My friend Nicholas Noe is on a mission. For several years, he has been arguing that Washington’s hard-line, take-no-prisoners approach to dealing with Syria and Hizbullah is completely misguided. The continuous diet of pressure and isolation tactics from the West, Noe believes, has only served to improve the fortunes of the Resistance Axis, not weaken it, and he has painstakingly documented this legacy of ashes in a variety of opinion pieces published in the New York Times, the Huffington Post, and various other outlets (including his blog).
Interestingly, Noe does not take the view of certain commentators to whom he is often compared (such as Alistair Crooke and Nir Rosen) that the West should be criticized for waging a war on parties whose resistance agenda is perfectly legitimate. Rather, his beef with Washington is that this strategy is wrong because it is not effective enough. In other words, Noe does not have a problem with the ends of US policy; he simply disagrees with the means.
Take his most recent article for The National Interest. In it, he argues that Hizbullah has been painted into a corner because of the unrest in Syria and the indictments by the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL). Washington and its allies have sensed Hizbullah’s weakness and are now hoping to press their advantage, which Noe thinks is a terrible idea:
…Many influential voices in Washington and European capitals need to very carefully consider the wisdom of the road that they are going down—a road that will, in all probability, bring great destruction to the region, including to Israel whose home front will undoubtedly be a main frontline. Saying this, however, does not have to mean simply withering away in the face of a threat. Instead, it could mean—it should mean—that outside actors who hold such comparatively great power…might finally have to find a means and a discourse to grant concessions to far weaker…parties—a course that would actually fatally undermine their ability and desire to exercise violence over time, either against their own people or against other nations.
In other words, now is not the time to push Syria and Hizbullah further into a corner, but rather to use one’s increased leverage over them to extract valuable (but unspecified) concessions.
I think Nick’s voice is an important one to listen to on these issues, but I also think that his policy proposals are too vague in this case, and that he is overly optimistic about the positive outcome of a so-called “third way” with regard to Syria and Hizbullah.
To take another example, here’s an excerpt from a recent post of his about the mistakes that the US and March 14 made in pursuing a “maximalist” track on the STL:
The US and M14, we can now pretty clearly see, would have done FAR better on several scores if they had allowed the Tribunal process to go forward in a manner that drew Hizbullah ever further into the process rather than stupidly alienating them at virtually every turn – this means in general that they should have traded the hard edge Tribunal stick for a more mixed one, with a less sharp edge, if you will…
I find this argument problematic for many reasons. First of all, we should note that Noe is precisely not criticizing the Tribunal for being a cynical tool used by the West to target Hizbullah. He doesn’t have a problem with that. Rather, his critique is that the STL was a tool that was not wielded in the proper way, for maximum effect. In other words, by using the STL as a bludgeon rather than a scalpel, America and its Lebanese allies missed many opportunities to force concessions out of Hizbullah that they now have lost the ability to do.
Again, this strikes me as flawed reasoning. It wasn’t the West’s “alienation” of Hizbullah that led the party to shun the Tribunal; the record clearly shows that Hizbullah was — from the beginning — totally opposed to the Tribunal. They may have paid lip service to the ideals of justice, but when push came to shove, they consistently worked to undermine the creation of the court. Let us recall the following:
- Hizbullah was opposed to the UN dispatching Peter Fitzgerald on a fact-finding mission a few weeks after the Hariri assassination, calling instead for a Lebanese investigation (which would have been a farce) rather than an international one.
- When the Siniora cabinet voted (on December 15 2005) to request that the UN establish a tribunal, the Hizbullah and Amal ministers suspended their cabinet membership.
- When the draft resolution establishing the Tribunal was circulated in the fall of 2006, Hezbollah began calling for a veto in the Siniora cabinet. When they were rebuffed, their ministers walked out, thereby launching the eighteen-month protest outside the Serail.
- During this period, there were more assassinations of March 14th figures and a great deal of tension on the streets of Beirut, culminating in the events of May 7 2008.
