A complete and satisfying history of Israel's war in Lebanon, "Operation Peace for Galilee," will not come into our hands…
A complete and satisfying history of Israel’s war in Lebanon, “Operation Peace for Galilee,” will not come into our hands for many years. The archives on all sides are closed to the researcher, and the passions of the day preclude detailed investigations into the complicated motives and deeds of the key actors. Most of those who took part have yet to write their memoirs; many of those whose memoirs we would like to read either have met or will meet untimely ends. Finally, much of the information we would like to have will remain for years closely held by military specialists. Since 1967, Middle East wars have become an operational data base for the armies of both the participants and their patrons, and the advantage goes to the side that secretly learns best the lessons of recent history.
Nonetheless, the time is ripe for some reflection on the events of June 1982 and their aftermath, and three recent books are valuable in that regard.
Richard Gabriel’s Operation Peace for Galilee1 is a straightforward account of the war from June through August 1982, supplemented with a brief prehistory of the Lebanese problem and a short postscript. The layman will find it readable, although its main audience will be those who take a professional interest in military matters. It examines in some detail the technological and tactical problems the Israelis faced, and provides substantial “order of battle” information about the relative size and configuration of the opposing forces. It attempts to draw lessons from the war (mostly of a tactical and low-level organizational nature), and is based in part on primary research in Israel and Lebanon.
Gabriel, a prolific although not always a reliable writer on military affairs, is best known for a book he co-authored, Crisis in Command, an interesting if tendentious critique of the American military. There, as in the current work, his data—for example, results of morale surveys of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF)—are of interest, even if his interpretation is sometimes suspect. Occasional errors (such as the reference in his introduction to “violent clashes” between the Palmach and the new IDF in 1948) make one hesitant to accept everything Gabriel reports as accurate. On the whole, though, those in search of a straightforward account of the fighting could do worse than read his book.
A more interesting, yet more frustrating, work is by Ze’ev Schiff and Ehud Ya’ari, entitled Israel’s Lebanon War.2 Ya’ari is a prominent Israeli television reporter, and Schiff (who writes for the elite daily Ha’aretz) is the dean of Israeli defense correspondents and author of a number of fascinating books on the IDF and its wars. Schiff’s access to prominent personages in the IDF and the Israeli government is generally acknowledged to be unparalleled, and lends credibility to this well written and troubling book, which has already caused a stir in its Hebrew version.
Schiff and Ya’ari discuss the fighting on the ground, but their main interest lies in the diplomacy of the war and the high politics of its conduct. Their central point is that the then Israeli Defense Minister Ariel Sharon deliberately deceived and manipulated the Israeli Cabinet and perhaps even the then Prime Minister, Menachem Begin, into embarking on an ever-widening war. To judge by context it would appear that the authors have received inside information from the then Communications Minister Mordechai Zippori and the former head of Israeli military intelligence, Major General Yehoshua Saguy. The authors use this information, together with material gathered from other open and confidential sources, to paint Sharon in the darkest possible hues.
Yet, perhaps because their sympathies so completely lie with the hundreds (possibly thousands) of young officers and enlisted men who found the war disturbing, Schiff and Ya’ari fail to provide us with an adequately detached study of its successes and failures. They locate the origins of the war in the naiveté and bellicose irrealism of Israel’s Prime Minister and Defense Minister, see its outcome as an almost unmitigated strategic disaster, and judge its conduct at the higher levels to have been a travesty of democratic civil-military relations. Their work is, in short, a fascinating narrative and a powerful polemic, but not a work of analysis.
Finally, Itamar Rabinovitch in his The War for Lebanon 1970-19833 has provided a lucid, scholarly study of the origins of the Lebanon of today. He disentangles the personalities and factions that have reduced the one-time “Switzerland of the Middle East” to horrifying chaos and civil war, and he provides a useful account of the twists and turns of Syrian policy, as directed by the most Machiavellian of Arab leaders, Hafez al-Assad. Rabinovitch makes clear to the reader the extraordinary complexity of Lebanese politics, which has frustrated the plans of all external powers, not least Israel, the United States, and even Syria.
By building on Gabriel’s military data, Schiff’s and Ya’ari’s anecdotes, and Rabinovitch’s historical background, one can begin to come to terms with the causes, course, and consequences of Peace for Galilee. The time is ripe to do so, for the war has changed the constellation of forces in the Middle East, and does offer lessons not only for Israelis, but for students of American strategic problems as well. Enough time has passed, in other words, to attempt a more detached politico-military analysis than could be found in the reporting by the American press in the months following June 1982.
That reporting, it is now generally acknowledged, was some of the most inaccurate and prejudicial war coverage this country has ever seen. Reporters accepted on faith the grossly inflated casualty estimates provided by Yasir Arafat’s brother, and indulged in grotesque comparisons between the siege of Beirut and that of Stalingrad—betraying thereby not merely bias, but an elementary ignorance of the violence of World War II on the Eastern front. They failed to report the extraordinary and generally successful measures, including those which put at risk Israeli soldiers’ lives, undertaken by the IDF to reduce civilian casualties. In this connection it is interesting that Schiff and Ya’ari, whose suspicion of and dislike for Sharon are beyond doubt, describe the Defense Minister’s harangues to his generals to keep civilian casualties low (by minimizing the use of air strikes in cities, for example).
All this is not to say that the invasion of Lebanon and its aftermath (in particular, the Sabra and Shatila massacre carried out by Maronite militiamen allowed into the camps by the IDF) did not and does not pose-moral problems for Israel. Yet when one considers both the events and the public reaction to them, one is struck by how high the Israeli standard has been and remains. In what other country would a brigade commander, who could not in good conscience order his men to attack a well-defended city, be allowed to resign with honor, even after attempts by the head of government in person to coax (not order) him to attack? In what other country would some 5 percent or more of the population gather peacefully to demonstrate for a commission of inquiry into a massacre committed not by its own troops but by those of its allies? In what other country would such a commission force the resignations of a Minister of Defense, a Chief of Military Intelligence, and the retirement in disgrace of a respected and highly competent Chief of Staff?
Gabriel—a major in the U.S. Army Reserve—discusses Israeli behavior at some length:
In built-up areas, IDF soldiers were specifically forbidden to throw hand grenades or satchel charges into houses or buildings before entering them. . . . The urban ambush using civilians as cover or shields became a basic PLO tactic. It was a tactic that the Israelis knew would be employed against them, and they chose nonetheless to restrain their troops rather than risk greater civilian casualties. . . . Any soldier caught with any kind of souvenir—liquor, pictures, cigarettes—in any quantity . . . is subject to immediate punishment. If the item exceeded $33 in value, the punishment is a jail term . . . the IDF has been more restrained than any modern army that comes to mind—certainly more morally restrained than the American army was in Vietnam. . . .
