Military precision

Military precision January 6, 2009

With all due respect to India’s prime minister, Manmohan Singh, and with sympathy for the tragic loss of life his country recently suffered in the murderous attacks in Mumbai, it’s still necessary to point out that his statement earlier today grievously — and destructively — mischaracterizes those attacks.

Here is what the prime minister said:

“There is enough evidence to show that, given the sophistication and military precision of the attack, it must have had the support of some official agencies in Pakistan.”

“Sophistication and military precision”? No, no, a thousand times no. The attacks in Mumbai were anything but “sophisticated” and they were ruthlessly, brutally imprecise. We cannot describe indiscriminate mass-murder as having “military precision.” This was not the act of soldiers, but of criminal sociopaths. This was not the act of men, but of monsters.

Let’s remember what these attacks involved. Heavily armed gunmen entered a cafe and opened fire on the patrons. Men pulled out automatic weapons and began shooting whoever happened to be standing in a train station. Armed men attacked hospitals.

Nothing about any of that suggests the work of a brilliant, “precise” or “sophisticated” tactician. These people did not study the theories and tactics of Clausewitz and Napoleon, they followed the brutal example of Harris and Klebold — the two disturbed teenagers who killed 12 other students and a teacher at Columbine High School. The Mumbai attackers were more “sophisticated” than the trenchcoat mafiosi only to the extent that they were more heavily armed.

By “military precision” the prime minister seems to be referring to the killers’ ruthless efficiency, implying that it indicates a level of training and discipline. But these murderers were less lethally efficient than deranged student Seung-Hui Cho was in perpetrating the massacre at Virginia Tech, and I have never heard anyone suggest that his act of meaningless madness was notable for its “sophistication and military precision.”

The prime minister’s use of that phrase, “military precision,” is particularly wrong and particularly offensive. The goal and the consequence of the attacks in Mumbai was the indiscriminate slaughter of civilians, of noncombatants, and the deliberate targeting and killing of noncombatants is the absolute opposite of military precision.

The deliberate targeting of noncombatants is both immoral and impractical. It is a violation of the laws of war — a war crime. You’re not allowed to kill civilians. But even when accidental or incidental, the killing of civilians and noncombatants is always — always — detrimental and counterproductive. The U.S. and NATO are losing ground and just plain losing in Afghanistan because our air strikes there have resulted in so many civilian deaths. The short-term military success of Israel’s current offensive in the Gaza Strip will be incapable of producing any long-term success because that offensive has brought about — and is bringing about — the deaths of so many noncombatant civilians. These civilian deaths, whether in Gaza or Afghanistan, are the hallmarks of a lack of sophistication and an appalling failure of military precision. The standard is the same in Mumbai.

Prime Minister Singh is today repeating an error committed by President George W. Bush following the attacks of 9/11. Singh wants to legitimize a military response to the attacks in Mumbai and thus he frames those attacks in the rhetoric of a military assault. The result of such rhetoric is that he begins to legitimize those attacks by describing them as warfare — the act of soldiers behaving with “sophistication and military precision.” They were nothing of the kind. The attacks in Mumbai were not the work of soldiers, but of madmen and sociopaths, of brutal, thuggish murderers.

Opening fire on the unarmed patrons of a cafe or on the commuters at a train station is simply a crime — the sort of brainless, meaningless crime that offers no benefit for the criminal. It does not require sophistication or military precision, but rather an utter lack of sophistication and the opposite of military precision. All it requires is a gun, a bunch of bullets, and a perverse imbecile stupid enough to pull the trigger.

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  • Lee Ratner

    I think that Israel is stuck between a rock and a hard place when it comes to Gaza. Gaza is pretty firmly ruled by Hamas, an organization whose members seem incapable of self-reflection and doubt and who seem willing to do whatever they want without regard for the consequences. Hamas will twist the facts anyway possible. If Israel did not retaliate to the rocket fires, the leaders of Hamas would view this as a sign of Jewish weakness rather than dignity and continue with the attacks in the belief that they are destroying Israel. That will at least be their propaganda spin. When Israel attacks, like they are currently doing, Hamas raises the point over the “murder” of civilians. Basically, no matter what Israel does with Gaza, it’s screwed. The fact that Hamas routinely broadcasts anti-Semitic propaganda does not help.

