What follows is the transcript of Hugh Hewitt’s January 2009 radio show interview of Glen Greenwald, taken from Hewitt’s blog. It is of some length, so if you want to save time, you can scan for the bold highlights I have made and my commentary broken out along the way. I recommend reading the full interview. To Greenwald’s credit, he appropriately accepts his role in the dialogue. Though both he and Hewitt refer to it as a discussion, these are interviews Hewitt conducts, not exchanges, and Hewitt, like Greenwald, is a lawyer. This is neither Larry King nor a sympathetic partisan questioning Greenwald, but a man skilled at examination. Hewitt is not antagonistic and Greenwald, with one slight exception (“I think that this is sort of the same question that you’ve asked me a couple of times.”) does not become defensively combative. Both are unfailingly polite throughout. I favor Hewitt politically no more than I do Greenwald, probably less, but he does an expert job of patiently testing the coherence of Greenwald’s positions. Greenwald is pressed into delivering up increasing amounts of bullshit.
Thursday, January 08, 2009
HH: Pleased to welcome now to the Hugh Hewitt Show Glenn Greenwald. He’s a columnist for Salon.com, he’s also the author of many, many books. He’s a friend of our late, departed friend, Dean Barnett as well. Glenn, welcome to the program, good to have you on.
GG: Great to be here, Hugh.
HH: Glenn, you’ve been writing a lot about Israel-Gaza. I’m spending most of the show today talking to people like Michael Oren and others about Israel and Gaza. Summarize for the audience your opinion of what’s going on and the American reaction to it.
GG: Well, my focus is basically, since I’m American and not Israeli, on American policy towards Israel, and the fact that we don’t have nearly the interest in the dispute that the Israelis have with the Palestinians over who controls what West Bank hill, and what part of Gaza is controlled by the Israelis. And so the bulk of what I’ve been writing about is questioning why the United States involves itself in every dispute that the Israelis have as though we’re a partisan in that dispute. But beyond that, I think there’s real questions about whether what the Israelis are doing is both just and wise from their perspective.
HH: Let’s come back to that, but pause for a moment on Hamas. Do you think Hamas is a threat to the United States?
GG: No, I don’t think Hamas is remotely a threat to the United States. I think Saddam Hussein was more of a threat to the United States, and I don’t think he was a threat to the United States.
HH: Do you think Hamas is an extension of Iran?
GG: No, I don’t think Hamas is an extension of Iran.
HH: And do you believe Hamas is a terrorist organization?
GG: I mean, every person has their own definition of terrorism. The definition I use would include probably a lot more things than you would include, but I would include things like sending people to blow themselves up in pizza parlors and buses inside Israel to be acts of terrorism, sure.
Greenwald has elsewhere referred to “terrorism” as “the most meaningless and most manipulated word in the political lexicon.” It may well be true that the word is highly manipulated, but that does not render it meaningless. Here, Greenwald offers that he has a definition of the word, but that it would be different from Hewitt’s. That is a basis for argument, not an absent foundation for meaning. Disputes over a subject do not render it meaningless, but only to some supportable or unsupportable extent undecided. Greenwald is contradictory about the character of the word. His objections, his writings show, like those of most who challenge the Western application of the word, are to the embedded moral charge the word is given. Yet Greenwald’s writing is consistently charged with moral condemnation. Where then is the problem with the word “terrorism,” for Greenwald – in the nature of language and meaning? In the semantics of defining a single term? Or is it, rather, in the moral-political perspective that informs the definition?
HH: And does Israel have a right to exist unqualifiedly?
HH: And so given that Hamas is a terrorist organization that denies Israel’s right to exist, how do you think Israel ought to deal with the Qassam rockets, the 7,200 rockets, I believe, that have landed in Israel in the last many years?
GG: Well, I think that in order to answer that question, you have to look at the broader context, which is the fact that while I think Israel has a right to exist, I think the Palestinians have the right to autonomy over a land that virtually everybody outside of a few extremist religious sects in the United States and Israel recognize does not belong to Israel, recognizes it and should be Palestinian land. And so it’s not just a one-sided question, which is what should the Israelis do about rocket fire, the question also is what should the Palestinians do about the fact that they’re essentially occupied for a foreign army for four decades, and have walls built around them, and blockades imposed on them. And I think all these issues need to be resolved in order to have a real resolution. I think dropping bombs in a densely populated civilian area like the Gaza Strip isn’t going to solve any of it. It’s just going to exacerbate it.
