War and Michael Walzer

  “The tasks of the critic, thus armored, are…to question relentlessly the platitudes and myths of his society”—Michael Walzer, The Company of Critics

“We justify our conduct; we judge the conduct of others.”—Michael Walzer, Just and Unjust Wars

In November, NYU School of Law hosted a conference entitled “The Enduring Legacy of Just and Unjust Wars—35 Years Later”. The conference wasn’t open to the public; but the occasion of the anniversary of Michael Walzer’s celebrated book gave me further opportunity to reflect on the shadow Walzer has cast over our intellectual life. I first became acquainted with Walzer’s writing as an undergraduate when, during a session of a course on Modern Jewish Philosophy, the class discussion shifted from Emmanuel Levinas to a thinker with somewhat more tangible ideas. Everyone in the class agreed on the stature of Michael Walzer as a public intellectual. I don’t remember the context of the conversation, or its content, but I do remember something the professor said in an offhand way. He said that Walzer was “the kind of liberal who likes to reason his way to a good conscience”.

This quote has stuck with me as I have gone on to explore Walzer’s writing. Since that time, Walzer has commented frequently— mostly in his familiar outlets of The New Republic and Dissent—on the two wars Israel has embarked on, first in Lebanon in 2006 and then Gaza in 2008, as well as the US wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Understandably, the views of the author of the seminal Just and Unjust Wars would be sought after, if only to bestow on each of these wars the moral seal of “just” or “unjust”. Readers may have been relatively surprised, as I once was, to find that Walzer “supported” three of these four wars. The exception, predictably, was the war in Iraq; even here, however, Walzer was careful to square his opposition to the war with what he termed, in the aftermath of the war in Afghanistan, a “decent left” position. An article written in The New York Review of Books on the eve of the 2003 invasion was called “The Right Way”. The “rightness” in question was not the invasion, or its execution, or the likely consequences for American soldiers and Iraqis; rather, Walzer was advising liberals to adopt his perfectly measured way of opposing the attack on Iraq—suggesting that the Left should never fail to emphasize the brutality of Saddam (as if that was in question), and even go so far as to concede the menacing nature of the Iraqi regime to its neighbors. Whatever one thinks of Wazler’s formula, it was obviously not conceived by Walzer to galvanize liberals, or to have any significant effect in arresting the drive to war.

Michael Walzer’s lasting authority on the subject of war clearly derives from his work Just and Unjust Wars. This book has, by all accounts, achieved something like canonical status, both within and outside the academy. It is easy to see why, though I will only posit a few reasons, from the perspective of a lay reader. It is written in clear and accessible prose, peppered with philosophical and literary allusions, all the more inviting because of the complex just war tradition Walzer navigates— rooted in Catholic moral theology, but historically involving thinkers as diverse as Maimonides, Aquinas and Hugo Grotious. Secondly, Walzer eschews a narrow legal positivism in favor of a broader moral perspective. Of course, law and morality inform each other throughout the work; they are not, however, indistinguishable in Walzer’s account of war. Lastly, there is Walzer’s determined stance as a citizen. Although it is not entirely clear from the book itself, Walzer has admitted elsewhere that the guiding idea behind Just and Unjust Wars was his support for the Six-Day War in Israel, as opposed to the American war in Vietnam, which he protested against. Thus Walzer, by his own account, set out to give his intuitive responses to war a theoretical framework for which to justify those responses, ex post facto. One can perhaps state that Walzer, in addition to much else, succeeds in vindicating his a priori positions. I would add, however, that later editions do not take account of the rich historical record that the Six-Day war has produced, especially as interpreted by Israel’s “New Historians” when the Israeli archives opened in the 1980s.. As some of these historians have shown, blame for the war falls, perhaps unevenly, on both sides.

More importantly, there is the issue of how the raison d’etre of Just and Unjust Wars has affected Walzer’s future stances on war. I would argue, indeed, that the qualities one notices in Just and Unjust Wars—Walzer’s unwillingness to defer to the framework of international law, his clear support for Israel’s resort to force, the ability to shape the argument to suit the war—have led him to badly misjudge later conflicts. At the very least, it must be quite ironic that given his moral authority, as well as his protestations about the “hellishness” of war, Michael Walzer has—with remarkably few exceptions—supported the many military adventures the United States and Israel have undertaken since Vietnam. True, as we shall see, Walzer has sometimes equivocated, mostly to inveigh against the predictable consequences that naturally follow from war. In the cases where he has opposed war, moreover, Walzer has basically done to the antiwar position what the Israelis did to the Road Map: entered enough caveats and qualifications as to make it essentially untenable.

There is one final quality of Just and Unjust Wars, in light of Walzer’s recent commentary, that bears mentioning. This is encapsulated by the subtitle of the book: “A Moral Argument with Historical Illustrations”. Walzer understands, or has in the past, that moral positions are nothing if they are not grounded in real events; that is, the way wars are actually, not ideally, fought. Thus every argument made by Just and Unjust Wars is illuminated by historical example. In Walzer’s later stances on particular wars, however, he has neglected or distorted the factual record. The factual record, in this sense, refers to historical context—obviously crucial to understanding—as well as verifiable information about how a war has been fought. In no instance has the conduct of a given war, even when it has manifestly included atrocities, affected Walzer’s initial judgment of that war. In other words, while his notion of just war has been applied quite loosely, Walzer’s judgments of war, once established, have been seemingly resistant to reinterpretation. In the case of Israel’s most recent wars, Walzer might be contrasted to prominent and likeminded Israeli liberals, many of whom at least called for a cease-fire in these conflicts as civilian casualties mounted on the other side.

In May 2009, Walzer co-authored (with the Israeli philosopher Avishai Margalit) an article entitled “Israel: Civilians and Combatants” in the The New York Review of Books. Readers of the New York Review understand their longstanding journalistic practice of recruiting Jewish intellectuals, preferably Israelis, to criticize Israeli policy—probably to protect the respective journal from charges of anti-Semitism or similar ad-hominem attack. Anyway, it would be hard to exaggerate the combined leverage—one senior member of the American Jewish left, another a senior member of the Israeli left—of these two authors, at least to those who care about Israeli politics. This came, of course, at a time when liberal opposition to (certain) Israeli policies was growing within the United States, as the emergence of the lobby J Street has shown. 

Far from a forceful denunciation of the actual war in Gaza, however, the article is essentially a speculation of what Israeli policy should entail, in the future. This is perhaps unsurprising, as Walzer apparently supported the Gaza War with, as always, a few caveats. In this case, Walzer and Margalit were responding to an article by two Israeli academics called “Assassination and Preventive Killing” which appeared in an American journal in 2005. Readers might wonder as to why Walzer and Margalit would scrutinize an article that appeared more than three years earlier. Walzer and Margalit, indeed, could not state definitively that the ideas expressed in the article governed IDF conduct in Gaza. So why now, in May 2009? Wouldn’t it be more prudent to consider the implications of this article, or others like it, before Israel engaged in two major wars? Or are we to believe that these two Princeton colleagues, both seasoned in debates surrounding Israel, were unaware of both the article and the ideas contained in it before May 2009, months after the Gaza fighting ended? Even if they only belatedly encountered the article, ideas surrounding policy rarely appear in a vacuum.

Apart from the dubious sense of timing, there is the nature of the article itself. As I said, Walzer and Margalit’s essay is not a retrospective consideration of the actual wars Israel has engaged in, whether in Gaza 2008 or Lebanon 2006. In fact, Walzer and Margalit are careful to remove their ideas from the realm of actual history. They hone in not on the issue of targeted assassination (which they purposely choose not to comment on), but on the question of the immunity and safety of non-combatants. They take issue with the idea, as put forward by the two Israeli academics, that given the confused nature of fighting terrorists, who readily recruit from and mingle with civilians, that Israeli soldiers might be absolved from the responsibility of risking their own safety to protect the lives of civilians on the other side. To Walzer and Margalit, Israeli soldiers are responsible for the lives of civilians—both their own, and the enemies. To blur the distinction between combatants and noncombatants, we are to understand, even in a war on terrorism—this would be a fateful blow to the concept of jus in bello. Walzer and Margalit end with the coy suggestion that Israeli soldiers should have no problem understanding the idea of treating theother side’s civilians as if they were your own; after all, aren’t Jews everywhere guided by the “counterfactual” notion that they were all present at Egypt?

One probably shouldn’t dwell on this clever idea; Walzer and Margalit do not seriously believe an idea repeated in the Passover haggadah would guide the actions of Israeli soldiers during war. Yet it does point to something real, and, I think, quite important about Walzer and Margalit’s article, which is its extreme presumptuousness. Here we have two professors at Princeton, both far removed from the realities of war, essentially telling soldiers in another country how to behave. They even, in fact, go so far in their article as to literally tell both sides what they should say to their soldiers. This might seem mundane, given how often intellectuals pontificate on issues of war and peace (and everything else), but it is noteworthy in Walzer and Margalit’s case because of their total unconcern for reality. Is there a chance in hell, to put it bluntly, that Israelis are going to take risks to their own safety, as Walzer claims they should, to protect the lives of those widely perceived to be the enemy? Walzer seems to think so, because the chief impediment to the immunity of noncombatants, in his eyes, is a matter of policy. Policy, of course, can be dictated and reversed (though nowhere, as I have said, does Walzer flatly state that Israel has purposely attacked civilians), perhaps with the necessary convincing from liberal intellectuals in the The New York Review of Books, which Israeli generals surely peruse on their breaks. But the chief impediment to the immunity or noncombatants is not simply, in the case of Israel and the United States, a matter of policy. It is equally a matter of two other things, namely the methods of modern warfare as well as the ideology of soldiers and their leaders. In other words, even were the United States and Israel to flatly rule out attacking civilians in war (which these countries, in practice, do not), other important issues would confound the nature of policy. If one wishes to seriously address the issue of civilian immunity, therefore, we must deal with these complicating factors. Yet Walzer virtually ignores these problems, instead focusing on academic questions that do not account for any sort of contingency in warfare. For this reason, we must seriously question his ability to grapple with war today, at least war as practiced by Israel and the United States. 

Let us return to the issue of noncombatant immunity in the wars of Israel. Noncombatant immunity, as any reader of Just and Unjust Wars knows, is a crucial component of just war theory. It is also, as mentioned, the ostensible topic of Walzer’s article in the New York Review of Books, co-authored with Avishai Margalit. In the article on the Gaza war, however, no historical background to the conflict is given, and there is no mention whatsoever of Israel’s actual prosecution of the war. Instead, Walzer and Margalit frame their approach to the subject as a response to that article written in 2005. Of course, by mid-2009—and I would suggest that this was the real impetus for Walzer’s article—very serious allegations were being made about Israel’s conduct during the war in Gaza, allegations that would eventually culminate in the Goldstone report. But the authors never engage any of these allegations. Their criticism is entirely hypothetical and prescriptive; they simply admonish the Israeli army to respect noncombatant immunity in future engagements. Of course, as the authors themselves know, what they tell the Israeli military to do will have no bearing whatsoever on what it actually does. What Walzer and Margalit would be capable of achieving, however, are reasoned conclusions about Israel’s behavior in Gaza. Yet this element—namely, reality—is curiously missing from their article. Instead, the reader is treated to a lengthy discussion of a scenario concocted by the authors, revolving around an imaginary kibbutz captured in northern Israel—something like the liberal equivalent of a Pentagon “war game”. One might conclude that the actual Gaza invasion, with its evident destruction and alleged atrocities, isn’t sufficiently relevant in hindsight to the issue of just war theory and Israel. 

To be fair, Walzer has also responded to Israel’s recent wars in a more timely manner, at least while they were ongoing. His article, “The Gaza War and Proportionality”, dated January 8, 2009, objects to the widespread notion that Israel’s attacks were “disproportionate” simply because they amounted to greater civilian casualties on the other side. As Walzer points out, correctly, issues of proportionality in war don’t amount to a simple one-for-one equation. Wars have aims; they are not simply a series of reprisals, and are thus governed by different rules than (to use his example) a family feud. Rocket attacks from Gaza, moreover, despite the failure to inflict large casualties, have obviously been designed with that intention. Is Israel, therefore, obligated to wait until Hamas has more sophisticated rockets? In that case, Walzer asks, “how many civilian casualties are ‘not disproportionate to’ the rocketing of Tel Aviv?”. Put this way, Walzer suggests, one is likely to justify the use of too much force. Yet it would be the logical conclusion of those insisting that Israel’s attack had been, up to that point, “disproportionate”.

