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National Suicide, My Ass


It’s difficult for me to express just how moronic this column is:

THIS MAY sound like an extreme conclusion but, as Ari Bar Yossef, retired lieutenant-colonel and administrator of the Knesset’s Security Committee, writes in the army journal Ma’arachot, such cases of Islamist national suicide are not uncommon. He cites three such examples of Arab-Muslim regimes irrationally sacrificing their very existence, overriding their instinct of self-preservation, to fight the perceived enemy to the bitter end.

• The first case is that of Saddam Hussein, who in 2003 could have avoided war and conquest by allowing UN inspectors to search for (the apparently non-existent) weapons of mass destruction wherever they wanted. Yet Iraq’s ruler opted for war, knowing full well that he would have to face the might of the US.

• The second case is that of Yasser Arafat in 2000, who after the failure of the Camp David and Taba talks had two options: continue talking to Israel – under the leadership of Ehud Barak, this country’s most moderate and flexible government ever – or resort to violence. He chose the latter, with the result that all progress toward Palestinian independence was blocked. The ensuing loss of life, on both sides, testified to Arafat’s preference for suicide over compromise.

• The third case is that of the Taliban. Post-9/11, their leadership had two options: to enter into negotiations with the US, with a view to extraditing Osama bin Laden, or to risk war and destruction. The choice they made was obvious: Better to die fighting than to give up an inch.

OKKKAAAYYYY…. I have trouble believing that anyone, anywhere, still honestly holds to the first; everything we know now indicates that there was, literally, no way for Saddam Hussein to avoid the US invasion. He surely must have known this, too; the failure to discover weapons of mass destruction would necessarily have been interpreted as a failure on his part to cooperate, and consequently just cause for war.

The second is equally idiotic. Arafat didn’t believe he was committing national suicide; he was perhaps incorrect in his assessment of the situation, but mistaken and suicidal are entirely different concepts. This isn’t hard to understand, and again I’m befuddled that anyone not intentionally obtuse would by into the logic.

The best case can perhaps be made for the third. The Taliban was certainly over-matched, but there are three problems with the “suicide” argument. The first is that turning over Al Qaeda may, itself, have been tantamount to suicide; Al Qaeda made up a considerable portion of the combat strength of the Taliban, and might well have engaged in a campaign of assassination against Taliban officials in case of betrayal. The second is that it was not wholly unreasonable for the Taliban to think it could win the conflict; they may have believed they had reason to doubt the resolve of the United States, and they had a clear memory of another case in which Afghan guerrillas had defeated an invading superpower. Finally, Rubinstein might want to take note of the fact that the war in Afghanistan isn’t actually over; the Taliban continues to exist as an organization, has much of its leadership intact, and has made significant gains in the past three years.

So no, there is no impulse towards “national suicide” in Islam, or anywhere else; Drum concedes far too much to Rubinstein and to Jeffrey Goldberg. The key point, of course, is that what appears to be suicidal in hindsight rarely appears so at the time; in almost every case of purported “suicide” actual examination of the costs and benefits facing actors indicates that the choices made were not, in fact, suicidal. Now, it might be fair to note that certain constellations of cost and benefit, combined with certain cultural tendencies, may work to get close enough to “suicidal” behavior that the distinction doesn’t matter overmuch, but for my part I’m pretty sure that the Iranians (and both Rubinstein and Goldberg are essentially, here, laying the groundwork for an attack on Iran) understand that the nuclear annihilation of their regime by Israel and the United States would, in fact, constitute suicide.

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