Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Ronald Reagan was right after all

"History teaches that war begins when governments believe the price of aggression is cheap".
You can mock an actor-turned-President, but his words still ring true.

Israel, Iran and Syria seem to believe, each in her own way, that provocation and aggression are cheap compared to the gains. The price is lives lost and the benefit is more security and glory for the living.

They all seem to have got their arithmetic horribly wrong.

Israel has lost not only more lives than expected, but also her invincibility and the moral high ground. Thus far, she has neither secured her future peace nor achieved eternal glory.

Iranian and Syrian rulers do not care much for lives lost, because they belonged to poor Lebanese villagers and the dead are martyrs on their way to heaven. The rulers have won public opinion and the propaganda war. They are losing the Hizbullah card but gaining another by radicalising the Iraqi Shia. Syria does not want be sidelined by the superpowers, but she will be. Iran wants to become a regional and nuclear power but she will not be allowed to.

So, are we back to square one, where it all starts all over again?

Tony Blair thinks it all hinges on an equitable resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. How original and how profound! Still, it is a welcome restatement of the blindingly obvious and better late than never. So, why don't we all sit back and let the Hamas and Israeli governments hammer out an agreement all by themselves? It seems that secret negotiations had already been underway between senior Hamas government and Israeli parliamentary figures when the current crisis broke out (or more accurately was provoked). Extremist elements on both the Israeli side and exiled Hamas-Syria-Iran axis side wanted to scupper the negotiations.

The Lebanese and their children are still paying with blood for the arrogance, miscalculations and brinkmanship of Iranian, Israeli and Syrian rulers. The US neocons were never going to be anthing but amoral sponsors of Israeli military deterrence-cum-aggression. Rumsfeld, Cheyney & Co will not be troubled by the loss of Arab or Israeli lives so long as oil remains on tap, new weapon systems can be tested and sold in the region and reconstruction work is paid for by the American tax payer.

It is high time that the Israelis and Palestinians settled their differences and shared the land equitably. The conflict has ruined the lives of two generations already and ordinary people on both sides are exhausted. Failure to turn this ugly war into a lasting peace between the Palestinians and Israelis will ensure that other powers will continue to exploit the conflict to their own advantage.

Will Mr Olmert and Mr Hanniya have the courage and vision to make their peoples' dreams come true? I hope and wonder.


Fares said...

Philip, great post as usual. I admire your style of writing very much, not to mention your great wisdom, prespectif and ability to analyse and provide some good solutions or insight.

I write very well when I am angry and need to stand up for justice. I am going to write pretty soon about the situation in Syria since some people asked me about it...

Keep up the good work and write as much as you can because I am always waiting for great Syrian minds to express themselves.

Ammar said...

Right on the mark Philip. The vacillation of the moderates has empowered radicals on all sides. Hanniayh probably thought he could focus on the Palestinian situation and avoid dealing with Israelis all together leaving that to Abu Abbas. He wanted to be a half-leader because he didn’t have enough courage to work with the Israelis and make the necessary compromises. He wanted the benefits of leadership but none of its headaches, consequently, he now has only headaches to deal with.

Andrew Baker said...

I agree with your conclusions but am a little mystified as to how you got there. It is me - I will read it again. But thank you anyway. Any comment which sets the scene for the dysfunction of USA politics and its reliance on the Israeli lobby is on the right track.
Instead USA should be a good friend and say when it thinks a friend is wrong. As Isreal is now.

Alex said...
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Alex said...

Very nice post, Philip. And a good point to analyze:

Going to War vs not going to war, is an A/B type of decision

Rational people supposedly make decisions based on mathematical expectations ...

if v(A) is the value we attach to the combined outcomes of our decision to choose option A, and if p(vA) is the probability that A will be successful (it varies between impossibility at 0.00, and certainty at 1.00)

We chose option A if

v(A)*p(vA) > v(B)*p(vB)

So, even if Syria for example thinks that war will be costly, they might still accept to go to war if they feel that the other option is even more costly ... and of course probabilities of "success" in achieving their "goals" in both options are used as attenuators to the attractiveness of the two options (War or no war)....

Herbert A. Simon studied decision making (rational decision making)... assuming the decision makers in the mideast today are rational, then Simon's simple theory should be able to tell us who wants to go to War and who does not.

Zenobia of the East and West said...

well......there is the rub....isn't it...... nobody IS rational....
or they are both rational and completely irrational too.... at different moments and sometimes at the same moment..


Fares said...


Leave it to Alex to come up with theories regarding Syria's national interestes, or burning up Lebanon because it is not as costly as Assad not talking on CNN.

I would appreciate your opinion on my new post which has a link to yours as well
Assad is the natural choice
PEACE To Lebanon

Philip I said...

Fares,Ammar,andrew baker, Alex and Zenobia, thank you all for your comments.

Alex, I'm not sure to what extent there is a cost attached to Syria not going to war. The Golan can be won back through peaceful negotiations(essentially by offering genuine political and economic incentives to your opponents while, crucially, being better prepared to sustain a long and vicious war if necessary). Diplomacy without real strength has less chances of success, but it is still the better option in the long run. This is because mutual trust tends, over time, to change your opponents' calculations of costs, benefits and threats in your favour.

