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Disproportionate force - What does it mean in Gaza and Ferguson?

Ruminations, August 17, 2014

Disproportionate responses.
During the last few weeks, we have heard and seen what many consider “disproportionate responses” to adversarial actions. Are the responses really disproportionate and what does that mean?

Israel. Israel’s response to the Hamas rocket attacks has been called by the United Nations and al Jazeera, among others, a disproportionate response. The Jerusalem Post reported that UN Deputy secretary-general Jan Eliasson said that it is plain to see that Israel’s response to indiscriminant Palestinian rocket fire “has been disproportionate and that Palestinian casualties have been excessive.”

Phyllis Bennis, a Fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies (a left leaning pacifistic think tank), wrote in the Detroit News that Israel has been guilty of disproportionate responses in Gaza to “primitive rockets fired by a few individuals [i.e., Hamas terrorists].” She cites an example of an individual who was targeted by Israel while he was visiting civilians – resulting in the deaths of 25 civilians. Of course, one might consider the irresponsibility of a Hamas-ite who must have known he was a target and that to congregate with innocent civilians would endanger them. And then too, just how innocent were those civilians who were willing to break bread with someone they must have known was on Israel’s list?

So what is “disproportionate use of force?” When he was President, Bill Clinton avoided the use of disproportionate force. The former President, speaking to Australian business leaders on September 10, 2001, said that he had had an opportunity to kill Osama bin Laden in Kandahar, Afghanistan. But in doing so, he would have destroyed Kandahar and killed 300 innocent civilians. The day after Clinton’s speech, bin Laden was responsible for killing 3,000 Americans. Viewed historically, Clinton should have pulled the proverbial trigger – but, had he done so, he would have been criticized for using disproportionate force.

The purpose of disproportionate force is to convince the other guy to lay down his arms. If you use proportionate force, then the other guy will believe that he has a chance of winning and continue to fight – perhaps resulting in more and more people being killed. Certainly there are more Palestinians in Gaza suffering more than Israelis in Tel Aviv.

Ferguson, Missouri. One of the major criticisms of the Ferguson city police is that they use disproportionate force in dealing with protesters, looters and potential looters by using military equipment and in doing so, provoked the crowd. Maybe this is so. But even when the force is not on display, as this past weekend, there is still a contingent who continues to riot, fire weapons and loot stores.

Remember that while there are those who today believe that by police simply having military equipment have a disproportionate force. There were, however, few complaints about the Boston police having military equipment as they chased down Dzhokas and Tamerlan Tsarnaev in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombing.

Conclusion. The use of disproportionate force is an effective tool. But how much force should be used? Just enough for the other guy to decide that it is detrimental to his side to continue. If Hamas stops trying to destroy Israel, then Israel will stand down. And if the Ferguson protestors stop looting, throwing Molotov cocktails and rocks, and eliminate weapons, then perhaps the Ferguson Police will stand down.

Did Obama trade lives for politics?
In an interview with Tom Friedman of the New York Times, President Barack Obama explained why the United States did not intervene earlier and more forcefully in Iraq . The reason is that he wanted to force former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki to resign. He told Freidman "’that we did not just start taking a bunch of airstrikes all across Iraq as soon as ISIL [Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant] came in was because that would have taken the pressure off of al-Maliki.’ That only would have encouraged, he said, Maliki and other Shiites to think: 'We don't actually have to make compromises. We don't have to make any decisions. We don't have to go through the difficult process of figuring out what we've done wrong in the past. All we have to do is let the Americans bail us out again. And we can go about business as usual.' "

What Obama says makes sense. But, was it worth it? Was it worth forcing Maliki out at the expense of thousands of Iraqi lives that were systematically snuffed out by ISIL? And Maliki’s successor, Haider al-Abadi -- also a Shiite and also a member of Maliki’s party (Dawa) -- will he form a government that is more to Obama’s liking? If not, will Obama refuse to support Abadi also?