  • Lee Ratner

    I am really not a fan of knee-jerk pacifism and a totally anti-war stance. War is terrible and awful thing. It is not glorious and should be avoided when possible. I think many people have too much respect for various militaries and soldiers and an unwillingness to criticize them when necessary. There are many instances when war is necessary. IF the Pakistatani government had a role in helping the terrorists who attacked Mumbai, than it would be just for india to go to war with Pakistan. Especially since Pakistan had no really to help the Mumbai terrorists, if they did so. War might be the only thing that can remind the Pakistani government, that actions have consequences.

  • Jim

    IF the Pakistatani government had a role in helping the terrorists who attacked Mumbai, than it would be just for india to go to war with Pakistan.
    It’s fairly certain that the Pakistani spy agency did. But it’s probably a mistake to think of “the Pakistani government” as a unitary body. It is unclear that Pakistan’s security service really answers to its President or parliament.
    The usual “deterrence by punishment” thing won’t work. The people who carried out the attacks don’t care about dying. Their handlers at the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate will only become more powerful during a war. There is no real chance that India would conquer Pakistan or even make substantial territorial gains. (Not to mention that controlling these would be a nightmare anyway, and Pakistan has its nuclear trump card.) You’ll kill Pakistani soldiers and civilians, but that would be it. At most, India would be able to get Pakistan to acknowledge Indian sovereignty over Jammu and Kashmir, and maybe that damned glacier they’re fighting over. But that would be it.
    Nevertheless, after attacks like the ones in Mumbai, people demand vengeance against Them. Look at the Iraq War.

  • aunursa: I wish I thought it was simple ignorance, rather than wilful, but at this point, after years of watching your sorry excuse for argument about all I can conclude is you choose to not do the least bit of research to support your arrogant claims.
    Have you ever looked up the military doctrine of the “open city”. I didn’t think so.
    Have you looked at the “laws and customs of war” as Fluellen was so fond of making reference in Shakespeare’s Henry V? I didn’t think so.
    When conducting a campaign the leaders of nations would declare some cities to be open. They were, in effect, a refuge for non-combatants. Because they were open, they were not to be attacked.
    When layig siege an attacker was supposed to go to the city/fortification and tell them they were about to be attacked; and that should they surrender they would be spared a sacking.
    Israel did something like that in Lebanon, then (and the evidence supports it) attacked those who were fleeing the area they warned them would be attacked.
    Which isn’t kosher.
    But then, you are saying we have to accept the examples you give because, even if false, they are consonant with things alleged in the past, so they are believable.
    Those arguments have so much truthiness to them they must be true, because they might have happened. But heaven help someone who points out the actual facts of Israel’s actions… the truthiness of your allegations of how nicely Israel commits violations of the laws of war justifies them, according to your argument.
    Which is as unchristian an argument as I can think of. Given the official death toll of the rockets (81 injured, 5 dead, and an unspecified number who suffered, “shock”) the attack on Gaza is immoral, unjustified, and contrary to biblical law and talmudic argument (eye for an eye, and all that). Which just makes it worse.

  • hapax

    Lee Ratner: Basically, no matter what Israel does with Gaza, it’s screwed
    I suppose it’s hopelessly naive and idealistic of me to suggest that, in that case, Israel make the choice to NOT kill children and shut down hospitals and starve the residents? If you’re “screwed” anyway, why not take the money you’re spending on bombs and bullets and put it into infrastructure and education and health care?
    I’m sure that there is some depressingly logical, practical, realpolitik reason that that’s a silly idea.
    pecunium: Which is as unchristian an argument as I can think of
    Whatever else aunursa has claimed about his arguments, “christian” is certainly not on the list. And I’d certainly defer to his knowledge of the Talmud over mine.

  • For all that jokes about military justice and intelligence being oxymorons irk me… military precision often is.
    Good comms are the key to operational success (no plan surviving contact with the enemy). I would aver that, absent contact with an opposing force, no such attack can be compared to any military operation. Absent people who have the means (and the will) trying to kill you, you can’t compare yourself to a military unit.
    As to how to treat terrorists, and the like, I commend Dean Ing’s Soft Targets, which was written in the ’80s, and advocates mockery. Make them ridiculous, not scary monsters, and they loose much of their power to terrorise.

