Commentary Magazine


Contentions

Lessons Learned?

Michael Gerson contends that the Gaza war didn’t solve all of Israel’s problems but it made things better. Quoting a research fellow at Haifa University, he writes:

“It is a fairy tale,” he says, “to say there are no answers through coercive force. The only things in life that have solutions are crossword puzzles. We have not solutions, but answers — operational answers that reduce terror to a tolerable level. It is what we do with crime. It is what we do with terrorism.”

[. . .]

It is amazing that this argument remains an argument, especially after America’s experience with the surge in Iraq. For years, military and diplomatic experts have argued that the ultimate solution is Iraqi political reconciliation rather than military force. Which was true, eventually. But the achievement of security through force, it turns out, was a precondition for the process of reconciliation to move forward.

The question remains whether the Obama administration grasps this salient point. Certainly, Obama and his then team of advisers failed to comprehend this prospectively when the surge was being considered. But many people got that wrong, or lost nerve. So we move on. The issue now is whether they have taken the lesson of Iraq to heart — and will perceive the Gaza war as a similar opportunity to change the dynamics in another asymmetrical battleground.

We’ll leave for another day the concern about how they will react when the next opportunity to affect political conflict through the judicious use of military force comes along. For now, the Obama team can be the lucky beneficiary of military actions it did not support. We’ll see soon enough whether George Mitchell can walk through the door opened by the IDF to isolate Hamas, bolster alternative Palestinian social and political organizations, increase Israel’s security, and close down the flow of weapons to Gaza. That would constitute a modest success. It would signal some recognition that rather than begetting an “endless cycle of violence,” Israel’s military success can in fact advance its security and make possible a period of quietude, if not peace.

And if they do that successfully, they might even persuade Hamas’s patrons in Tehran that America and its allies can exert influence and reap the benefits of successful military action. (But not if the President keeps genuflecting and apologizing for the imagined sins of the U.S.) For now, however, it would be enough not to fritter away the opportunity which Israeli military action has made possible.