The price of going to war, in the foreseeable future, is prohibitively high for the regime and more so for the country, because, for all the singing and dancing, Syria is a paper tiger. Institutional effectiveness, loyalty and discipline are skin deep because of corruption, rivalries and hidden animosities. Once the first wave of young men have been annihilated in battle and more land is lost to the enemy, the army will either turn on its masters or end the war in defeat, or both. War may rally the people behind the leaders but that does not make the battle on the ground more effective (as we have seen many times before). Iran will not come to the rescue and any long-range missiles that Syria has will be rendered next to useless by the new laser-guided anti-missile defence system that the US will be supplying to Israel later this year or next.

These are not defeatist arguments but an attack on the root causes of our impotence as a nation. The very fact that our army is 95% conscript should tell you that the country's system of government and institutions cannot sustain a war against a better prepared, better equipped and more socially cohesive opponent. Don't even think about guerilla-type warfare because most of Syria is as flat as a pancake.

I am not sure that we even have the luxury of engaging in Simon's satisficing games.

Alex said...
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Alex said...

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nobody said...

I can assure about one thing , philip. You have an extremely weak grasp of how the israeli government sees the situation or how its percieved in different sections of the israeli society.

But i bet that vaguely talking about some extremist elements or going over all standard stereotypes of bad governments / good people divide is a cheap and easy substitute for real thinking and understanding. Indulging in all sorts of speculations about neocons conspiracies can be also a great fun.

The quality of the majority of posters commentating here is no better.

Don Cox said...

The only thing I would disagree with is the expression "Israeli rulers". Israel doesn't have rulers, it has an elected coalition government, and all Israeli governments are liable to fall if one of the parties drops out. This is quite different from "rulers", who are in place for life and can ignore elections, and pass on the throne to their sons.

Don Cox said...

"assuming the decision makers in the mideast today are rational"_____Some are, some are not. Some are rationally in pursuit of power and riches, rather than peace.

Philip I said...


I've never been to Israel and therefore cannot pretend to have a good grasp of the dynamics of Israeli society and politics.

I go by what diaspora Jews and intellectuals say and think when we debate the future of the region and how a lasting peace might be achieved. There has always been a wide spectrum of views in Israeli society and within the diaspora, ranging from those who want to pull back to the 1948 borders to those who believe the land of Israel should be 50% bigger than what it is today and completely free of Arabs. However, at times of war almost all will rally behind the government in Israel, as indeed would most Arabs behind their governments.

It seems that every one in Israel and the Palestinian territories wants peace but does not want to confront the issues of land and culture, because they know they would have to compromise on both in order to coexist. While people on the left in Israel have been contemplating the best way to compromise, the people on the right have practically had a free hand in creating new facts on the ground, helped by Palestinian suicide bombers. So I don't think anyone is following the bad government/ good people cliche. Your people and government are now at war and those of us who campaign for compromise and a lasting peace have to think away from, and beyond, the immediate crisis while taking into account its likely consequences.

With regard to the "vague" talk about extremist elements, here's the source of my information and you can judge for yourself how vague it is: [ ].

Finally, your point on neocons and conspiracy theories, I would say people like me, rightly or wrongly, judge political players by their actions rather than declared policies or other peoples' descriptions of them. You can always disagree because you see things from a different perspective or you may be in possession of a different set of facts. Anyway, it is better to argue than to fight.

nobody said...

It seems that every one in Israel and the Palestinian territories wants peace but does not want to confront the issues of land and culture, because they know they would have to compromise on both in order to coexist.



i apologize for my earlier post. I will check the link . Right now i can say the problem has nothing to do with the territory and culture.

The mood of the last years in israel was of territorial consessions and pullouts.

oslo collapsed around the refugees issue , specifically the controversy around extending right of return from west bank/gaza into israel proper , which israel was rejecting for variety of reasons including demographic ones.

Culture is irrelevant , i think , since there is nothing to negotiate about culture.

M. Simon said...

The problem starts with the Hizbollah/Iranian conception of the final solution. The destruction of Israel and the Jewish people.

Does they mean it? Is it scare talk? No matter. Jews still alive lived through just such talk. israel is touchy about it. One rocket. And it is off to the races for them.

Hamas will not recognize what it has to deal with every day. Delusional. Sure.

So how do you solve a problem with people who have such attitudes?

The Jew hatred fills the air.

Until that stops and people are willing to give up old grudges for the sake of peace it will be war to the death.


Well that is my comment before reading the others. I'm going to read now and respond if I can contribute more.

It starts with belief and follows into action.