  • Lee Ratner: Israel has been responding to the attacks. Part of that response is the blockade. Part of it has been helicopter attacks and arial bombardment. The “kill ratio”, prior to this attack, has been in the scores to one range.
    Israel avers that all of the attacks were against known targets, and only a few civilians have been kiled. This is (from my experience in doing Battle Damage Asssesments) laughable. Since the number of dead (five) and wounded (81; which includes at least five Thai, “guest workers) is really small (I am certain more people die in workplace accidents, in Israel, every year), the burden of “tolerating” the attacks is, in terms of realpolitik trivial. The problem is the power of the hard-line types in the governing coaltion. If a gov’t could be built without them the international advantage to not retaliating would be huge.
    But that’s not possible (in part because the hyper-religious are subsidised by the state; and exempt from military service. This, I think, tends to increase their bellicosity), so this sort of stupidity is needful, lest they topple the gov’t.
    Hapax: Yes, I forgot myself. As a rhetorical device such a flourish isn’t out of place her. I’d already made the non-kosher, non-Lawful argument.
    As Hillel said, “love thy neighbor as thyself, that is the whole of The Law; all else is commentary”.

  • Lee Ratner

    Several comments:
    On Pakistanti inelligence Not being answerable: A poster on one of my news groups pointed out that while the United Nations has been successful in many respects, it caused one big problem, it ended a traditional remedy for a failed state. In the past when you had a government that could no longer really control it’s territory and began to cause internal and external problems, other countries would invade and conquer or at least put in a puppet regime that could control the state and cause it to be less problematic. This is not really happen anymore and as a result we have states like Zimbabwe and Pakistan causing problems and no real solution with what to do with them.
    Could Israel tolerant Hamas attacks: It is true that the Hamas attacks were not really causing many deaths or injuries but failure to respond would only cause Hamas to grow more bold and do even worse. Eventually, they need to be told enough is enough and punished for their actions. This includes those that cheer them on and support them.
    Women and Children: Why in this day and age is it still assumed that the life of an adult male is worth less than the life of women and children? More specifically, the question about whether it would be better for Israel to build up infrastructure, etc. is not that easy. First it continues what I see as problem with how the Arab-Israel conflict and to a lesser extent, the Muslim-Jewish conflict as been treated so far. Basically, most of the burden is put on Israel and the Jews to act while nothing is really expected of the Arabs or Muslims except making a deal. Thus you have things like the Egypt-Israel peace where even though Egypt is at peace with Israel the state still promotes anti-Semitism and turns the Protocols of the Elders of Zion into a TV miniseries. Second, it would be hard for Israel to successfully invest in Palestine. If Israel directly or indirectly controls how the money given for infrastructure, education, and health than the things it will invest in will be seen as imperialistic and not used. If it does not control the money directly or indirectly, there is a very high chance the money will be misused. Either it could be stolen by corrupt officials or it might be used for the stated purpose but in a bad way, like schools teaching extreme anti-Semitic propaganda. So its not really good.

  • Caravelle

    Lee Ratner : IF the Pakistatani government had a role in helping the terrorists who attacked Mumbai, than it would be just for india to go to war with Pakistan.
    It’s not a matter of just. It’s a matter of stupid.

  • Ian

    First, isn’t “military precision” an oxymoron?
    …”Sophistication” and “precision” are morally neutral terms…
    Donald, I think you’ve run up against a theme on the blog, and I think that theme explains our disagreement with Fred.
    As Edward was saying, the Mumbai attacks were precise. If “military” sounds too honorific, let’s say that they operated with all the precision of the SS. From what I’ve heard, the SS were an unusually well disciplined military unit.
    I agree with Fred that “precise” is not a morally neutral. In itself, it’s a praiseworthy trait wherever we find it, a virtue. I’ll even say that planning raids by small groups of gunmen is a craft, a craft in the elevated sense of the word. It’s morally bad for JTF2 commandos not to keep their watches synchronized, etc. It’s a contemptible vice to be sloppy, whatever it is that you do.
    Harris and Klebold were many kinds of evil, but they were not lazy, not at all. I know, I know, “shoot a bunch of innocent people and get a compliment!” but it’s true. If Harris and Klebold hadn’t been so careful and precise they couldn’t have killed nearly so many people. I’m giving them a compliment, but it’s like praising Stalin for his mustache — it’s not even a feather in the scales against the enormity of what they did.
    Here we hit Milton’s observation: Satan has every virtue there is except one. Satan is brave and inteligent, but those virtues only intensify the evil of which he’s capable. I wish Harris and Klebold had been lazy teenagers. A small sin would have saved them (and their victims) from something much worse.