Here, I think, Walzer effectively dismantles a superficial objection to the Gaza War; “proportionality” is not simply a matter of tallying casualties, remarkably lopsided though they were in Gaza. Yet it is crucial to note the issue of “proportionality”, however wrongly interpreted it was by both media pundits and heads of state, was hardly the main problem with Israel’s war. For as Walzer must know, the decision to go to war was itself the real crime, given that a cease-fire had been in place six months prior to the invasion, during which time Hamas rockets came to a standstill. Israel, in fact, did not live up to its obligations under the cease-fire (which required an ease of the blockade), then refused to renew Hamas’ offer to renew the cease-fire, just as Israel has always dismissed similar Hamas offers for long-term truces. This is all plain to those who follow the Israeli press—Israel’s decision to go to war in December 2008 was just that: a decision, hardly the only available option at Israel’s disposal. As was similarly revealed to Americans on 9/11, Israel’s war on Gaza showed the entire world that whatever their obvious enmity toward the Palestinians, the safety of Israel’s citizens is hardly the priority of the Israeli government. This is scandalous; but it is the only conclusion one can draw from the fact that the Israeli government has done everything in its power to avoid limited truces with Hamas in the future, while violating those cease-fires that have reigned between Hamas and Israel. 

The fact that Walzer was able to ignore this issue—that given the precedent of a non-violent solution, the war itself simply need never happened—may seem quite remarkable. Indeed, one might think that a preeminent just war theorist, in his capacity as public intellectual, could be relied upon to point to an clear instance of a government going to war as an alternative to peaceful resolution, of which the Gaza War was a paradigmatic example. Such an expectation is akin to supposing that a preeminent mathematician, when examining an apparently complicated proof, could point to mere errors of addition. Such logical (and moral) clarity is seemingly beyond Walzer.

Walzer’s widely disseminated response to the Lebanon war in 2006 is also worth considering. Published in The New Republic, “War Fair” perfectly encapsulates all the shortcomings of Walzer’s perspective. Again, there is the confused and belated timing: Walzer counsels Israel that “there cannot be any direct attack on civilian targets…this principle is a major constraint also on attacks on the economic infrastructure”. Yet a few lines down, he readily acknowledges that this principle has already been violated by “Israeli attacks on power stations in Gaza and Lebanon”. Walzer’s objection to “reducing the quality of life in Gaza, where it is already low”, furthermore, “is prudential, as well as moral”. Walzer appreciates the complex reality that people do not like to witness their livelihood being destroyed, and are likely to react aggressively against those who preside over that destruction. In reality, Walzer barely conceals that the tactic he is discussing is what is often referred to as “collective punishment”. Of course, Walzer objects to this, both on principled and pragmatic grounds, for the Palestinians and Lebanese are invariably going to hold Israel responsible for their punishment (even if, unbelievably, Israel is in fact responsible). Indeed, what Walzer refers to in 2006 as “reducing the quality of life in Gaza” soon culminated in the ongoing Israeli siege on Gaza. Walzer, in Just and Unjust Wars, calls siege “the oldest form of total war”; in the same book, Walzer also points to the closing of the Straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping as a reason for Israel to claim the right to launch a preemptive strike on Egypt in 1967. Of course, if this is convincing, then the far graver strangulations placed on the Gazans today would thus be considered a more serious military provocation; and we might therefore realize that one crucial reason the Palestinians are not allowed to have a military is to remove the one instrument they could use to assert the same rights for themselves that Israel has claimed in the past. In any event, readers might look to future editions of Just and Unjust Wars to account for the criminality of the siege in Gaza, perhaps as a fitting bookend to Walzer’s historical discussion of the siege of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. Needless to say, its devastation on Palestinian society has been chronicled and documented by virtually every human rights group—sources arguably more thorough and reliable than Josephus.

Walzer, like the Israeli government, clearly believes that the capture of three Israelis soldiers and the firing of rockets from Lebanon and Gaza compelled the Israelis to act in the summer of 2006. Let us begin with the capture of the Israeli soldiers. Walzer acknowledges that a military response to the capture of three Israeli soldiers was not strictly “necessary”, since these acts have often, in the past, been a transparent attempt to negotiate a prisoner exchange. Yet this time, since Hamas and Hezbollah “describe the captures as legitimate military operations”, a military response was warranted. Furthermore, and crucially, “Israel’s goal is to prevent future raids, as well as to rescue the soldiers, so proportionality must be measured not only against what Hamas and Hezbollah have already done, but also against what they are (and what they say they are) trying to do.”

Walzer is clearly right, again, that “proportionality” was not the crucial issue. Yet what would happen if the Lebanese and the Gazans were to apply Walzer’s reasoning to their own position? This is a fair question unless we believe that Israel is uniquely entitled to certain prerogatives in war that others are not. Walzer has never explicitly claimed this on behalf of Israel. Should we therefore bear in mind the many Palestinian and Lebanese civilians who have been abducted over the years, being held without charge and lingering unaccountably in Israeli prisons? Surely the abduction of civilians is a graver crime than the abduction of a uniformed soldier on duty, such as Gilad Shalit. Does the “other side” therefore have the right—in fact, a greater right— to mobilize on their behalf? Walzer, of course, simply doesn’t entertain the possibility.

“The crucial argument”, Walzer tells us, “is about the Palestinian use of civilians as shields”, a tactic of pressing interest because it “tests the philosophers’ dialectical skills”. Putting aside all of the evidence suggesting that the IDF has itself engaged in such a tactic, the bombardment of Lebanese civilians—not the alleged use of “human shields”—was undoubtedly the most serious issue of the Second Lebanon War. The bombardment, as Walzer surely knows, followed from the Israel’s initial unwillingness to send a ground invasion of forces well into Lebanon. Whatever one feels about the merits of this approach militarily, it flatly violates a principle that Walzer made explicit in an essay on the war in Kosovo in his book Arguing About War: that one, in his words, “can’t kill unless [they] are prepared to die” (emphasis in original). Walzer attached much importance to this principle in terms of the Kosovo intervention (which he nonetheless supported) in 1999. In this instance, Walzer was troubled by the modern state fighting wars exclusively from the air, in a way that completely exposes the enemy while totally shielding itself from attack. This is obviously the strategic advantage of aerial bombardment; it is also, for Walzer, the source of its immorality.

So what about Lebanon, and, indeed, Gaza? As Walzer says in the same essay on Kosovo, “political leaders cannot launch a campaign aimed to kill Serbian soldiers, and sure to kill others too, unless they are prepared to risk the lives of their own soldiers…they cannot claim, we cannot accept, that those lives are expendable, and these not”. It is perhaps worth repeating that Walzer’s critique of aerial warfare, however useful, did not lead him to reconsider his endorsement of the Kosovo intervention. Logically, however, and if his misgivings are to be in any way taken seriously, Walzer would at least have to apply them to future conflicts. Yet they never emerge again in Walzer’s commentary. Could this be because the United States and Israel do not presently engage in what Michael Ignatieff has dubbed, in the context of Kosovo, “virtual war”? Nothing could be further from the truth. It would take a separate essay to discuss this issue in full; to take only one example, however, with regard to the U.S. war in Iraq, it was well understood that the American people would not tolerate a protracted armed confrontation with Iraqi forces. The military thus applied the doctrine of “Shock and Awe”, which meant to effectively overwhelm and destroy the enemy from the air before any actual fighting began. In the Second Lebanon War, the emerging resistance of Hezbollah led to the widespread bombardment of South Lebanon, only after which did Israel pursue a ground invasion. Predictably, the death of many Lebanese civilians resulted from the bombing campaign, as well as the near devastation of Lebanon’s infrastructure. In 2008, Israel’s continued embrace of “virtual war” reached its climax in Gaza. Norman Finkelstein, in his book This Time We Went Too Far: Truth and Consequences of the Gaza Invasion, cites evidence of how Operation Cast Lead was “largely conducted by remote control”. As one soldier, part of Israel’s “Breaking the Silence” collective, observed after the war, “It was like a playstation computer game”. To another it felt “like a child playing around with a magnifying glass, burning up ants”.

In the end, what has Michael Walzer really said about warfare today? If anything, Walzer has critically evaded or obfuscated the most important questions about war; and his ethical framework is, at best, hardly more illuminating than most people’s intuitive responses. Walzer’s analysis has always hinged on the implicit idea that atrocities, when our side commits them, can nonetheless be compartmentalized; behavior need not affect our essential judgment of war. In some cases in history, of course, such as the Allied bombing of Dresden, this attitude might be warranted. Today, however, when U.S and Israeli wars are transparently more lethal than those attacks credited—often wrongly— with precipitating those wars, it becomes nothing but intellectual sophistry to maintain, as Walzer has, that one can support or defend a given war, but not the bombing of civilians, the use of cluster bombs, white phosphorous, etc. As everyone can see, the former necessarily contains and engenders the latter. Equally regrettable is Walzer’s willingness to essentially wipe the slate clean before every war, as if the past actions of the US and Israel cannot fairly predict their further conduct in war. Most people, though perhaps not just war theorists, wouldn’t be so unassuming.

What then, in reality, has been Walzer’s purpose in commenting on war? Once one looks past the common trope about “human shields”, or the moral truisms about not killing innocent people, one sees that Walzer has basically stuck to reiterating Israel’s declared aims, and tailoring his arguments accordingly. Rather unbelievably, Walzer has even seen fit to invoke the crudest examples of Israeli hasbara—for example, asking us, in the context of a discussion about rocket attacks from Gaza in 2006, to “imagine the U.S. response if a similar number [of rockets] were fired at Buffalo and Detroit from some Canadian no-man’s land”. Of course, if Gaza, one of the most densely populated places on earth, can be justly compared to a “no-man’s land”, then it would indeed make little sense to condemn virtually any response to such attacks, no matter how brutal or excessive. At other times Walzer has waxed philosophical (“dialectical limits”), or he has created some hypothetical scenario to carefully analyze (as in the article co-authored with Margalit), but he has shed no light on how these conundrums translate into reality. With regard to the U.S., he has used the majority of his energy not to oppose our many wars, but to berate the left for failing to conform to his correct mode of (always ineffectual) opposition. As for the cruel and cynical ways that the U.S. and Israel fight wars today, with use of power far beyond the means of their opponents, Walzer has only scratched the surface.

Then there is international law. It has long been Walzer’s aim to polarize issues surrounding the legality of war from his own “moral” judgments about war, the latter of which is really deserving of our attention. In “The Crime of Aggressive War”, a 2007 essay in Washington University Global Studies Law Review, Walzer claims that “there are good reasons why the development of just war theory preceded the development of the international laws of war. Legal texts may only imperfectly and incompletely embody our moral ideas, but without moral ideas, we would not be able to write legal texts.” Such reasoning, as far as I can tell, is perfectly sensible, and appears to add to—rather than detract from—our understanding of international law. Yet this is not Walzer’s true goal. As Walzer says in the same essay, “all states that are members of the U.N. have the same legal value. They do not, however, have the same moral value”. Furthermore, “the judgments we make (or should make) when a particular state is attacked or invaded have more to do with the moral value of the state then with the brute fact of attack or invasion”. Of course, this is the rationale offered by virtually every aggressor throughout history—surely no one attacks a state with brute force if that state is perceived to have a great deal of “moral value”. And even if one were to accept Walzer’s reasoning, moreover, it is nonetheless quite disturbing that our preeminent just war theorist apparently believes that the “value” of any state—however one determines it—should take precedence over the lives of ordinary citizens, who are war’s victims (weapons don’t disfigure the moral qualities of a state). Indeed, if you are one of the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis who have had loved ones killed in the aftermath of the invasion in 2003, you learn from Walzer that the American invasion “does not fit the moral meaning of aggression” because “there was no common life under Saddam Hussein” which Iraqis at large were willing to defend. This is pure (and deeply offensive) nonsense; as anyone who reads Nir Rosen’s superb reporting knows, Iraqis not only shared a high standard of living prior to the devastation wrought by sanctions in the nineties (which Walzer supported); but it was also the occupation forces who fomented the sectarianism leading to civil war and sought to capitalize on the highly fractious nature of the state they invaded. In any event, we are often reminded that for every two Israelis there are three opinions; perhaps Hamas can thus invoke the deep polarizations within Israeli society as a pretext for attacking the Israeli people—or Iran can launch an attack on Washington, citing “red state” and “blue state” antagonisms as evidence that Americans share little “common life” worth defending.