I am not rehearsing these events to argue that Hizbullah was acting like a guilty party. My point is, rather, that “maximalism” is not the exclusive preserve of the United States and its Lebanese allies. Noe treats the establishment of the UN investigation commission and the subsequent tribunal as if these were developments that came about effortlessly, when in fact these bodies came about via a protracted and bitter struggle, in which both March 14 and Hizbullah were active participants.
The notion that some kind of third-way accomodationist stance on the STL could have been found that would have satisfied Hizbullah, March 14, Syria, and the US is unconvincing to me. The process got ugly because everybody was playing hardball, not because the US hurt Hizbullah’s feelings.
The boycotts that you are referring to, the sanctions on Iraq, Cuba… are essentially illegal under the rules of the WTO. It is that simple. But that is not the same as allowing an enterprise to sell to A and not B based on gender, race, religious affiliation…In a given society all members have to have an equal opportunityto acquire a good or service otherwise that society will be found to be discriminating.
I don’t quite understand the point you’re making in 201.
Re: Sanctions on Iraq/Cuba. OK. Say it’s illegal under WTO rules, so what? Anyone punished for breaking the law?
Re: Society that is discriminating. Who’s contesting? I am interested in how you distinguish between buyer and seller who discriminate.
Which of course is the basis of the next point (under discussion)- which is should a society put laws to counter such “discrimination”.
A market is made up of buyers and sellers and each of them operates under completely different rules. I do not mean to lecture 🙂 but when ,say Republicans invoke market discpline, what they mean is the operation of a perfect hypothetical market where buyers allocate their scarce resources among all available goods in such a way as to maximize their satisfaction. No two of us have to opt for the same combination of goods and services since each of us has unique tastes. This is consumer sovereignty. We rule in allocating our dollars and no one has a say in how we do it.
The suppliers on the other hand are trying to produce the goods that will satisfy our utility and they have to produce it is such a way as to minimize their cost. That is one reason, a major one why interference in the matket through say discrimination is inefficient. An efficient market must be open to all given the tastes and the income distribution in society. That is why , technically, the EU, NAFTA and all other customs unions are is essense inefficient since they do offer preferential treatments to countries. The US and Europe are very much aware of this inconsistency and that is why they have passed a special law at the WTO to say that customs unions are justified although they are anticompetitive because they are one step towards mglobal market integration.
Thanks for sharing your opinion on the law. Very well put.
By all means lecture. I quite enjoy it. Just don’t overwhelm me with economic theory, or as I like to say… dumb it down for me :).
I don’t understand the “economic” distinction between buyer and seller. What is the flaw in the “barter” example of #199?
It would be clearer if you think of the buyer, in this case, as a consumer, and the seller as a producer.
The consumer’s income is limited to say a $100 a week and is free to allocate anywhich way she chooses in an attempt to maximize her satisfaction. If buying a good made by slave labour does not make her feel good then she will not buy it although the good is less expensive than its counterpart. She simply derives more satisfaction from acting “morally”.
The producer of a good/service on the other hand buys the inputs and combines them in order to produce an output that is to be offered on an open market that has no restrictions as far as access is concerned
Each of the above two actors is assumed to be rational and so will not get involved in an activity that will not maximize utility/profit.
You didn’t point out any fallacy to the example I presented.
I am not sure why you are making a distinction between Utility and Profit. Nor am I clear on why you would allow the consumer the “economic” liberty of not maximizing economic benefit in lieu of moral satisfaction. And yet the supplier is supposed to be driven purely on a profit basis.
In my mind, economics is mathematical, and this transaction can be modeled as a simple algebraic relation. Maths makes no distinction between the supplier and the consumer.
I would have thought neither does core economic principles (I am not talking about whether the state would make any such distinction and apply different laws to the different “legal” parties).
I go back to that example. But this time, Let A, D and E be societies.
A is an island that produces nothing but Food
D and E has no food, but has plenty of other natural resources for manufacturing.
A, D and E trade amongst themselves. A supplies D and E with food. They in turn provide A with the wood and ore it needs.