  • malpollyon

    I don’t for the life of me understand why Israel can’t defend itself against terrorists without a massive civilian deathtoll. We have a great example of terrorist vs. state sectarian conflict ending peacefully in the 20th century, Northern Ireland, and the U.K. never resorted to mass bombing campaigns. So why can’t Israel follow that example instead?

  • Ian

    “Absent contact with an opposing force, no such attack can be compared to any military operation.” True. In the case of the Mumbai murderers, their innocent victims were unarmed, but their opposing force was the Mumbai police.
    But yes, mockery is an ideal response to terrorists, if you can pull it off. See here: “I wanna…be like Osama…” Vaudeville! Jazz hands!

  • sophia8

    I think that Israel is stuck between a rock and a hard place when it comes to Gaza. Gaza is pretty firmly ruled by Hamas, an organization whose members seem incapable of self-reflection and doubt and who seem willing to do whatever they want without regard for the consequences. Hamas will twist the facts anyway possible. If Israel did not retaliate to the rocket fires, the leaders of Hamas would view this as a sign of Jewish weakness rather than dignity and continue with the attacks in the belief that they are destroying Israel. That will at least be their propaganda spin. When Israel attacks, like they are currently doing, Hamas raises the point over the “murder” of civilians. Basically, no matter what Israel does with Gaza, it’s screwed. The fact that Hamas routinely broadcasts anti-Semitic propaganda does not help.
    Although I am against Israel’s current bombing, I have to agree with this – Hamas have been doing as much as possible to provoke Israel and prolong the suffering. For instance, why aren’t any of their rockets ever aimed at the damm Wall and checkpoints that are keeping the Palestinians imprisoned? Heck, even if the rocketers can’t aim all that well, they could at least make the effort to put their bombs somewhere near military targets.
    Having got that off my chest, back to the OP. The military never go into a situation without some sort of exit strategy. But the Mumbai terrorists seemed to have no plan about what to do after they had shot and bombed up the place. Had they been just school-type shooters with no plan except to kill, they would have shot themselves as soon as their task was acomplished – yet most of them held out in a lengthy siege. What were they waiting for?

  • hapax

    Lee Ratner: Why in this day and age is it still assumed that the life of an adult male is worth less than the life of women and children?
    I don’t recall saying anything about females and males. I mentioned children, because I presume that children are not combatants, at least not through truly free choice.
    Basically, most of the burden is put on Israel and the Jews to act while nothing is really expected of the Arabs or Muslims except making a deal. … Either it could be stolen by corrupt officials or it might be used for the stated purpose but in a bad way
    I understand the difficulties and unfairness involved, but I think you missed my point. If trying to HELP people and trying to KILL people both have a high likelihood of not working out the way you expect, why isn’t the default the compassionate option instead of the destructive one?
    If you’re risking a high likelihood of bad consequences *either way*, isn’t it preferable at least have the good intentions?

  • Hawker Hurricane

    “What were they waiting for?”
    Television cameras.
    The purpose of terrorism isn’t merely to kill people, it is to attract attention.
    OR
    Perhaps they were told there was a evac planned… and were betrayed by thier own command.

  • Donald Johnson

    “And they lost that land in the 6-Day War. By all national agreements, that land **should** belong to Israel. But if Israel wins a war, it has to act as if it lost.”
    We’re talking about land inside Israel itself, so many of the Arabs in the Gaza Strip were ethnically cleansed from that area in the 1948 war, or, since that was 60 years ago, they are descended from those people. Whichever side wins, you’re not supposed to force people from the homes or, if they flee fighting on their own, you’re supposed to let them go back to their homes. Winning doesn’t give you a license to commit crimes against civilians. The same, of course, applies to the Arab side.
    I’m not advocating an unlimited right of return though–I think the two state solution is still the way to go. It’s not the fairest way, but it has a better chance of being implemented.

