Samson Blinded: A Machiavellian Perspective on the Middle East Conflict
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Machiavelli: goodness and cruelty

Cruel measures are sometimes the kindest

The cruelty of the stronger increases suffering in the short run but decreases it over the long term by stopping wars sooner and crushing the will to fight. Low intensity perpetuates conflicts. Tolerating enemies is provocative. That notion is unpopular with short-sighted democratic politicians, but it is the only practical approach for the oldest living nation[5] on earth.

Americans used that approach with Japan, killing many with two nuclear bombs to save even more and tens of thousands of American soldiers in an invasion of the Japanese home islands, though the United States could have demonstrated the nuclear threat without actually bombing.[6] Since many of the Japanese killed worked at military-related factories, they were not exactly civilians—exactly the case of Arabs who support Islamic terrorists with donations—but they should not have been needlessly executed. Israel, however, cannot effectively threaten her Arab opponents—either by Israel's nuclear deterrent, which long ago lost its credibility because of the international outcry against its use, or by conventional war, which American pressure would stop as soon as Israel began to win. The call for morality in international relations precludes the use of the balance of power to resolve conflicts. Formerly, stronger states restored the balance of power in their favor by warfare. Now they succumb to weaker but supposedly equal neighbor states, as does Israel when it withdraws from Arab lands or America when it gives in to trade demands and defaulted loan.

Machiavelli: goodness and cruelty

Niccolò Machiavelli affirmed that two ways lead most directly to peace: destroy a people’s will to fight by either utter goodness or by utter cruelty, usually expressed as extermination. The second option is impractical in the ostensibly human modern world which abhors suffering. That luxury corrupted the Romans is obvious, but to say the same of modern Western civilization is taboo. The recent examples of Russia, India, Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Algeria show that impoverished people are willing to fight for principles, to bear and to inflict suffering. Only weakness, the fear of material loss, or the hope of preserving the status quo by accommodating adversaries weakens that will.

The desire for peaceful coexistence runs aground on two problems. First, it accommodates evil alongside merely diverse views. Only Nazi atrocities and threats brought the major powers to declare war. The civilized world hesitated a long time before it stopped the massacres in Rwanda and Yugoslavia. The distinction between justice and mercy blurs into nonexistence. Second, the desire for accommodation is hypocritical: compromise gives way to confrontation when either party hopes to avoid loss; the embargoes on Iraq and Cuba inflict considerable suffering without endangering Americans. The Americans were not brutal in Iraq[7], but heavy fighting or orders relieving them of responsibility would have evaporated the civil gloss.

The Torah says that one can feel compassion only for a neighbor, a well-known member of a closed group with shared values. The mass media bring distant people together, creating the illusion of a global neighborhood. Mistaking timid civility for humane concern and compassion is either a mistake or hypocrisy for most people. Few are really compassionate toward all, and their example is important but futile.

Conquest by virtue is ambiguous, since in the view of her Arab neighbors, Israel would show virtue by getting out of the Middle East altogether. Israel has designed various agricultural programs to help poor Arabs in other countries, and the status of indigenous Arabs in Israel is comparatively high; but Arab popular opinion calls that a sign of Israeli weakness, not goodwill. Arabs need to denigrate their Israeli benefactors to preserve self-esteem, attributing hidden motives and hating them.[8] The help is taken for granted, and its cessation or decrease causes bitterness. The “good” option is unrealizable, hardly ever attempted by practical statesmen, and never successful. No regime that comes to power by force can sustain itself by grace without first exterminating its enemies. Goodness as a device to mollify subjugated people[9] is a theoretical construct. Machiavelli hardly discusses the statesmanship of kindness.