A comes to the realization one day that D is populated with black people, and decides that it no longer wishes to “buy” any ore/wood from them, getting their supplies instead from E.
Now D no longer has any “money” to buy anything from anyone. So whether or not you put rules/stipulations on A to sell/supply without discrimination, the end result is the same.
If there is anything illogical in the above statement, please point it out.
I can see arguing against the Israeli law on free speech grounds, but isn’t your argument the same argument American Conservatives used against Obama’s Health Reform Mandate (being forced to buy)? I don’t see any such forcing in the bill though. Anyhow…
A. Israel does not have a constitution. It has a set of ‘Basic Laws’. It also has some nonwithstanding clauses, and the Knesset could amend the Basic Laws if there was a big majority.
So if the Knesset insists (which seems unlikely to me), it could push the law even if Bagatz objects. It would require at least a re-vote where the bill has 61 supporters since in the final reading it only had 50 something supporters.
B. The bill has majority support in the public per opinion polls (51-43 per the poll by Mina Tzemach published on Yediot front page).
C. I doubt the reason for the law has anything to do with economic pressures on the settlements.
1. Surveys show the non-Orthodox portion of settlers has an higher living standard than the average, so I don’t think it has had much economic effect so far.
2. There are too many ways to get around a boycott. Settlements are not as a rule distant from the center – most can drive (or in some areas even walk) into 48′ line. Then there are occupations which cannot be subject to external boycott (government, education, internal market stuff, etc.), laundering via an intermediate sale to an Israeli middleman (have fun regulating this without support from the Israeli government), etc. etc.
3. We are talking about a more ideological than usual population.
In sum, I don’t think an anti-settlement boycott, no matter how ardently enforced and supported internationally, can have any serious effect on the settlements unless it is applied to the entire country or has the support of the Israeli government.
D. Ergo, I suspect the real reasons are to nip the small internal support for boycotts in the bud before some decide to back targeting the entire country.
E. IMHO, the idea behind the law is sound (as AIG noted), but as usual, IB offers a too draconian solution and the Likud is unable to manage it properly.
Before I get to your example let me emphasize that new classical economics is essentially mathematical solutions to a set of problems based on some assumptions; axiomatics. The single most important assumption is that of rationality. Consumers act rationally and that does not mean that they derive the same satisfaction from the same good irrespective of its price. Utility (satisfaction) is affected by the price but each of us derives a different utility from that same good This simply means that if she boycotts A then the utility per dollar that she derives from consuming the alternative good is very high otherwise she would not boycott the product.
A good example is conventional food vs organic food ; regular eggs vs cage free eggs ; ham or chicken by Purdue vs those sold at Whole Foods… My wife, who would never consider buying a purdue product is willing to pay ,at times three times as much to shop at WholeFoods. To her it is not the price but the units of satisfaction per dollar. The only reason that she buys the WholeFoods at three times the price is because she derives at least three times the satisfaction per dollar otherwise she would be acting irrationally and she is not allowed to be irrational in economics.
The producer in economics is also mximizing her utility but her utility is measured in profits. That is the only reason that one is in business. A rational producer will seek that level of output that allows him/her to maximize profits. If they do not then they will be subjected to the discipline of the market i.e. they will become uncompetitive and will be driven out of the market. Again note that there is no room for irrational behaviour.
Back to your example A supplies D and E with food in exchange for wood..
If this is a hypothetical example then there is a comparative advantage that determines who is going to produce what and what the terms of trade are going to be.In a free trade environment Food in A costs less than it does in both D and E and that is why A exports food to the others. The reverse is true for wood. There is an established equilibrium that maximizes the benefits of the three players. If A decides to impose an embargo on its exports to E then the equilibrium is destablized and the sum of the overall utility in the three economies is reduced. This is similar to what took place when the Arab oil producers applied sanctions/embargo on oil exports in 1973. It was an action that did not benefit the global economy i.e all actors.
