Saturday, August 19, 2006

Talking Definitions with Dave

As Matthew Turner observed, blog comments on the Middle East "tend to be near-deranged". He finds examples through Oliver Kamm. Speaking of whom, I largely agree with him on the parasitic nature of blogs, though I've been reading the things since the days when they were more diary-like, or at least were opinions about things like computer games rather than link-to followed by criticism-of someone's else's opinon of computer games. Clearly, I'm going to do the parasitic thing here today; I hope that I don't become more deranged than usual in the process.

I disagree with Dave over Lebanon. I do think the Israeli response so far has been disproportionate; the strategies adopted have been the wrong ones; and that the effect will be counter-productive and this should not surprise anyone.

That Israel was entitled to act against a state-within-a-state that had effectively declared war against it, was not something I doubted for a moment.

It may surprise you to know that I agree with Dave here.

I suspect most readers of the JC [Jewish Chronicle] would agree with me on this. Yet so many other people in Britain seemed not to - and in the most violent and unreasonable terms, too. The question that I’m raising here is: "Why?"

I think what so many people in Britain disagree with was not "acting against" Hizbollah, but the way Israel acted against it. I even think Israel is correct to consider itself at war with Hizbollah, provided we agree that there are several ways of being "at war" with someone. We used to be "at war" with the IRA (though I'm not sure the term war was ever used by the British side). Even extreme provocation by the Provos didn't give us the right to roll tanks around Ulster and cut off the electricity. And Lebanon was supposed to be a sort of proto-Democratic state; they'd thrown out Syria, for instance. I may be naive here, but it still strikes me that there are better ways to deal with Hizbollah -- ways which encourage democracy, and kill as few people as possible, and a lot fewer than have died so far.
Dave considers Dr Phyllis Margaret Starkey, former leader of Oxford City Council, and Labour MP for Milton Keynes South West since 1997 whom he usually agrees with. (BTW Dave, 9 times out of 10 is about as good a strike rate as you're going to get for agreement with anyone.)

[She is b]ordering on the irrational. Israel had, according to Dr Starkey, unleashed a "blitzkrieg - there is no other way of describing it." Eh? Is there really no other way of describing it? Did the coalition in the 1990 Gulf War unleash a "blitz-krieg? "Many people in Israel," Dr Starkey continued, in almost complete error, "are prepared to say that their government are acting disproportionately, so why will not this government do so?"

I think Dr Starkey's choice of Blitzkrieg falls into that grey area of terms you wouldn't use yourself, but it's still over-sensitive to take exception to. Blitzkrieg is associated with the Third Reich, so it's hardly diplomatic to use the term here, but it is more or less correct by Wikipedia's definition.

The generally accepted definition of blitzkrieg operations include the use of maneuver rather than attrition to defeat an opponent, and describe operations using combined arms concentration of mobile assets at a focal point, armour closely supported by mobile infantry, artillery and close air support assets.

This is pretty close to an objective description of Israel's opening gambit. I'm less sure about Gulf War I. IIRC, the 'focal point' part was certainly missing, and there wasn't any element of surprise (mentioned elsewhere on the Wikipedia page). The term 'many' when used with regard to populations is almost always used, in Dave's phrase, "in almost complete error". However, assuming that Dr Starkey means something like 'a sizeable fraction of those who have expressed an opinion' she is surely correct. Thanks to teh magic of teh interwebs, here's the results of a poll published in the noted Israel-hating newspaper Haaretz last Sunday.

The poll, conducted Wednesday [ie 9 August, DW] and yesterday [12 August, DW] among 570 Israelis, also revealed a marked decline in support for the government, and particularly for Olmert and Defense Minister Amir Peretz.
... Only 39 percent of the respondents backed the cabinet's decision to expand the ground operation. Another 26 percent favored continuing the fighting in its current form, but stepping up diplomatic efforts, while 28 percent advocated an immediate cease-fire and a diplomatic agreement.

I believe, in short, that Dr Starkey is fully in the right here. 'Many' people, certainly enough to swing an election, seem to believe that the Israeli government is wrong.
All in all, Dave should worry about the 9 out of 10 things he agrees with Dr Starkey on, because his opinion of her by the time he finishes is pretty low, and she obviously couldn't count on his vote if he were a constituent.

In fact, judging from her speeches, the world consists entirely of Britain, Israel and the Occupied Territories.
... Ditto her sojourn in Iran, where she seems to have failed to gain any substantial impression whatsoever.

Finally Dave ends on his usual irritating note.

I am not saying this is right; I am saying quite the opposite. But in a sense it doesn’t matter, because the fact is still the fact. People who should have been supporting Israel’s right of self-defence have instead opposed it.

"Supporting" here means of course, "talking support" it doesn't mean sending money, or lobbying or anything active at all. That aside, I've Dave does his version of the three cups and one pea trick here. This looks a lot to me like saying that because I oppose making human pyramids out of naked prisoners, intimating people with attack dogs, and water-boarding, I must be against the rights of the Coalition troops to take any prisoners at all. This is not so. As always, I don't speak for anyone else here, but I don't oppose Israel's right to self-defence, only to their methods, which I find both morally objectionable and strategically idiotic.