The war inflicted civilian casualties (between 8,000 and 10,000 dead, according to most sources) for two reasons: first, the fighting took place in a densely populated area; secondly, the PLO deliberately kept civilians in place to serve as a shield for Palestinian soldiers and to gain a propaganda victory over the Israelis. Had the Israelis been as ruthlessly determined as many claimed, it would have been a simple matter for them to unleash their staggering firepower and administer to Tyre, Sidon, and Beirut the same treatment that the Allies accorded Hamburg, Dresden, and Berlin in 1943-45.
The moral dilemma of the IDF in its conduct of this war deserves examination, but only in the context of a broader examination of the war as a study in ends and means. Such a prudential consideration of the war would ask: what was Peace for Galilee intended to accomplish? Were those objectives reasonable, and were they achieved? What unforeseen results stemmed from the war? Were they unforeseeable? Finally, were the costs—human above all, but political and social as well—worth it?
Strategy means the use of force for political ends—a definition somewhat at variance with current usage (which sees strategy more as stratagem, a clever device or ruse). The greatest student of war, Karl von Clausewitz, wrote in the final book of his masterpiece, On War:
No one starts a war—or rather, no one in his senses ought to do so—without first being clear in his mind what he intends to achieve by that war and how he intends to conduct it. The former is its political purpose; the latter its operational objective. This is the governing principle which will set its course, prescribe the scale of means and effort which is required, and make its influence felt throughout down to the smallest operational detail.
This is true even when a state is fighting for its life, but all the more so when it embarks upon a war for limited political ends, as did Israel in 1982.
Here, in acceptance of the fact that we are dealing with a classic case of Clausewitzian limited war, must rest the foundations of any evaluation of Peace for Galilee. This is a hard fact to accept, because most of Israel’s wars (1948, 1967, and 1973) have been wars for survival, into which political purpose erupted only late in the fighting or in its aftermath. Moreover, although an incident of terrorism (the attempted assassination on June 3, 1982 of the Israeli ambassador to London) triggered Peace for Galilee, the campaign was a far more ambitious affair than a retaliatory raid of the usual kind.
Democratic peoples, Americans and Israelis among them, have trouble with the notion that war can be simply a tool of statecraft. This democratic (or, more properly, liberal) bias, however, flies in the face of all that history or theory—or indeed, common sense—can teach us about the nature of international politics. Security threats are rarely amenable to a single spasmodic application of violence; they can, moreover, be both serious enough to merit the use of force and limited enough so as not to require every last ounce of military effort.
There was an Israeli precedent, and a good one, for Peace for Galilee. In 1956 David Ben-Gurion and Moshe Dayan masterminded the Sinai campaign, an operation designed to look, at first, like a mere retaliatory raid but which had three political purposes: to secure Israeli transit rights through the Suez Canal; to insure similar rights in the Straits of Aqaba (blockaded by Egypt); and to induce the Egyptian government to prevent fedayeen (terror) raids across the border. Sinai was at least two-thirds a success: the southern border remained quiet until 1967 and Israeli shipping passed unhindered through the Straits (though not Suez).
By the late 1970’s a threat warranting the application of force had emerged on Israel’s northern frontier, which until earlier in that decade had been the most peaceful of Israel’s borders. The influx of Palestinian refugees following the Jordanian civil war of 1970 (adding to a Palestinian population in place since 1948), the increasing turmoil of Lebanese politics leading up to the civil war of 1975-76, and Syrian intervention (first against the Christians, then for them, then against them again) transformed the frontier area. The Lebanese central government, never strong to begin with, dissolved, and the country’s real nature emerged—a congeries of feudal fiefdoms dominated by aristocratic warlords enforcing their authority with the aid of brutal, well-armed bands of retainers. In this chaos the Palestinians (themselves fractured into various groupings, some quite hostile to one another) became the dominant power in Lebanon south of Beirut, with the exception of a few Christian and Druse enclaves. A mini-state appeared, in which the PLO arrogated to itself powers of taxation, economic control, conscription, and all the other internal apparatus of an independent government.
From this base Palestinian terrorists launched a series of exceptionally bloody attacks against Israel, including the massacre of 37 civilians on a Tel Aviv-bound bus, and the hostage-taking at a schoolhouse in Ma’alot. The Litani operation of 1978, in which the IDF briefly occupied a strip of land extending to the river of that name (some twenty kilometers from the border), brought only a brief respite. To be sure, from time to time truces were arranged. Ironically, one of the more successful of these had been in effect until the assassination attempt in London (conducted, also ironically, by a splinter Palestinian group which specialized in killing moderate Palestinians more than Israelis). Nonetheless, the danger was chronic and growing.
The threat now took several forms. First and foremost was the instability caused by loosely disciplined PLO bands in the no-man’s-land immediately north of the border (again with the exception of the small strip controlled by a pro-Israeli Christian militia). Similar conditions along the Mexican frontier in 1916, it should be remembered, resulted in American mobilization and cross-border expeditions led by General John Pershing, subsequent commander of the American Expeditionary Force in World War I.
But other developments were equally disquieting. The nature of the terrorist threat had changed. Not only were terrorist groups attempting to infiltrate by land and sea; their possession of a mini-state enabled them to acquire long-range rockets and artillery, from which they could shell Israeli settlements. This was a completely new and insidious kind of danger, against which the Israeli tradition of territorial defense could not serve. Palestinian cannon and rocket launchers, amply supplied with ammunition, laid down barrages which caused thousands of civilians, for the first time in modern Israeli history, to flee the border settlements and towns. Ben-Gurion once remarked that “if we do not go to the border, the border will come to us”; hence the Israeli policy of settling populations on the very edges of Israeli territory. This policy now stood at risk.
The PLO mini-state also enhanced the independence of PLO leaders, particularly Yasir Arafat, and their international standing. Throughout the 1970’s Arafat waged a generally successful campaign to become a major player in Arab politics, to outmaneuver King Hussein of Jordan, and to secure his own position as, in effect, the head of a key Arab state. The enhanced position of Arafat even led to cautious and sporadic American attempts to open lines of communication to the PLO.
