The Blue Lobster
Public intellectuals and political leaders are the bizarre crustaceans of our time.
June 17, 2011 - 12:05 am
One of the more piquant news stories of the last few days reports the capture of a rare blue lobster off the north shore of Canada’s Prince Edward Island. In the maritime world this is an almost unprecedented find, a crustacean with a genetic disorder, destined not for the table but the aquarium. In the political and intellectual worlds, however, blue lobsters abound. They surface everywhere one gazes, swarming into the nets of history, clambering among the reefs of contemporary events, brandishing their pincers, drawing attention to the extravagant pigmentation of which they are inordinately proud. Despite its electric sheen, the ventings of this arthropod sensibility, so oddly articulated and living within its impermeable shell, should by this time no longer provoke wonderment.
One of these more notable blue lobsters is George Friedman, a prime representative of his class. Founder and editor of the increasingly influential intelligence corporation Stratfor, Friedman has begun to weigh in on global affairs with a veritable plethora of articles, digests, summaries, and evaluations. To be sure, at times he can make reasonably good sense; but all too often, as with many of his pixilated species, his analyses are so bizarre as to put one off one’s appetite for research into public affairs entirely.
For example, his suggestion that a way out of the Iranian morass would be for the U.S. to pursue an alliance with Ayatollah Khamenei and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. “From the American standpoint, an understanding with Iran would have the advantage of solving an increasingly knotty problem,” he opines. Just as Stalin and Mao were not really “crazy,” as popular wisdom had it, and therefore could be engaged by Roosevelt and Nixon respectively, so Ahmadinejad is to be regarded as more of a rhetorical windbag than a man of action or a man of his word, and can be successfully approached by President Obama with a view to furthering their mutual interests. The sheer unworldliness of his assessment leaves the reader wondering if Friedman is living on the same planet as the rest of us. (Though, on second thought, it must be admitted he does keep company to some extent with the American administration, which has more than its share of blue lobsters.)
The same can be said of his appraisal of the Israeli/Palestinian quandary and the vexed issue of establishing final borders. Friedman allows pro forma that “[t]here is a strong case for not returning to the 1949 lines,” but as Israpundit’s Ted Belman notes, “He doesn’t make the case.” I would hazard that the reason he doesn’t make the case is that there is no case to be made. He is willing to offer a brief gesture of conciliation to those who might disagree with him but, having demonstrated his apparent open-mindedness, retracts his concession almost immediately in order to proceed with his argument.
Like many of his fellow blue lobsters (who for some weird motive tend to be obsessed with Israel), Friedman insists that the country would be best served by retreating to the pre-1967 borders. He furnishes by my count five major reasons for recommending this counter-intuitive strategy.
1. In the 1967 or “Six Day War,” Friedman asserts that “the 1949 borders actually gave Israel a strategic advantage,” namely, the ability to fight from “relatively compact terrain,” which facilitated coordination, “timing and intensity of combat to suit their capabilities.” Israel may have “lacked strategic depth, but it made up for it with compact space and interior lines.”
2. Greater land area means “expanding the scope of the battlefield” and this in turn multiples “opportunities for intelligence failure,” increases the “rate of consumption of supplies” from its allies, and leads to a perilous dependence on the shifting political calculations of foreign powers.
3. Given the menace of both asymmetric and unconventional warfare, the shape of Israel’s borders is moot anyway, since Israel would be no less exposed in its post-1967 borders than it already was in 1949.
4. By insisting on its current borders, Israel alienates its allies. The precise borders should be those that “do not create barriers to aid when that aid is most needed.” The pre-1967 borders provide Israel with a better chance “of maintaining critical alliances” and would also require “a smaller industrial base” for the production of weaponry, thus reducing dependence of foreign supply chains.
5. Generally speaking, “perpetual occupation would seem to place Israel at a perpetual disadvantage.”
Friedman then concludes that Israel must “restructure its geography along the more favorable lines that existed between 1949 and 1967,” when the country was “unambiguously victorious in its wars, rather than the borders and policies after 1967, when Israel has been less successful.”
Let us examine each of these points in turn.
1. In an age of advanced weaponry, rapid military strikes, and blanket rocket fire, especially in more densely populated regions, a smaller Israel is an increasingly vulnerable Israel. A “relatively compact terrain” is a killing field in the making.