A month after the symposium held to honor Walzer’s Just and Unjust Wars, the world noted an anniversary of a different sort—the two-year mark of the Israeli massacre in Gaza. The utter lack of restraint Israel exhibited in that war, should, I think, finally compel us to rethink the merits of just war theory, and not only in terms of how it has been postulated and exploited by Walzer. For it is obvious that far from placing clearly defined limits on war, just war theory has become an endlessly malleable paradigm which can be readily invoked by the most powerful states, though never their enemies or victims—which is precisely why Obama relied on it in his Nobel speech. It is also obvious that just war theory is no reasonable alternative to strict adherence to international law, and that Walzer’s distinction between “illegal but morally necessary wars” is an ideological recipe for wars that are neither legal nor moral. Yet one quality just war theory undoubtedly has, and that international law admittedly lacks, is that it allows intellectuals to rationalize the actions of a favorite state, and, in turn, assuage the tribulations of their conscience.

Posted in Israel/Palestine

{ 105 comments... read them below or add one }

  1. Potsherd2 says:

    Fine essay, Phil.

    • annie says:

      potsherd, it’s mathew phillips

      • Potsherd2 says:

        ooops!

        Still a fine essay. I only wish the author had provided citation for this crucial claim: Walzer has admitted elsewhere that the guiding idea behind Just and Unjust Wars was his support for the Six-Day War in Israel, which is after all the core of his thesis.

        • annie says:

          waltzer must know the 67 war was completely unnecessary.

          “Israel’s ‘entire story’ about ‘the danger of extermination’ was ‘invented of whole cloth and exaggerated after the fact to justify the annexation of new Arab territories’.”

          Mordechai Bentov

          wrmea

          “In June 1967, we again had a choice. The Egyptian Army concentrations in the Sinai approaches do not prove that Nasser was really about to attack us. We must be honest with ourselves. We decided to attack him.”

          begin

          “I do not think Nasser wanted war. The two divisions he sent to The Sinai would not have been sufficient to launch an offensive war. He knew it and we knew it.”

          rabin

          “They [Israeli kibutzniks] didn’t even try to hide their greed for the land…We would send a tractor to plow some area where it wasn’t possible to do anything, in the demilitarized area, and knew in advance that the Syrians would start to shoot. If they didn’t shoot, we would tell the tractor to advance further, until in the end the Syrians would get annoyed and shoot.

          And then we would use artillery and later the air force also, and that’s how it was…The Syrians, on the fourth day of the war, were not a threat to us.”

          dayan

        • eee says:

          Annie,

          I see you are again picking dubious quotations to try making an impossible point. In fact, decision making is never done in the lab. Israel had contradictory information. The Russians were playing everybody including the Arabs. The Americans did not know either what was going on and what the intent of Nasser was as US records attest. What is clear to everyone is that Nasser played a game of brinkmanship. Sometimes, when you play on the brink you fall off the edge. And without any doubt the act of closing the Straits of Tiran by Nasser was interpreted by all the international community as an act of war and as a good reason to go to war by Israel.

          For all the above reasons and many more, Walzer and most historians see the the Six Day War as the CLASSIC example of justified preemptive war, and no amount of spin can change that.

        • annie says:

          most historians see the the Six Day War as the CLASSIC example of justified preemptive war

          hmm, my recollection is not a single UN member state – including the US – took the position that Israel’s war was a defensive one. every state either blamed israel for the war or blamed both sides. johnson said “we’ll whip the hell out of them” and his NS advisor (same link) ” referred to the Israel’s anticipated war as a “turkey shoot”

          anyway, i’m aware the right wing refers to oren as ‘an historian’ so i’m not too impressed w/allegations about ‘most historians’. i think it’s painfully obviously what the purpose of that war was, a land grab.

        • Shingo says:

           In fact, decision making is never done in the lab. Israel had contradictory information. 

          Except that in spite of anything the Soviets were telling them, Israel had already made the same conclusion as the US. When LBJ told the head of Mossad that not only would Nasser not attack, but if he did, Israel would kick Nasser’s ass. The Mossad chief said that Israel agreed 100%.

          That meeting in Washington was weeks before Israel attacked.

           The Americans did not know either what was going on and what the intent of Nasser was as US records attest.

          Absolute rubbish. Washington knew exactly what was going on, which the conversation above proves. If anything, the deliberate attack on the USS Liberty proves that it was the Israelis who were playing Washington.

           And without any doubt the act of closing the Straits of Tiran by Nasser was interpreted by all the international community as an act of war and as a good reason to go to war by Israel.

          False again. Nasser allowed Israeli ships to pass on the condition that they not fly the Israeli flag.

          As always, Israel rejected the offer.

          In fact, the head of the UN overseeing the region wrote a book on the subject, and revealed that the blockade only lasted a week.

           For all the above reasons and many more, Walzer and most historians see the the Six Day War as the CLASSIC example of justified preemptive war, and no amount of spin can change that.

          On the contrary. 2 former Israeli Prime Ministers and numerous Israeli generals have already debunked this myth. The only people still peddling this hasbara are for hard propagandists like Oren and Dershowitz.

        • Potsherd2 says:

          Dubious quotations from the sources closest to the decisions being made at the time, eee?

          eee as a defense lawyer would see his client covered in blood, waving a machete, screaming “I offed the bastard!” and call this “a dubious confession.”

          Israeli leaders are free to confess their guilt to history because they know that politics will maintain t heir impunity.

        • Citizen says:

          Israel fully intended to attack even if the Straits had not been closed; Israel attacked because it knew it would win. Time to deep six the myth of plucky little Israel fighting for survival against the mass goys. link to socioecohistory.wordpress.com

        • mig says:

          eee : “”Walzer and most historians see the the Six Day War as the CLASSIC example of justified preemptive war””

          ++++ Then these “historians” dont know international law. There is NO justification nor preemptive war.

          Try reading some Nürnberg war trial. Part of a international law since.

  2. annie says:

    i find it a little odd waltzer and margalit address combatants and non combatants nyrb article in 09 and escaped mentioning the dahiya doctrine which was precisely used to redefine civilian areas as ‘military bases’. the ‘warning calls’ were part of the lawfare used to then justify anyone not evacuating (where?) and remained became complicit, or combatants…according to israel. in fairness i just skimmed the nyrb article tho. israel went to a lot of trouble to redefine ‘civilian’ and attempt to change international law.

    • annie says:

      Eyal Weizman’s Lawfare in Gaza: legislative attack

      An officer at the international-law division explained to Yotam Feldman the logic of these warnings: “The people who go into a house despite a warning do not have to be taken into account in terms of injury to civilians, because they are voluntary human shields. From the legal point of view, [once warned] I do not have to show consideration for them. In the case of people who return to their home in order to protect it, they are taking part in the fighting.” By giving residents the choice between death and expulsion, this military interpretation of international humanitarian law shifted people between legal designations – one phone-call turns “non-combatants” into “human shields”, who can thus be defined as “taking direct part in hostilities” and shot as “legitimate targets”.

    • Kathleen says:

      so that the illegal settlements could keep expanding

  3. Donald says:

    Superb post. I agreed with 99 percent of it. But I’ll nitpick about the other 1 percent instead. You say–

    “His article, “The Gaza War and Proportionality”, dated January 8, 2009, objects to the widespread notion that Israel’s attacks were “disproportionate” simply because they amounted to greater civilian casualties on the other side. As Walzer points out, correctly, issues of proportionality in war don’t amount to a simple one-for-one equation. Wars have aims; they are not simply a series of reprisals, and are thus governed by different rules than (to use his example) a family feud. Rocket attacks from Gaza, moreover, despite the failure to inflict large casualties, have obviously been designed with that intention. Is Israel, therefore, obligated to wait until Hamas has more sophisticated rockets? In that case, Walzer asks, “how many civilian casualties are ‘not disproportionate to’ the rocketing of Tel Aviv?”

    I think you’re giving Walzer and others who make that point too much credit here. The Gaza War killed over 1000 Palestinians, the majority of them civilian, and it only killed a handful of Israelis. Sure, one could imagine some scenario where this disproportionate casualty list could be justified, but the burden of proof is on the Israeli defender to explain why it was so in this case, and why there was no alternative. And they can’t meet it.

    And sure, it’s better to have the space to write long articles as you and Jerome Slater have done explaining in detail why Israel was wrong to attack Gaza and it’s also extremely important to have the details of Israeli atrocities supplied by the Goldstone Report and various human rights organizations, but in American politics if you can’t reduce your argument to a few sentences you’re going to lose. As a rule of thumb, if one side inflicts about 100 times as many casualties as the other, and the majority of those casualties are innocent civilians, that’s a pretty good indication that the so-called war was a massacre. If one is given time or space to make a more detailed case, by all means take the opportunity.

    • Donald says:

      I’ll repeat that this was a superb post, but I found another 1 percent I disagree with a little bit–the last paragraph. You’re a pacifist and so I would expect you to find just war theory lacking, but I don’t think the fact that Walzer’s work is badly flawed by his tendency to whitewash Israeli and American wars means that just war theory itself is inherently flawed. It just means that moral philosophers can be hypocritical in their reasoning just like anyone else.

      You could argue that in the real world this is how just wars and just war theory will always be carried out, but I still think that just war theory has probably helped to keep some wars from being even worse than they might otherwise have been. As bad as Israel behaves, they could have killed 100,000 people in Gaza if they had wanted to. They didn’t, not because they are too humane, but because much of the world has absorbed the notion that carpet bombing of civilian populations is not an acceptable tactic in war. You can see the evolution of this in American history. In WWII we unashamedly tried to destroy cities. In Korea we did the same, but I don’t know that it got as much publicity. (See Bruce Cumings on the actual results, which were horrific.) In Vietnam there was the beginning of the notion that carpet bombing was evil, so Hanoi was not leveled, while lesser cities in the southern part of North Vietnam (away from the eyes of most reporters) were in fact utterly destroyed, much of rural Cambodia was destroyed and parts of rural Laos. (Yes, I have references–Michael Maclear’s The Ten Thousand Day War for one.) Nowadays with weapons that are supposed to be precise there’s just no excuse for total obliteration of cities, and so Western countries don’t feel they can go all out. So Israel still kills civilians, but they have to at least pretend they are only aiming at terrorists. Simply turning Gaza into a parking lot isn’t an option for them anymore. Or at least so far it isn’t–I don’t doubt that they are perfectly capable of doing it if they think they can get away with it.

    • MHughes976 says:

      If I say that I will conduct my attack not in proportion to what has been or is being done to me but in proportion to what might be done to me then there is no restriction at all on what I may legitimately do and I have rejected all ideas of proportionality.
      And if I say ‘anyone at war may do this without moral objection’ I extend the same right to the other side, unless I produce a formula explaining why I have more right than them.
      Hobbes, an anti-proportionist, long ago argued, and some might agree, that a state of war exists not necessarily when the first attack is made but when an intention to attack is ‘sufficiently known’. ‘Sufficient knowledge’ of another’s intention is a strong demand and must be distinguished from mere assertion or self-serving propaganda by me, and in particular seems to require the assent of genuine neutrals. A stream of assertions by me that ‘they mean to a destroy us’ gives more sufficient knowledge of my warlike intentions than of theirs.

    • seth says:

      I agree with Donald both about how the superb the post is and the 1%.

      I particularly liked:

      Yet what would happen if the Lebanese and the Gazans were to apply Walzer’s reasoning to their own position? This is a fair question unless we believe that Israel is uniquely entitled to certain prerogatives in war that others are not.