  • Donald Johnson

    Ian–Yeah, I think we’re in agreement regarding “sophistication” and “precision”. I’ll grant they are good traits in themselves. And C.S. Lewis also made your point about virtues–he said that someone like Attila the Hun simply couldn’t have been the successful killer he was if he had lacked the virtue of courage. More generally, he said, a great villain needs at least some of the virtues or they won’t have the ability to do great harm.
    It’s also what’s silly about saying that terrorists are “cowards”. Maybe some are, but some are like Attila.
    And good point about the Tamil Tigers and the Russians. Besides, it’s hard to find a government which was as evil as it is humanly possible to be–maybe the Khmer Rouge came close. Even if one wants to grant that the IDF, the Tamil Tigers, and the Russians might have had good motives for giving warning (I suspect the motives are mixed), it doesn’t necessarily absolve them if they do end up killing civilians. Israel warned Lebanese civilians to flee in 2006, but not all could, and Israel bombed some of them when they were on the road.

  • Cowboy Diva

    “If you’re risking a high likelihood of bad consequences *either way*, isn’t it preferable at least have the good intentions?”
    But wouldn’t that make you look weak, because, to use Lee Ratner’s point, someone was taking advantage of your good intentions and the end result was thwarted?
    Think about the well-intentioned Ethiopian famine relief efforts of the 1980s, where food was apparently left rotting on the docks because the warlords were to corrupt to let it be distributed to their enemies. It is important to realize, too, that the reason Hamas is so popular is because it made the effort to provide a social safety net in spite of Israeli negligence in treatment of the Palestinian refugees.
    How odd to realize that there is power, even in providing (or witholding provision) for the least.
    Yes, there were many places on the road to this point where Israel’s treatment of the Palestinian refugees created in the Six-Day War could have been handled differently; not just by Israel but by those countries warring with Israel as well (i.e., recognizing sovereignty of Israel, offering relocation opportunities…).
    While I can appreciate the need for historical study, again maybe what we need are a whole lot of trashbags to start cleaning the mess up. However, I do not think it will work unless a whole lot more people stop seeing this as a power/territory struggle but rather a way of displaying compassion for one’s enemies.

  • Caravelle

    hf : What is this “help” you speak of? I think we should pursue a policy of disengagement from Israel. If they want to kill each other, let them do it without our money and weapons.
    Well, that might help…

  • hapax

    But wouldn’t that make you look weak, because, to use Lee Ratner’s point, someone was taking advantage of your good intentions and the end result was thwarted?
    Yeah, because “strength” = the ability to kill as many people as possible.
    And “weakness” = building, helping, healing, feeding those who need help, or at least trying to.
    I’m not aiming this at you, C.D., because I know that your point was essentially the opposite of that. But Lord have mercy, I am so TIRED of the automatic equation of “strength” with “dick waving” in foreign policy…

  • Weary Cowboy Diva

    I hear you, hapax.

  • alsafi

    I, too, just want it to stopstopstop. But I read something earlier this morning that struck a chord regarding the Israel/Gaza conflict–here, talking about how Israel responds to Hamas’ stated aims, and Hamas responds to Israel’s observable actions. I used to have a lot of sympathy for Israel’s persistence in the face of eliminationist rhetoric, but these days I mostly notice that rhetoric doesn’t suffice to lay many people in their graves, while blockades and seiges and bombs do. And it strikes me both that the best way to get people to tone down hateful rhetoric is to integrate them into a more tolerant society, and punish the individual troublemakers as they pop up, rather than building walled enclaves that allow both sides to make monsters of the other, and also that the real measure of strength seems to me to be a willingness to meet people with an open hand. A strong society can survive a lot; only a weak or fearful one feels that it’s necessary to herd people onto reservations (or into concentration camps) in order to “protect” itself.

  • Joe Smith

    The New Yorker reported that the operation was so precise that Navy Seals would have found it challenging.
    http://www.newyorker.com/talk/comment/2008/12/15/081215taco_talk_packer
    The New York Times said that “the synchronized assaults suggested a high level of training and preparation.” in an article entitled “Armed Teams Sowed Chaos With Precision.”
    http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/29/world/asia/29tock.html
    Both sources say the sophistication of the attacks mean that there was likely training from Pakistani military.
    The immorality of an attack has nothing to do with its military sophistication. Whether it is a war crime has even less to do with it.