Recall here what Harry Frankfurt says about the bullshitter, that
His focus is panoramic rather than particular. He does not limit himself to inserting a certain falsehood at a specific point, and thus he is not constrained by the truths surrounding that point or intersecting it. He is prepared to fake the context as well, so far as need requires. [Emphasis added]
So Greenwald wants to look at “broader context,” as he frames it: “land that virtually everybody… recognize[s] does not belong to Israel” and “the fact that [the Palestinians are] essentially occupied for a foreign army for four decades, and have walls built around them, and blockades imposed on them. Of course, the context can be much broader than this, and include many other details. It can revise the details that Greenwald includes, so that “walls” that are 90% not a wall are not called a wall, so that the cause and history of the blockade are included, so that the non-occupation of Gaza and over 40% of the West Bank is included, and so – even if one supports the creation of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza – the complex legal and non-autonomous history of the West Bank and Gaza is a truth that is not argumentatively erased from the record.
HH: So what do you want, what do you think Israel ought to do?
GG: Well, I think that, for one thing, I think that real negotiations need to ensue, and I think those can only happen with a powerful and devoted mediator, which probably is a role that only the United States can play. So I think the Israelis need to be a lot more willing to make concessions than they’ve been in the past, and I also think that doing things like expanding settlements in the West Bank and blockading the Gazans to the point where they can’t even get nutrition and medical needs for their children are things that clearly harm their own interests, and make the conflict worse. I think stopping settlements, making concessions in the West Bank, and giving the Gazans more of a decent life so they don’t think it’s worthwhile to blow themselves up and shoot rockets at their oppressors is a really good first step.
Were the Camp David and Taba negotiations not real negotiations? Was the Olmert offer of 2008 not real? Which party is it that is willing to enter into direct negotiations now, and which is not? Was not Israel’s abandoning the Gaza settlements and completely withdrawing from Gaza in 2005 movement toward giving Gazans a more decent life? What was the response from Gaza? This is more faking the context, not accurate representation of it.
HH: Do you think that then Israel ought to be negotiating with Hamas?
GG: Yeah, I think Israel needs to negotiate with all parties. I mean, you know, for a long time, people used to say that the Egyptians and the Jordanians were so devoted to the destruction of Israel, and wouldn’t recognize Israel’s right to exist, that there was no way that those countries could ever peacefully coexist with Israel, that negotiating with them was worthless, they only understood bombs and violence and superior military force. And of course, for many, many years now, there’s been peaceful coexistence between the Egyptians, the Jordanians and the Israelis. And sure, there’s always going to be extremists on both sides, and you have sects in Israel that will never, ever accept a two state solution, the kind who killed Yitzhak Rabin and associated with Meir Kahane, you know, extremists on both sides. But you can marginalize extremists so that decent people on both sides who comprise the overall majority are able to forge a peaceful resolution.
The “I mean” becomes more than just a verbal tic. As its recurs more frequently, it becomes like a poker player’s “tell,” in the course of the interview – a regular sign of rhetorical retreat and redirection. Here, note that Egypt was the one nation that – early, over thirty years ago – agreed to exchange recognition and peace for land captured in 1967. Jordan by the time of its peace treaty had already abandoned claims to the West Bank. Where is the analogy to Hamas to be found? This is among the interview’s frequent completely unfounded assertions that show Greenwald simply making it up as he goes along.
HH: I’m talking with Glenn Greenwald. He’s a columnist for Salon.com and a critic of American policy vis-à-vis Israel and of Israel’s incursion into Gaza. Glenn, in terms of the 1988 Hamas Covenant, have you had a chance to read it?
GG: I’ve…you mean their charter that says they’re devoted to the destruction of Israel?
HH: That’s right.
GG: Yes, I’ve read that.
HH: They’ve said that the banner of Allah shall fly over every inch of Palestine. How do you negotiate with that? I think that’s different from Egypt and Jordan.