A third security threat stemmed from the Syrian presence in Lebanon. Although the Syrians were careful to adhere to tacit agreements with the Israelis (keeping their forces north of the Litani, and preventing terrorists from operating from the Golan Heights), they had obtained a valuable strategic position in Lebanon, particularly once they introduced mobile surface-to-air missiles (SAM’s) into the Bekaa valley. Again, ironies abound. Both before the war and in its aftermath the Syrians were far more scrupulous about adhering to the “rules of the game” than virtually any other Arab state, and one reason for their relatively slow reaction to Peace for Galilee was their confidence that Israel would not violate the rules by advancing to the Beirut-Damascus highway.
Faced with this complex threat (and I have simplified it by leaving out nuances as well as a consideration of Lebanese domestic politics), Israeli leaders had a difficult task in selecting and explaining to the IDF and the world both the fundamental political objectives and the operational aims of a campaign. In public, at any rate, the political objective was defined as securing quiet for Israel’s northern settlements (“Peace for Galilee”) and the operational objective as a forty-kilometer incursion.
The setting of political objectives, however, is a far more difficult task than it might appear—hence the profundity of Clausewitz’s observation. Consider just a few of the possibilities:
- The destruction of PLO forces within artillery range of the border settlements.
- The permanent elimination of the PLO mini-state.
- The neutralization of the PLO as a major factor in (a) Western politics, or (b) Arab politics (two very different objectives).
- Dealing a defeat to Syrian forces that would destabilize Syrian domestic politics.
- Forcing a realignment of Syrian military power in Lebanon, to include withdrawal of SAM’s, and possibly withdrawal to the north of Lebanon.
- Forcing the withdrawal of all Syrian forces from Lebanon.
- The improvement of Israel’s geostrategic position, by seizing the north-south avenues of approach from Lebanon to Israel and the high ground dominating the Bekaa valley.
- The creation of an independent Christian mini-state to serve as an Israeli ally, thereby fulfilling an old Zionist aim of an alliance of minorities (Christian, Druse, Kurds, and others) in the Arab world.
- The creation of a strong Lebanese government capable of controlling the Palestinians and, eventually, ejecting the Syrians.
- Coercing an old (or a new) Lebanese government into signing a peace treaty with Israel, thereby creating yet another precedent for formal Arab accommodation with Israel.
All these objectives had some merit. Most, however, were incompatible, as the Israelis discovered. Thus, a humiliated Syria would (and did) make every effort to prevent the emergence of a strong Lebanese state. Thus, too, a Christian-dominated Lebanon could not be a strong Lebanese state: other groups (the Druse, the Shi’ites, and others) were too powerful.
Moreover, each of these political objectives suggested different operational objectives and methods. This became apparent once the forty-kilometer mark—a deceptively concrete limit of advance—was announced. Communications Minister Zippori asked a discomfited Sharon whether the forty-kilometer line should be drawn from Rosh HaNikra in the west, or Metulla (farther north) in the east. The one would suggest an operation aimed purely at the PLO mini-state; the other would take the Israelis to Beirut and the Beirut-Damascus highway. The Syrians might not (probably would not) have fought to prevent the first; they certainly would (and did) fight to obstruct the second.
The evidence suggests that only one man, Ariel Sharon, had a coherent war plan, and that he did not dare to share it openly with other cabinet ministers, including, possibly, the Prime Minister himself. Sharon had, since the early 1970’s, begun to see Israel as, in effect, a great power, capable of independent political-military action of an unusual and untraditional kind. He had long adhered to the view that the Palestinian problem could and should be resolved by replacing Hashemite Jordan with a Palestinian state bordering Israel along the Jordan River, a state that could be coerced by Israeli military power into tacit acceptance of Israel’s right to exist. In this somewhat self-contradictory view, new psychological facts had to be created. The PLO mini-state had to be shattered in order to weaken the PLO’s grip on West Bank Arabs, to induce them to accept the permanence of an Israeli presence, and to turn the eyes of the Palestinian diaspora from direct action against Israel to an internal solution—the toppling of King Hussein.
Sharon also believed that Israel could create new allies for itself. The Begin government early on forsook a long-standing policy of only limited support for the Lebanese Christians in favor of a much closer alliance. Sharon viewed Bashir Gemayel—a stronger and more pro-Israel Christian leader than any save, possibly, Camille Chamoun—as a future leader who would help consolidate Israeli successes by establishing a Christian-dominated, pro-Israel Lebanon. Sharon seems to have expected that the Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon would therefore last only a few weeks or at most a few months. Thereafter, the country (including the more than half-million residents of the area south of Beirut) would return to the control of a government prepared to suppress the remnants of the PLO, sign a peace treaty with Israel, and help eject the Syrians.
This extraordinarily ambitious program had some basis in the realities of the Israeli position. Consider, first, the growth in Israeli power. The IFD of 1982 was far different from the Israeli army of the past. In 1973 the IDF was still a militia-based army which substituted ingenuity and skill for advanced equipment, which relied for logistical support on a mobilized economy (commandeered milk trucks carried some Israeli munitions across Suez in 1973), and which excelled primarily in two types of equipment—airplanes and tanks. Even in these areas the Israelis concentrated on refurbishing and extracting maximum utility from rather elderly equipment.
By 1982, as a result of military reform, industrial expansion, vastly increased expenditures, and huge American loans and grants, the IDF had transformed itself. Its first-line aircraft were state-of-the-art American F-15’s and F-16’s, equipped with suites of electronic-warfare devices, of which there had been no trace in 1973. Indigenously manufactured tanks (the durable and safe Merkava), equipped with the latest reactive armor, computer gun-laying, and high-technology rounds (the Hetz, or arrow round, also Israeli-made), were more than a match for the best Soviet equipment. In the manufacture and operational use of remotely-piloted vehicles (RPV’s) the Israelis matched any country in the world. The artillery, traditionally Israel’s weak suit, was vastly larger and more effective than in 1973, and was also equipped with new, more lethal, improved munitions. Logistics, hitherto a matter of inspired improvisation, was handled by fleets of cargo trucks and helicopter transports. Moreover, this growth in quality was matched by an increase in quantity. According to Gabriel’s figures, the Israelis had some 1,200 tanks in 1973 and over 3,800 in 1982, and 300 self-propelled artillery pieces in 1973 as against almost 1,000 in 1982, many of greater caliber than earlier.
