Wednesday, May 22, 2024

BTRTN: Campus Protest, Rafah, Netanyahu, and the Law of Intended Consequences

The “law of unintended consequences” leads to embarrassing and counterproductive outcomes. But the “law of intended consequences” can lead to worse.  As the tinderbox burns, Steve reflects on the quiet wisdom of Joe Biden.

My favorite example of the “law of unintended consequences” is the story of the legislators who originally wanted to name the most northwestern state in the lower 48 after the grand river that flowed through it. But there was concern that if the state was named “Columbia,” it would be confused with the “District of Columbia.”

So they decided to name it “Washington” instead.

You see my point.

A recent example: Donald Trump blocked the passage of a bipartisan immigration law because he wanted the issue to remain an unresolved nightmare for the Biden administration right up until election day. But in blocking the measure, Trump neutered the issue: now Biden can say that he was ready to sign the exact bill that Republicans wanted – and that it was Donald Trump who didn’t want to solve the border problems.  Not exactly the outcome Trump intended.


Thousands of students across our land expressed outrage about the massive death toll and human suffering in Palestine due to the scale and manner of Israel’s war to destroy Hamas. They rose in protest, made demands that college endowments divest of Israeli companies, and threatened to sit out the November election, believing the Biden administration significantly to blame for the carnage in Gaza.

But if these students – whose politics tend to lean Democratic -- sit out the election, they will increase the likelihood that Donald Trump will be elected. Then, the students would quickly discover that Trump will be far worse for innocent citizens in Gaza than Biden. The students appear unaware that Trump wouldn’t put up any objection to Bibi Netanyahu’s policies. Donald Trump generally doesn’t care about collateral damage as long he gets elected, makes money, and stays out of jail.

So, please, all you bright, young, progressive-leaning college students, go to school on the law of unintended consequences. If you do care passionately about the innocent civilians in Gaza, vote. Specifically, vote for Joe Biden. If you sit out the election, you may bear responsibility for the election of Donald Trump, for causing even greater calamity in Gaza, and possibly living the rest of your lives under authoritarian rule.

Yep, that’s what we call the law of unintended consequences.

Here are a couple more examples.

Israel, justifiably outraged by the October 7 attacks, announced its intention to eradicate Hamas. To destroy Hamas, it embarked on a campaign of such epic carnage and civilian death that Israel is likely to have turned many previously politically uninvolved Gazans into Hamas supporters and perhaps even into Hamas soldiers. In the long run, the Israeli war may very well be increasing the scope of Hamas rather than eradicating it.

Beyond Gaza, their are the unintended consequences to Israel's relations with the global community. Whether Israel wants to hear it, acknowledge it, believe it, or accept it, it has managed to take a horrible situation in which they were immediately buttressed by the unwavering, unconditional support of democratic nations around the world ...and turn it into a situation in which Israel is distanced and isolated, having alienated many nations.

Unintended consequences.

Now, today, a still greater risk lurks. Israel’s war to eradicate Hamas may be driving a very serious wedge between Israel and its greatest ally and supporter.

It’s not clear whether Israel will proceed with a full-bore military offensive in Rafah that the Biden administration has refused to condone. Joe Biden went on CNN to firmly state the United States is holding up shipment of the 2,000-pound bombs that “had been historically used to deal with the cities.” For months, Bibi Netanyahu had pointedly ignored the requests from the Biden administration to wage war against Hamas in a manner more mindful of collateral damage and civilian casualties. Joe Biden finally put his foot down. With a million Gazan refugees in Rafah, Biden drew the line. No plan to minimize civilian casualties, no 2,000 pound bombs.

Israeli leaders quickly reacted to Biden’s CNN interview. Israeli U.N. Ambassador Gildan Erdan said that Biden's decision "can encourage the enemies of the State of Israel." Miki Zohar, a senior official in the Likud party, said it was “amazing to discover that the world has forgotten what happened in Israel on October 7.” That’s quite an accusation to make about a country that has put its full measure of backing for Israel, and about a president who has absorbed a substantial political hit for his unqualified support.

Back in the U.S., Republican opportunists like New York Congressman Mike Lawler immediately tried to smear Joe Biden as weak in his support for Israel by saying “So what the president is doing here is capitulating because of electoral politics, because he's concerned about the vote in Michigan and Minnesota. And that is taking precedence over eliminating a terrorist threat. And to me that's unconscionable.”

Leave it to hucksters like Lawler to conflate principled humanitarian conditions on arms shipments with pandering for votes. Mike, you can disagree with the principle, but it’s so cheesily disingenuous of you to accuse Biden of acting solely for political gain when the President has already absorbed a huge political penalty for the principled stand he has taken to date. And, oh, by the way, wasn't that your candidate for President who so recently blocked that border bill in a pure political ploy for votes? Here's the biggest irony: you have to figure that Lawler is unaware that in 1982 Republican icon Ronald Reagan ordered Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin to halt an attack because of the carnage it was causing to civilians. Begin ended the attack immediately. Yes, Mike, your own hero put conditions on weapons to Israel.

As barbed as Zohar’s statement was, Bibi Netanyahu managed a still more gratuitous comment.

Upon learning of Biden’s CNN interview, Netanyahu said that “If Israel is forced to stand alone, Israel will stand alone.” Axios reported that in a security cabinet meeting the next day, Netanyahu “went on a rant,” culminating with the proclamation that “we are not a vassal state of the United States!” If the United States puts conditions on military aid, that means we are treating Israel like a vassal state?   

In times of crisis, over-heated and self-involved rhetoric is rarely helpful.

