL to fight another day, who doubts they will come back even harder next time??

So once again, you get back to breaking the enemy's will to fight.

Appropriate response = Proportionate response any way you cut it. Its another disingenious use of terms the Left employs that will ensure our doom.


By Anonymous Anonymous, at Tue Jul 25, 09:07:00 PM:

Quote:"I could just as easily say you obviously would like to vaporize all Muslims everywhere. But I know you don't really."

If every muslim everywhere wishes me destruction, then I will certainly wish those who think that way to be vaporized.

So the question you should be pondering is "How many Muslims on this good Earth are willing to take up arms if given the chance and wish me (representative of the West) death and destruction?"

1 million?
10 million?
100 million?

So yes, I wish those who yearn for my destruction to be vaporized. I would rather they be rehabilitated but given the track record of Islam over 1350 years, I don't think thats realistic.

For if Muslims wish my destruction, surely they wish for yours as well do they not?

Or do you think you can stay in their good graces by submitting to dhimmitude?

Please I await an answer.


By Anonymous Anonymous, at Tue Jul 25, 11:21:00 PM:


hmmmm... sounds like you think Muslim society is fundamentally and hopelessly violent, anti-Western, and has been from the beginning. In which case, is establishing a beachhead of democracy in Iraq so that it may spread across the Middle East the most effective way to peace?  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Tue Jul 25, 11:57:00 PM:

Anony, I would point you to the wonderful website called JIHADWATCH and you will find your answer.

To make a long story short: No, Democracy is not the answer as much as I wish it to be. However I do think Democracy will help the WEST to achieve clarity on the whole situation in the long run and that will be good for us.

Warfare is fought on 2 fronts: Physical (weapons, etc) and Ideas (what we are engaged in on this blog doing now).

We have the weapons to win but we lack the will to win. We are lacking in the idea dept. Islamists boast about this all the time and count on it.

Islam cannot be reformed or it would no longer be Islam. The Islamists know it as do the "moderate" Muslims know this.

Apostasy in Islam is punishable by death. That should also clue you in the "reformability" of Islam.

Iraq and Afghanistan is a good beachhead for invading Iran and that is a good thing as they are the end game in this "war on terror".

But in the true long run, I fear Islam will overtake us all. The West doesn't have the stomach for the fight.

There are over a billion muslims in this world and that is disheartening considering they are having babies at a 4 times rate as the rest of teh world. It is a matter of demographics if anything. Eventually (very shortly) half the world will be muslim and do you think they will be satisfied? No, their doctrine tells them they must subjugate the ENTIRE PLANET eventually.

They have been doing it for 1350 years.

Democracy will be merely a means in which they wrestle power fair and square (just like Hitler did)

Democracy enables Islamists. Don't let Tiger's well thought-out essay fool you because he ignored the big fat elephant in the room: namely Islam itself.


By Anonymous Anonymous, at Wed Jul 26, 12:19:00 AM:

Sorry I never answered the question that was asked:

"...is establishing a beachhead of democracy in Iraq so that it may spread across the Middle East the most effective way to peace?"

As I have explained in other posts on this topic, the only way to peace is to break the enemy's will to fight.

So the correct question is "what will break the muslim's will from fighting and trying to subjugating infidels worldwide?"

Considering that Islam has been warring with Infidels for 1350 years and we have not made one dent in their deterrrence I propose that the only way to true peace is to eradicate the source itself:Islam.

Just like we wiped out Naziism we must wipe out Islam. Islam is, after all, jsut another ideology. It is under the guise of "religion" that has protected it for all these centuries and allowed it to mestasitize.

Simply put, we must eradicate the Muslims natural will to fight us infidels. The only way we can achieve this is a massive campaign against Islam itself. Totally defeat it and discredit it to the point where its followers leave the religion and it no longer attracts new recruits.

This has been how ideologies have been eradicated for millenium.

As you can see, this is a wholly radical way of thinking that no one is very much ready dare discuss, but nonetheless, it is the only answer in my estimation.

So yes, considering that there are a billion plus muslims in this world, I fear there will be a lot of killing in the long run. I of course do not wih this, but sooner or later the muslims will back the West to a wall and we are bound to respond very violently.

Mecca will be a sheet of glass for starters.

However the Left wingers have made common cause with Islamists so I am not sure we will even attain a "back against the wall" scenario particularly if the left wingers are in charge of all the major governements at the time.

Perhaps we'll go down with a wimper. I probably won't be alive for that so I can't say.

Remember, muslims individually can be good people, but Islam as a religion will dooom us all. Think of it that way and you can achieve clarity in this matter.

Sorry but that is the truth. I wish it wasn't but I have searched and searched and only keep coming to one conclusion.


By Blogger ScurvyOaks, at Wed Jul 26, 10:06:00 AM:


"Just war" is a very old theory. The first real development of it was by St. Augustine, so it's about 1500 years old (not something that arose out of the ashes of WWI and WWII). It has withstood the test of time as a sound way to analyze the difficult moral questions that accompany any decision to use military force.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Wed Jul 26, 10:25:00 AM:

Yes of course you are correct Scurvy. I should have modified my statement by saying that "Just War" is the only way the West will fight it's wars from mid-20th century onward. And that Just war theory is being twisted like a pretzel. Military and political leaders will be wise to avoid its trappings.

It is "proportionate force" theory that is gaining a foothold in modern warfare.

Proportionate force almost never breaks the enemy's will to fight.

Unless of course the proportionality neuters the enemy's will to fight. Which is neigh impossible against modern Islamists.

Proportionate force may render an enemy incapable of fighting however allowing an enemy to retain the will to fight is both foolish and dangerous.

Look I'm no PHD war theoretician so I am probably getting some of my points confused.

However, I am correct about the central point in defeating any enemy:

You must break their will to fight for you to truly achieve victory and lasting peace.


By Anonymous Anonymous, at Wed Jul 26, 12:09:00 PM:


Wow, I thought I was exaggerating for effect when I said you want to kill them all. But you really do, huh? I have to admit, I'm fascinated by the mindset of someone who seems to feel perfectly comfortable with that sort of extermination program. Here's hoping you succeed in keeping all that rage safely channeled onto harmless blogs.

ps - do you not see the irony that the muslim extremists convince themselves of the very same foolishness -- that the West is hell-bent on their utter destruction, and this justifies unspeakable violence? such ideas then become self-fulfilling prophecies. if both sides think this way, everyone winds up dead. which, i suppose, is one good way of achieving lasting peace.


By Blogger ScurvyOaks, at Wed Jul 26, 12:39:00 PM:


I agree that just war theory is being twisted like a pretzel. But I don't think that's a good or sufficient reason to jettison it. What's needed is the patience and persistence to explain to the many people who are distorting the proportionality principle what it actually means. To reiterate, proportionality means that action should be limited to what is reasonably necessary to accomplish lawful objectives. (And, obviously, that's very different from saying that you can't use more force than the other side does, or kill more of them than they've killed of you, or anything along those lines.)

I consider eliminating Hezbollah's military capabilities to be a lawful objective for Israel. What Israel has done so far seems to be reasonably necessary to accomplish that objective. (I'm assuming that the IDF/IAF did not deliberately take out the UN post; useless as those observers or peacekeepers are, I don't see how there is any reasonable need to kill them.) Why isn't this an appropriate way to frame the issues?

Moreover, because I want to support what Israel does, I very much want Israel to fight a just war. It's Israel's enemies who want them to fight an unjust war.  

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