Saturday, July 15, 2006

The Vatican misses the point

From an environment where feeling sorry for Saddam Hussein is not considered evidence of psychosis, we get the following bit of pecksniffery against ... who else? ... Israel. Here is the Vatican statement, from Cardinal Angelo Sodano, the outgoing secretary of state (bold-facing mine):

"The Holy Father Benedict XVI and all his collaborators are following with great attention the latest dramatic episodes, which risk degenerating into a conflict with international repercussions.
"As in the past, the Holy See also condemns both the terrorist attacks on the one side and the military reprisals on the other. Indeed, a State's right to self-defense does not exempt it from respecting the norms of international law, especially as regards the protection of civilian populations.
"In particular, the Holy See deplores the attack on Lebanon, a free and sovereign nation, and gives assurances of its closeness to those people who have suffered so much in the defense of their own independence.
"Once again, it appears obvious that the only path worthy of our civilization is that of sincere dialogue between the contending parties."

It's incredible ... each paragraph contains either a descriptively inaccurate statement or a wispy bit of moral(istic) reverie, which explains why the Vatican is an almost-perfect negative compass for what Israel and the nation-states of Christendom ought to do in the Middle East.

Now don't get me wrong. I don't expect a contemporary pope to act like Innocent III, calling for Crusades and demanding that secular leaders pony up the forces to fight against the Mahometan heathens. The Vatican is no longer a secular power and since its primary concern is (and should be) the wellbeing of Dhimmi Christians in the Muslim world, appearance and prudence alone would justify a certain critical stance toward the US and Israel. Indeed the really cynical part of me thinks that it's good that the Church not be seen as an agent of Crusader imperialism, as long as no Catholic in the West takes his moral and geopolitical bearings from this dance the Vatican must perform. That second clause does not obtain, though. Taking each bold-faced clause in turn:

● Israel's actions against Hamas in the Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon do not "risk degenerating" into an international conflict. The firing of rockets and the kidnappings of Israeli soldiers across international borders by foreign parties IS an international conflict. Per se. An international conflict in recent weeks is an accomplished fact, and Israel is merely fighting back. Such actions as Hezbollah (part of the Lebanese government) and Hamas (the Palestinian government) undertook have always been understood as acts of war. Always. But when Israel fights back ... well ... now there's an international conflict. (If I wanted to be a real nitpicker, I would point out that Syria and Lebanon at least have been at war with Israel for 50+ years, and so complaining about this Israeli action is like saying D-Day started a war in France.) Now I'm not gonna say the Vatican, and the euro political culture out of which large chunks of it grow, are infested with anti-Semitism. But I will say they are infested with an attitude that violence against Jews or Israel is somehow normal, to be expected, part of the furniture, and so only when Israel counterattacks can there really be a war going on.

● Fine, the Vatican denounces terrorism. But it is unwilling to put any effectual teeth behind that denunciation (in this world anyway), as the bold-faced passage proves. Hezbollah and Hamas *deliberately* and *as a matter of strategy* intermingle their forces with civilians (and even in some sense *are* civilians), don't wear uniforms, use ordinary houses for planning, and otherwise make it impossible for the Israelis (or the Americans in Iraq) to target their forces without putting civilians at a high level of risk. This is a win-win proposition -- either the Israelis don't attack from a desire to minimize civilian casualties, or if they do, the terrorists get civilian body counts for the consumption of a gullible world media and simple-minded moralists ready to wring their hands over Israel losing the "moral high ground." Now the Church's millennia-old injunctions against killing civilians and toward protecting civilians always presupposed (and almost always got) a good-faith effort on the part of warring parties to distinguish their own men. And the killing of civilians was sometimes justified on the basis of double-effect reasoning, as it could under the old assumption of good-faith efforts to separate the civilian and the military. But we face a new reality -- armies whose very being is premised upon erasing that distinction for themselves, while counting on an enemy who will respect it, and a global media to stoke moral(istic) outrage at bloody footage. Terrorism is designed to make it impossible to protect civilian populations. I'm not calling for deliberate attacks on civilians per se, but denunciation of terrorism are merely cheap, pious throat-clearing if they don't result in a more latitude in applying double-effect reasoning on the matter of civilian casualties in wars fought against terrorist militias or (in the best case) a definitive statement that he who deliberately and habitually mingles his military with civilians bears all moral responsibility for double-effect damage. No rules are meaningful if there are no consequences to deliberately working to undermine the rules.

● Lebanon is not a free and sovereign nation. Or rather, it doesn't matter whether it is or isn't. The implicit rhetorical model is that Lebanon is some innocent bystander. But Hezbollah engaged in acts of war against Israel from Lebanese territory. That is a fact. Now presumably these acts were contrary to the government sitting in Beirut -- because if they weren't, then by any definition Lebanon had invaded Israel and we wouldn't be wringing our hands over Lebanon's sovereignty. So, Beirut didn't want these attacks. Then either (1) that government could do nothing against Hezbollah, or (2) it could have but chose not to. In case (1), Lebanon is not a free or sovereign nation, so there is nothing to violate. The classic definition of sovereignty is "effectively controls the monopoly of legitimate violence in a territory." If Lebanon could not prevent Hezbollah from using Lebanese territory to commit acts of war, then Hezbollah is the real sovereign. In case (2), then we have a precise parallel to Afghanistan and Al Qaeda after September 11, and nobody would question the legitimacy of violating Lebanese sovereignty as a co-belligerent. The Taliban were the legitimate (de facto at least) sovereign in Afghanistan, but their personal innocence of 9-11 aside, they did harbor Bin Laden, and that kind of action has long been understood as a legitimate causa belli. (It may be relevant here to point out that Hezbollah is part of Lebanon's governing coalition.)

● Calls for dialogue. (Victor rolls his eyes.) And. if. those. calls. are. ignored. If dialog doesn't happen? Then? What? Keep in mind that Hezbollah and Hamas are united in calling for the destruction of Israel and refuse all negotiations on principle. There can be no negotiations with those who call for your extermination as a matter of principle (Hamas and Hezbollah understand that much. Why can't the jaw-jaw-at-all-costs lobby?)


Dan said...

It rather important to keep in mind at this point that Lebanon is not a monolithic bloc at this point. The country is still in a state of flux, which is quite understandable given that it was a Syrian colony less than a year ago:

Greg said...

Unfortunately, Victor, as I am sure you are well aware, many Catholics in the West do take their "moral and geopolitical bearings" from Vatican Secretariat of State statements.