GG: Well, I’m not sure that it is. I mean, if you look at the position of the Egyptians and the Jordanians prior to the peace treaties, and there’s lots of Arab countries now, actually, Muslim countries, that to this day still say that they don’t recognize the existence of Israel. I mean, some of our allies in the Middle East, like the United Arab Emirates, for example, will put Israel in quotation marks whenever they use the word, and don’t allow Israeli citizens into their country. They don’t recognize the existence, or the right of Israel to exist, and yet they’ve been able to reach essentially a rapprochement where violence is not the norm. As I said, people, groups all the time, especially ones involved in very intense and hateful conflicts will adopt goals or policies or aspirations that are extremist, but the process of negotiation, as you know from being a lawyer, is about getting intractable parties to give up on their unrealistic and extremist positions, and by getting things in return, give up on goals that they can’t achieve and that aren’t realistic. And I think Hamas knows that destroying Israel is not something they’re ever going to be able to accomplish, and they’ve talked openly about being receptive to a long term truce, which is already a concession from that 1988 charter document.
More of Greenwald just making it up. On what evidence does he base this assertion? In fact, there is much evidence – countless public statements, speeches, declarations, interview, charters and covenants – that Islamic fundamentalist organizations like Hamas believe they can accomplish much more in the world beyond destroying only Israel.
HH: do you have any evidence that they would ever be willing to accept the existence of Israel for longer than a period of even a long term truce, because I’ve never seen that. I’m just curious on what you base your optimism for Hamas.
GG: Well, I think that again, I mean, you look at, my optimism is based on the fact that human beings have pretty universal characteristics. And there have been parties who looked to be completely fanatically devoted to one another’s destruction who have been able to achieve peaceful resolutions, even though they long swore that they never would. You know, you look at warring factions in Ireland and the Balkans, and even in the Middle East, and you see parties that have long sworn to destroy one another now living side by side in peace as a result of the diplomatic process. So are there elements in Hamas who are so religiously radicalized that they will never, ever accept a solution that recognizes Israel’s right to exist? I’m sure that’s true, and I’m sure there are lots of Israelis, right wing religious figures who will never accept the Palestinians’ right to have a state in the West Bank or Gaza. There’s American Evangelicals who never will. But I think that what you do is you focus on the more reasonable parties, and you marginalize and render impotent those extremists who continue to object. And that’s how you get security and peace for Israel and for its neighbors.
HH: Now of course in Israel, the government is not run by those extremist elements, to whatever extent they exist, and I just don’t know. I know that Kahane was an extremist, et cetera, but I just don’t know that there were many of them, nor have they ever been in power in Israel. But it seems to me, Glenn, that Hamas is in fact run by the fanatics, and that that’s the difference between Israel, a legitimate government, and Hamas, a terrorist organization, a gang, in essence, that seized power in Gaza, and that while the former might be able to negotiate with Egypt and Jordan along the lines you’ve laid out, that there really is no evidence for believing that Hamas will ever be other than what it has always been, a terrorist gang with which no negotiation is possible. Tell me where I’m wrong.
Here we have Greenwald basing his prescriptions for Israeli policy, for approaches to a decades-old, if not longer, and intractable international conflict steeped in centuries-old religious animus, on the trite belief that people are all alike, so that while you and I, and no doubt Greenwald, are all very much of a kind and cannot imagine hurting the people next door in any but the most dire necessity, perhaps, of protecting our own lives from them, there is no way, then, to integrate into our thinking about human nature and behavior the systematic, industrial-scale extermination of other human beings, or the decades-long, barbaric incarceration of them in Gulags, or the genocidal hacking to death of them, men, women, and children, or the willingness of some people to blow themselves up in order to kill complete strangers in the name of God – or the belief by some people that they can actually accomplish these things and survive survive historically.
Is this not, if anything in the world is, bullshit?
