NYT: ‘The Regional War No One Wanted Is Here. How Wide Will It Get?’

This New York Times headline is false. Plenty of people want a wider war in the Middle East. Hamas launched the Oct. 7 attacks to encourage a wider war. Parts of Hezbollah, and parts the governments of Iran and Israel want a wider war. Hezbollah has the capacity to devastate Israel, to level its cities, and to kill thousands of Israelis in hours. Why would they not feel tempted to do that? Iran wants to dominate the Middle East, destroy the Zionist state and drive out America? A massive war with Israel could topple the Iranian regime but it also could topple the Zionist state and make America’s presence in the Middle East more precarious. Many Israeli leaders would welcome a wider war because that would enable them to drive out the Arabs from the West Bank and Gaza and possibly even Israel proper and create a stronger, more cohesive greater Israel.

I expect Israel to invade southern Lebanon in the next few months to take out Hezbollah.

There are two philosophical reasons why I think this New York Times headline is dumb. One, people don’t always say what they mean. Just because many leaders in the Middle East said they don’t want a regional war doesn’t mean that is what they all truly believe in all circumstances. Right now, I believe the leaders of Iran and Hezbollah do not want a wider war, but plenty of their compatriots do. Bibi Netanyahu’s leadership depends upon an ongoing war. Once there’s peace, he’s likely out of office and on trial. But he can’t say this publicly. He has to placate the United States in his public pronouncements while placating coalition members to his right in private.

Individual incentives are often different from national incentives and Bibi’s incentives are not necessarily Israel’s incentives.

Two. Liberals believe that people are basically good and that peace is our default state. Trads and people on the right do not believe that people are basically good and do not believe that peace is our default state. They understand that sometimes wars have to be fought to a conclusion to allow a lasting peace.

On the liberal-left side of the political spectrum, there’s an individualist worldview, and more confidence in the power of buffered human reason and agency to manage things (think about LBJ micro-managing the bombing of North Vietnam), while on the right, people believe that we are tribal and driven by many forces more powerful than conscious cognition, and therefore we suspect that life and war are inherently wild and less containable.

In his 2018 book, The Great Delusion: Liberal Dreams and International Realities, John J. Mearsheimer wrote:

My view is that we are profoundly social beings from the start to the finish of our lives and that individualism is of secondary importance… Liberalism downplays the social nature of human beings to the point of almost ignoring it, instead treating people largely as atomistic actors… Political liberalism… is an ideology that is individualistic at its core and assigns great importance to the concept of inalienable rights. This concern for rights is the basis of its universalism—everyone on the planet has the same inherent set of rights—and this is what motivates liberal states to pursue ambitious foreign policies. The public and scholarly discourse about liberalism since World War II has placed enormous emphasis on what are commonly called human rights. This is true all around the world, not just in the West. “Human rights,” Samuel Moyn notes, “have come to define the most elevated aspirations of both social movements and political entities—state and interstate. They evoke hope and provoke action.”
[Humans] do not operate as lone wolves but are born into social groups or societies that shape their identities well before they can assert their individualism. Moreover, individuals usually develop strong attachments to their group and are sometimes willing to make great sacrifices for their fellow members. Humans are often said to be tribal at their core. The main reason for our social nature is that the best way for a person to survive is to be embedded in a society and to cooperate with fellow members rather than act alone… Despite its elevated ranking, reason is the least important of the three ways we determine our preferences. It certainly is less important than socialization. The main reason socialization matters so much is that humans have a long childhood in which they are protected and nurtured by their families and the surrounding society, and meanwhile exposed to intense socialization. At the same time, they are only beginning to develop their critical faculties, so they are not equipped to think for themselves. By the time an individual reaches the point where his reasoning skills are well developed, his family and society have already imposed an enormous value infusion on him. Moreover, that individual is born with innate sentiments that also strongly influence how he thinks about the world around him. All of this means that people have limited choice in formulating a moral code, because so much of their thinking about right and wrong comes from inborn attitudes and socialization.

Last week, Stephen Walt told Robert Wright: “The Biden administration is the revenge of the blob. After the Trumpian interlude, you brought back the professionals. The Obama team back in action and taking it on the road.”

The Biden foreign policy team has great confidence in its abilities to manage the world and has created greater disasters than any American administration since WWII.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see Amazon.com). My work has been covered in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and on 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (Alexander90210.com).
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