Since World War II, Israel has received $312 billion dollars in U.S. support… more than any other country, and that by a margin of over $100 billion. In 2022, the number was $3.3 billion. The $95 billion dollar spending package recently approved by Congress includes another $26 billion for Israel.

For Netanyahu to imply that ignoring Biden yet again meant that Israel's incursion into Rafah was “going it alone” is un peu de trop. “Going it alone?” That would be to forgo all United States support. Bibi Netanyahu would be wise to think about what would happen to Israel if he truly acted on the words he is saying.

It is worthwhile to analyze Netanyahu’s tantrum through the lens of political self-interest. There has been much reporting on the idea that prolonging and intensifying the combat reinforces Netanyahu’s stature as a “wartime leader,” which solidifies his shaky hold on power in Israel.

And then there is the consideration that in ignoring Biden’s wishes and warnings for six months, Netanyahu must be aware -- and not particularly concerned -- that he is embarrassing Biden and making him appear weak on the domestic front. This, too, increases the possibility that the far more malleable and manipulable Donald Trump will be elected. Perhaps that is in the back of Bibi’s mind.

It may be helpful to consider a pointed analogy: for the full duration of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Joe Biden has refused to provide Ukraine with F16 fighter jets out of concern that this would result in a huge escalation of that war. Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has never publicly scolded the President of the United States for a decision that one sovereign nation makes about the aid it provides to another.

Before Bibi Netanyahu continues to ignore Joe Biden's wishes and launches “shock and awe” in Rafah, he might want to study the “law of unintended consequences.”

For one thing, he may have missed the point that Donald Trump and his band of MAGA numb-nuts espouse the most isolationist political stance since Joe Kennedy wanted to keep the United States out of World War II. If Trump gets back in the White House, Secretary of State Marjorie Taylor Green will pull every U.S. military asset out of Ukraine, ignore Israel, and put it all toward the task of sealing the southern border.

Moreover, Netanyahu should know that Donald Trump has absolutely no hard and fast political belief system other than self-aggrandizement. Trump would abandon Israel in a heartbeat if it would enhance his own political or financial fortune. 

Netanyahu may not like Joe Biden’s principles, but he is going to have a very rude awakening if he must deal with a president who has no principles… a president who would sell Israel down the river in a heartbeat if the price was right and the money went straight into his own bank account.

Which brings us back to the law of intended consequences.  “Unintended consequences” is when a specific outcome is sought, but the result is chaos. “Intended consequence,” however is when a malevolent actor uses chaos to trigger a specific outcome.

In other words, terrorism… the terrorism that Hamas committed on October 7.

For all the fury, hatred, sickness, and violence of October 7, it seems likely that Hamas had a game plan: to commit such horrifying atrocities that it would bait Israel into blind rage, uncontrolled vengeance, and military overreach. The intent was that Israel’s overreaction would spur conflict among its allies, erode its global support, test its friendships, and that the overall diminution of support would leave an isolated Israel to “go it alone.”

Joe Biden saw it all very clearly in remarks directed to Israel on October 18, 2023… eleven days after the horrific terror attacks.

“Justice must be done. But I caution this: While you feel that rage, don't be consumed by it. After 9/11 we were enraged in the United States. While we sought justice and got justice, we also made mistakes.”

Hamas unleashed the law of intended consequences. And it has managed to succeed, breeding chaos in the middle east, sowing domestic division in the United States, and driving a wedge between two of the greatest allies in world history.

All this criticism of Joe Biden?

It seems to me that right about now would be a good time for people to finally listen to Joe Biden.

He has been the calming, even, steady presence throughout this horrific period.

He’s the one who warned Israel not to overreact.

He’s the one who has willingly borne the political price of supporting Israel even as he urged Netanyahu to pursue a more humane policy.

Now, he’s the one who finally put his foot down.

He’s the one who is attempting to manage the very intentional chaos that Hamas set loose upon the world.

It is time to stop triggering unintended consequences. It is time for everyone to stop acting without thoughtful anticipation of the likely unintended outcomes. 

No, protestors, don’t sit out the election. The only consequence of that is the abdication of your input. To abstain is to make the choice to be a person of no consequence.

Bibi Netanyahu, maybe you should listen to Joe Biden, too. Don’t wreak the same civilian carnage in Rafah that you have done in Gaza City, and isolate Israel on the global stage. Don't let Hamas succeed in driving a wedge between you and your most important -- and loyal -- ally. That can't be anyone's idea of a desirable consequence.

My fellow citizens, don’t miss the big point, the endgame. Some of you may think Joe Biden is too old, or that gas costs too much, or that you wish you had a different set of choices.

In an election of this magnitude, that's all small ball, all so much staring through the wrong end of the telescope.

There is a choice before us all. Our decisions, our actions -- and inaction -- all have consequence.

To allow Donald Trump to be elected in November is to have the intended consequence of unfathomable chaos. 

Which is to say: it is no longer enough to simply vote for Joe Biden.

It is time to get out and get to work to re-elect Joe Biden. Roll up your sleeves, all hands on deck.

It is the only acceptable consequence.











1 comment:

  1. "Since World War II, Israel has received $312 billion dollars in U.S. support… more than any other country, and that by a margin of over $100 billion."

    Only if you pretend that the billions spent in Germany and Japan, doesn't count as aid. I don't refer merely to the billions spent rebuilding their economies, but the enormous subsidy of their defense by the placement tens (hundreds?) of thousands of US troops on bases in those countries in the years after WWII.

    Even today, the US military has over 100,000 troops and civilian personnel (split roughly equally) in Germany and Japan.

    (In contrast, the US never had any troops in Israel until about 12 years ago, when we built an Eastern-facing radar facility staffed by about 100 US troops. That site remains the only US military presence in Israel.)


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