Much of this build-up was undertaken in response to an intensifying threat from Syria and Iraq, now heavily armed by the Soviets with the best equipment they had available for export. Nonetheless, the fact is that by 1982 the IDF was a great-power army, of extraordinary size (a tank fleet comparable to that of the Federal Republic of Germany, for instance) and sophistication. Unlike virtually any other American ally except the Europeans, Australia, and Japan, the Israelis could make full use of the best in American technology—indeed, could match that technology with their own in a number of fields. Operational confidence in this force was far higher than at any time since 1973. Such long-range operations as Entebbe (1976) and the destruction of the Iraqi nuclear reactor (1981) showed that Israel’s reach was long, its aim sure.
The political context also seemed right for an ambitious campaign. The then U.S. Secretary of State, Alexander Haig, was, unlike most previous Secretaries, known for his pro-Israel views, as was President Reagan. Israeli officials expected—and, for the first few days, received—tacit American support for Peace for Galilee.
Additionally, Bashir Gemayel seemed an unusually forceful leader. By ruthless means (including the assassination of erstwhile allies and other fellow Christians) he had built up his family’s organization, the Phalange, into a substantial fighting force and coerced most of Lebanon’s Christian militias into a merger with it. He was undoubtedly anti-Palestinian, and even willing to take on the Syrians.
All this notwithstanding, Sharon miscalculated badly. Israeli military power was indeed great: the elimination of the Syrian SAM’s, the skill with which a mechanized force penetrated mountain and urban terrain, and the spectacularly lopsided air battles with the Syrians (where losses were on the order of a hundred to one in favor of the Israelis) testified to that. But while the IDF may have been a different army in terms of equipment, institutionally it was still a militia army, tightly linked with a civilian society acutely sensitive to casualties; still an army which viewed its primary mission as that of defending the homeland from enemies who would destroy it and slaughter the inhabitants; still an army which adhered to high standards of humane conduct. It was in the nature of things that all three aspects would cause severe disciplinary and morale problems in the context of a limited war fought in cities. Indeed, Sharon tacitly admitted this by his caginess in describing the ultimate limits of advance—a caginess which infuriated not merely his colleagues, but his commanders as well.
Furthermore, the political context was far less favorable than Sharon could, and should, have supposed. If some American statesmen were pro-Israel, others (most notably the Secretary of Defense, Caspar Weinberger) were not. If the U.S. would tolerate a limited operation against PLO regular forces in Lebanon, it would have difficulty in accepting a prolonged siege of cities, including an Arab capital. Whether one chooses to ascribe this to the advent of television or the Vietnam syndrome, no President could witness for long the use of American airplanes and American bombs to break a band of refugees ensconced in a major city. Sharon compounded the problem by, on his own initiative and without Cabinet approval, unleashing bombardments of Beirut while American negotiations were under way, and after Begin had made a promise of restraint to the American President.
Israeli self-deception was even greater with regard to the character and prospects of the Christians. Here Schiff and Ya’ari are particularly interesting on Menachem Begin, who is not normally viewed as being naively optimistic about non-Jews. They describe a man (and, to be fair, his views were shared by many) who saw in the Christian community of Lebanon an embattled minority not unlike the Jews of Israel, a community that would, in time, emerge as a free and forthcoming ally of the Jewish state. He seems to have believed as well that the Christian nations of the West would sympathize with the plight of their coreligionists in the Muslim East, particularly in an era of bitter and violent anti-Western Islamic fundamentalism.
Such thoughts were blindly generous. The Western states cared, and care, very little for the fate of the Christian minority in Lebanon. More important, the Christian community of Lebanon (with a few notable and honorable exceptions) has little sentimental use for Israel, something Begin discovered when Bashir Gemayel withheld his forces from Peace for Galilee and then wriggled to avoid signing a peace treaty with the Jewish state. A fellow Christian’s bomb brought to an end Gemayel’s brief presidency of Lebanon, but even had it lasted, one suspects that Israel was bound to be disappointed by an ungrateful and uncontrollable client. (Yet another irony: that Israel, whose fractiousness has often infuriated American statesmen, should find itself with a far less controllable client state of its own.)
As Sabra and Shatila all too clearly revealed, the Christian element in Lebanon was utterly different in its methods and scruples from Israel. This some Israelis had known all along, and others (Begin in particular) should have guessed. Schiff and Ya’ari describe the clandestine visit of an Israeli emissary from the Rabin government to Camille Chamoun, a major Christian leader, in 1976:
When they arrived at Camille Chamoun’s residence, another lesson in the ways of the Lebanese war awaited the Israeli delegation. “I want you to see our girls,” the elderly leader said without the slightest trace of salacious meaning. In the courtyard stood four young women in combat fatigues sporting hand grenades in their belts. “One of them is a Christian Palestinian,” Chamoun explained, “another has a Russian mother. They are all veteran fighters.”
“What have they managed to accomplish?” Ben-Eliezer asked skeptically. Immediately, the first girl produced a transparent plastic bag containing amputated fingers. “She takes a finger as a trophy from each of the men she’s killed,” Chamoun explained steadily, informatively. The second girl took a small bag of earlobes out of her knapsack. Suddenly stricken with nausea, Ben-Eliezer barely muttered some polite sounds of admiration before ducking back into the house.
A good part of Israeli domestic opposition to the war stemmed from the belief that it was at least in part on behalf of people like these that it had been waged.
In addition to all this, the Israeli leadership underestimated the tenacity and shrewdness of its Syrian opponents, who could only be expelled from all of Lebanon at a far greater cost than Israel was willing to pay. Syrian troops (particularly the Syrian commandos equipped with anti-tank missiles) fought bravely and skillfully in the Bekaa and along the Beirut-Damascus highway, the only areas where they were committed in strength.
Finally, the idea of a quick victory and swift withdrawal was ludicrous. No organized force could create order in southern Lebanon except the Syrian army or the IDF. Even a compliant Gemayel government simply lacked the organizational wherewithal to control a large and heterogeneous population of Shi’ites, Druse, and other groups. A similar lack of realism subsequently bedeviled American policy, which required that an effective, nonsectarian (!) Lebanese army be created by American trainers within a few months under the guns of the Sixth Fleet.
Sharon’s grand scheme was thus doomed to failure. This failure was exacerbated by the way in which he manipulated his colleagues in the Cabinet. Schiff and Ya’ari note that this was a Cabinet, unlike any in earlier Israeli history, devoid of civilian expertise in military affairs and hence reluctant (with the notable exception of Zippori, a former Deputy Minister of Defense) to take issue on military matters with a war hero. Sharon was therefore able to present the Cabinet with a set of faits accomplis, with seemingly minor adjustments to original plans, and with “unforeseen developments.” But in the end these tactics earned him the mistrust of all—even, apparently, Begin. IDF leaders, who had a number of contingency plans and were prepared to improvise new operations, seem to have been equally bewildered and suspicious.