And the most intolerant, religiously fanatical Israeli settler, who hates Palestinians, who, as Hewitt says, does not run the Israeli government, as the advocates of genocidal extermination, with a covenant to commit it, run Gaza, he and she have not committed to genocide, do not teach children to dream of martyrdom and vowed to rid the world of Arabs and Muslims. Yet even as Greenwald retreats from his “optimism” about Hamas – “So are there elements in Hamas who are so religiously radicalized that they will never, ever accept a solution that recognizes Israel’s right to exist? I’m sure that’s true” – he seeks to cover his retreat in a false equivalence for which there is no historical or daily evidence. But, says Frankfurt of the bullshitter,
he is neither on the side of the true nor on the side of the false. His eye is not on the facts at all, as the eyes of the honest man and of the liar are, except insofar as they may be pertinent to his interest in getting away with what he says. He does not care whether the things he says describe reality correctly. He just picks them out, or makes them up, to suit his purpose.
Now, then, to “radicalization”:
GG: Well, I think one thing that’s important to emphasize is that what happens when there’s external threats to any country, I mean, if you’re a Palestinian and you look on, look out your window and you see children being blown up, and you see buildings being destroyed and your society being decimated, whether intended or not, and I don’t think Israel’s purposefully killing civilians, but that’s the affect, what that does is it radicalizes you, I mean, the way that lots of Americans got radicalized after 9/11, the way that when we make threats to Iran, we embolden the extremists in that country. And so I think one of the things that Israel’s doing is driving Palestinians into the arms, or Gazans into the arms of Hamas. And one of the ways that you diffuse radicalism is by giving the citizens a reason to believe that they don’t need to be wallowing in their hatred towards external threats, that it’s in their interest instead to negotiate and embrace the moderate elements inside their society, Hugh, who want to negotiate and not wage war. The problem is if you constantly threaten people, and not just threaten but kill them, you anger them. You make them angry, and they turn to those who play on their anger and fear, and that’s Hamas.
Should we believe from Greenwald here that the Palestinian looking out from windows and seeing “children being blown up,” to the extent that any such literal experience has actually ever been had, is an experience not occasioned by a three-week conflict, but, what? – daily for the twenty plus years since the Hamas charter was written, for the forty plus year refusal to offer Israel recognition in return for land that could form a Palestinian state? What distorted emotional response does Greenwald seek to summon in the unwary who might now imagine that this is the continuous reality: the daily blowing up of children outside Palestinian windows.
Also, recall from part one how I quoted Greenwald on Faisal Shazhad, and how he and other Muslim terrorists are “radicalized as a result of U.S. actions in the Muslim world.” Observe how here Greenwald analogizes American radicalization as a consequence of 9/11. But does he really equate them? Or does Greenwald regularly criticize the U.S. for its radicalized behavior, but likewise criticize the U.S. again for Muslim radicalized behavior, so it isn’t really that the concept of “terrorism” – use whatever actual word one likes – is relative and objectively meaningless, but that for Greenwald it is the U.S. and Israel that are the terrorists?
HH: Well, that brings me back, then, to the actual concrete steps that you think Israel ought to be doing, because should they negotiate despite the fact that 7,200 missiles have fallen on their land over five years?
GG: Well, I mean I think you know, those are a lot of missiles, the damage that has been done relative to the damage inflicted on the Palestinians over the course of that time period, of course, is something like 1/100th of the number of Palestinians who have been killed during that same time. So the rockets are definitely a problem. The government can’t allow rockets to be shot into their civilian populations. There’s no question about that. The question is what is the more effective course for ending terrorism? Is it to find a diplomatic solution, to offer concessions, even if they’re unilateral concessions, that diffuse the anger in the population? You know, we’re going to dismantle these settlements in the West Bank, we’re going to give you the right to control your own airspace, we’re going to let you have an airport, we’re going to stop blockading medicine that your children need. If you start doing that, isn’t that more likely to diffuse the extremism that feeds terrorism?
HH: Do you think it would?
GG: …that if you start, if you keep dropping bombs on a densely populated civilian area that the whole Arab world looks at in horror every day.
HH: Do you think that Israel could actually coax Hamas into not being terrorists?
