Thursday, May 14, 2009

Political Proverbs for an Age of Unreason

By Barry Rubin

Since many basic political and diplomatic concepts seem to have been forgotten in recent years—often by political leaders and diplomats, not to mention scholars and journalists—this list of political proverbs is to remind people of them.

1. If you use your territory for unprovoked attacks on a neighbor, that neighbor will exercise the right of self-defense and attack you back. (Example: Hamas in the Gaza Strip attacking Israel.)

2. If a weaker power attacks a stronger one, the weaker power is likely to lose the war. No one should be surprised by that result nor seek to rectify it. On the contrary, this reality is a major factor reducing the frequency of war. (Same as above.)

3. If a weaker power commits aggression against a stronger one, the attacker is not entitled to sympathy merely because it is weaker. (Same as above.)

4. If you care about a people on humanitarian grounds, it doesn’t make sense to help impose an extremist and repressive dictatorship on them. (The West keeping Hamas in power in the Gaza Strip, etc.)

5. If you use civilians as human shields and some of those civilians are killed in the course of your aggression, then it is your responsibility for their deaths. (Hamas in the Gaza Strip.)

6. If one side deliberately targets civilians, that side is terrorist. If another side tries everything possible to avoid civilian casualties in defending itself, that side is justified in its behavior. (The Gaza War).

7. If a group wins an election, then stages a coup that seizes full power, suspends democracy and kills or expels its rival, the resulting government is not a democratically elected one. (Hamas in the Gaza Strip).

8. If you are offered an end to occupation and a state of your own but instead reject that offer and then attack the side that was ready to compromise, you are not a victim. (Fatah/Palestinian Authority and Hamas in the Gaza Strip).

9. If a side withdraws from territory it has captured and turns it over to the other side, the former group cannot be said to be an occupier (Israel withdrawing from the Gaza Strip.)

10. If a country is repeatedly made promises by the international community and those promises are not kept, the victimized country has a right to act unilaterally and to be skeptical of such promises in future. (UN promises to keep the Gulf of Eilat open in 1956; Western promises of support for Israel if its peace process concessions resulted in high risks in the 1990s; Western promises to stop smuggling and the return of Hizballah to southern Lebanon, 2006).

11. If a movement is radical Islamist, terrorist, and genocidal in its goals, it doesn’t make good sense to believe what it—or those whom it controls or who support it—say. (Western media credulity of even the most outrageous claims by Hizballah and Hamas or local officials beholden to it, even if their paycheck comes from the UN).

12. If you are under attack and others have no conception of what is actually going on, defending yourself is more important than having a nice media image.

13. If someone deliberately wants to misunderstand and misrepresent you, there is no way to persuade them otherwise. (Paraphrase of Eric Severeid, an honored American journalist when journalist was a term of respect.)

14. If someone says they are going to wipe your country off the map, take them seriously. (Examples given by A. Hitler and J. Stalin, more recently by Iranian, Hizballah, and Hamas leaderships.)

15. If history hasn’t shown that appeasement of dictators doesn’t work, what the heck lesson has it given? (Numerous examples).

16. If you forget this one you’re in trouble: “First they came for the Jews and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew….” (Pastor Martin Niemoller on European policy.)

17. If you don’t support allies you will soon find yourself without any.

18. However, no matter how nice you are to enemies you’ll still have them.

19. You can only make peace with enemies but only when they don’t want to be enemies any more.

20. The German socialist August Bebel called antisemitism, “The socialism of fools.” Today it is the ____ [fill in the blank] of fools.

21. Hatred of your own democratic country is the first refuge of scoundrels.

22. Patriotism may be the last refuge of scoundrels but hating one’s own country is the first refuge of pseudo-intellectuals.

23. If Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes were alive today he would insist, "I may not agree with what you say but I will defend to the death my right to offend you."

24. If someone attacks you with a gun shouting that he believes in death and you believe in life, help him on his way.

25. More than a century ago, the writer Ahad ha-Am said—regarding antisemitism—that we know our enemies are lying because their description of us doesn’t fit what we know about ourselves. That is still true. (He was referring to claims that Jews drank little children’s blood at Passover. It applies equally well to contemporary claims that Jews shed little children’s blood for fun.)

26. It is true that people in Europe no longer passionately believe in ideologies, are no longer ready to kill and die for their beliefs, and don’t seek to conquer empires or crush others. That doesn’t mean others think that way.

27. The main threat to Western society and civilization today is not Islamophobia.

28. If a leader or regime systematically teaches hate, sends threats in all directions, boasts of infallibility, and makes grandiose claims, it is only a matter of time before that factor will create a war or violence.

29. If you fight terrorists who wish to impose brutal dictatorships and extinguish all freedom that is called a war against terrorism. If you make concessions to terrorist groups, apologize for them, help save them, or put your efforts into hindering those who combat them that is called a war for terrorism.

30. If you think that a radical, aggressive Islamist regime in Iran having nuclear weapons will contribute to regional peace or stability, perhaps you should look into another line of work.

31. The main use of theory in political science and international affairs is to keep academics employed and limit the harm they do.

32. If you are old enough to remember when the media considered its job as reporting the news rather than telling you what to think and keeping information from you that it deems harmful then you should start considering applying for retirement benefits.

33. Blessed are the peacemakers. They will travel first-class to many conferences, enjoy high salaries, indulge in banquets, get praised in the media, and very occasionally might actually raise the level of peace.
34. Usually, however, they just reduce notice of the fact that the other side is waging war.

35. Those who have degrees in conflict management aren’t blessed but just silly, pompous, annoying and interfere in the management of conflicts.

36. If your concessions are seen by your enemies as signs of weakness and stupidity perhaps they have a point.

37. If your enemies were the kind of people who would learn to love you because you made unilateral concessions to them, they wouldn’t have been enemies in the first place.

38. Those who give away too much as “confidence-building measures” deserve to lose the confidence of their constituents.

39. Remember that just because you are ignorant of a conflict’s history and the other side’s nature doesn’t mean my country should suffer or be destroyed.

40. International affairs are too important to be left to the amateurs. On the other hand, when one looks at the “professionals” that’s pretty scary, too.

41. The idea that a country has interests--rather than trying to “do good” or “be nice” in a way that often does harm--seems to be a lost art.

42. Much of politics and culture today seems to consist mainly of not giving offense to those who want to kill you and destroy your civilization.

43. If you believe that all societies around the world are run by people who think alike and want the same things, you really should get out more often.

44. Anyone who thinks that suppressing women, forbidding freedom of speech, supporting terrorism, and rejecting the values of logic, the scientific method, and such things are just quaint local customs to be respected should be forced to live in those societies. [It might be acceptable as Federation policy on “Star Trek” but is not a good idea on planet Earth.]

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