Apart from the intrinsic flaws of Sharon’s plan, its implementation, with all the attendant disruption of sound civil-military relations and IDF morale, made it a virtual disaster in internal terms. For the first time in Israeli history, soldiers—not many, in any other context but that of the IDF—began to accept jail terms rather than serve on the front lines, and Israeli officers resigned their commissions rather than lead them into battle.
Today, Israeli troops still garrison southern Lebanon, and an increasingly restive population provides support for Palestinian and non-Palestinian guerrillas who inflict a steady trickle of casualties on IDF soldiers, many of them middle-aged family men on reserve duty. Syrian forces remain ensconced in central and northern Lebanon, and dominate Lebanese politics; Bashir Gemayel’s brother, President Amin Gemayel, has repudiated his agreements with the Israelis and closed down the informal liaison office (i.e., embassy) there. The Soviet Union has replaced Syrian equipment damaged in the war, deployed thousands of advisers in Syria, and improved Syrian air defenses with the long-range SA-5 missile system. As Schiff and Ya’ari point out, the Syrian armed forces came away relatively optimistic about their ability to meet the Israelis on equal terms on the ground if they could ever find a way of neutralizing Israeli air superiority. The clash also removed the cover of secrecy from those areas of Israeli military capability (in electronic warfare, for example) which might have been decisive in a more serious war.
On the other hand, the Israelis have achieved a number of important goals, some unforeseen, others part of Sharon’s original plan. They currently occupy an extremely favorable military line, particularly in the Jebel Baruk, which overlooks the Bekaa and provides unequaled positions for modern surveillance and monitoring equipment. Israeli observers note that, once again, the Syrians have been remarkably scrupulous in observing the cease-fire lines. In place of Israel’s unrealistic reliance on the Phalange, it now has working arrangements with independent Christian groups, some Shi’ites, and the Druse, ferocious fighters who are fundamentally anti-Syrian even when tactically allied with them.
Israel’s northern towns are again quiet. Civilians have returned to their homes, and the threat of a semi-deserted north has been ended. PLO forces still exist—they were never quite rooted out of Beirut, where the Israelis estimate they left behind some 2,000 fighters—but they are dispersed, poorly equipped, and divided among themselves. When the Israelis manage to extricate themselves from a frustrating and embittered occupation, it is highly unlikely that the local population, no matter how anti-Israel, will again tolerate Palestinian predominance.
This points to the most important consequence of Peace for Galilee, the shattering of the PLO mini-state. For the first time since 1948, there is no border area contiguous with Israel from which bands of terrorists can operate. Nor is there any area (like the refugee camps in Jordan until 1970, or the Lebanese camps—small cities, really—thereafter) in which the Palestinians can create a crypto-state. This is not necessarily fatal to the PLO, which started, after all, in 1964 as an organization created and controlled by Nasser of Egypt. Nonetheless, the destruction of the PLO mini-state has profound implications for Palestinian politics in the West Bank, Jordan, and the Palestinian diaspora, for it has dealt a severe and possibly crippling blow to Palestinian hopes for “liberation” by armed struggle. Not only has the façade of Palestinian military power been swept aside; the independence required to create such power has been destroyed and, it would appear, permanently so. To make matters even more decisive, the war triggered the most bloody and bitter internecine battles in Palestinian history, further fragmenting and discrediting the PLO.
Finally, Peace for Galilee and its aftermath, including the ill-fated American Marine presence in Lebanon, brought about a new and closer relationship between the United States and Israel. Here is the last and greatest of ironies, for American-Israeli relations were never worse than when Israeli troops were besieging Beirut and later when, on one or two occasions, American Marines found themselves pointing their weapons at IDF patrols in that devastated city. And yet, Israel’s victory over Soviet-equipped Syrian forces both demonstrated the quality of American equipment and provided new technical data for improving it further. The tragedy of the Beirut bombing of the Marine barracks brought home to American statesmen the ferocity of Syria; its aftermath (including the outcry over the failure to use Israeli hospitals and rubble-removal equipment) revealed Israel’s value as a strategic place d’armes in the Middle East.
American-Israeli strategic cooperation—once stymied by senior leaders in the Pentagon and an Israeli government that under Begin and Sharon was abrasive and obstreperous—has begun to take root. As Soviet military power grows, as Greece shows itself a far from reliable ally, and as it becomes apparent that an overall Arab-Israeli settlement may be not merely less feasible but less critical than once thought, the logic of an American-Israeli alliance grows. In 1970 the United States prepared to provide air cover for an Israeli operation to save King Hussein from a Syrian invasion. Today, Israeli airpower can help protect the Sixth Fleet, and its medical and port facilities can support it. The extraordinarily sophisticated armament industry of Israel and its combat-tested forces can—and do—supply the United States with valuable data (and captured enemy equipment) for the technological competition with the Soviet Union.
In consequence of all this, should Israel be able to withdraw from southern Lebanon, as almost all Israelis wish, it may be far better off with respect to external security than at any time since independence. How such a withdrawal can be effected without creating a violent power vacuum north of the Litani remains to be seen. In any event, whether the internal cost was worth the benefits of Peace for Galilee is a matter only the embattled Israelis themselves can decide.
1 Hill & Wang, 242 pp., $16.95.
2 Edited and translated by Ina Friedman, Simon & Schuster, 308 pp., $17.95.
3 Cornell University Press, 243 pp., $19.95.
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The Elon Musk problem.
No one has ever mistaken me for a business writer. Show me a balance sheet or quarterly report, and my eyes will glaze over. Bring up “chasing alpha” at the bar, and I’ll ask for the check and give you the old Irish goodbye. Business chatter—the kind you can’t help but overhear from young stockjobbers at the gym and bloaty middle managers on the Acela—bores me to tears. I’m especially allergic to the idea of “The Market” as an autonomous, anthropomorphic entity with a unitary will and mind of its own.
But even I can tell you that Elon Musk is imploding.
The latest omen came Friday when footage of the South African-born magnate smoking a fat marijuana blunt dropped online. The video is worth watching; the Guardian has the key bits from the 150-minute interview (do people really watch interviews this long?).
Rogan, whose fame has been a mystery to many yet is an inescapable fact of our online lives, offers the joint to Musk but is quick to add: “You probably can’t [smoke it] because of stockholders, right?” (On second thought, I think I know why Rogan is famous—because he knows how to push his subjects’ buttons.)