GG: I think that this is sort of the same question that you’ve asked me a couple of times. I think that there are always going to be fanatics on both sides, the Israeli side and the Palestinian side, including Hamas, who are basically irrevocable hate-mongers and extremists, and they will never change. But I think that there are portions of Hamas, and they’ve been working on doing things like providing social services to Palestinians and being a political and a civilian arm of Palestinians, much the way that the IRA sort of split into a military and political arm. That demonstrates that there are elements of Hamas, and people who support Hamas not because they want to destroy Israel, but because they believe Hamas is most likely to do things like provide social services for their families and their children. And sure, I think there can be elements of Hamas annexed onto the side of good, just like we did in Iraq. I’m sure in 2004, you were saying that the Sunnis in Fallujah and Anbar and elsewhere were evil people who we needed to kill, and we won them over not by killing them, but by reaching ways to work with them. And now they’ve become our allies. I think that model can work with Hamas, too.
HH: I never said that. I’ve always been in favor of killing al Qaeda terrorists, but not Arabs who are allies or potential allies.
GG: Well, lots of people on your side did. I wasn’t sure if…certainly that was a prevailing mentality in 2004, that the only way to talk to Sunni extremists is to kill them. And now they’re our best friends.
HH: Again, I don’t want to get off course, though, because I’m really, genuinely trying to figure out if you were the king of the world, and you could tell people to do everything, if you could direct Israeli policy right now, Glenn, what would you have them actually do right now? Would you have them pull out of Gaza, and if the rockets kept falling, would you give them an airport, and if the rockets continue to fall, would you give them medicine and food, and if the rockets continued to fall, would you dismantle the West Bank settlements, and if the rockets continued to fall, what would you do then?
GG: Well, I mean those are huge, huge numbers of ifs. I mean, those are, there are lots and lots of steps that the Israelis can take in order to diffuse that anger. And I mean at the end of the day, it may be the case that there’s nothing that can prevent every last rocket from falling. The question is how do you gain security, maximize security for the Israeli people? That’s the question you have to ask if you’re the Israeli government. And in my view, making those kinds of concessions, showing a true devotion to finding a resolution that works for Palestinians and for the Israelis, is infinitely more likely to secure the peace and security of the Israeli people than continuing to drop bombs on Palestinians. I think exactly the way, probably the best thing that was done for Israeli security was the peace agreement entered into with Egypt. So I would definitely go in the direction of trying to resolve my conflicts with the Palestinians, marginalize the extremists, rather than creating more extremists, which they’re doing every day by slaughtering innocent Palestinian civilians.
Presidents, prime ministers, defense secretaries and ministers of defense all, take note that the Greenwald prescription for how to cope with “a lot of missiles” that “the government can’t allow … to be shot into their civilian populations. There’s no question about that” is to negotiate. And if, by some chance, because, you know, some conflicts are kind of, you know, difficult – they can go on, I hear tell, for decades – well, in that case, one should just, you know, I mean, “I would definitely go in the direction of trying to resolve my conflicts with the Palestinians.” What a genius stroke. No wonder Greenwald is on Ron Paul’s sort list for secretary of state. And meanwhile, as we are going “in the direction of trying to resolve,” the missiles keep falling.
HH: Glenn, to what extent do you trust Hamas to keep a bargain that they enter into, based upon everything we know about them? Let me put it this way. Would you ever practice journalism from within Gaza Strip?
GG: Sure, there are lots of people, Western journalists, who practice journalism within the Gaza Strip, and who do so safely. I mean, I wouldn’t right now, because I’d be afraid of Israeli bombs falling on my head, or artillery shells blowing up the building I was in.
HH: You think you could file for Salon from Gaza and go about your work for say six, eight, ten weeks? I don’t. I think they’d kill you.
GG: It depends. I mean, it’s probably, you’re probably right that especially now, Western journalists, Jewish journalists, would not be welcome in Gaza for reasons that aren’t that difficult to understand. But there have been plenty of Western journalists and Jewish journalists. I mean, Jeffrey Goldberg of the Atlantic’s spent lots and lots of time in Gaza safely.
HH: Written a good book about it, too.
GG: Yeah, exactly. So I think my view of the Palestinians and the Gazans is not all that dissimilar to my view of most societies that are involved in really ugly, long term, entrenched warfare, which is most of the people in this society overwhelmingly are decent people who want peace and to raise their children in a safe and prosperous environment, and there are extremists within this society who are dangerous and violent, and who are bad and need to be marginalized.