      I think this is a very important point to keep in mind when quickly responding to people, when we can’t refer to long essays. What’s truly remarkable to me is that people like Walzer and others who consider themselves “supporters” of Israel are constantly giving arguments justifying war and terrorism against Israel, if one only takes their rationalizations and applies them to the other side. They are simply too blind to the victims of Israeli violence to realize this. For example, when people tell me about how Israel couldn’t be expected to put up with the rockets and so they had a right to go in, I do refer to the Nov. 4 break of the ceasefire, but I think it’s actually more effective to ask such a person if they know how many Lebanese civilians were killed by the Israeli cluster bombs (and for a long time Israel refused to hand over the strike data), compared to how many Israelis were killed by Hamas. By the arguments of those supported Cast Lead (“how could people be expected to put up with this?” etc.), the South Lebanese, or perhaps Hezbollah, have every right to drop bombs and generally terrorize the Israeli population. Of course no sane person would support that, but that is exactly the position, as I see, of Walzer and others, if one follows it logically. (and for that matter, when Israelis talk about “going to the source” of Hezbollah, that is Iran, then one could also speak about “going to the source” of the cluster bombs, which is the United States)

      btw, re Walzer, it’s worth looking up Chomsky’s 1978 review of Just and Unjust Wars from Inquiry, which amazingly does not seem to be on the web anywhere (and has not appeared in any of the Chomsky collections that I know of).

    • RoHa says:

      Traditional Just War Theory distinguishes between questions of jus ad bellum (“Are we morally justified in making war in this case?”) and jus in bello (“What counts as moral conduct in making war?”).

      There is a set of conditions all of which must be met to justify making war. Even when these have been met, a war which was just when it started will become unjust if the conduct of the war seriously breaches the conditions for jus in bello .

      Proportionality as a condition of jus ad bellum .

      6. Proportionality. A state must, prior to initiating a war, weigh the universal goods expected to result from it, such as securing the just cause, against the universal evils expected to result, notably casualties. Only if the benefits are proportional to, or “worth”, the costs may the war action proceed. (The universal must be stressed, since often in war states only tally their own expected benefits and costs, radically discounting those accruing to the enemy and to any innocent third parties.)
      (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, link to plato.stanford.edu)

      “the desired end should be proportional to the means used.”
      (Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, link to iep.utm.edu)

      In the context of Gaza, the purported end was stopping the rocket attacks on Israel. The proportionality question for jus ad bellum is whether the benefits of stopping the rocket attacks outweighed the evils resulting from the Israeli assault.

      Proportionality as a condition of jus in bello .

      3. Proportionality. Soldiers may only use force proportional to the end they seek. They must restrain their force to that amount appropriate to achieving their aim or target. Weapons of mass destruction, for example, are usually seen as being out of proportion to legitimate military ends.
      (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, link to plato.stanford.edu)

      (E.g. It is not permissible to nuke a city in order to take out a machine-gun.)

      “any offensive action should remain strictly proportional to the objective desired. …Proportionality for jus in bello requires tempering the extent and violence of warfare to minimize destruction and casualties.”
      (Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, link to iep.utm.edu)

      In the context of Gaza, I do not know what the desired objectives of the various military actions were, but I would assume that they could be summed up as something like “stopping Palestinian resistance”. The proportionality question for jus in bello is whether the military means used were more than was necessary.

    • Kathleen says:

      The Goldstone Report and other human rights reports all focused on the “disproportionate” amount of force, violence, killed and injured by Israel and referred to this disproportionate use of violence as “war crimes”

      Not a “notion”. Facts on the ground

  4. Jim Haygood says:

    ‘Walzer has critically evaded or obfuscated the most important questions about war; and his ethical framework is, at best, hardly more illuminating than most people’s intuitive responses. … He has used the majority of his energy not to oppose our many wars, but to berate the left for failing to conform to his correct mode of (always ineffectual) opposition.’

    Sounds like a classic tool. Is he sponsored by General Atomics, the manufacturer of the Predator Drones wielded by Peace Laureate O’Bomber, the ‘Scourge of the Pashtuns’? If not, they ought to look up Walzer, and put him on the burgeoning cost-plus payroll.

    Our military-industrial complex needs sophisticated, oblique war shills like Walzer, with serious academic chops to conceal a raging cultural bias. And of course, the MSM (NYRB et al) love him.

    • just learned of a new book, “Cultures of War,” by John Dower of MIT.

      I may be missing something, but I can’t find a review of “Cultures of War” in NYRB. Doubtless the writing of an MIT professor of history does not rise to the level of “Michael Walzer’s lasting authority on the subject of war” which ” clearly derives from his work Just and Unjust Wars. This book has, by all accounts, achieved something like canonical status, both within and outside the academy.”

      but this is the killer sentence:

      ” It is easy to see why, though I will only posit a few reasons, from the perspective of a lay reader pissant. . . .

      do tell.

      pray enlighten us great unwashed: why the f*%k is Walzer the voice of moral authority on war when he’s never met a war in whose blood he did not rejoice?

      Read John Dower.
      Listen first: link to booktv.org

      haven’t we had quite enough of pseudointellectuals and pretZel philosophs?

  5. ot, probably/sort of.

    I gotta say this:

    The killings in Arizona are the topic du jour on the Sunday talk fests.

    It’s nearly universal: “The shooter was deranged.”

    Boehner said: “An attack on one who serves is an attack on all who serve. Acts and threats of violence against public officials have no place in our society. ”

    So does that mean that the attack assassination of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh was “an attack on all of us,” and that his attackers, Mossad, “must be deranged?”

    How about the assassination of Iranian scientists — “attack on all of us?” Attackers deranged?

    What about the killing of a 65 year old Palestinian, in his bed, as Mossad pursued a Hamas leader — collateral assassination? Deranged killers?

    Who comprises “Us” and who comprises “Them,” and who gets to draw the dividing lines?

  6. Jim Holstun says:

    Ah, eee, you are a klutzy hasbarist to the bitter end: “In June 1967 we again had a choice. The Egyptian army concentrations in the Sinai approaches did not prove that Nasser was really about to attack us. We must be honest with ourselves. We decided to attack him. This was a war of self-defense in the noblest sense of the term. The Government of National Unity then established decided unanimously: we will take the initiative and attack the enemy, drive him back, and thus assure the security of Israel and the future of the nation.” (Menachem Begin, leader of Gahal Party, cited in New York Times, Aug. 21, 1982, link to en.wikiquote.org).

    Notice that Begin” uses “self-defence” in the same way as eee: it doesn’t mean defense against an attack; it means “destroying the enemy.” Only a cretin defends preemptive war, because of its manifest, built-in hypocrisy: it’s POSSIBLE but unlikely that Egypt was about to attack Israel on June 4, 1967, but it’s absolutely CERTAIN that Israel was about to attack Egypt on that day. Thus eee, if you’re not a despicable chauvinist Zionist, and still want to argue, Walzer-style, for the justice of pre-emptive war, you will have to admit that Egypt had every right to attack Israel on that day. Ya see?

    Remember: Hitler’s Operation Barbarossa, and EVERY SINGLE AGGRESSIVE WAR EVER LAUNCHED has been presented as an pre-emptive war against an existential threat.

    • Potsherd2 says:

      No, eee will never see this. eee views the world through exceptionalist lenses.

      If there is ever a campaign to eradicate the disease of exceptionalism, eee will be right up there on the poster.

    • eee says:

      Jim,

      You are locked into a cognitive positive feed back loop that leads you to consistent but ridiculous conclusions. Try to use common sense sometimes instead of starting from dubious axioms and arriving at ridiculous conclusions.

      What you and others on this blog do not understand is I really don’t care if Egypt did or did not have a right to attack Israel. The fact that it could and said it would is enough. Did the Europeans have the right to attack Jews for centuries? Who cares, the fact of the matter is they did. All this right issues is psychobabble that is somewhat brought out of the closet by people like you when Jews have power. Israel’s interest was to pre-empt Egyptian aggression and it was a very smart move. By my account and that of the majority of Jews, it was justified. If you think otherwise, that is your problem. If you want to call me names, that is your problem also. I would rather have people call me names while I am alive then feel sorry for me after I and my family are dead.

      • eee, I see you’re practicing your “epistemology”-speak, perhaps to sharpen your dissertation skills.

        re this sentence:

        Did the Europeans have the right to attack Jews for centuries? Who cares, the fact of the matter is they did.

        I’m working on a dissertation also, and I wonder if you would help me out: For each of those instances when “Europeans attacked Jews, for centuries,” please provide a list — needn’t be annotated or detailed, just:
        date,
        place,
        provocation (that is, cause–jealous lover? stolen property? competition for scarce resources?), something written or spoken? law enacted? — that brought about the negative act. State if Jewish or non-Jewish person committed the provocation; state if Jewish or non-Jewish person initiated the negative act.

        action (that is, effect or response as in, persons harmed? property damaged? etc), State the acts in response of both Jewish and non-Jewish parties;

        result – Who was harmed? Jewish? non-Jewish? How? How badly? Was the harm redressed? Was the precipitating event resolved in some way? By whom?

        I realize that this exercise might take some time from your work with GUYUS — assign a price to your time, and take it out of the $3 billion my tax dollars sent your way last year.

        oh — I need it by tomorrow. ‘kay?

      • mig says:

        eee: “”By my account and that of the majority of Jews, it was justified.””

        ++++ By my account, it looks like there is some prohibition to you & and to that “majority of Jews” read a little the international law.

        “”Israel’s interest was to pre-empt Egyptian aggression and it was a very smart move.””

        ++++ Translation: Please don’t let the facts get in the way of the Zionist narrative.

      • Ellen says:

        “Did the Europeans have the right to attack Jews for centuries? Who cares, the fact of the matter is they did.”

        For centuries? This is a meme over and over again. Tragically groups are attacking each other all the time and all over. A tribal thinking, thing I guess…. Aren’t Jews European? Asian, Caucasian, Arab, African, a Universal people?

        You seem to feel sorry for yourself a lot here.

      • Shingo says:

        eee,

        You’re entitled to your own opinion not your own facts.

        What you and others on this blog do not understand is I really don’t care if Egypt did or did not have a right to attack Israel. The fact that it could and said it would is enough.

        No it’s not, which is why no Israel cited what Nasser said as reason to go to war.

        Israel’s interest was to pre-empt Egyptian aggression and it was a very smart move.

        No, it was to steal land. Had there been any aggression to pre-empt, the Egypt would have been prepared for Israel’s attack. The fact that Israel wiped out Egypt’s air force in a few hours demonstrates that aggression was not on Nasser’s mind.

        And the argument that Israel were able to do this because of their military superiority was debunked in 1973, when Egypt gave Israel a taste of it’s own medicine and would have won had Nixon not rescued Israel.\

        By my account and that of the majority of Jews, it was justified.

        That means nothing, because your account is based on misinformation, propaganda and willful willingness to be misled.

        If you think otherwise, that is your problem.

        So your argument basically comes down to this. The facts don’t matter, nor does history. All that matters is your own misinformed opinion as to hat happened.

        In other words, you admit to being affected by a cognitive positive feed back loop that leads you to consistent but ridiculous conclusions.

      • Potsherd2 says:

        In fact, eee doesn’t care about “right” at all. And this is why people will call him names. “Murderer” is a good name to call him.

        It’s people like Walzer who try to invent justifications for eee-ism and the murders resulting from it, but fundamentally, Walzer and eee are the same. One defends Israeli murders with a simple assertion of might, the other tries to asser that might means right.

      • Citizen says:

        Pardon me, eee, I think it is the world’s problem when you and the majority of Jews you claim to speak for believe in your self-defined common sensical notion that rights do not matter whenever the powerful modern state of Israel decides to attack anyone because Europeans attacked Jews over the course of past centuries in europe. Traumatic neurosis is evidence of a deep mental defect, of insanity, which is the exact opposite of common sense, of normal behaviour. Every aggressor regime in history has trotted out its justifications. These justifications were debunked by the criteria set out at Nuremberg, and via the UN Charter and Geneva. You do make a case for Israel under the insanity defense. That’s not a good bet for allowing Israel to continue to roam free in the world. Manson’s in jail, and so are his troopers. Serial killers eventually get their comeuppance; are at least locked away–despite documentation of abuse in their childhood. If anything, your version of common sense justifies Lebanon and Palestine to attack Israel based on the known facts over the years since 1967, and ditto for Egypt and Syria, for example. About Jews having power in the form of Israel, Tacitus said long ago tht the strong do as they can; the weak do as they must. Are you channeling Goering at Nuremberg? He too thought he was being tried in a kangeroo court and according to ex post facto laws. In his case, this was true. In Israel’s case, this is not true. It’s 2011, not 1946. 1948 Israel was born under the international laws it now ignores, as were you, eee, and your claimed majority of Jews.