“I mean it’s legal, right?” Musk replies.
And so Elon Musk—the founder of an electric-car company worth $50 billion and a rocket company worth $20 billion—presses the blunt between his lips and takes a drag. He washes it down with a sip of whiskey on the rocks.
“I’m not a regular smoker of weed,” Musk says a few minutes later. “I almost never [smoke it]. I mean, it’s it’s—I don’t actually notice any effect.” His speech by now is noticeably more halting than it has been earlier in the interview. “I know a lot of people like weed, and that’s fine. But I don’t find that it is very good for productivity.”
The Market was not amused. News of two senior Tesla executives quitting their jobs broke soon after the interview appeared. Tesla shares slid 8 percent. On Twitter, where he competes with President Trump for the World Megalomaniac Award, Musk tweeted out his Rogan interview, adding: “I am a business magnet.” Perhaps he was still coming down.
These disasters follow the summer’s going-private fiasco. In early August, Musk claimed he had secured the vast funding needed to take his company private and then did a switcheroo. Tesla short-sellers, whom Musk constantly tries to show up, were vindicated. The Market got angry; shares slid.
“Moving forward, we will continue to focus on what matters most,” Musk wrote in a statement to investors two weeks later, “building products that people love and that make a difference to the shared future of life on Earth. We’ve shown that we can make great sustainable energy products, and we now need to show that we can be sustainably profitable.”
That apparently entails shooting the THC-laden breeze with Joe Rogan for two and a half hours.
The question now is: How did Musk ever get so big in the first place? There were many Tesla-skeptics, of course, chief among them those very short-sellers. They were onto something, perhaps because they sensed that a sound inventor-investor-executive would be more concerned with producing a reliable, profitable, non-subsidized automobile than with . . . showing up short-sellers. Even so, Tesla shares climbed and climbed. Even now, after Friday’s Harold and Kumar routine, the stock is trading north of $260.
Two explanations come to mind. The first is that, after Steve Jobs’s death, Wall Street and Silicon Valley types were seeking the next Eccentric Visionary to whom they could hitch their dreams. And Musk was straight out of central casting for Eccentric Visionary. Ending climate change. Colonizing Mars. Super-trains linking cities across vast distances. Everything seemed possible with him. Who knows, maybe the hopes were well-placed at one point, and the adulation went to the man’s head?
The second explanation, which needn’t be mutually exclusive with the first, is ideology. So much of Musk’s business reputation rested on his claims of solving climate change and other planetary crises that loom large in the minds of the Davos crowd. Musk embodied the ideological proposition that no modern problem eludes solution by noble-minded technocratic elites. The Market, it turns out, was as prone to magical thinking as any of the rest of us.
Clarification: News of the Tesla executives’ departure broke following Musk’s pot-smoking interview, but at least one of the departures had been finalized earlier this week.
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The course the West followed has been a disaster.
The West has squandered the last, best opportunity to rid the world of the criminal regime in Syria.
Damascus was designated a state sponsor of terrorism in 1979, and it has lived up to that title every year since. Syria’s descent into civil war presented several opportunities to dispense with the despot in Damascus and avert a crisis in the process, but they were all ignored. As I wrote for National Review, Syria is a case study in the perils of ideological non-interventionism. The results of the West’s over-reliance on covert action, outsourcing, and diplomacy in Syria is arguably the worst-case scenario.
Had Barack Obama not abandoned his infamous “red line” in 2013, the U.S. might have preserved the 100-year prohibition on the battlefield use of chemical weapons. The collapse of that taboo has been rapid and terrifying. In the years that followed, chemical arms have been regularly deployed in Syria, and rogue powers have been using complex nerve agents on foreign (even allied) soil in reckless state-sponsored assassination campaigns.
Ideological adherence to non-interventionism well after it had proven an untenable course of action allowed the flourishing of terrorist organizations. Some parties in the West with a political interest in isolationism deliberately confused these terrorist groups with secularist movements led by Assad regime defectors. In the years that followed, those moderate rebel factions were crushed or corrupted while Islamist terror networks, which provided a politically valuable contrast to the “civilized” regime in Damascus, were patronized and nurtured by Assad.
The incubation of terrorist organizations eventually necessitated the kind of American military intervention Obama had so desperately sought to avoid, but at a time and place not of America’s choosing and with a footprint too small to achieve any permanent solution to the crisis. All the while, a great human tide poured out from Syria in all directions, but especially into Europe. There, an influx of unassimilated migrants eroded the continent’s post-War political consensus and catalyzed the rise of illiberal populist factions.
Even as late as the summer of 2015, there was still time for the West to summon the courage to do what was necessary. In a stunning speech that summer, Assad himself admitted that Syrian forces suffered from “a lack of human resources” amid Western estimates that nearly half the 300,000-strong Syrian army had been killed, captured, or deserted. “Based on current trend lines, it is time to start thinking about a post-Assad Syria,” an intelligence source told the Washington Post’s David Ignatius. But Obama dithered still. Just a few short weeks later, Vladimir Putin, upon whom Obama relied to help him weasel out of his pledge to punish Assad for his crimes, intervened in Syria on Damascus’s behalf. That was when the greatest crimes began.
Russian intervention in Syria began not with attacks on “terrorists,” as Moscow claimed, but with attacks on covert CIA installations and arms depots; a dangerous campaign that continued well into the Trump era. The Syrian regime and its Iranian and Russian allies then embarked on a scorched-earth campaign. They bombed civilian neighborhoods and hospitals and maternity wards. They surrounded the liberated cities of Homs and Aleppo, barraging and starving their people into submission. They even targeted and destroyed a United Nations aid convey before it could relieve the famine imposed by Damascus. All the while, Moscow’s propagandists mocked reports of these atrocities, and the children who stumbled bloodied and ashen from the ruins of their homes were deemed crisis actors by Russian officials and their Western mouthpieces.
America’s strategic obligations in Syria did not diminish with Russian intervention. They increased, but so too did the danger. Early on, Russian forces concentrated not just on attacking Assad’s Western-backed enemies but on harassing NATO-aligned forces that were already operating in the Syrian theater. Russian warplanes harassed U.S. drones, painted allied assets with radar, conducted near-miss fly-bys of U.S. warships and airplanes in the region, and repeatedly violated Turkish airspace. This conduct was so reckless that, in November of 2015, NATO-allied Turkish anti-aircraft fire downed a Russian jet. On the ground, Moscow and Washington engaged in the kind of proxy fighting unseen since the collapse of the Soviet Union, as U.S.-manufactured armaments were routinely featured in rebel-made films of successful attacks on Russian tanks and APCs.