2. “Intelligence failure” is always possible irrespective of the size of the battlefield. Foreign chanceries and military headquarters where decisions are made remain where they are in enemy territory and do not necessarily expand or contract to coincide with the borders of the nation at risk. The real question is whether good intelligence, once gathered, can be acted on. For example, American intelligence was aware that the 9/11 attack was brewing, but failed to coordinate its various departments and resources to thwart the impending catastrophe. Moreover, foresight and exigent stockpiling and preparation can overcome foreign dependence in anything but a war of attrition, which is not the nature of the sudden eruptions between Israel and its antagonists.
3. A strong perimeter, such as a state-of-the-art security fence, and unflagging vigilance can frustrate asymmetric warfare, as has already been shown. As for an unconventional or CBRN attack (Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear), this is a menace all nations are subject to regardless of land area. At the same time, a more substantial hinterland with forward monitoring sites permits better detection capabilities, since even a matter of minutes can be decisive, and gives the urban heartland the shield of additional distance.
4. Israel’s “allies” have always proven to be fickle and unreliable, whether we are considering Eisenhower’s self-admitted mistake in intervening in the 1956 Egyptian campaign or France’s betrayal of Israel or the UNIFIL forces in Lebanon permitting Hezbollah to re-arm in violation of UN Resolution 1701 or President Obama’s current agenda to render Israel increasingly defenseless against its terrorist enemies. Israel cannot depend on the good faith or treaty obligations of its allies whatever its geographical dimensions.
5. The phrase “perpetual occupation” is a misnomer and an oft-repeated blue lobster mantra. Israel withdrew from its buffer zone in South Lebanon and was rewarded with an Iranian-supplied missile armada trained on its cities. Israel withdrew from Gaza and reaped thousands of Hamas rockets falling on its civilian centers. The Palestinian Authority controls almost the entirety of the West Bank. There is no “occupation” in the present acceptation of the term, but mainly “facts on the ground” entailing some scattered hamlets in the Shomron, the inevitable population growth in the vicinity of Jerusalem, and the necessary security apparatus to prevent the infiltration of suicide bombers.
Friedman’s conclusion is, in consequence, largely untenable. The reason Israel did comparatively poorly in its post-1967 wars has little or nothing to do with its expanded boundaries or the supposed onset of macromania. Rather we must look to the inescapable human frailties of over-confidence and complacency, the conviction that past successes augur future victories, which leads to the subliminal assumption of invincibility. The prelude to the 1973 or “Yom Kippur War,” in which Israel was effectively asleep at the wheel, is an illustration of this predictable weakness and lapse of judgment. The somewhat disheveled condition of the army during the 2006 Summer War is another such instance. Yet another enfeebling element is — or was — the pervasive feeling of weariness after two generations of unrelenting conflict, expressed by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in his infamous “we are tired of winning” speech.
No less significant, programmatic left-wing defeatism and utopian irreality in the press and the academy plainly had a role to play in arranging for the country’s more recent miseries. The deterioration in the quality of the Israeli leadership is also a salient factor in the country’s suffering — a Barak who fled Lebanon in the night, a Sharon who went back on his word in disengaging from Gaza, an Olmert and a Livni ready to give up the store to their Palestinian “peace partners.” Blue lobsters all, these leaders-in-name-only were all willing to comply with their so-called “allies” and to recede, as per Friedman and others, to smaller, less defensible or protected borders. In doing so, they brought only various forms of burden and distress to their people.
Clearly, the extension of Israel’s border is completely irrelevant to its malaise, notwithstanding what our “experts” seem to think. What we are remarking here is not responsible tradecraft but a kind of mental aberration at work. More and more, we are led and lectured to by people who are prone to delusions of self-importance coupled with magical thinking, the belief that an ideological slogan, noble intentions, an unsupported theory or a wave of the negotiating wand can accomplish results that only humility, insight, practical acumen, and a dedication to long-haul survival can yield. All Western nations have succumbed to this deformity of thought, but tiny Israel in its territorial corset is most in jeopardy.
Unfortunately, the blue lobsters of the political and ideological domain tend to proliferate and reproduce with abandon. They swim not only in the waters off Prince Edward Island but in all the oceans of the world. Armored against the lessons of reality and convinced of their uniqueness, they glitter in the media and international forums, oblivious to their natal incongruity. Whether we are considering public intellectuals like Friedman, whose numbers are legion, or political authorities who have allowed themselves to be swayed by fantasies of sophistication, they are not so much genetic anomalies as intellectual misfits, political incompetents and, what is most disheartening, a pod of eccentrics who threaten to become the norm.