  • Joe Smith

    Here we hit Milton’s observation: Satan has every virtue there is except one.
    Which one is he missing?

  • hapax

    Which one is he missing?

    My vote? A sense of humor.

  • Donald Johnson

    Satan is also a little short in the charity department, so maybe there’s two/

  • Slartibartfast

    @ malpollyon
    We have a great example of terrorist vs. state sectarian conflict ending peacefully in the 20th century, Northern Ireland, and the U.K. never resorted to mass bombing campaigns. So why can’t Israel follow that example instead?
    While yes, it seems that at the moment there is peace in Northern Ireland (and long may it stay that way), and it’s true to say that the U.K. never used mass bombings against the IRA (in any of its many and varied incarnations), they did terrorise the population in other ways. Diplock courts, various massacres and the initial response to the Easter 1916 uprising come to mind. So I would be loath to suggest Israel draw inspiration from anything to do with The Troubles, aside from their end, and the proof (perhaps) that it brings that you can hate each other and yet still live together peacefully.
    One of the things that strikes me though, is that many (and I’m sure not all, but a non-trivial number) of the Palestinian human shields appear to be volunteers. Surely if the civilians of the opposing side are willing to die so you can’t attack people they should regard as terrorists, it’s time to change the game.

  • Donald Johnson

    I think you’re allowed to attack civilians who participate in hostilities–that is, if a bunch of people insist on congregating around rocket launchers, one kind of assumes they are participating, unless someone is holding a gun on them. I don’t think there’s too much voluntary human shielding in Gaza, or in Lebanon in 2006 or Qana in 1996 or Beirut in 1982, etc… For instance, in this school bombing the story is that a couple of fighters fired a mortar from a street nearby the school–irresponsible (or worse) on their part, but it wasn’t the fault of the students.
    Israeli soldiers, btw, have used Palestinians as human shields. Not in the current conflict, AFAIK.

  • Donald Johnson

    I may have spoken too soon about Israel not using human shields in this conflict. Not that this blog entry proves anything–we won’t know until after the conflict is over and people can go in and investigate.
    Link

  • Slartibartfast

    I think you’re allowed to attack civilians who participate in hostilities–that is, if a bunch of people insist on congregating around rocket launchers…
    I didn’t think that was what we were talking about – wasn’t it that Israel wanted to attack the house where Mr X (alledged Hamas leader of some sort) lived, and his neighbours/friends/relatives came and danced around on the roof until Israel called off the bombing raid? Surely there’s difference between that and shielding people firing rockets.
    But whatever’s happening, I think that any sign of willingness by a civilian population to actively engage with the enemy shows a level of desperation and fear that means you’re probably not going to win the war without killing all of them. Which I’m assuming most people would agree is a bad thing.

  • Donald Johnson

    I think I might have read that, slarti–I’m not sure. I also don’t know what the law is on that. Merely trying to kill someone to me (and whether the someone directly responsible for terrorist acts or is just a high-ranking Hamas guy is another complication) isn’t a good enough reason to kill the civilians but I don’t know what international law would say. Now if they were trying to protect rocket launchers, which is a hypothetical example I guess, well, then they are participating directly in the fighting.

  • The reports of the successful use of human shields (as pointed out earlier) are questionable.
    Now, to the laws of war, as it relates to civilians.
    Anyone who takes up arms becomes a combatant. As such they are entitled to the privileges, protections and rights of a combantant. The requirements are (in the main) that the people
    1:Carry arms openly
    2:Have a uniform, badge, or other insignia, identifiable at a distance
    3:Have offcers, or others who are responsible for group action
    4:Obey the laws of war.
    The notable exception (which applies most to 2 and 3) is the spontaneous uprising against a hostile force (levee en masse). In that case so long as they adhere to 1 and 4 they are entitled all the treatments owed to a soldier in uniform.
    The time from to move from a levee en masse to an organised force is somewhat fungible, mostly relating to conditions on the ground.
    If they don’t adhere to the requirements they do not lose all protections. They are still civilians in a war zone. They may be criminals, but the rules state they are subject to the laws of the country in which the conflict is taking place.
    If they are purely attacking the invaders, the presumption is they are combatants.
    If they are unarmed they are non-combatants. They run the risks attendant to the place they choose to be, but the military response of the belligerent powers must be proportional to the risks posed by the place in which the civilians are located.