In the years that followed this intensely dangerous period, the Syrian state did not recover. Instead, Syrian forces withdrew to a narrow area along the coast and around the capital and left behind a vacuum that has been filled by competing great powers. Iran, Russia, Turkey, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Canada, the United Kingdom, France, Australia, and the United States, to say nothing of their proxy forces, are all competing to control and pacify portions of the country. Even if the terrorist threat is one day permanently neutralized in Syria—a prospect that today seems far off, considering these nations’ conflicting definition of what constitutes a terrorist—the state of competition among these powers ensures that the occupation of Syrian territory will continue for the foreseeable future.
And now, the final battle is upon the rebels. On Friday, hundreds of Syrians waving the “independence flag” poured into the streets of Idlib, the last of the country’s free cities, begging the international community to spare them from the onslaught that has already begun. The United Nations has warned that up to 800,000 people could be displaced in Damascus’s efforts to retake the rebel-held enclave, and the worst of the seven-year war’s humanitarian disasters may be yet to come.
Over the last two weeks, the United States has issued some ominous warnings. Senior American officials have begun telling reporters that the evidence is increasing of Damascus’s moving chemical munitions near the frontlines with the intent of using them on civilians. Trump administration officials announced in no uncertain terms that they would respond to another chemical attack with disproportionate force.
In response to these threats, Moscow deployed the biggest Russian naval taskforce on the Syrian coast since 2015. Simultaneously, Russia has warned of its intent to strike “militant” positions in the country’s Southwest, where U.S. soldiers routinely patrol. American forces are holding firm, for now, and the Pentagon insists that uniformed personnel are at liberty to defend themselves if they come under assault. If there is a conflict, it wouldn’t be the first time Americans and Russians have engaged in combat in Syria.
In February, Russian mercenaries and Syrian soldiers reinforcing columns of T-72 tanks and APCs armed with 125-millimeter guns engaged a position just east of the Euphrates River held by American Green Berets and Marines. The four-hour battle that ensued resulted in hundreds of Russian fatalities, but it may only have been a terrible sign of things to come.
Of course, a Western-led intervention in the Syrian conflict would have been accompanied by its own set of setbacks. What’s more, the political backlash and dysfunction that would have accompanied another difficult occupation in the Middle East perhaps presented policymakers with insurmountable obstacles. But the course the West followed instead has been a disaster.
The lessons of the Syrian civil war are clear: The U.S. cannot stay out of destabilizing conflicts in strategically valuable parts of the world, no matter how hard it tries. The humanitarian and political disasters that resulted from Western indifference to the Syrian plight is a grotesque crime that posterity will look upon with contempt. Finally, the failure to enforce prohibitions against chemical-weapons use on the battlefield has emboldened those who would use them recklessly. American soldiers will suffer the most in a world in which chemical warfare is the status quo of the battlefield of the future.
American interventionists are often asked by their opponents to reckon with the bloodshed and geopolitical instability their policies encourage. If only non-interventionists would do the same.
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And the demands of realpolitik.
Earlier this week, my housekeeper, Mary, arrived to work decked out in a bright red T-shirt emblazoned with a photo of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, who came to Israel last Sunday for a three-day official visit.
Mary was at the Knesset on Monday, one of several hundred Filipino workers among approximately 28,000 in Israel, enthusiastically cheering her strongman president.
I asked her what she thought of Duterte–a leader who makes President Trump seem eloquent and measured, by comparison–and I was taken aback by her effusive, unhesitating endorsement: “Oh,” she enthused, “he is a very good president! The best!”
“But,” I suggested, carefully, “he says and does some pretty extreme, crazy things. Does that concern you at all?”
“Oh, no!” she collapsed in laughter. “He doesn’t mean that. It’s just his style.”
Indeed, Duterte has “style.” Bragging of his intent to kill millions of Filipino drug addicts, and invoking Hitler and his genocidal rampage, approvingly, in this context; referring to President Obama as a “son of a whore”; boasting of his parsimony in keeping multiple mistresses available in low-end hotels; approving of sexually assaulting women, particularly attractive ones. And then there was the outburst during the Pope’s visit to the very Catholic Philippines in 2015 when Duterte called him a “son of a bitch” for causing a traffic jam while in Manila.
Mary is not a simple woman. She is university educated, hard-working, pleasant, and respectful. And whatever makes her overlook Duterte’s thuggish tendencies should interest us all, because there are many Marys the world over supporting populist leaders and governments. Mary admires Duterte’s strength of conviction in dealing with drug dealers, addicts, corruption and Islamic extremists.
Human rights activists and journalists, of course, see only a brute who visited Israel to shop for weapons and defense capabilities, which would be put to questionable use. Then again, Duterte is hardly the first and far from the only unsavory ruler to come shopping in Israel, America, or elsewhere, for arms.
Israel deftly managed the visit and optics. Whereas many were disgusted that the PM and President Rivlin gave Duterte an audience, according him a legitimacy and respect that is undeserved, their meetings were brief and remarks carefully calibrated.
In addition to acknowledging his personal gratitude to the Filipino caregiver who was a companion to his father in his final years, Bibi reminded us all of the enduring friendship the Philippines has shown Israel, and Jews, for decades. Prior to WWII, then president Manuel Quezon made available 10,000 visas as part of an “open door” policy to accommodate European Jewish refugees. Only 1,300 were used, ultimately, due to the Japanese invasion which closed off escape routes.
In 1947, the Philippines was the only Asian country to vote in support of the 1947 UN Partition Plan, providing critical support for the momentum building towards the creation and international acceptance of the Jewish state one year later. These are important, historical events about which Bibi, quite rightly, chose to remind us all.
I am no cheerleader of dictators and thugs, but I do wonder why the morality of many objectors to the Duterte visit is so selective. Israel (and all western nations) has relations and ties with many countries led by dictators and rulers far more brutal than the democratically elected Duterte.
Much ado has been made in recent months of Bibi’s meetings with a number of right-wing populists and, worse. Some link it to what they see as disturbing, anti-democratic tendencies in his own leadership of late. Others, myself included, would read it as a careful effort to maintain and cultivate as many international relationships as possible that may enhance Israel’s strategic and economic interests, particularly in this period of extreme global political, economic and institutional instability.
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The paradox of success.