Keep in mind also that economics uses Perfect Competition as the ideal setup in a market. It is the only market that leads to efficiency. This simply means that all markets in the real world suffer from not being perfectly competitive and that is why we have all of these laws about antitrust. Microsoft does not have the right to create a monopoly by making life for other web browsers difficult… Microsoft is not free not to include access to Firfoxand Chrome.. In a perfectly competitive world these will not be an issue because then no supplier would be large enough as to influence the market and so will always be a price taker i.e will not discriminate..
I didn’t know Israel does not have a constitution. That’s interesting.
Regardless, I think this law could be overturned by the supreme court, as AIG pointed out, if someone (or a group) sues on grounds of freedom of expression/speech.
I don’t really know the dynamics of the settlements’ economies, but I am tempted to agree that this law is not in itself going to salvage or change the economy on the ground.
It is more likely a PR move by Netanyahu and co. towards a certain constituency (just like a lot of the posturing we see here in the US).
Your analogy to the US healthcare law is interesting. I am not sure what to make of said law to be honest.
I certainly (and consistently) agree with the general statement that I shouldn’t be “FORCED” to buy healthcare by law, but I also recognize that in certain situations, some norms have to be mandated on the entire populace (not yet sure if Healthcare is one of them).
For example, no one disputes that in a given country, there are a set of driving rules (drive on the right) and that I can’t decide to drive on the left because it suits me.
I think it gets more touchy when you start talking about things like boycotts (where political motives come into play). The bottom line is you start punishing or fining people for having a certain political view. Which, in my mind, is obvious against what democracy stands for.
Israel’s critics talk about “apartheid state” or how Israeli-Arabs are treated as second class citizens (a fact that most of you guys dispute). But then laws such as this one come into play, and all of a sudden Israel doesn’t look as democratic as it claims to be. No?
Let me ask this: Will Israelis be punished or fined if they refuse to buy products manufactured by Israeli Arabs? Or does this law only single out favorist treatment to settlers?
The health care analogy is not applicable to the Boycott Law. The government is proposing that individuals under some circumstances must buy health insurance simply because if they do not then they become “free riders” since no emergency room has the right to turn away a patient. If individuals are not made to buy health insurance then many will be tempted to abuse the system which will expose those that are already in the system to higher costs. The more appropriate analogy to the health care system is car insurance. If you want to play then you must pay.
The above are quite different from the Boycott Law. The position of the Libertarians regarding discrimination is closer to the boycott law. Ron Paul and his son have been making this argument for a long time but it has been rejected by all.
As I mentioned earlier Gush Shalom has filed a suit to deeclare the Boycott law in violation of the basic law and many expect it to prevail.
I do believe anti-Arab boycotts fall under other laws (incitement to racism, perhaps?). This particular law only bans geographical-based boycotts (i.e. it was specifically meant to counter settlement boycott).
I don’t find your analogies convincing.
First, Car driving is a privilege not a right, so it can be easily taxed and restricted. You can be trivially denied the right to drive a car on the public roads. Second, the fact that some other people decided they must treat a patient does not incur costs upon said patient. It’s absurd. There’s nothing which should prevent an opt-out**.
Imagine the government decided everyone had to get buried in a lavish ceremony. Later, in order to pay it sets up a ‘burial tax’. Everyone has to pay, even if they don’t want a lavish burial…
** Professor Paul Starr (one of the smartest people in the US) offered just this during the healthcare debate.
*** Btw, my thinking is actually much closer to the liberal side in that case, but I find it intriguing why the ‘forced to buy’ argument doesn’t apply there but does in this case.
GK not GV. oops.
The law pushed mostly by Israel Beiteinu, Lieberman’s party and not the Likud. They pushed it to score political points. It is a popular law in Israel because it is not that evident that it is a slippery slope kind of law.
Israel Beiteinu are in contention with Likud over the non-Russian right wing vote, and the law was a great political trick to show these voters that the Likud is may not be right enough for them. Therefore, Likud had to half heartedly support this law.
err.. I did write that IB (Israel Beitnu) was the one who offered the law**. And yes, it definitely has a political motive here.
