In Mild Defense of the Juicebox Mafia

At the risk of wading into dangerous territory here, let me just say that I’ve enjoyed many a juicebox in my life, and I worry about casting aspersions on all those who drink from juiceboxes. Consider that many of America and Israel’s combat troops consume MREs that sometimes contain juicebox-like containers, not to mention that many of the most brilliant strategic minds have been known to sample a juicebox or two on the sly, and I hardly think that should be held against them.

As to the broader question of Israel’s Operation Cast Lead, the most persuasive analysis I’ve seen so far, and I’m eager to read any smart critiques, comes from David Brooks’ latest column.

This new game isn’t a war of attrition. It’s a struggle for confidence, a series of psychological exchanges designed to shift the balance of morale. The material destroyed in an episode can be replaced, but the psychological effects are more lasting. What is really important is how each episode ends, because the ending defines the meaning — who mastered events and who was mastered by them.

The column ends on a sobering note.

In one scenario, Israel finishes a quick ground assault with a lightning effort to clean out the tunnels in the Philadelphia Corridor. Then it withdraws from Gaza, at a time of its own choosing, to let the psychological reverberations begin. In another scenario, Israel’s assault drags on. The suffering of the innocents in Gaza magnifies. The meaning changes.

Tony Judt argued, somewhat clumsily, that Israel is in some sense the last of the classical European nation-states. I actually think this is a fair and illuminating observation. I often find questions concerning the justice of Israel’s military actions frustrating because it strikes me as so obvious that the Europeans and North Americans who frame the relevant norms don’t face the same exigencies as the Israelis. No one really disputes this, including the (unfairly) maligned members of the juicebox mafia. Apart from maybe New Zealand with its Treaty of Waitangi constitutional culture, every settler society that I can think of has committed depredations far worse than anything Israel’s ever done in its own defense without ever coming close to making amends. Actually, the smartest take I’ve seen on the historical justice questions comes from Christian Brose of the new Shadow Government blog, which I enthusiastically recommend.

So, as some of the juiceboxers have argued, the real question is whether Israel’s actions make sense in light of what Israel and friends of Israel see as its core objectives: the survival of a Jewish democracy, diminution if not elimination of the terrorist threat, etc. (Max Boot wrote a really terrific op-ed in this vein.) I have no idea if Operation Cast Lead is working — like Brooks, I think that remains to be seen. But is there reason to worry that it won’t? Yep. Is my gut instinctive to support a democracy’s efforts to defend itself? Definitely. As to questions regarding the proportionate use of force, many in the anti-war camp raised the same objection to the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan under the Taliban. I mean, I think they were crazy to do so. But I think that it is useful to see the assault on Gaza in the context of the scale of recent U.S. military actions. When the juiceboxers object to the assault on Gaza, note that they’ve also forcefully argued — wrongly, in my view, but coherently — that the U.S. invasion of Iraq was illegal and immoral as well as disastrous. This casts doubt on the notion that any particular animus towards the State of Israel is at work in informing their views.

I really wish that something like John Bolton’s fanciful scenario could work, i.e., hand over an impoverished Gaza with its poisonous political culture to an Egypt that has more than enough on its plate, and hand some slice of the West Bank to a Jordanian state that warily eyes its restive Palestinian majority, all while Israel’s increasingly radicalized Arab minority (many of them self-identified “Israeli Palestinians”) look on. But it clearly won’t. The effort to unmake the Palestinian national movement — to turn the Palestinian Question into a discrete series of more manageable regional questions — seems to have failed. Maybe Israel will keep trying until it works, or until Palestinian partners emerge who can make it work. I don’t know. All I know is that the two-state scenarios that I hear about most strike me as equally implausible. The Palestinian national movement thinks in terms of historical Palestine, which suggests that even the Palestinian state envisioned by the Arab Peace Initiative would be seen as woefully inadequate, not to mention unviable, by most Palestinians. One can see why it would appeal to at least some of the Arab states, of course. Would it win over Palestinian public opinion? The small upside in a two-state solution for the security picture is that inter-state aggression is assigned a different kind of weight. Israel might actually find it easier to defend itself against attacks emanating from a Palestinian state than from the ambiguous entities that exist now. Of course, I’m not even sure about that. After all, the occupation of Gaza had drawn to a close.