HH: But I understand that, and I draw the same distinction, because I’ve taught Palestinians for years, a law professor, or Palestinian-Americans, and I know there are lots of great Palestinians out there who desperately want peace and many of them are in Gaza, and I’ve seen them speak up. But I know Hamas runs Gaza, and I don’t think Hamas can be reformed because of the nature of their fanaticism and their record of brutality and cruelty, which far exceeds anything that Egypt, Jordan or any Israel action has ever done because they target innocents with innocents. I mean, they’re depraved.
GG: You think Hamas is going to be more powerful or less powerful after the Israelis are done dropping enormous numbers of bombs on a million and a half people? Don’t you think Hamas is going to be strengthened by the anger that’s going to reside within the Gazans as a result of seeing what they’ve been seeing?
HH: No, I don’t, but what do you think? Do you think they will be stronger? Can they be eradicated?
GG: I think they’re absolutely…I mean, I think they’re going to end up like Hezbollah. I think they’re going to end up strengthened, with enormous amounts of credibility around the Arab world for having stood up to the Israelis and not been obliterated. I think that the idea that Gazans, for any foreseeable future, are going to support more moderate factions inside of Gaza after enduring what they’ve endured. I mean, if any politician stands up and says I want to have rapprochement with the Israelis, I think they’re going to be run out of town, and exactly the way that in the wake of 9/11 if a politician stood up and tried to convince Americans that peaceful resolution was the optimal course, they would have, too. I think you radicalize populations when you drop bombs on civilians.
HH: So there’s nothing…
GG: That’s what Hamas feeds on.
HH: Well, given your understanding of the world, then there’s nothing Israel can do, if the rockets keep falling, except endure rocket fire.
GG: No, I think you can get to the point where Hamas no longer has the support that they have, because the hatred towards Israel that Hamas feeds on, that is their nutrition and strength, that hatred can be diffused in virtually all of the Arab world, including in Gaza, if Israel is no longer seen as a violent oppressor and an aggressor, which is how they’re seen now, rightly or wrongly. That’s the perception that needs to be undermined.
HH: Have you read The Looming Tower?
GG: No, I haven’t.
HH: It discusses sort of the Sunni Islamist ideology, and it’s not something that’s based upon brutalization. It’s a deeply held fanatical religious outlook that as we’ve seen, just isn’t susceptible to negotiation anywhere. Why do you think Hamas…
GG: How about in Iraq? How about in Iraq?
HH: That was not…al Qaeda never changed in Iraq. Al Qaeda was killed.
GG: I thought you said Sunni extremists. No, you said Sunni extremists.
HH: As described in The Looming Tower, which is al Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood.
HH: They never change. They don’t change. They are who they are. They don’t negotiate. They’re religious fanatics. And yes, there are religious fanatics on every side, but these are the ones that are running Hamas. And I just question whether or not you’ve really thought through if there’s any alternative for Israel, because if you, if Israel believes there is no alternative, that Hamas cannot change, do they have the right to do what they’re doing?
GG: Well, I think that that’s a big if as well. I mean, there’s questions about why Israel is doing what they’re doing now with the looming election, and a government that is benefitting politically, and whether or not Hamas can change or not. I think that it’s empirically true that there are ways to diffuse radical groups. And I think that what Israel is doing is counterproductive. So the fact that there is a group that hates you doesn’t give you the right to go and incinerate the population around it simply because you think that you can’t convince them to stop hating you. I mean, in order for them, for that to be justified, Hamas needs to pose a genuine threat, existential threat or serious threat to warrant this kind of reaction towards Israel, and I don’t think that’s the case. Sorry?
HH: Is Incinerate a fair term given the proportionate and attempt to be careful in the use of force that Israel’s been displaying?
GG: Well, there are, you know, I mean certainly hundreds and hundreds of innocent civilians who have been killed and or wounded, including children.
HH: That’s true, and regrettable and terrible.
GG: And they’ve been burned and exploded, and so yeah, I think…
HH: But I mean, if Israel unleashed its full military might, they could incinerate Gaza. They don’t.
GG: Oh, sure. I mean, Israel could obliterate Gaza overnight. We could have obliterated the entire population of Iraq and, or of Afghanistan. But the fact that Israel is not unleashing its full force and basically committing deliberate genocide of a million and a half people doesn’t mean that as long as they fall short of that crime, that what they’re doing it justifiable.