Stay tuned.

Still relevant
(The following article appeared in Ruminations, December 24, 2006)
I don’t buy Berger’s bits
The 2003 story of Sandy Berger walking off from the National Archives with secret documents relating to terrorist attacks on the United States has come to the front pages again. Berger, who was President Clinton’s national security advisor, was preparing for testimony before the September 11 commission (formally known as the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States) and went to the National Archives to reread classified documents to refresh his memory. Nothing wrong there.

Then the fun began. Berger, according to a report from National Archives Inspector-General Paul Brachfeld, left the Archives with the classified documents in his pockets – documents that are not to leave the Archives. (The report that Berger also stuffed papers into his socks is evidently erroneous – Berger says that he had cheap shoelaces that kept coming untied and cheap socks that kept falling down and that this explains why he kept bending over and making adjustments. No doubt the white that National Archives personnel observed as Berger adjusted his socks were his pasty white ankles and not documents.)

According to the report, after Berger left the Archives, in order to avoid detection, he “headed toward a construction area on 9th Street. Mr. Berger looked up and down the street, up into the windows of the Archives and the DOJ [Department of Justice], and did not see anyone. He removed the documents from his pockets, folded the notes into a ‘V’ shape and inserted the documents into the center [of a chain-link fence]. He walked inside the construction fence and slid the documents under a trailer.” Berger later came back to retrieve the documents.

Wait. It gets better. Berger admits that he then took the documents home and cut up three of them and threw them in the trash. Those cut-up documents were never recovered.

Berger’s lawyer says that this was all a “mistake,” no original information was lost. Berger paid a $50,000 fine. He has called the incident an “honest mistake” and said that he had “unintentionally” destroyed some documents.

Sorry. I don’t buy it. It does not at all sound like a mistake. It sounds like Berger knew exactly what he was doing. Berger has a B.A. degree from Cornell and a J.D. from Harvard Law School. He practiced law for 15 years and served in the upper echelons of government for more than 10 years – he’s no dummy. This is not a “Whoops. What was I ever thinking?” kind of thing.

Why did Berger do it?

1. Did the document contain top-secret information? No, top-secret stuff could have been redacted.
2. Was Berger trying to cover up the Clinton Administration’s involvement in 9/11 attack? Nonsense. Whatever you think of former President Clinton, he was not a traitor.
3. Was it to cover up a mistake made by the Clinton Administration that led to 9/11? No. Everyone knows that both the Clinton and Bush Administrations were not as vigilant as they could have been and both made mistakes.
4. Was it to cover an indiscretion by President Clinton? No. These were official documents and would not contain information of that sort.
5. Was there information regarding Iraq on the documents? President Clinton did consider launching an attack on Iraq and information regarding Iraq could be politically and internationally volatile. This was something the current administration would have the call on and not something that Berger would be afraid of releasing to the Committee.

Former President Clinton made a hollow attempt at covering for Berger (Oh, good old Sandy is naturally sloppy and loses things all the time – really, Mr. President? Is that why he selected as National Security Advisor?).

I don’t know why Berger absconded with these documents or what he did with them. Did the documents or margin notes contain political maneuvering that backfired? Did Berger destroy documents to conceal an action that would be damaging to Senator Hillary Clinton’s future? I don’t know but the worst intentions will be suspected until the truth is known. And I, for one, don’t buy Berger’s innocent and inadvertent bit.

Quote without comment
Robert J. Samuelson, writing in the Washington Post, March 12, 2014: “Japan’s experience has relevance for America’s tepid recovery. How much can fiscal policy (government budget policy) and monetary policy (interest rates, credit conditions) compensate for underlying structural problems? Since the early 1990s, Japan has run loose monetary policies and large budget deficits. They haven’t fully resuscitated the economy. Some economists argue that these policies were always too little, too late; others contend that there are limits to what textbook economic policies can do.”