        As for Walzer, as Chomsky established, Walzer relies on premises without evidence; he simply continually asserts that some wars are justified under just war theory because he says so–he does not argue the facts, does not establish that the theoretical factual criteria were met for the wars he blesses. “It seems to me” is baldly insufficient. And he repeats such assertations as if they were solder holding together his flimsy framework of logic. Afghanistan, Kosovo? Please. Brit bombing of German population centers after the dire threat had passed? Please. Nuremberg laid out what an “aggressor state” is. The US has led a terror war on Cuba for decades. Israel was an aggressor state against Lebanon for 22 years. Power always thinks it has a great soul. Eee, apply your own “common sense” principle in behalf Iran. We’d like to see you do that. Was Imperial Japan justified in bombing Pearl Harbor? The code was broken. Both they and we knew clearly that the US has been building B-17s and shipping them overseas, stockpiling them in preparation, as Chomsky pointed out to the West Pointers after Shrub had attacked Iraq (after the whole world except Israel and India had protested; each of them solely concerned with their own occupations), to bomb “the Japs in the ant hills where they lived.”

    • jon s says:

      In August 1982 Begin was Prime Minister and the party he led was -and is – called the Likud.

    • RoHa says:

      There is a conceptual distinction between “preventative war” and “a pre-emptive attack”.

      Preventative war involves breaching the peace by attacking a potential enemy in order to prevent the potential enemy from being able to mount an effective attack in the future. An example would be an attack on Iran so as to prevent Iran from being able develop nuclear weapons.

      The immorality of this sort of attack comes from the fact that it breaches the peace on the basis of a mere possibility.

      A pre-emptive attack is an attack on an enemy who is already setting up an attack, in order to make that attack ineffective. The peace has already been breached by the enemy. This is generally held to be a legitimate tactic.

      In practice, of course, it is by no means always easy to make the distinction.

      The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy has some interesting things to say about pre-emption.

      link to iep.utm.edu

    • Kathleen says:

      And then repeat that the other side started it. Attacked first. The I lobby has the repeat cycle down….in our MSM.

  7. Sin Nombre says:

    Seems to me that in all of Mr. Phillips’ essay somewhat of an obvious theme goes unmentioned.

    That is … Mr. Walzer’s view of the morality of various aspects and incidents involving war, including especially whether many such aspects and incidents are even deserving of moral mention, is very very highly if not totally dependent on how that morality might weigh in judging Israel, period.

    • Donald says:

      I thought that what you called an “unmentioned” theme was the main point of the post. I went through and found that I could have quoted whole paragraphs making the point that Walzer seems to be acting more like Israel’s defense attorney than a serious moral philosopher, but here’s a sentence that I settled on–

      “one sees that Walzer has basically stuck to reiterating Israel’s declared aims, and tailoring his arguments accordingly.”

    • RoHa says:

      “how that morality might weigh in judging Israel”

      Exactly. Walzer starts with the idea that Israel has a right of defence, but Israel is an immoral project, and there can be no right of defence for an immoral project.

      • eee says:

        Of course, Jews do not have a right to defend their homeland because the idea of a homeland for Jews in Palestine is immoral in the first place.

        How sad for you that the majority of Jews think otherwise and that we have a country of our own. How lucky for us that what people like you think does not matter anymore.

        By the way, since the US and Australia are also “immoral projects” according to you, do the US and Australia also have no right to defend themselves?

        • Shingo says:

          How sad for you that the majority of Jews think otherwise and that we have a country of our own. How lucky for us that what people like you think does not matter anymore.

          How sad for you that your fascist apartheid state is comming to an end. Have you made plans as to where you would like to migrate eee?

  8. lobewyper says:

    “For it is obvious that far from placing clearly defined limits on war, just war theory has become an endlessly malleable paradigm which can be readily invoked by the most powerful states, though never their enemies or victims—which is precisely why Obama relied on it in his Nobel speech. It is also obvious that just war theory is no reasonable alternative to strict adherence to international law, and that Walzer’s distinction between “illegal but morally necessary wars” is an ideological recipe for wars that are neither legal nor moral.”

    How convenient–nicely put, Matthew.

  9. RE: “Walzer, like the Israeli government, clearly believes that the capture of three Israelis soldiers and the firing of rockets from Lebanon and Gaza compelled the Israelis to act in the summer of 2006.” – Phillips

    FROM THE “WAYNE MADSEN REPORT”, 07/24/06:

    The Israeli invasion of Lebanon was planned between top Israeli officials and members of the Bush administration. On June 17 and 18, former Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Likud Knesset member Natan Sharansky met with Vice President Dick Cheney at the American Enterprise Institute conference in Beaver Creek, Colorado. There, the impending Israeli invasions of both Gaza and Lebanon were discussed. After receiving Cheney’s full backing for the invasion of Gaza and Lebanon, Netanyahu flew back to Israel
    …Our Washington sources claim that the U.S.-supported invasions of Gaza and Lebanon and the impending attacks on Syria and Iran represent the suspected “event” predicted to take place prior to the November election in the United States and is an attempt to rally the American public around the Bush-Cheney regime during a time of wider war…

    SOURCE – link to worldproutassembly.org

    • annie says:

      i think hersh mentioned the early planning of that lebanon war in the new yorker. if not him others. just sayin’,

      • annie says:

        hersh

        According to a Middle East expert with knowledge of the current thinking of both the Israeli and the U.S. governments, Israel had devised a plan for attacking Hezbollah – and shared it with Bush Administration officials – well before the July 12th kidnappings. “It’s not that the Israelis had a trap that Hezbollah walked into,” he said, “but there was a strong feeling in the White House that sooner or later the Israelis were going to do it.”………”The White House was more focussed on stripping Hezbollah of its missiles, because, if there was to be a military option against Iran’s nuclear facilities, it had to get rid of the weapons that Hezbollah could use in a potential retaliation at Israel. Bush wanted both. Bush was going after Iran, as part of the Axis of Evil, and its nuclear sites, and he was interested in going after Hezbollah as part of his interest in democratization, with Lebanon as one of the crown jewels of Middle East democracy.”

    • P.S. FROM ABOUT THE SAME TIME, PERHAPS NOT COINCIDENTALLY
      The Guantánamo “Suicides”: A Camp Delta sergeant blows the whistle ~ By Scott Horton, Harper’s, 01/13/10

      (excerpts) Late on the evening of June 9 that year, three prisoners at Guantánamo died suddenly and violently. Salah Ahmed Al-Salami, from Yemen, was thirty-seven. Mani Shaman Al-Utaybi, from Saudi Arabia, was thirty. Yasser Talal Al-Zahrani, also from Saudi Arabia, was twenty-two, and had been imprisoned at Guantánamo since he was captured at the age of seventeen. None of the men had been charged with a crime, though all three had been engaged in hunger strikes to protest the conditions of their imprisonment. They were being held in a cell block, known as Alpha Block, reserved for particularly troublesome or high-value prisoners.
      As news of the deaths emerged the following day, the camp quickly went into lockdown. The authorities ordered nearly all the reporters at Guantánamo to leave and those en route to turn back. The commander at Guantánamo, Rear Admiral Harry Harris, then declared the deaths “suicides.” In an unusual move, he also used the announcement to attack the dead men. “I believe this was not an act of desperation,” he said, “but an act of asymmetrical warfare waged against us.” Reporters accepted the official account, and even lawyers for the prisoners appeared to believe that they had killed themselves…
      …Now four members of the Military Intelligence unit assigned to guard Camp Delta, including a decorated non-commissioned Army officer who was on duty as sergeant of the guard the night of June 9, have furnished an account dramatically at odds with the NCIS report—a report for which they were neither interviewed nor approached.
      All four soldiers say they were ordered by their commanding officer not to speak out, and all four soldiers provide evidence that authorities initiated a cover-up within hours of the prisoners’ deaths. Army Staff Sergeant Joseph Hickman and men under his supervision have disclosed evidence in interviews with Harper’s Magazine that strongly suggests the three prisoners who died on June 9 had been transported to another location prior to their deaths. The guards’ accounts also reveal the existence of a previously unreported black site at Guantánamo where the deaths, or at least the events [very "harsh" interrogations, possibly - J.L.D.] that led directly to the deaths, most likely occurred.
      …Complicating these questions is the fact that Camp No might have been controlled by another authority, the Joint Special Operations Command

      ENTIRE ARTICLE – link to harpers.org
      P.S. Assuming these detainees were being “interrogated” using “enhanced procedures”, what were the interrogators trying so desperately to get the detainees to “cough up”. Might it have been something that could have been used to justify including Syria and/or Iran in the upcoming “event” [expanding Israel's invasion of Lebanon in '06] predicted to take place prior to the November election in the United States to rally the American public around the Bush-Cheney regime during a time of wider war?

      • RE: “Late on the evening of June 9 that year, three prisoners at Guantánamo died suddenly” – Horton article, excerpted above
        ELUCIDATION: “That year” was 2006. So, the three deaths (June 9, 2006) were a bit less than a week before Cheney allegedly met with Netanyahu and Sharansky to approve the invasions, and about 1.5 months before Israel invaded Lebanon and Gaza.
        I might add that according to a civil lawsuit, “Pricky Dick” Cheney was involved in an incident at a mall in Beaver Creek, CO during the same period as the AEI conference at Beaver Creek in mid June ’06 (where he allegedly met with Netanyahu and Sharansky).

        • RE: “…the three deaths (June 9, 2006) were a bit less than a week before Cheney allegedly met with Netanyahu and Sharansky…” – me, above
          SHOULD HAVE READ: …the three deaths (June 9, 2006) were about a week before Cheney allegedly met with Netanyahu and Sharansky…

  10. Qadir says:

    Great piece. I remember arguing a few years ago with a couple of Princeton students about Walzer and “Just War Theory”, basically writing off Walzer as the prototypical American liberal intellectual, doing what they do best (in his own words): justifying our crimes while judging theirs. I angered these friends(liberals, incidentally) by summarizing his recent work in his position as some kind of moral theorist on violence as one of constantly rewriting his rules for “just wars” to accommodate every new Israeli atrocity, while evaluating the rightness of US war adventuring based on their cost to us in terms of American military casualties and expenditures, never mind the suffering of our victims, as though the distinction between concepts of jus ad bellum and jus in bello simply does not exist when it comes to the powerful. In Walzer’s analysis, it seems a war can be morally tenable if we refrain from killing civilians (or get out quickly) or the conduct of a war can be justified, or at least excused, if the cause was just (which it invariably is as long as Israel is the perpetrator).

    Given this blowhard’s moral posturing and theorizing, it would be funny to put his own standards to him on his support for the Six-Day War and his elevation of that conflict as some kind test case for justified preemptive war. I’d like to ask him, if based on his own standards, whether or not Iran would be justified in preemptively nuking the United States and Israel based on their constant threats of military actions, their military presence in Iran’s neighboring states (in the case of the US), support for terrorist groups (Jundullah, Baluchi separatists) and ongoing economic sanctions. The same would go for Gazans, given his citation as Nasser’s partial closure of the Straits of Tiran as casus belli for Israel to attack not only Egypt, but Jordan and Syria as well. If his own principles operated, surely the inhabitants of Gaza would be justified in much more extreme violence than the Israelis in 1967, considering their access to the outside world is near total.

    I’d love to hear Walzer’s answer to that one.

    • Kathleen says:

      “I’d like to ask him, if based on his own standards, whether or not Iran would be justified in preemptively nuking the United States and Israel based on their constant threats of military actions, their military presence in Iran’s neighboring states (in the case of the US), support for terrorist groups (Jundullah, Baluchi separatists) and ongoing economic sanctions. The same would go for Gazans, given his citation as Nasser’s partial closure of the Straits of Tiran as casus belli for Israel to attack not only Egypt, but Jordan and Syria as well. If his own principles operated, surely the inhabitants of Gaza would be justified in much more extreme violence than the Israelis in 1967, considering their access to the outside world is near total.”

      Come on you are just making too much sense here. Too rational. Those “just war” responses only apply to Walzer’s team.