Blogger Alex said...

Coupla points: I suppose by "any particular view at all" he means "Bomb Iran now!"

Further, the Gulf War of 1991 was much closer to blitzkrieg on the coalition side than this one was. The US, UK and French armour which made up the striking force of the coalition army made a rapid outflanking march into Iraq, well to the north of the bulk of the Iraqi army and into its rear, with a mass of tanks and heavy use of close air support. That's yer blitzkrieg.

Israel/Lebanon this year was more like masses of bombing all over the place plus a rather generalised push to a depth of two miles or so...more like attrition, or perhaps just "don't just stand there, do something!"

In British English, blitzkrieg is often confounded with the Blitz of 1940-1941 - i.e. the heavy night bombing of London and other cities, which I think is what she meant.

8/19/2006 08:07:00 PM  
Blogger Simon said...

Phyllis Starkey has long been one of the most articulate parliamentary spokespeople for the Palestinian cause, so why Dave is taken aback by her concern is mystifying to me. (Actually, no it isn't: he probably hadn't heard of Phyllis Starkey until noticing her name somewhere recently and was shocked, shocked, that an ostensibly loyal MP might take exception to the destruction of the infrastructure of a sovereign democracy by the IDF.)

Looking at her record, I see she has indeed asked several questions and made a handful of interventions on Israel and the Middle East since the start of the year, but (i) there's nothing wrong with that if your interest is genuine and sincere, which hers is and has been for several years; and (ii) the questions were concentrated around the time of the recent crisis and, earlier in the year, of the withdrawal of the British monitors from Jericho, both occasions when the conflict has been rightly high on the British news agenda.

To say that her concern - which has been maintained through periods when the conflict has been some way down the news agenda as well when it has been at the top of it - is merely the product of her 'distress' at visiting the occupied territories is pretty shabby.

8/20/2006 10:47:00 AM  
Blogger Backword Dave said...

Alex, I agree that Gulf War I was much closer to blitzkreig that this one was. (I assume you Gulf War II, rather than Israeli action in Lebanon.) I think it fails the definition because it was heavily trailed (in a way that the invasion of Poland wasn't) and Saddam was offered ultimatums.

If she confused blitzkrieg with the Blitz, she's a bloody fool.

I agree with Simon's points too. The surprising bit is DA's declaration that he agrees with Dr Starkey on much else. (If she agrees with him on ID cards, I hate her already.)

8/20/2006 01:44:00 PM  
Blogger Simon said...

She is pretty much a down-the-line Blairite loyalist on almost all other issues, but on this particular issue she is admirable.

8/20/2006 07:23:00 PM  
Blogger Marc Mulholland said...

Unimportant info, of no bearing on the post's substantive points:

"We used to be "at war" with the IRA (though I'm not sure the term war was ever used by the British side)"

It was, but only once I think (unless you include the Stormont government as the 'British side'.)

On 28th July, 1971, at a meeting of Conservative and Unionist MPs at Westminster, the Home Secretary, Reginald Maudling said he considered that a state of war now existed between the IRA and the British Army.

" ... extreme provocation by the Provos didn't give us the right to roll tanks around Ulster and cut off the electricity."

Tanks were only deployed once, during Operation Motorman in 1972 (the re-capture of IRA controlled 'No-Go' areas. In and out within 24 hours.)

There was a odd running battle in the mid to late 1970s over electricity supply in Newry. The Army controlled the master switch for street lighting and would periodically shut it down to give their patrols cover. The IRA responded with attacks on 'leccy installations, and so on. When the Secretary of State, Merlyn Rees, compromised on the issue, the Army issued a statement: "The IRA has won in Newry". The military was pretty insubordinate in this period.

On 'Blitzkrieg', the concept has been partially discredited in historiography over the last few years. It always implied a German commitment to rapidly moving spearheads to avoid positional warfare, with a large unmechanised infantry tail to hold ground. It was important link in a certain chain of argument, as it explained the logic behind Hitler being 'ready' to launch general war in 1939.

Historians (particularly after the work of Richard Overy) now reckon that the German aim was a fully mechanised army, along the Allied model circa 1944 (and the Brit model in 1939, though of course that was a very small force).

'Blitzkrieg' in practice was the Germans making the best of an ill-prepared army when general war broke out unexpectedly, a result of Hitler's diplomatic miscalculation over Poland. 'Blitzkrieg' as a putative doctrine was pretty much invented by Britain and France to explain their humiliating failure in May-June 1940.

8/21/2006 10:48:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good stuff, thanks Marc.

BTW, I can't wait for the reaction to this. You know how it goes, we're sure they're using Iranian arms, so this is another plank in the argument for invasion ... etc." (The possibility that the equipment came through Iran appears to have been discounted.)

8/21/2006 02:53:00 PM  

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