  • Reynard

    Posted by Joe Smith: “Here we hit Milton’s observation: Satan has every virtue there is except one.”
    Which one is he missing?

    Posted by hapax: My vote? A sense of humor.
    Posted by Donald Johnson: Satan is also a little short in the charity department, so maybe there’s two/
    Wouldn’t it be Humility? According to The Book of Enoch (Yeah, like *that’s* a reliable source; but, I digress…) he refused to bow down to the newly created Adam and Eve and was, along with a bunch of his like-minded followers, condemned to fall from Heaven and apparently set about to the task of tempting mankind in order to lure their souls to Hell. (Or some such nonsense. I’ve never read Enoch and I’m remembering this from decidedly secondhand sources…)

  • the Mumbai terrorists seemed to have no plan about what to do after they had shot and bombed up the place. Had they been just school-type shooters with no plan except to kill, they would have shot themselves as soon as their task was acomplished – yet most of them held out in a lengthy siege. What were they waiting for?
    It seemed to me that they were trying to draw out the Indian security forces, and to get a clear idea of what they would do in certain situations. If so, then one major purpose of the attack may have been to gain information to be put to use in a future attack.
    I oppose a military response to crimes. For the Indian government to use this incident to whip up war with Pakistan would be wrong and stupid. But I can’t disagree that there was some sophistication and military approach to the Mumbai attack.

  • I am so TIRED of the automatic equation of “strength” with “dick waving” in foreign policy
    THANK YOU for telling it like it is. You speak for the world, or at least the sane bits of it.

  • My vote’s for “sense of humor”.
    Raymond Smullyan once wrote a philosophy piece where, after untold millennia, Satan took a moment to really think about what he was doing, started giggling uncontrollably, shut down Hell and let everyone go, and headed for Heaven; where God met him at the gate and let him in, saying “Took you long enough.”

  • Raj

    “There is enough evidence to show that, given the sophistication and military precision of the attack, it must have had the support of some official agencies in Pakistan.”
    Tonio: That sounds to me like a child who automatically blames a sibling when a toy is missing.
    And your comment, Tonio, sounds to me like a bit of condescending Western chauvinism. Maybe I’m being a little oversensitive, but to me, your comment comes across as, “Ha, ha, those funny folk are always squabbling with each other over something or other!” If you were to study the history of the Indian subcontinent, particularly the period from the introduction of Islam through, let’s say, the early 1970s, you would find the Indian PM’s statement quite understandable, even if you thought he was wrong.

  • Raj

    “There is enough evidence to show that, given the sophistication and military precision of the attack, it must have had the support of some official agencies in Pakistan.”
    Tonio: That sounds to me like a child who automatically blames a sibling when a toy is missing.
    And your comment, Tonio, sounds to me like a bit of condescending Western chauvinism. Maybe I’m being a little oversensitive, but to me, your comment comes across as, “Ha, ha, those funny folk are always squabbling with each other over something or other!” If you were to study the history of the Indian subcontinent, particularly the period from the introduction of Islam through, let’s say, the early 1970s, you would find the Indian PM’s statement quite understandable, even if you thought he was wrong.

  • Raj coming very late to the discussion

    By “military precision” the prime minister seems to be referring to the killers’ ruthless efficiency, implying that it indicates a level of training and discipline.
    Bingo! The term “Military Precision” does not imply the practice of military ethics.
    As for not rewarding the terrorists by complimenting them on their precision – I never thought of it that way before, but it makes sense.

  • The time from to move from a levee en masse to an organised force is somewhat fungible, mostly relating to conditions on the ground.

    It’s easily replaced or exchanged with another (time? move? What is the noun there?) of a similar nature?
    I’m not convinced you know what that word means…

  • cjmr

    wintermute! Welcome back!

  • @ pecunium: As a rhetorical device such a flourish isn’t out of place her[e].
    In so far as something that is unnecessarily offensive is by definition out of place, that rhetorical flourish is out of place anywhere that isn’t a church. The equating of “Christian” with “right” or “good” or “compassionate” or whatever other secular virtue is highly offensive to the rest of us.