  11. Jim Holstun says:

    How very, very silly, eee. All my thought experiment asked you to do was to think about the war from the point of view of the Egyptians, on the hypothesis that they, too, are human beings with rights (try it on, just for a while: say to yourself, three times, “Egyptians are human beings with human rights and political rights, just like Israelis!”). If the Israelis have a right to pre-emptive war, then so do the Egyptians. If you accept Israel’s right to pre-emptive war on the theory that Egypt might have attacked, then a fortiori you must accept Egypt’s right to pre-emptive war on the grounds that Israel actually did attack.

    I know this is hard for you, since it requires you momentarily to put aside tribal bonding and think about things from the point of view of ethics and human rights. But really, give it a shot. You may be redeemable. No, really, try it!

    Oh, “cognitive positive feed back loop” is gibberish. And of course, the Europeans did not have the right to their anti-Semitic violence–I don’t think so, and you don’t think so either, so why are you trying to defend Jewish Israeli racism on the precedent of Jew-hating progromists? God, what a stink! You really do tend to lose control when your logic caves in: “By my account and that of the majority of Jews, it was justified. If you think otherwise, that is your problem.” This is Israeli chauvinism, and Jewish exceptionalism, which is to say, “racism.”

    Unfortunately, Zionist racism is not just my problem; it is primarily the problem of the Palestinians whom Israelis view and treat as untermenschen, and the Lebanese whom they periodically murder. But not for long: from the river to the sea, Palestine will soon be free. And Jews, Palestinians, and assorted immigrants will live together in peace, with not a little dialogue: intellectual, sexual, and otherwise. Horrors! Grow up, and get used to it.

    • eee says:

      Jim,

      Show me one Israeli claim from before the 67 war that Israel wants war and wants to throw Egyptians our of their country. That was the Nasser public line and he was supported by the Egyptian public who were clamoring for war to get rid of the “Zionist entity”. What rights exactly do Egyptians have under those circumstances that would prevent Israel from attacking? That is like saying that had there been a Jewish state in 1935, it would not have had the right to launch preemptive war on Nazi Germany because of “German rights”.

      And if you think that the Palestinians and Arabs have the “right” to attack Jews because of this logic, well who cares. They certainly did so and the issue of “rights” never crossed their minds. If “exceptionalism” means that Jewish interests are taken seriously and Jews are not killed or exiled at some other collective’s will, then I am one very big Jewish exceptionalist. But only someone who cannot accept that Jews have power would call me a racist.

      • Shingo says:

        What rights exactly do Egyptians have under those circumstances that would prevent Israel from attackin

        g?

        How abou the mother of all war crimes? Unprovoked military aggression?

        And if you think that the Palestinians and Arabs have the “right” to attack Jews because of this logic, well who cares.

        Good, so don’t complain next time it happens.

        But only someone who cannot accept that Jews have power would call me a racist.

        No, your’re racist because you cannot accept the n otion that Arabs are human being and have the same rights as Jews. You’re racist because you reagrd all Goyim as inferior.

    • Kathleen says:

      eee is completely incapable of putting him,herself into another persons shoes or feet. Completely incapable.

      • eee says:

        Kathleen,

        I am completely capable of putting myself in the shoes of Jews of previous generations and I do not plan to repeat their mistakes. The Egyptian masses were blood thirsty barbarians before the 67 war and they deserved what they got. Don’t talk the talk if you can’t walk the walk.

        • Shingo says:

          The Egyptian masses were blood thirsty barbarians before the 67 war and they deserved what they got. Don’t talk the talk if you can’t walk the walk.

          Israel had ben trying to start wars with egypt since 1953 and tried again in 54 and 55. Israel tried repeatedly to trick Nasser into going to war.

          General Chaim Herzog, a founding father of Israel’s Directorate of Military Intelligence( who went on to become Israel’s ambassador to the UN and eventually the state’s president), revealed who the blood thirsty barbarians really were:

          “If Nasser had not been stupid enough to give us a pretext to go to war, we would have created one within a year or 18 months.”

  12. David Green says:

    Academics and critics like Walzer and the late Irving Howe, co-editors of Dissent for years, served to keep “respectable” “social democratic” opinion in support of Israel subsequent to the 1967 war. These views were reflected for decades in journals such as Dissent, NYRB, TNR, etc., by people like Todd Gitlin, David Bromwich, Roger Rosenblatt, Leon Wieseltier, Paul Berman, etc. This was liberal-left posturing of the worst sort by Jewish intellectuals who are loathe to associate themsleves with genuine and profound criticism of American empire and the Zionist project. The deception goes on in various forms, and I would suggest that Peter Beinart remains of this ilk. It’s a slippery, self-serving crew of those who aggrandise power and seek status, and even their criticisms of Israel should be approached with skepticism in the overall context of their political motives.

    • Jim Haygood says:

      Taking David Green’s mountaintop perspective, running intellectual defense for Israel (and hitching its star to the larger objectives of the Anglo-American empire) has been an enormous, multi-generational, and surprisingly successful project.

      But though it’s too early to say, one wonders whether the vast campaign has produced a pyrrhic victory. Four decades of Israeli occupation have failed to crush Palestinian resistance; similarly, a decade of American occupation has failed to smash Afghan resistance (in a disturbing parallel to the Soviet debacle there). Israel’s ambitions to humble Iran — a far older and larger nation, with which it does not even share a border — seem megalomaniacal, when Israel has been struggling for years even to complete its desperate wall-building project. (History shows that ‘great walls’ survive mainly as tourist attractions.)

      Walzer’s ‘just war’ commentaries are unlikely to survive the test of time, probably to be written off as politicized ethnic self-pleading disguised in intricate sophistries. A better candidate for historical survival is Murray Rothbard’s formula: ‘A just war exists when a people tries to ward off the threat of coercive domination by another people, or to overthrow an already-existing domination. A war is unjust, on the other hand, when a people try to impose domination on another people, or try to retain an already existing coercive rule over them.’

      • Shingo says:

        Walzer’s ‘just war’ commentaries are unlikely to survive the test of time, probably to be written off as politicized ethnic self-pleading disguised in intricate sophistries.

        I’d say they have already failed in that regard.

      • David Green says:

        Insofar as these characters continue to view themselves as liberal-left arbitrators for American empire and maintain their academic positions and ability to publish in NYRB, LRB, TNR, etc., they have been successful by their own egocentric standards. And those ARE there standards, and that is exactly the point in relation to a conscientious leftist politics.

    • RoHa says:

      A fierce (and pretty good) critique of Walzer here.

      link to zcommunications.org

    • Shingo says:

      t’s a slippery, self-serving crew of those who aggrandise power and seek status, and even their criticisms of Israel should be approached with skepticism in the overall context of their political motives.

      I couldn’t agree more David. I suspect that Walktzer criticism of those who don’t adhere to his recipe of criticism is motivated both by vanity, as well as an agenda to set the limits and parameters of that criticism.

  13. Yoel says:

    Brilliant. Should be required reading for anyone who cares about War and its morality.

  14. LeaNder says:

    powerful, as always. This is very, very good. Some very interesting details: so it’s still essentially cyberwar only we aren’t presented it as proudly anymore as in a slightly more legal war.

  15. annie says:

    Helena Cobban has an excellent post up :H. Shue on advanced militaries targeting civilian infrastructure”

    The Oxford philosopher and ethicist Henry Shue has just published an extremely important piece of analysis (PDF here, pp. 2-7) that unpacks the timely issue of why it is that first-world militaries that have well-stocked arsenals of Precision-Guided Munitions (PGMs, also known as ‘smart bombs’) are also among those agitating hardest to loosen up the constraints that the laws of war have placed on bombing civilian targets.

    This matter has, of course, great relevance both to the practice of the U.S. and the Israeli militaries during their wars of recent years, and to the current Israeli campaigns against what that government calls “lawfare”, that is, the attempt made by many in the international community (but not the U.S. government) to hold Israel to the same standards of international law, including the laws of war, as everyone else.

    i rec

  16. stevelaudig says:

    Having read his book a couple of times I was left with the impression that he cuts the historical man to fit his ahistorical clothes, rather than having the argument fit the facts. His errors are errors of omission and occasional distortion plus he “mind reads” intents.

  17. yourstruly says:

    since the purpose of walter ma.zer’s “Just and Unjust Wars” was to whitewash the settler-state’s having started the ’67 war, his work isn’t of any importance at a time such as this

    with palestine

    just and free

    in the process of becoming

    whereupon

    being in control of the present we control the past,

    being in control of the past, we control the future*

    and in controlling the future

    won’t we have retaken the dawn?

    *with thanks to george orwell

  18. sherbrsi says:

    A more sophisticated Hasbaraist is a Hasbaraist nonetheless.

    Reading Weiss’ piece, can only Walzer claim to oppose war in writing and support wars fought in reality?

    Then he isn’t very different from the “liberal” Zionists who support universalist principles in theory yet always give precedence to Jewish privilege and entitlement whenever it comes to the test.

    • Shingo says:

      A more sophisticated Hasbaraist is a Hasbaraist nonetheless.

      I would go further and describe him as a more sophisticated neocon.

  19. jon s says:

    I think that an important distinction that needs to be made is between after-the-fact, retroactive, wisdom on the one hand , and the perceptions of the time, in real-time, on the other.
    In retrospect, given the fact that Israel ultimately defeated the combined Arab states in six days, perhaps it’s true that the country was not really existentially threatened, since Israel was shown to be so much stronger. However, at the time, in the days leading up to the war, in May-June 1967, the leadership, the people, and, indeed, people all over the world , perceived the threat to be real and immediate, and made decisions accordingly. The movement of the Egyptian Army into Sinai, the closing of the Straights of Tiran, the escalating Arab rhetoric and propaganda promising the imminent destruction of Israel – all those factors produced real fear in Israel at the time, but also a determination and motivation which was one of the causes of the victory. To describe the war as a premeditated land grab, as Annie does, signifies a lack of understanding of the realities of the time, as perceived at the time.
    Annie, I have a question for you: in your view, under what circumstances would Israel be justified in exercising the right to self-defense? (I suspect that your honest answer would be “never”, but I’m still curious).

    • Shingo says:

      I think that an important distinction that needs to be made is between after-the-fact, retroactive, wisdom on the one hand , and the perceptions of the time, in real-time, on the other.

      Sorry, but that doesn’t wash. The same argument was made after the fact by those that lies us into the Iraq war.

      In retrospect, given the fact that Israel ultimately defeated the combined Arab states in six days, perhaps it’s true that the country was not really existentially threatened, since Israel was shown to be so much stronger.

      Not really. What it showed was that Egypt was no even thinking of going to war, which is why Isrle was abler to catch them falt footed and eliminate their air force in a matter of hours.
      The fact that Egypt was able to bring Israel to it’s knees in 1973 prove that it wasn’t Israel strength that won the 6 day war, so much as Egypts unwillingness to go to war.

      However, at the time, in the days leading up to the war, in May-June 1967, the leadership, the people, and, indeed, people all over the world , perceived the threat to be real and immediate, and made decisions accordingly.

      Same exact phrase was used to justify the Iraq war. What spin doctors like yourself refuse to accept Jon, is that people believed what they were being told and this is was especially true in 1967, where people did have the benefit of instant information to verify these messages.
      They “ perceived” the threat because their perception was shaped by propaganda. In 2003, 80% of Americans “ perceived” the threat from Iraq because they were told such a threat existed.

      The movement of the Egyptian Army into Sinai, the closing of the Straights of Tiran, the escalating Arab rhetoric and propaganda promising the imminent destruction of Israel – all those factors produced real fear in Israel at the time, but also a determination and motivation which was one of the causes of the victory.

      Correction. The way in which those developments were spun to the public is what created the fear. As Ton Segev has documented in his book, “1967”, the Israeli leadership were not fearful of Egypt in any way. Their main concern was how the US would respond to such an attack.
      From 1953 to 1955, Ben Gurion, the Prime Minister, and people like Moshe Dayan were hoping to provoke Nasser into a war. This is well documented. And there was a famous raid in February 1955 in Gaza, many Egyptian soldiers are killed, they’re hoping, they’re hoping, they’re hoping to provoke Nasser into a war. It didn’t work and in 1956 they simply launch an attack of their own with the Brittish and the French, the so called Sinai Campaign. Finally in‘67, through the concatenation of events, they saw a new opportunity to knock out that threat which they always feared, namely Nasser or a modernizing force in the Arab world.

      To describe the war as a premeditated land grab, as Annie does, signifies a lack of understanding of the realities of the time, as perceived at the time.

