The NY Times features excerpted conversations with political bloggers on various topics via an agreement with BloggingheadsTV. Very infrequently, they will host a discussion about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. My friend, Helena Cobban has been a guest I know.
Today, the Times features a rather shocking “debate” (more like mutual admiration society) between Heather Hurlburt of the National Security Network and Eli Lake of the Washington Times titled (I kid you not), A Smarter War on Hamas. Pardon me, but isn’t the lesson Israel and the U.S. have learned over the past four years is that there is no such thing as a “smart war” or any type of war that will topple Hamas? Neither overt war nor collective siege have done it. So here you have a self-professed Irish-American and Jewish neocon (not a Palestinian or even Arab to be seen among the bunch–Edward Said where are you when we need you?) debating the best way to foment regime change against Hamas.
This dialogue is a perfect reflection of the impoverishment of debate about these issues in the American media and within the Beltway think-tank world where these people operate And their views are amply reflected within the administration, which explains why Obama is still spinning his wheels in terms of making any impact related to Gaza or U.S. policy there. Hurlburt and Lake are engaged in a dialogue of the deaf. Lake especially is a prisoner of his own deeply help prejudices and distorted notions of what U.S. policy should be.
I half-jokingly call his policy: let them eat cardamon.
Can you imagine anything stupider than advocating regime change against Hamas or saying Israel didn’t go far enough in Operation Cast Lead and should’ve toppled Hamas altogether (which would’ve demanded an Israeli re-occupation)? What can you say about someone who claims that Israel’s problem is that it can’t be cruel enough in its wars against the Palestinians?
Here are excerpts of their comments (audiostream of expanded discussion) about the aftermath of the Gaza flotilla attack (pardon my editorial intrusions in brackets–I just couldn’t help myself):
Lake: There’s this problem of Gaza…how do you satisfy Israel’s security concerns and…how do you allow cardamon and cinnamon to get to the 1.5-million people who live in Gaza. It’s a very, very, very hard question. It all comes back to the fact that there needs to be a policy for political regime change for Gaza. You have to do something about Hamas. You have to see a situation in which Hamas can moderate–I don’t know how that’s going to happen; or you have to force an election and hopefully they lose it. It comes back to this sore of the people who rule Gaza.
Hurlburt: Except that if you want to replace Hamas or modify it, you would have to start with creating the conditions in which Hamas could be discredited and another force could emerge. At the moment you have a situation in which Hamas is the source of everything good which happens in Gaza…you’re making it much harder on yourself than it needs to be. Actually finding some ways to ease the blockade, to allow a little more independence to emerge, to allow a little more commerce between the West Bank and Gaza, to allow Abbas to have a few more victories and make himself look a little better.
You’d be idiotic to try to stage an election in Gaza right now. Every time you begin to think Hamas is becoming discredited something like the flotilla happens. And you think anybody would vote against Hamas now?
Lake: It would sure be nice if there were Palestinians around Fayyad who were in the Palestinian diaspora who were on Fayyad’s side who could really begin in Arabic a campaign of political warfare against Hamas starting with…the moral idiots in Europe who think that Hamas is in some ways progressive.
It would be nice if there were Palestinians who could say: “Your support for Hamas is exacerbating my dispossession.” It becomes weird as an Ashkenazi Jew in America saying that [Gee, dya think?]. That is a true statement. If you talk to the American Task Force for Palestine…
There are so many Palestinians who look at Hamas as an obstacle ultimately to a Palestinian state. The problem is that there is this misplaced solidarity particularly in Europe, but also in the Arab world, with Hamas, which is seen as more virtuous; obviously they were seen as less corrupt than Fatah during the peace process. I hope that that shine can come off. I can’t imagine that some clever Palestinians in Norway or the United States or Toronto with web savvy could begin to take advantage of it. It would be nice to see the strategic communications war turned on Hamas.
Hurlburt: I agree with you that that would be desirable. But it’s incredibly chutzpadik of comfortable American commentators to call for it [Gee, dya think?] And we’ve seen in the past that whenver there’s an intimation that anyone from the U.S. is thinking about it, it’s incredibly damaging to those Palestinians who would be willing on their own to undertake such a thing…
Lake: It would be nice for the Arab media to start to put Hamas on the spot. They’ve been in charge of Gaza now since 2007. What have they done for the people of Gaza? What have they done for the dream of a Palestinian state? What have they done about Palestinian dispossession? What have they done about the depravity of these conditions?
Hurlburt: I would like to see more people able to do more for the people of Gaza–deeds on the ground.
Lake: I think you can do things on the margin about it, but this is still going to be a major problem if the party in charge of Gaza is formally and in every sense at war with Israel. I don’t think you’re going to have any peace, any agreement as long as Hamas is in the picture.
Hurlburt: It’s not going to be possible to get Hamas out of the picture in any time-frame that’s going to be of any interest to you or me in terms of peacemaking.
Lake: You can look back at Operation Cast Lead and see that Israel’s decision not to take out Hamas may’ve been a cruel mistake because you can’t get anywhere as long as they’re in charge. If you’re going to make a decision to do Cast Lead go all the way. This is the classic problem with the Israelis. They can never be as cruel as Hafez al Assad or Hussein or other Arab leaders in the region because they just can’t be. They try to be half-way cruel, or one-quarter as cruel and it ends up infuriating the world and losing the respect [!] of their adversary
What was BloggingheadsTV thinking when they put this panel together? God only knows. But the fact that they not only did so but featured it on the NY Times website is indicative of the abject bankruptcy of U.S. media and the political echelon in terms of coming up with any viable policy toward Hamas. We’re at sea (to continue the Gaza flotilla metaphor) and getting more and more seasick by the minute.
I’ve written to Robert Wright, BloggingheadsTV’s co-founder expressing my distress at this editorial choice. We’ll see what if anything he says.