by Victor Davis Hanson
There’s just a chance that, if
A tiny flotilla of “peace ships” sets out to run an Israeli blockade of the
Once the ships neared the coast, the choices were not good. Either the Israelis could allow the ships through, rendering the blockade irrelevant and permitting dozens of unknown persons to enter Gaza, along with unspecified cargos — or the Israelis had to intervene, ensuring that at some point they might have to use force, perhaps against some passengers who were not entirely unarmed.
And once things reached that point, the militarily dominant Israelis had lost the public-relations war — at least as conventional wisdom defines it. The
The aim of such provocations is to create over time a narrative in which the Israelis appear to be bullying aggressors not worthy of global, and perhaps not even of Western, support. As these incidents continue,
As a general rule, nothing much good comes to a Western power when a rogue nation or anti-Western organization seeks confrontation on the seas. In such incidents, Iranians, Palestinians, North Koreans, and generic pirates are judged on an entirely different set of moral rules that tend to offer exemption for the weaker power (i.e., the victims of “disproportionate” force) or the crazier party (i.e., we expect provocation from them, but not retaliation from you).
In an unprovoked attack this past March,
Probably not. After all, there were neither worldwide demonstrations lamenting the killing of the South Korean sailors nor popular demands for retaliation against such naked aggression. But then, South Koreans are listening to iPods while not long ago North Koreans were eating grass. - -
When the Iranians hijacked a British patrol boat in March 2007 and took 15 sailors hostage for two weeks, the
Over 1,000 pirates operate off the Somali coast. In 2009 they attempted 214 attacks on private shipping, well over twice the number tried in 2008. They remind ocean-goers that the world’s great navies cannot ensure safe passage through the
Of course, the classical way of ending piracy — as Pompey demonstrated with the Cilician outlaws — is to combine naval interception with assaults against the criminals’ home ports. But again, given the asymmetry involved in piracy — wealthy Western ship- or boat-owners versus desperate “others” — who wants to risk killing poor
Many other such incidents could be cited — think of the 1968 capture of the Pueblo by North Korea or the 1975 taking of the Mayaguez by the Khmer Rouge. While the details differ, the general playbook remains the same: Some sort of incident is staged at sea, where witnesses and boundaries are often nonexistent, in order to provoke a response that will work to the provoker’s benefit.
In each of these cases, the instigator dares a powerful Western nation to retaliate and thereby stupidly endanger its collective good life over a small matter of 19th-century-style national pride. And if violence follows, the props almost always ensure that the Western nation is transmogrified in the blink of an eye into a bully, pushing around the Other where it has no business being in the first place. No wonder that the Western nation usually instead sends diplomats to work out some sort of restrained apology, which gives the provocateur stature and pours more humiliation upon the provoked — another milestone on a long road of weakening Western stature and influence.
What might change the rules of seaborne humiliation?
Perhaps the only remedy would be a new sort of public opinion that requires leaders to resist concessions. Such a tougher policy at first might mean some greater risk of violence, but standing up to Iranians, or North Koreans, or Somali pirates — or pro-Hamas activists — would, in the long run, reestablish deterrence and convince the aggressors that the last thing they wish to do is take on a Western ship.
In this regard, if
Victor Davis Hanson is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution.
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