Absolute cruelty is superficially as much an extreme as absolute goodness and should be as unrealizable if the object of application of either were immutable. Cruelty, however, eliminates the object itself by destroying opposition and dispersing potential supporters to other countries where they are eventually assimilated and lose nationalist aspirations. Sufficient cruelty can often reduce the dissident population to conformity. Goodness, on the contrary, emboldens dissent—exactly the case with Palestinian nationalism

Israel, therefore, is left with the most ineffective yet apparently most common third option, low-intensity violence dragging on and on in the futile attempt to avoid acting inhumanely while forcing Arabs to forsake their interests. Israeli aim is to wear the Arab enemy down on various fronts: economy, human resources, the popular will to sustain losses in life and excessive taxation, and the goodwill of foreign sponsors. That path may eventually lead to peace as Arabs grow used to Israel’s existence and the enemy’s aggression dissipates. Hostilities would not cease even after centuries of coexistence if fresh grievances occurred continuously, as in the case of Catholics and protestants in Ireland. Mutual acceptance depends on assimilation or at least the blurring of important differences. Since Jews strive to remain distinct from others—a major source of hatred throughout history—Israelis should not expect time to heal Arab wounds and discontent. In any case, prolonged suffering is more painful than any speedy solution.

Unlike Arab dictatorships, Israel faces the problems of any other democratic country: including popular resistance to heavy taxation for war purposes in peacetime. Israelis' low tolerance to human loss is another factor, though military superiority has so far allowed Israel to come off almost unscathed in statistical terms. Another important factor, the goodwill of the United States toward Israel, is available now but could end quickly if Arabs finance an effective public-relations campaign. Money, the venal press and public relations agencies, and grassroots anti-Semitism are there. The Vietnam War demonstrates the possibility of stopping American warfare by appealing to popular opinion.

The seemingly irresolvable situation has, however, a solution, a combination of the first two options. Israel should drive the Palestinians into Jordan and Lebanon and treat the other Arabs with kind indifference but react with cruelty to any violation of Israeli interests. Negotiators know an opponent is much more likely to give way if pressured from the beginning and then offered a way out. Human nature often leads one to seek the friendship of a strong and haughty neighbor. In both personal and international relations, a strong, accommodating neighbor can provoke hatred. People find satisfaction in attacking a weak giant or at least showing him disregard. When the giant is likely to punish the attack, the best bet is to associate with him. As the saying goes, “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.”

Prudence suggests starting peaceably and disguising plans. As Benjamin Franklin remarked, “A spoonful of honey will catch more flies than a gallon of vinegar.” That, however, hinges on the possibility of enforcing the situation deceit obtains: the flies get stuck in honey. In the real world, the flies would revolt against the forces of adhesion and the person who lured them in, crying injustice and asking others to help them get away. Jews already tried honey when they agreed the 1947 partition of Palestine and peaceful coexistence with the Arabs, though the original plan earmarked all of Palestine for the Israelis. That did not work, because the Arabs wanted it all. Once the flies corral one spoonful of honey, they look for more. Once Islamic terrorists demands are met, they increase. The Israelis act the same way. Settlement could be achieved only as equilibrium of power: more demands less resolutely supported and stiff opposition to further concessions.

[5] Neither Chinese, nor Indians were originally homogenous like the Jews since at least the Exodus, but lived in perpetually warring states, spoke different languages, and were religiously distinct.

[6] Unlike in the case of Germany, war crimes were perpetrated by regular Japanese army, not special squads, and Truman’s disgust for Japanese is understandable.

[7] The isolated trials of American soldiers underscore the legalistic notion of brutality which does not tolerate killing fatally wounded enemies to end sufferings or cruelty to interrogated war prisoners.

[8] Western Europeans show no gratitude to America for saving them from the red plague during the Cold War, and revisionists charge the United States with drawing Western Europe into confrontation with the Soviets. Palestinians are not grateful to the United States for pressing for their independence or Egyptians - for rejecting the Franco-British bid to restore control over the Suez Canal. Arab politicians hardly ever acknowledge the agricultural assistance Israel provides to Palestinians.

[9] Israel using goodness for subjugation is not necessarily hypocrisy, though there would be nothing wrong if it was. Living side-by-side with Israel tremendously benefits Palestinians in economic terms. The British developed India, and other Europeans developed their ex-colonies as well.