** “as usual, IB offers a too draconian solution and the Likud is unable to manage it properly.”
the Forward explains how this undemocratic piece of BDS-inspired lawfare could directly impact them:
If this law stands, the acceleration of Israel’s self-deligitimization among the American capital “D” diaspora will exacerbate the trending alienation of young American Jews from Israel and zionism.
Bring it on, morons.
An informed discussion of this issue can be found at the 972+ blog.
Be warned that it’s a nest of hardcore Israeli leftist activists.
Take it away! Yossi Gurvitz:
“It’s no accident Israel does not have a constitution; any such document would have to deal with issue of equality. People who remember the debates surrounding the Basc Law: Human Dignity and Freedom will know that, under ultra-Orthodox pressure, the clause confirming all Israelis to be equal before the law was taken down. Twenty years later, one can say without fear of contradiction that a great majority of Israelis would reject a constitution declaring equality. Jewish and democratic? Hardly. But even the proponents of this principle put Judaism first.
The second consideration against petitioning the HCJ [High Court of Justice] is “what will the gentiles say?” A large segment of the public sees no problem with the loyalty laws per se, but is worried of the damage to the image of Israel. The HCJ, which is one of the architects of the occupation, without which it would impossible to maintain, is a classic part of this hoodwinking of the gentiles. It is the last fig leaf of the Zionist regime (and, to those who bristle at the usage of this term; ask yourself: Isn’t that how Israel describes itself?).”
What is BDS? Isn’t it “Bush Derangement Syndrome”?
Anyway, I pretty much agree with Steve Plaut:
I don’t disagree with anything you presented. I quite enjoyed reading it, so many thanks for putting it together.
I think the point is that embargos/sanctions happen all the time, and I agree they don’t benefit the global economy, or they may lead to sub-optimal solutions. Still they happen.
after reading this blog for a bit and the comments sections i’d just like to point out something. lebanon will never shed its tribal shackles unless syria goes democratic, the minute syria goes moderate sunni, you guys can have a functional government respected in the world. history proves it.
The stories about an impending attack on Iran have been surfacing a couple of times a year for over 5 years. Well it seems time for a new story as presented this time by a CIA operative by the name of Baer.
I do take the latest rumours more seriously than I have taken any of the ones over the past few years. It does not appear to be highly unlikely for a combination of Netanyahu and Lieberman’s Ysrael Beituna to launch such an attack.
Even the ex Mosad chief, Dagan, an ideologically conservative person, has been warning for months about the dangerous direction the current Israeli government is heading. Mr. Dagan, who is better informed than most, thinks that the Arab peace plan of 2002 is a good one for both sides and thinks that an attack on Iran would be a major mistake as it will justify once and for all the need for Iran to acquire nuclear weapons and since once such a conflict starts no one knows how it will end.
Again, thanks AIG and Y for your prespective on the law.
It slightly mind boggles to compare having a chat somewhere in LA and Beirut. These places are so different. The neuroticism of Lebanon is quite normal given what the Lebanese have been through. Californians for the most part have had a peaceful life (except for the violent race events). I am just not sure it helps to compare cafe chats in so very different places, especially about the current conflict. And so it makes no sense to me to say place x is more tolerant than y because we can speak about the Arab conflict without being persecuted.
Anyway, I am not sure when the last time you were in Beirut was, but I spend a lot of time in cafes here and people are talking. I do feel however that pro hizb people sometimes have a higher more confident pitch…
But for all I know Israel is still an enemy to Lebanon and Arabs and Lebanon is an Arab country with half million Palestinian refugees. Can anyone claim in a local café loudly that she/he is pro-Israel? Maybe yes, maybe he/she will not be harassed/arrested. But maybe things can turn ugly. Same way, if you are anywhere in the US and you start defending 9/11 and Bin Laden you are likely to get in trouble no?
QN this comment box is acting up.
A different Israeli perspective on the boycott law:
In my opinion, the Israeli boycott law is not about economics or economic protection of the settlements at all. Its all about the “cultural conflict” between the Israeli left & right with an undertone of social and sectorial undertones.
