strength matters

Jeffrey Goldberg thinks it’s illogical for the New York Times to consider actual body counts when assessing the moral justifications for war:

[T]he [Times] editorial states the following, in an effort to suggest that the Hamas threat is not quite existential:

Israel has a vastly more capable military than Hamas, and its air campaign has resulted in a lopsided casualty count: three Israelis have been killed.

Whenever I read a statement like this, I wonder if the person writing it believes that there is a large moral difference between attempted murder and successfully completed murder. The casualty count is lopsided, but why? A couple of reasons: Hamas rockets are inaccurate; Israel’s Iron Dome anti-missile system is working well. But the Israeli body count isn’t low because Hamas is trying to minimize Israeli casualties. Quite the opposite: Hamas’s intention is to kill as many Israelis as possible.

I think the “attempted murder” metaphor is an interesting one. Let’s put it this way — when Stephen Hawking beats you with his fists, he knows, and you know, that he is incapable of killing you. It’s simple battery, at most, and frankly you’d be a dick to bring charges. If Mike Tyson beats you with his fists, however, that could easily be seen as attempted murder, because Tyson’s fists are, as they say, deadly weapons.

There may be other good reasons to respond to puny, ineffective attacks with overwhelming force — a slippery slope argument, or a desire to maintain an image as a fierce retaliator. But fear of an actual existential threat can’t be one of them.

Goldberg adds:

The U.S. judges the threat from al Qaeda based on the group’s intentions and plans, not merely on the number of Americans it has killed over the past 10 years. This is the correct approach to dealing with such a threat.

If the United States jumped off a bridge, would you do it, too, Jeffrey?

I agree that one unintended, if perfectly foreseeable, consequence of the U.S.’s overinflated “war on terror” rhetoric was precisely this — that other nations would adopt the same rhetorical stances for their own purposes. But that’s a criticism of U.S. policy.

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