The monthly jobs report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics released Friday morning shows that the economy continues to flourish. 201,000 new jobs were added last month, while the unemployment rate stayed steady at a very low 3.9 percent.
Unemployment rates for African-Americans and teenagers continued their decline to historic lows, while US factory activity was at a 14-year high and new unemployment claims at their lowest point since the 1960s. The long-term unemployed (those out of work for 27 weeks or longer) has fallen by 24 percent in the last year. The number of part-time workers who want full-time work has gone down by 16 percent over the last 12 months. Wages are rising at a faster pace than they have, a sign of a tightening jobs market.
Corporate profits are robust (thanks partly to the cut in the corporate income tax) and consumer spending has been rising. The GDP has been growing at a more than 4 percent rate in recent months. In short, the American economy has rarely been this good and certainly wasn’t during the long, sluggish recovery from the 2008-2009 recession under the Obama administration.
In an ordinary year, one would expect that with economic numbers this good, the party controlling both houses of Congress and the White House would be looking forward to doing well in the upcoming midterm election, even though the party holding the White House usually loses seats in midterms. But, of course, no year is an ordinary political year with Donald Trump in the White House and the Democratic Party moving ever more to the left.
November 6 will be an interesting night.
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We deserve better.
You could be forgiven for thinking that everyone active in American politics has lost their minds.
What we’re witnessing is not, however, collective madness. The political class in the United States has adapted to a constant atmosphere of high drama, and they’ve adopted the most theatrical poses possible if only to maintain the attention of their fickle audiences. What might look to dispassionate observers like mass hysteria is just overwrought performance art.
This week was a case study in our national insanity, which began aptly enough on Capitol Hill. There, confirmation hearings for Judge Brett Kavanaugh got underway, but Judge Kavanaugh’s presence was barely noticed. The hearings soon became a platform for some familiar grandstanding by members of the opposition party, but the over-acting to which the nation was privy was uniquely embarrassing.
New Jersey Senator Cory Booker chewed the scenery, as is his habit, by declaring himself Spartacus and demanding that he be made a “martyr” via expulsion from the Senate for releasing one of Kavanaugh’s emails to the public, supposedly in violation of Senate confidentiality rules. But there was no violation, said Bill Bruck, the private attorney who led the review of Kavanaugh’s former White House records in the Senate. “We cleared the documents last night shortly after Senator Booker’s staff asked us to,” he said in a statement. Perhaps by engaging in what he called “an act civil disobedience,” Booker was only following the lead of his colleague, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, who declared the committee’s process illegitimate, thereby supposedly rendering the rules of the United States Senate unworthy of recognition.
Outside another congressional committee’s chamber, the crazy really ramped up to absurd proportions. Following a hearing on alleged bias in Silicon Valley, Senator Marco Rubio was confronted by the rabble-rousing conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, which rapidly devolved to the point that both Senator and agitator were soon threatening to fight one another. “I know you’ve got to cover them, but you give these guys way too much attention,” Rubio later told reporters. “We’re making crazy people superstars. So, we going to get crazier people.” He’s right.
The Trump era has provided the press with fertile soil in which a thousand manic flowers have bloomed.
Amplified by the president himself, Jones has become one of the right’s favorite grifters. Unfortunately, he’s in plentiful company. The press has discovered a sudden interest in conspiracy theorists like Jack Posobiec, Mike Cernovich, and Laura Loomer partly because they make for such compelling television but also because they’re willing to confirm the pro-Trump right’s most paranoid suspicions.
The “Resistance” has been a valuable vehicle for the unscrupulous and under-medicated. Congresswoman Maxine Waters has been feted in the press and in apolitical venues such as the MTV Movie Awards not despite but because of her penchant for radicalizing the left and feeding them fantasies about a coming anti-Trump putsch. Former British MP Louise Mensch, “D.C. technocrat” Eric Garland, and Teen Vogue columnist Lauren Duca spent most of 2017 basking in attention and praise from respectable quarters of the Washington political and media class. Their manifest unfitness for such elevated status somehow evaded drama addicts in mainstream political and media quarters.
And whether you’re pandering to the pro-Trump right or the anti-Trump left, there’s plenty of cash to go around for those who are willing to indoctrinate children or undermine the integrity of apolitical American institutions.
The week’s most hysterical moment belongs to the president and his aides—specifically, their reaction to an anonymous op-ed published by the New York Times purportedly revealing the existence of a cabal in the administration dedicated to thwarting the president’s worst impulses. Now, some have expressed perfectly reasonable reservations about the Times’s decision to publish an anonymous op-ed. Others have fretted about the pernicious effects this disclosure might have on the already mercurial president’s approach to governance. But lost in the over-the-top reactions this piece inspired among political observers is the hackneyed nature of the revelations it contained.
In sum, the author disclosed that many members of this Republican administration are movement conservatives dedicated to conservative policy prescriptions that are antithetical to the policies on which Trump campaigned. As such, they have often successfully lobbied the president to adopt their positions over his own preferences.
The admittedly dangerous “two-track presidency” has been observable for some time, and is the frequent subject of reporting and opinion. For example, the op-ed highlighted the discrepancy between Trump’s conciliatory rhetoric toward Russia and his administration’s admirably hawkish posture, which has become such a glaringly conspicuous feature of his presidency that Trump has recently begun trumpeting his contradictory record as though it was a unique species of competence. There’s nothing wrong with taking issue with the way in which the obvious was stated in this op-ed, but the statement of the obvious should not itself be a source of special consternation.
But was it ever. The Drudge Report dubbed the author a “saboteur,” despite the op-ed failing to describe even one action that was taken on the part of this so-called “resistance” against the president’s expressed wishes. “Sedition,” former White House Aide Sebastian Gorka echoed. Sarah Huckabee Sanders attacked the anonymous columnist as a “coward.” The president himself pondered whether the op-ed constituted “treason” against the United States and demanded the Times “turn over” this “gutless” columnist to the proper authorities, whoever they are. This is certainly one way to refute the charge that Trump’s “impulsiveness results in half-baked, ill-informed and occasionally reckless decisions,” but it’s not a good one.
It’s hard to fault politicians and the press for selling drama. Banality doesn’t push papers, drive up advertising rates, or turn out the vote. At a time without an urgent crisis, when the economy is strong, and the fires abroad are relatively well-contained, it serves the political and media classes to turn up the temperature on mundanities and declare all precedents portentous. But radicalizing voters for such purposes is both trite and irresponsible. In America, healthy and productive politics is boring politics. And who would tune in for that?