War and Peace and the Middle East

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[T]he Israel Defense Forces once again looks like the neighborhood bully. A soldier was abducted in Gaza? All of Gaza will pay. Eight soldiers are killed and two abducted to Lebanon? All of Lebanon will pay. One and only one language is spoken by Israel, the language of force.

~ Gideon Levy in Haaretz, Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Is the Middle East cursed?

Up until last week, one might have thought not, because there had been relative calm there — relative, of course, to the situation that existed in 1948, 1956, 1967, and 1973, when many thought that confrontations in that unhappy region had the potential of becoming nuclear.

Today, it seems that those who consider that time of relative peace a mere break in the bloodshed are having their way, now that fighting has broken out between Israel and Hamas and Hizbollah, in response to provocations from both groups. The results, in terms of the loss of human life and increase of human suffering, are nothing less than diabolical.

But why now? Israel didn’t have to respond to abductions and killings of Israeli soldiers by Hizbollah one week later (two events which, however uncalled for, also didn’t happen in a vacuum) by dropping bombs in Beirut and Gaza.

Peaceful options were still available — and morally required.

If you disagree with this, then you must also disagree with the consensus (however weak) regarding the conflagration by the leaders of the G8 summit that just ended. You must disagree with the moral sense of the pope. And you must consider the lives of the abducted employees of the Israeli state to be of greater worth than the hundreds of innocent civilians that have been killed by Israel’s bombs since then.

Whenever such fighting breaks out, I am reminded of a conversation I had with a Palestinian student several years ago. A Christian, he told me stories (told to him by his grandfather) about life in Palestine before 1948, when atrocities were rarer and it seemed like Christians, Jews, and Muslims coexisted in relative peace. He was mystified as to why this era had to end.

Having recently read Hans-Hermann Hoppe’s Democracy: The God That Failed, I remember telling him that the creation of a state by any of these groups would naturally foment instability by introducing the legal use of force to the area. I’m sure that a Christian or a Muslim state would also have created the volatility that has characterized the area over the last six decades.

It has nothing to do with religion. Rather, it has to do with the nature of the state itself.

From this perspective, the Middle East is cursed, because the existence of a state overrides whatever mutually beneficial arrangements that might otherwise promote civilization. To argue this has nothing to do with love or hate for Israel. You can, after all, love your country and dislike your government, and in the same way, you can love Israel without equating it with the Israeli state. And it is the existence of the state that causes conflicts such as the one we are witnessing in the Holy Land today — conflicts that have been the rule, rather than the exception, since 1948.

With apologies to those who support the creation of a Palestinian state, what the Middle East needs is less government. This is because as statism recedes from the public square, trade and the interdependencies that it creates flourish, making war difficult. With trade, armaments and inflation are not the only costs that war planners take into consideration. When they must also consider loss in gains from trade, belligerents are more likely to find peaceful means of conflict resolution.

This is why Middle East peace requires, if not the abolition of government, then at least less socialist ones, with decentralized power structures and unhindered avenues for voluntary human interaction. Otherwise, war is as likely as night follows day. War, as noted Ludwig von Mises in Human Action (The Scholars Edition, pp. 680—681), rather than being the result of capitalism (which creates those interdependencies necessary for peace), is actually the result of "anticapitalist policies designed to check the functioning of capitalism. [War is] an outgrowth of the various governments’ interference with business, of trade and migration barriers and discrimination against foreign labor, foreign products, and foreign capital."

To deny this requires loads of hypocrisy. So we see the United States government denounce the violence while ignoring its role as the chief arms supplier to the region. We see it bemoan the deaths of innocent civilians in Lebanon when as many as 100,000 innocent civilians have been killed in Iraq since 2003. We see governments, which claim to exist to protect and serve, engage in terrible actions that ensure a less secure future.

This applies not only to Israel, whose citizens must know that governments cannot kill and dismember the innocent without creating blowback later. It also applies to the U.S., which funds Israel’s military. Many survivors in southern Beirut know that bombs that destroy their families and infrastructure have "Made in the USA" stamped on them. One of the costs of this stamp must be the threat of retaliation at home, as well as the loss of liberty that results when the federal government expands in the name of homeland security.

Such are the consequences of rejecting peace and prosperity for the language of force. Until the state’s influence in the Middle East is removed or significantly reduced, its will continue to curse it in deadly cycles.

July 20, 2006

Chris Westley [send him mail] teaches economics at Jacksonville State University, Alabama.

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