      It’s not a lack of understanding Jon, it’s a lack of Zionist indoctrination and conditioning, which you are clearly still struggling to shake.

      under what circumstances would Israel be justified in exercising the right to self-defense?

      In cases where Israel has been legitimately threatened. One could argue that this was the case in 1973, though then again, that was the consequence of Israel’s own aggression, belligerence and arrogance.

      • yonira says:

        Not really. What it showed was that Egypt was no even thinking of going to war, which is why Isrle was abler to catch them falt footed and eliminate their air force in a matter of hours.
        The fact that Egypt was able to bring Israel to it’s knees in 1973 prove that it wasn’t Israel strength that won the 6 day war, so much as Egypts unwillingness to go to war.

        If this is in fact the case, Nasser is the biggest moron every to run a military. Perhaps Nasser wasn’t on the verge of an invasion(which I am highly skeptical of consider the mobilization), but to say he was caught of guard is moronic Shingo. Israel was caught off guard in ’73 (which was a huge failure on their part) But Egypt was fully mobilized days prior to Israel’s attack:

        On the eve of the war, Egypt massed approximately 100,000 of its 160,000 troops in the Sinai, including all of its seven divisions (four infantry, two armored and one mechanized), as well as four independent infantry and four independent armored brigades. No less than a third of them were veterans of Egypt’s intervention into the Yemen Civil War and another third were reservists. These forces had 950 tanks, 1,100 APCs and more than 1,000 artillery pieces

        • irishmoses says:

          Yonira,

          The CIA estimated it would take Israel 7 days to win the war against Egypt, Syria and Jordan despite the thousands of tanks, APCs and artillery. It took 6 days. Even more brilliant than the Israel military campaign was its PR campaign which convinced the Israeli public, the US public and most of the world that Israel was under threat of annihilation. Israel’s only worry was international sanctions for doing it. Great PR prevented that.

          While Nassar was moving troops around blustering a lot, he did not want a war and the Israelis knew it. The facts truly show that it was nothing more than a land grab disguised by brilliant PR as a battle for survival.

        • eee says:

          Irish,

          When it suits you, the CIA are the most accurate source in the world. When it doesn’t they are a bunch of liars. An estimate is an estimate. The CIA have made many mistakes just as all intelligence organizations. You are confusing the certainty after events have occurred with estimates before hand. Some Israeli leaders thought it would be easy. Some thought that Nasser would not attack. But others thought the situation dangerous and that Nasser would attack even against his own best judgment because of Arab popular pressure just as in fact he stupidly closed the Tiran straits. In any case you agree that most Israelis believed that the danger was high, so if there was some hoax, it was not done by “Israel”. Just read the Arab newspapers from the time leading to the 67 war and tell me what you as an Israeli would think. And tell me also if any Israeli leader saying “the Arabs are just blustering, let’s ignore them” would not have been considered a stupid fool willing to risk the existence of Israel based on incomplete information and contrary to the public statements of our enemies.

        • yonira says:

          Then why spend the money mobilization Irish? Why risk an all out war if you don’t want one?

        • Shingo says:

          When it suits you, the CIA are the most accurate source in the world. When it doesn’t they are a bunch of liars. An estimate is an estimate. The CIA have made many mistakes just as all intelligence organizations.

          And fortuantely, with 20/20 hindsight, we’ve been able to deduce that the CIA is usually wrong when politics are ionvppvedin their assessments. In the case of 1967, the CIA and the Mossad weer in agreement that Nasser would not attack and was no threat.

          You are confusing the certainty after events have occurred with estimates before hand. Some Israeli leaders thought it would be easy. Some thought that Nasser would not attack.

          If they did, none of them were teh descision makers. Those in power making the descisions know that Nasser woudl not attack, and that even if he did, he was no threat to Israel.

          But others thought the situation dangerous and that Nasser would attack even against his own best judgment because of Arab popular pressure just as in fact he stupidly closed the Tiran straits.

          Rubbish. Nasser had already proposed multiple solutions regarding the Tiran straits.

          Nasser proposed that the blockade of Tiran be put to a descision before the the World Courtto adjudicate it. Nasser said, yes. The Israelis said, no.
          Nasser promised not to fire on foreign vessels passing through the Straits of Tiran, so long as Israel agreed not to send through Israeli-flagged vessels. The Israelis said, no.

          In any case you agree that most Israelis believed that the danger was high, so if there was some hoax, it was not done by “Israel”.

          that’s the same ëveryone thogth Saddam had WMD argument”, which only proves that most Israelis were fooled into believing this by their government.

          Just read the Arab newspapers from the time leading to the 67 war and tell me what you as an Israeli would think.

          Just read the US newspapers from the time leading to the 2003 Iraq invasion and tell me what an American would think.

          And tell me also if any Israeli leader saying “the Arabs are just blustering, let’s ignore them” would not have been considered a stupid fool willing to risk the existence of Israel based on incomplete information and contrary to the public statements of our enemies.

          Yes eee, ignore all intelligence frpom the US and Israel itself in favor of new headlines. That’s a strong basis for foreign policy iof I ever heard one.

    • Potsherd2 says:

      When propagandists and warmongers whip up fear, it may be real psychologically but it doesn’t serve to demonstrate a real threat.

    • MRW says:

      The movement of the Egyptian Army into Sinai, the closing of the Straights of Tiran, the escalating Arab rhetoric and propaganda promising the imminent destruction of Israel – all those factors produced real fear in Israel at the time

      No they didn’t. Read Alan Hart’s account of it and his interviews with Golda Meir and Moshe Dyan. The Israelis provoked it. You have no clue what you are talking about.

  20. Donald says:

    “the leadership, the people, and, indeed, people all over the world ,”

    That’s three different groups. I’m no expert and will generally stay out of this argument about the 67 war, but my impression was that the average Israeli might indeed have felt very threatened, but knowledgeable experts knew that Israel faced no serious military threat. But that’s just the impression I’ve gotten from reading the sorts of quotes that annie supplied –I need to read more.

  21. RoHa says:

    “its extreme presumptuousness. Here we have two professors at Princeton, both far removed from the realities of war, essentially telling soldiers in another country how to behave.”

    In their defence, being removed from the realities of war helps them to avoid the distorting effect that the emotions of war would have on their thinking.

    The point that the methods used to wage war affect the ability of the soldiers to discriminate between combatant and non-combatant is a strong one.

  22. Shingo says:

    This is a truly superb essay and leaves one dumbfounded as to how and why Waltzer is so revered and respected. His dishonesty and lack of objectivity strikes me as the very embodiment and stereotype of Liberal Zionism.

    The lines that struck me were these:

    What then, in reality, has been Walzer’s purpose in commenting on war? Once one looks past the common trope about “human shields”, or the moral truisms about not killing innocent people, one sees that Walzer has basically stuck to reiterating Israel’s declared aims, and tailoring his arguments accordingly.

    What indeed is Walzer’s purpose other than to be another propagandist for Israeli agression? Surely an academic of his caliber should has no excuse to be so painfully ignorant of the facts in these conflicts?

    With regard to the U.S., he has used the majority of his energy not to oppose our many wars, but to berate the left for failing to conform to his correct mode of (always ineffectual) opposition.

    So Waltzer is an intellectual fascist too?

    As Walzer says in the same essay, “all states that are members of the U.N. have the same legal value. They do not, however, have the same moral value”

    And it seems, he’s also a devotee of American and Israeli exceptional ism. I dare say that Waltzer sounds as though eh is also a devotee of provenance and ordained privilege.

    Furthermore, “the judgments we make (or should make) when a particular state is attacked or invaded have more to do with the moral value of the state then with the brute fact of attack or invasion”.

    In other words, Waltzer subscribes to eh belief that states like the US and Israel makes mistakes, but are never wrong.

    I find this piece both superb and hugely depressing that someone with such blatant regard for Imperialism and Western superiority should be held in such high regard. I can only hope he represents the embodiment of the collapse of American Empire.

  23. I remember 1967. I was very pro-Israel then, and actually sent a telegram to Moshe Dayan saying he was crazy (meshuganah) to attack these ‘massed Arab armies’.

    It’s taken me more than 40 years to understand the real truths behind that huge deception.

  24. MRW says:

    So, what this article is saying is that Michael Walzer is a phony.

  25. syvanen says:

    This just war theory in the absence of just resistance theory is just nonsense. There is little acknowledgment as to why Israel is being threatened. In the absence of that, Waltzer is just a shill for colonial domination. BTW he is NOT a moral philosopher, he is a public “intellectual” who has offered his services to power. As he will be known.

  26. straightline says:

    The difference between eee and Waltzer – and all of the other Zionists – on the one hand and the rest of us on the other is that they start from the premise that Israel is right and we start from the facts. Like you, Richard Parker, I was totally supportive of Israel in the 6 day war and indeed until about 20 years ago or less – brainwashed by media that gave only the Israeli view. In fact the ramifications of the first Iraq war were what started me reading about the situation in Israel and Palestine. Once I began to put the facts together the “scales fell from my eyes”. Whenever I read a Zionist argument, whether by Waltzer or eee, it reads like a legal case constructed by someone less concerned about truth and justice, and more about the acquittal of their client.

    • irishmoses says:

      “Whenever I read a Zionist argument, whether by Waltzer or eee, it reads like a legal case constructed by someone less concerned about truth and justice, and more about the acquittal of their client.”

      +10. Perfect. Although I think eee and others have adopted and are dishonest arguments provided to them by others, and are probably doing so in good faith. The hardcore Zionist propaganda team are the real culprits. eee, Yonira and others are the unwitting dupes.

      I too have come 180 on the Israel issue. I was in college during the 67 war and remember being intensely jealous of my Jewish buddies who were all going to enlist in the Israeli army and fight a “Just War”. My only option was freakin Vietnam.

    • Shingo says:

      The difference between eee and Waltzer – and all of the other Zionists – on the one hand and the rest of us on the other is that they start from the premise that Israel is right and we start from the facts.

      To be fair, the US was party does this too. That’s what colonialism breeds – the assumption that we are always right. We make mistakes, but we are righteous and never wrong.

  27. MRW says:

    BTW, Michael Phillips, great article.

  28. Nevada Ned says:

    Great article by Matthew Phillips. Too long for most people to read, though.

    You might have mentioned the 1982 Israeli invasion (and destruction) of Lebanon. Walzer supported Israel’s war. See Chomsky’s Fateful Triangle for documentation of this point. Walzer said, in The New Republic, that Israel’s war could be supported by Just War theory.

    David Green: I agree with you about Dissent magazine. One quibble: you mentioned David Bromwich and grouped him with Irving Howe. I have read David Bromwich only in the last few years, and my impression is that he’s been critical of Israel and the neoconservatives. See for example this piece from 2007
    on Israel, Iran, Iraq and the neoconservatives.
    link to huffingtonpost.com
    (I plead ignorance about Bromwich’s writings long ago.)

    • David Green says:

      Bromwich will never criticize or even explore the nature of stalwart and indispensable liberal-left support for Israel among his colleagues at Dissent, TNR, NYRB, etc. He takes refuge in M/W “realism” and beating up on neocons. It doesn’t get to the heart of the problem, broadly construed, in relation to “bipartisan” support for Israel among privileged critics and academics. In other words, he doesn’t look in the mirror. I included him expressly for that reason–his criticism of Israel is a pose rather than a position, and his passion for Palestinian justice is nil.

  29. hophmi says:

    This is an interesting essay. It suffers from the same problem as many critiques of Just War Theory do – it posits no constructive alternative.

    If Just War Theory should be abandoned because it is too “malleable,” surely international law suffers from the same weakness, namely a subservience to political considerations.

    International law also suffers from a certain lack of reality; the reason Walzer’s book is a classic is because it articulates a reasonable set of rules that states can actually follow. International laws of war, particularly those of more recent vintage, are meant to end war altogether, not to govern it. And those that make international law are usually not worried about the difference between jus ad bello and jus ad bellum.

    Of course, the critique of air warfare suffers from a lack of reality as well; countries do not usually put its soldiers at greater risk just to satisfy the world’s moral arbiters.

    It does appear to escape the author, however, that this is exactly what Israel did in Jenin in 2003, sending in ground troops and losing 23 of them.