  • cjmr:
    Thanks. I’m doing my best to keep up with the main articles, but today is the first chance I’ve had in weeks (months?) to even think about looking at comment threads. I doubt it’ll continue, somehow.
    Still, at least I’m keeping busy…

  • wintermute: Fungible, yes, I was in a hurry and misspoke, I mean to type flexible. There are issues of exchange, but it’s changing one state, not one thing.
    Jake: I’m sorry your feelings are hurt, but as a set of ideals, the Christian set aren’t bad. In a blog written by an evangelical Christian, where issues of religion, and the real life application of those ethics, I’m not going to forgo the use of that device. Sorry. The mistake was forgetting aunursa as a specific person to use it as a targetted barb; which is what it was meant to be. I don’t pretend to be all sweetness and light (given my job, there’s no way I could make such claim with a straight face).

  • Well, as long as you’re okay with the fact that you’re being offensive…

  • Lee Ratner

    I’ve been thinking about Alsafi’s extremist commentary kills no one and I think it is wrong. Asking Jews in general and Israeli Jews in particular to tolerate the extreme anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism that paces as political commentary in Arab/Muslim lands is like asking African-Americans to tolerate the racism of White Americans, it is a non-starter. It puts the blame on the victims of hate and allows the racist bastards to go free and indulge in their evil little fantasies. It is completely unacceptable for Jews to tolerate Egypt turning the Protocols of the Elders of Zion into a TV miniseries or for Hamas to air anti-Semitic kid’s programs or for the former-PM of Malaysia to declare that Jews rule the world at a summit meeting of Muslim leaders or for the imams of Islam to routinely denounce Jews and Israel in their friday sermons. If Israel aired a television mini-series that depicted all Arabs and/or Muslims as raving, blood thirsty monsters nobody would tell the Muslims to tolerate it, so why should Muslims get to hate and hate and hate. Why should the burden by Jews, especially Israeli Jews, to defuse the hate of the Muslims and decrease their extremism. It is the burden of the Muslims to decrease their extremism and they should not be awarded in anyway for their evil.

  • hapax

    Asking Jews in general and Israeli Jews in particular to tolerate the extreme anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism that paces as political commentary in Arab/Muslim lands is like asking African-Americans to tolerate the racism of White Americans
    I don’t think anyone is arguing that they should *tolerate* it. I don’t think ANYONE should tolerate it, whether they are Jewish or not. I certainly don’t.
    The question is what is the appropriate manner of expressing that lack of toleration. Should we respond to an offensive miniseries on Egyptian television by letters to the editor? Strongly worded official complaints? General public boycotts? Severing diplomatic ties? Economic blockade? Overwhelming military force? Mass slaughter?
    At what point does lack of toleration lose all sense of proportion?

  • Okay, I realize my previous comment was unnecessarily snarky. The way I feel about it is this: When someone tells you that a common turn of phrase that you use is offensive, you have two options. You can either decide that you don’t want to offend people, and go about trying to break the habit of using the phrase, or you can decide that the comfortable habit of using that phrase is more important to you than whether or not you offend people. I guess I’m just really disappointed that you chose the latter. To me, using “Christian” as synonymous with “good” outside of a church or other exclusively Christian space is equivalent to using the phrase “that’s so gay” to mean “that sucks,” which is to say, no one’s going to die because you did it, but it’s dismissive of an already-pissed-upon population and it contributes to existing societal bigotry.

  • Ian

    Satan: Which virtue is he missing?
    I was thinking “a good will,” but it’s much more fun if left ambiguous.

  • Dana

    Donald Johnson: Zionist apologists go so far as to attempt to erase Arab heritage and history. Have you heard the one about how Arabic supposedly evolved from Hebrew? Then there’s the old saw that nobody was living in Palestine before the Zionists took it back–for the second time, and again accompanied by extreme violence and the theft of homes and property and the deaths of women and children.
    Judaism is a beautiful religion and at its best it champions justice and fairness. Zionism is ugly and does none of these things. Maybe God is supposed to restore Israel to the Jews one day, but the UK and UN are not God.