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December 6, 2001

Brute Force Doesn't Solve Conflicts


by Harry Browne

The attacks between Palestinians and Israelis this past week have dominated the news. There are two very important points we can learn from these events:

  1. Israelis and Palestinians have been using force to retaliate against attacks for over 50 years -- each seeking to teach the other "a lesson" whenever attacked. But none of the lessons seem ever to have been learned. Forcible retaliation has failed completely to deter further violence.
  2. Whenever there's a "terrorist" attack in the Middle East, our President (whoever he may be at the time) always counsels "restraint." So why don't our Presidents ever practice restraint themselves whenever they claim that American interests have been hurt?

Forcible retaliation never "teaches a lesson" because the people whose behavior you're trying to change aren't the ones who get hurt by the retaliation.

Ronald Reagan bombed Libya to teach Muammar al- Qaddafi that he shouldn't promote terrorism. A year later, a Pan Am plane crashed over Scotland. Our government is convinced the crash was caused by Libyan terrorists who apparently skipped school the day the retaliation lesson was taught.

In fact, I can't think of a single case in which our government retaliated for terrorist acts and actually put a stop to them.

THE MIDDLE EAST SHOULD BE A LESSON TO US

The eternal Israeli-Palestinian conflict should be a lesson that brute force doesn't solve problems.

The United Nations created Israel by force in 1947, arbitrarily dividing an area in two -- one part to be a Jewish state, the other to be an Arab state. By forcibly displacing people, the UN provoked festering resentment and permanent conflict.

But whatever should have been done at the time, what was done is now a fait accompli and isn't likely to be changed. And most of the people displaced by the mandate are no longer alive. You'd think people in the Middle East today would prefer to forget how Israel was created, accept the current situation, and get on with their personal lives.

But there always will be fanatics perpetuating resentments and calling for forcible revenge. And so the Middle East remains a hotbed of conflict -- and probably will remain so for decades to come. (Is this what we want for America as well?)

Obviously, all the money and military weapons the U.S. has poured into the Middle East (to all sides), all the treaties U.S. Presidents have brokered, and all the demands made by American foreign policy have done nothing to bring peace to the region.

HOLY SHRINES

Part of the reason that no solution seems satisfying is that too many people make the Middle East conflict a religious matter. And yet religious considerations should produce peace, not conflict.

  • Would Moses think it worth killing thousands of Jews and Arabs to keep Israel based in Jerusalem?
  • Would Muhammad approve of the fanatical violence displayed by modern Arabs over Jerusalem and Mecca?
  • Would Jesus have wanted the Christian Crusades to slaughter Saracens in order to keep Jerusalem and the Holy Sepulchre in Christian hands?

It's hard to believe these religious leaders would have considered any religious artifact or location worth the murder of a single soul.

FORCE, THE FIRST RESORT

But not so for political leaders. Throughout history, they have always turned to brute force as the first resort for settling problems. Force should be the very, very, very last resort.

I find it ironic that the U.S. Government extracts $2 trillion from the American people. We put up with these taxes and with all sorts of boondoggles, political frauds, and broken promises because we want government to protect us.

And yet government doesn't protect adults on the streets, it doesn't protect children in government schools, and -- despite having $2 trillion to work with -- it didn't protect New Yorkers from the September 11 attacks.
And despite having the money available to hire the best minds in the world, the best intelligence, the best knowledge, and the best wisdom, our government is responding to the September attacks with the same brute force governments have used for thousands of years.

Microsoft doesn't operate in the same way it did ten years ago -- let alone the way companies operated a hundred years ago. Neither does Fedex or AT&T or Sony. But politicians are stuck in the same rut politicians have been in for thousands of years: use brute force to solve every perceived problem.

I think with $2 trillion at your disposal, you could come up with a successful approach.

So isn't it time we started looking for better solutions?

 

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Harry Browne is a best-selling author and two-time Libertarian Party nominee for president.

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