    The moral arbiters of the world, most of them political activists, showed why they should be not be taken seriously by not only claiming that the attack on a town where many suicide bombers originated was immoral, but by spreading false rumors of a massacre of hundreds of thousands in a battle where 52 people on the Palestinian side were killed. English newspapers compared Jenin to Stalingrad. Jenin was a perfect example of how the main consideration of pro-Palestinian activists is not international law; it is international politics.

    • Donald says:

      “It suffers from the same problem as many critiques of Just War Theory do – it posits no constructive alternative.

      If Just War Theory should be abandoned because it is too “malleable,” surely international law suffers from the same weakness, namely a subservience to political considerations.”

      Hophmi’s comment illustrates why I criticized the last paragraph of Matthew’s superb essay. Matthew says we should throw out just war theory because Walzer uses it to justify Israeli atrocities. Then hophmi jumps in as the defender of just war theory.

      The problem with Walzer is not that he defends just war theory–the problem with Walzer is that he acts like Israel’s defense attorney when Israel is in violation of just war doctrine.

      “but by spreading false rumors of a massacre of hundreds of thousands in a battle where 52 people on the Palestinian side were killed. English newspapers compared Jenin to Stalingrad”

      Get a grip. The initial claims were that “hundreds” were killed at Jenin in a massacre. Incidentally, one of the first to claim a death toll in the hundreds was an Israeli general. Then within a couple of weeks the human rights groups investigated and found, as you say, that 52 Palestinians had died, roughly half of them civilian and many of those in what could only be described as war crimes. Human Rights Watch did a detailed report. I doubt you read it.

      • Donald says:

        Incidentally, if you want to know why Jenin was initially presented as a massacre of “hundreds”, I’ve provided a link. When you get past the first several paragraphs of whining about the unfairness of the British press, the author admits that Israel contributed to the impression. Shimon Peres said that Jenin might look like a “massacre” and an IDF spokesman initially spoke of “hundreds” dead. Under those circumstances, of course people initially believed the worst.

        Guardian

        • hophmi says:

          Israel contributed to the impression (though not much). It does not excuse the press presenting rumors as fact or doing little to correct itself once the truth came out, and it certainly does not excuse the many partisans who continue to refer to it as a massacre.

          “The problem with Walzer is not that he defends just war theory–the problem with Walzer is that he acts like Israel’s defense attorney when Israel is in violation of just war doctrine. ”

          No, the problem is that people like Walzer as long as he fits their politics. Just War Theory is great as long as Walzer opposes the US and Israel. Just War Theory is bad if it can be used to justify a war in which the US and Israel are involved. The starting point is politics, not law. If Israel does it and it can be defended, the theory must be wrong. That is the philosophy of most people here, including the author. That’s politics, not law or theory.

          From the HRW report: “Human Rights Watch found no evidence to sustain claims of massacres or large-scale extrajudicial executions by the IDF in Jenin refugee camp. ”

          As with other HRW reports, little is said in the way of recommending acceptable practices. This is a urban warfare situation in a refugee camp where there are lots of IEDs and lots of irregulars out of uniform. Mostly, HRW claims Israel did not do enough to protect civilians. There’s little reason to believe that another army would have acted differently or achieved better results in terms of reduced civilian casualties. HRW reports need to include a best practices sections written by army professionals if they expect reports like these to be taken seriously. Reports like this do not encourage respect for international law.

        • Shingo says:

          No, the problem is that people like Walzer as long as he fits their politics. Just War Theory is great as long as Walzer opposes the US and Israel.

          False. The only people who like Walzer are those who approve of war in general. The donhesty about Walzer’s Just War Theory it only applies to those countries with the military capacity to to go to war on a whim, which means Israel, the US, and a hanful of other states.

          Just War Theory is bad if it can be used to justify a war in which the US and Israel are involved.

          Those are the only occasions when Just War Theory has been applied.

          The starting point is politics, not law. If Israel does it and it can be defended, the theory must be wrong. That is the philosophy of most people here, including the author. That’s politics, not law or theory.

          The problem you have is that Walzer has never met an Israeli war he didn’t like and approve of, so the fact is, you’re talking out fo your hat.

        • Donald says:

          “It does not excuse the press presenting rumors as fact or doing little to correct itself once the truth came out, and it certainly does not excuse the many partisans who continue to refer to it as a massacre”

          The press reported that there was a good chance there was a massacre and corrected itself within two weeks at the latest. And as for partisans who still refer to it as a massacre, it depends on how many war crimes constitute a massacre. The HRW report shows there were a number of brutal, inexcusable killings by the IDF.

          As for just war theory, you’re not paying the slightest bit of attention to Matthew’s post–you’re just picking out the last paragraph where he makes the mistake of equating Walzer with Just War theory. It’s exactly what I’d expect an apologist to do–ignore Israel’s actual conduct (Matthew discusses some of it) and make a grand claim that Israel abides by just war theory without looking at the details.

          “From the HRW report: “Human Rights Watch found no evidence to sustain claims of massacres or large-scale extrajudicial executions by the IDF in Jenin refugee camp. ””

          I half-expected you to pull a stunt like that.

          Here’s the paragraph from the HRW report on Jenin. I read the report years ago and reread the summary when I posted the link hours ago and it’s not surprising what you did to it–

          “Human Rights Watch found no evidence to sustain claims of massacres or large-scale extrajudicial executions by the IDF in Jenin refugee camp. However, many of the civilian deaths documented by Human Rights Watch amounted to unlawful or willful killings by the IDF. Many others could have been avoided if the IDF had taken proper precautions to protect civilian life during its military operation, as required by international humanitarian law. Among the civilian deaths were those of Kamal Zgheir, a fifty-seven-year-old wheelchair-bound man who was shot and run over by a tank on a major road outside the camp on April 10, even though he had a white flag attached to his wheelchair; fifty-eight year old Mariam Wishahi, killed by a missile in her home on April 6 just hours after her unarmed son was shot in the street; Jamal Fayid, a thirty-seven-year old paralyzed man who was crushed in the rubble of his home on April 7 despite his family’s pleas to be allowed to remove him; and fourteen-year-old Faris Zaiban, who was killed by fire from an IDF armored car as he went to buy groceries when the IDF-imposed curfew was temporarily lifted on April 11.”

          Gee, what sort of recommendation could HRW give? Well, for starters, when a family pleads with the military to allow them to remove a paralyzed family member trapped in rubble, they could do so. They could tell their tank drivers not to run over men in wheelchairs. They could tell their soldiers not to shoot a teenage boy on the street to buy groceries when a curfew is lifted.
          Stuff like that.

          Thanks, though, for demonstrating the care with which you select your quotes, and for the manner in which you handle one of the longest and best-written articles to appear on Mondoweiss.

        • Donald says:

          For anyone reading this thread, I suggest you look at the summary of the HRW report on Jenin and see if you can spot any other recommendations that HRW could make for the professionals in the IDF. What never ceases to amaze me about apologists for the crimes of some holy state (as Chomsky put it once) is that they can look right at a detailed report and only see what they want to see. What HRW calls “unlawful killings” at Jenin are what anyone with common sense would recognize as immoral behavior. Don’t shoot wounded, unarmed prisoners,don’t run over people in wheelchairs, don’t shoot kids in the street, allow families to retrieve wounded paralyzed family members from rubble. Hophmi wants to pretend that the killings were unavoidable and that no one could have done better. This is sheer nonsense. Even if one completely agreed with Israel on the larger issues, any decent person would object to the behavior described in the HRW report.

          BTW, if anything HRW is probably a little too understanding and sympathetic to Western military operations.

          link

      • Donald says:

        And here’s the Human Rights Watch report on Jenin.

        link

      • Shingo says:

        If Just War Theory should be abandoned because it is too “malleable,” surely international law suffers from the same weakness, namely a subservience to political considerations.

        You couldn’t be more mistaken Hophmi. It’s not international law that is subservience to political considerations, it’s the application of it. Unlike Just War Theory, International law is not maleable.

        International law also suffers from a certain lack of reality; the reason Walzer’s book is a classic is because it articulates a reasonable set of rules that states can actually follow.

        No, the reason Walzer’s book is a classic is becasue war advocates see it as a tool to justify their bloodlust. Walzer’s book is a classic in pro US and Isreli circles because it serves as a means to justify empire, colonialism and pwer.

        Of course, the critique of air warfare suffers from a lack of reality as well; countries do not usually put its soldiers at greater risk just to satisfy the world’s moral arbiters.

        That’s why such countries need to be scruitinized to determine if their partifcipatino in war is based on agression or genuine self defense.

        It does appear to escape the author, however, that this is exactly what Israel did in Jenin in 2003, sending in ground troops and losing 23 of them.

        The moral arbiters of the world, most of them political activists, showed why they should be not be taken seriously by not only claiming that the attack on a town where many suicide bombers originated was immoral, but by spreading false rumors of a massacre of hundreds of thousands in a battle where 52 people on the Palestinian side were killed.

        And what about when the moral arbiters of the world condemened the Israeli atatck on Gaza 2008 and Lebanon 2006 Hophmi? Were the moral arbiters of the world not vindicated? Was it not Israel who was spreading false rumors?

        Jenin was a perfect example of how the main consideration of pro-Palestinian activists is not international law; it is international politics.

        What this reveals is that Israeli Hasbarats have to reach back to 2002 to find a case of of when Israel got bad press and didn’t deserve it

        • hophmi says:

          You couldn’t be more mistaken Hophmi. It’s not international law that is subservience to political considerations, it’s the application of it. Unlike Just War Theory, International law is not maleable.”

          Another silly comment. The same people make the laws and apply them. And a good deal of what we think of as international law is customary, which is in part based on how the law is applied.

          “No, the reason Walzer’s book is a classic is becasue war advocates see it as a tool to justify their bloodlust. Walzer’s book is a classic in pro US and Isreli circles because it serves as a means to justify empire, colonialism and pwer.”

          Actually, I think a lot of people see the rules of proportionality in particular as a way to prosecute a war within the bounds of the Geneva Conventions. It’s a classic in the academy because it’s clearly written and well-argued.

          “And what about when the moral arbiters of the world condemened the Israeli atatck on Gaza 2008 and Lebanon 2006 Hophmi?”

          What about them? Most of them have no experience fighting an irregular enemy out of uniform who hides among the people. The one country who does is the US and – surprise, surprise! the US is a one country that doesn’t issue blanket condemnations of Israel.

          That’s my point. It’s simple enough – include analysis from a respected military person in HRW and similar reports as to how things should be done. That would allow me to take them more seriously.

          “What this reveals is that Israeli Hasbarats have to reach back to 2002 to find a case of of when Israel got bad press and didn’t deserve”

          It is simply a very good example that illustrates the political considerations most partisans start from when they analyze international legal questions.

        • Shingo says:

          Another silly comment.  The same people make the laws and apply them.  And a good deal of what we think of as international law is customary, which is in part based on how the law is applied.

          The people make the laws are those in power ie. those who win them. That is why intentional law is so selectively applied and why Israel and the US are given default immunity.

          Actually, I think a lot of people see the rules of proportionality in particular as a way to prosecute a war within the bounds of the Geneva Conventions.  It’s a classic in the academy because it’s clearly written and well-argued.

          As Matthew has pointed out that’s a myth. Proportionality is secondary to whether the main crime has been committed – an act of military aggression. After all, when has proportionality ever been used to prosecute a war within the bounds of the Geneva Conventions?
          As Matthew has illustrated, it’s clearly written but poorly-argued.

          I have no experience fighting an irregular enemy out of uniform who hides among the people.  The one country who does is the US and – surprise, surprise! the US is a one country that doesn’t issue blanket condemnations of Israel.

          don’t be coy Hophmi. Nazi Germany had plenty of experience fighting an irregular enemy out of uniform who hides among the people. After all, who were the French Resistance?
          And even one is not fighting an irregular enemy out of uniform who hides among the people, one can always lie, as Israel and it’s apologists like to do.

          That’s my point.  It’s simple enough – include analysis from a respected military person in HRW and similar reports as to how things should be done.  That would allow me to take them more seriously.

          That’s because as someone who’s tribe is always militarily superior, you never stop to question whether going to war in the first place is even justified.

          It is simply a very good example that illustrates the political considerations most partisans start from when they analyze international legal questions.

          It also happens to be the only example, which interestingly enough, ignores the countless cases that have taken place since in which Israel was exposed for crimes and wasn’t able to argue a case.