A couple of months ago, several prominent Israeli theater actors, directors etc’, released a letter calling for the boycott of the Ariel (large settlement) theater, on he grounds of opposing the occupation of the west bank.
Now, the Israli clique of culture and theater are very much asscociated with the libertarian left and the high-end, Ashkenazi social class.
The Right wing political circles and supporting public were enraged, at what they see as political high-jacking of the cultural scene with snobbery and condescension to the “red-necks” of the settler right. This is what set in motion and brought about the Law you see now.
All this is my personal take,of course 🙂
I never said “more tolerant”. My diatribe earlier was not so much about tolerance as it was about a certain climate of fear and paranoia.
I actually brought up Bin Laden as an example too. I agree with you that defending Bin Laden in the middle of Times Square might get you in trouble (although, you’d still at the very least have some kind of protection by the law).
That’s exactly the point: The above example is more the exception than the norm in most countries.
In what I call “Moukhabarati” countries (Lebanon included), that is not the norm.
Let me ask you a simple question: When on the phone in Lebanon, do you tend to “watch what you say”? I am fairly certain that 99% of Lebanese do. There are a lot of common code words. Syria is usually not mentioned by name. People usually refer to “the situation in our neighborhood”. There’s a tendency (psychologically speaking) for the tone of voice to drop to a cautious whisper (as if that may prevent someone from overhearing) when certain subjects are broached. There is a tendency for the language to be less direct and more “beat around the bush” with the use of metaphores (like the above “situation in our neighborhood”) and so on.
Do you deny that?
That’s not really an issue of tolerance.
It’s more an issue of fear and psychology.
And of course it is the result of what we’ve been through, as you stated. And that, again, was my original point: We are – as a society – traumatized, and we exhibit all the clinical signs of trauma / victim mentality / stockholm syndrome and various other clinical terms (I’m no doctor). Throw in paranoia, delusions, conspiracy theories…
We’re really a basket case, as a populace.
I over hear pretty crazy stuff here, trust me, as a I said, people ar talking and people appear to be more relaxed (in light of the political bickering currently taking place on tv).
Service drivers talk a lot too. The radio they have on when you enter is actually an interesting signal about the consevration that will follow. They usually do not change the radio even if it is one which takes sides. Nevertheless, I find it interesting that service conversation never takes side and is always critical of all the political system and the country in general. Last time we all discussed the security squares i Beirut (mouraba3e amini as it is called on tv). when we arrived neat the PM’s home the security stopped us and the driver after a minute started honking like a madman. I asked him to stop bfore they come and get us he said he did not care and was not afraid.
And by the way I say what I want and feel on the phone. I am really not scared. Maybe it is stupid. But I do not think anyone is interested in what a poor guy thinks (they have enough on their plates ;-)).
Have you heard or read this “gem” from Salameh?;
المشكلة في الاقتصاد اللبناني ليست في مخزون الدين العام بل في العجز السنوي في ميزانية الدولة.
The above has been reported by all sorts of news outlets without a comment. I just cannot believe this. Maybe someone should remind Mr. Salameh that national debt is the sum total of all annual deficits and that for every action there is a reaction 🙂
Furthermore Lebanons problem is the huge burden that interest on the natuional debt imposes on the Lebanese budget. Debt service in Lebanon is close to 10% of the GDP and it accounts for over 35% of the annual budget.
Is Mr. Salameh serious by saying that the problem is not the size of the debt but the annual deficit? Why is he allowed to get away with such asinine statemnets?
Speaking of “gems”:
On a separate note, Nasrallah welcomed President Michel Suleiman’s recent call for national dialogue. “We support any call for dialogue and rapprochement and we don’t have any reservations over the principle (of dialogue), regardless of the topics and the agenda.”
Nasrallah noted that Hizbullah was “the first party to present its defense strategy at the national dialogue table (in 2006), and after a few days we implemented this strategy and achieved victory in the July war.”