M. Simon said...

fares writes well when standing up for justice. This particular problem will not be solved until ALL sides stand up for mercy.

ammar says what I believe to be the truth. The only way to peace is to at least talk with your enemy face to face. You need not shake hands.

andrew baker is in the minority in the USA. A large minority but not decisive. America supports Israel. We must start with reality.

alex I think the problem in the ME is that decisions are not made on a profit and loss basis. They are made on the basis of emotion and past losses, not future profit. It is the gambler who is goig to make up for past losses instead of keeping his money in his pocket.

zenobia too identifies the problem

philip i Israel's position on the Golan is the same as it was for the Sinai. Agreement first. Property transfer second. They did it with Egypt. What is wrong with the Assads that they can't do it? Makes no sense to me.

M. Simon said...

alex Bashar did not try diplomacy. He tried what his father tried. Retun the Golan and then we can talk. It is like I go to buy a car and say give me ownersip and then we will discuss the price. Syria has something Israel wants. A treaty of peace. Israel has something Syria wants. The Golan. Let them sit down and haggle over details. If Egypt could do it why not Syria?

philip i The Palestinian and Israeli economies were integrating until 2000 unemployment had fallen from 35% to 15%. Why start a war when things were getting better? One of Arafat's "second" in command guys said "fat people do not fight". In other words the Palestinian people ae hostage to an agenda not necessarily of their own making. They teach their children "death for Palestine" and the Israelis willingly or unwillingly oblige them. There is no profit in that except the emotional rewards of hate. Maybe it is enough for them.

With regards to the Israeli left - the compromisers, Arafat destroyed the left with the Stupidfada, just as he destroyed the Palestinian economy. He got Sharon elected. Nice guy.

M. Simon said...

Nobody cares about Palestinian culture in Israel. Really. If they want to strap their children with explosives and detonate them in oopen fields the Israelis would deplore it and chalk it up to some kind of wierd paganism and leave the Palestinians alone.

It is when the Palestinians send those children to israeli pizza parlors that they strenuously object. Of course this leads to check points and border closures further strangling the Palistinian economy, which in my opinion is the real intent. The Palestinian leaders get paid to wage war on the Jews. They can't wage war without warriors. Warriors are easier to recruit among the hungry. Palestinians die, the leaders profit. And yet the people think they are getting a good deal from their government. That is about as corrupt evil as they come.

M. Simon said...

The Lebanese are suffering from their inability to disarm Hizbollah.

The Israelis are incidental. They are the instrument Assad is using to regain control of Lebanon.

What is the purpose of the fighting? A game played before. Syria to the rescue.

People commit suicide all the time by attacking the police. This is no different.

The only way out of the game is for the Israelis to defeat Syria. Will they?

Philip I said...

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Alex said...


You have to login (using your user name and password) everytime you launch the site (on the left) to be able to vote or leave comments.

The author tried to put the events over the past 30 years in perspective. And to be very frank about what to expect from Syria.

If you look at Herbert Simon's formula above, you'll see that decisions are made from products of valuable outcomes and probabilities of success in obtaining those valuable outcomes ... the editor's article shows that

1) Syria's valuable outcomes are reasonable, and they take into account regional balance and everyone's interests. Syria strongly believes that nothing will last unless it benefits everyside.

2) demonstrates why the probability of "success" for Syria to continue blocking anything not including the return of the Golan height, is high... the past 30 years gave us enough evidence.

By the way, the article was not received negatively.

Philip I said...


I do not question the editor's logic or reasonable attempt to balance the interests of the various parties, drawing on historical precedent.

It is the mindset that I find rather amusing. Without being in the least condescending, it reminds me of the way Syrian businessmen market their oriental handicrafts in the old part of Damascus. Tourists end up buying because they see value and beauty in the ornament and enjoy the friendly atmosphere and the smooth marketing pitch.

Today's tourists are as wise to the businessman's strategies as the locals. They can see the defects in the ornament and can tell when and how it is likely fall apart.

Metaphors aside, neither the West nor Israel seems to be buying the arguments because the regime is losing real influence over militant groups by the day (with the US and Israel working hard to weaken them anyway). The regime is also internally fractured and sitting on a population time bomb without the oil revenue. In other words, unlike Hafez Al Assad, this generation of autocrats cannot convince the world that it can deliver real security in exchange for land. It has overplayed its hand both in Lebanon and in its relation with Iran.

Once the Lebanese crisis is over, people in Syria will return to the grind of their daily life and be reminded of the obscenity of their political life.

Seeing how the world has changed and looking to the future, the answer is inescapable; you have to win the trust of your own people before you can hope to win the trust of the rest of the world. Political reforms in Syria should start now rather than be conditional on some external carrot. What is wrong with releasing the prisoners of conscience, freeing the press and revisiting the constitution? These are the kind of questions that need to be addressed instead of wasting time trying to market a commodity that no one seems to want.

Fares said...


I could not agree with you more on the last answer...also on your answer about the Palestinian asnwer in the previous post.

I say to the Syrian government, we are tired of recycled policies, bring on some fresh thinking and give us some hope and more freedom to the Syrian people.

Alex said...

"wasting time trying to market a commodity that no one seems to want"

I disagree with your assessment of the value of Syria's offered "goods"... think of them as essential services and they will make more sense to you.


Anonymous said...

"History teaches that war begins when governments believe the price of aggression is cheap".

George W. is also guilty of the same dillusion.

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