So did Israel “incinerate” the population of Gaza or not?
HH: No, but there’s a lot of space…but they’re being very, very careful. Very, very careful, and they send in Arabic warnings. They call buildings. They tell people to get out. Aren’t they waging about as civilized a necessarily difficult war as possible? I mean, it is a war.
GG: Yeah, getting into the motives of a certain side, and whether or not the death of civilians is the byproduct of intention or recklessness, or just inevitability I think is extremely difficult. At the end of the day, the Israelis well know that if they take the kind of military action that they’re taking, and I mean that…Gaza is very, very densely populated. It’s impossible to attack it with that kind of air power, and now with the ground invasion, without knowingly incurring hundreds and hundreds, and there will probably be more than that, of civilian casualties. And so you have to factor those costs into whether the war is justifiable, regardless of whether it’s intended or if it’s reckless, or if it’s just an accepted byproduct. The people are just as dead.
HH: Do you think it’s a disproportionate use of force by Israel?
GG: You know, I think it’s a hard case, it’s a difficult question whether it’s disproportionate in the sense that that term is intended in international law, whether it would be a war crime because it’s disproportionate. My belief is probably not, certainly not now. But there’s a moral question about proportionality. You know, somebody comes in and steps on your foot, that’s bad, it’s wrong. You have the right to retaliate by pushing them, maybe hitting them. But you don’t have the right to put a bullet in their head. If a small country lobs a rocket at one of your ships and sort of damages it, you have the right. That’s wrong. But you don’t have the right to destroy their population with a nuclear bomb. I think that kind or moral proportionality is very much in question. I wouldn’t say it’s risen to the level of a war crime as international law defines that. I wouldn’t make that argument.
To be clear, Israel incinerated the population of Gaza, though it didn’t “obliterate” it, and its military action was not disproportionate, yet Israel was wrong because, well, isn’t Israel…wrong?
HH: Did America fight World War II proportionately?
HH: It didn’t?
GG: Not in the sense that I just described. Now again, I don’t think that America fought it disproportionately, violated the laws of war that govern proportionality, but there were certainly morally questionable acts that were undertaken…
HH: Such as?
GG: …at the end of the day, well, such as the use of two nuclear weapons to incinerate and vaporize hundreds of thousands of Japanese at once, and have radiation lingering for generations in their country. Whether that was morally justified or not I think can be debated. I think it’s a close call. But that was a world war that was truly threatening to every country involved in it. There were massive armies that had been amassed, nothing comparable to the weak and impotent Hamas. And so I don’t really think it’s comparable. I think when there’s a threat that’s truly existential and serious, the reaction is permitted to be much, much greater.
HH: Is it fair for Israel to say Hamas, Hezbollah, Iran are all in league against us, and to a certain extent, Syria, that Hezbollah sent in hundreds of missile against the laws of war directed without guidance into civilian populations, that they may do so again, Hamas does so, they wish to have greater weapons, Iran is arming them to the teeth through the tunnels, and that we have to act as though it’s all one group against us. Is that fair for Israel to conclude?
GG: I think it’s much smarter…I think when you start to insist that there are these confederations against you of all these multi parties, and there’s massive sectarian differences between those parties, and all kinds of conflicting interests, that I think a smart country like Israel should and could exploit in order to drive wedges between them rather than say we are going to consider you unified and therefore ensure that they are in fact unified. I mean, obviously there lots of hostile countries surrounding Israel. And Israel is extremely well equipped to defend itself and to deal with those countries, and those countries know that. And so sure, there’s cooperation between Iran and Hezbollah and Hamas. I mean, the enemy of my enemy is my friend. That’s the mentality everywhere, including in the Middle East. But the idea that they’re in some sort of massive alliance that’s threatening Israel I think is a fantasy. And the more you treat them that way, I think the more you push them to that becoming a reality. I don’t think that’s a smart thing to do.
HH: What do you think about Ahmadinejad’s statements about Israel being gone in a flash, and it’s a dead, rotten carcass?
GG: Well, there’s lots of disputes about, as I’m sure you’re aware, about what that translation is and whether it’s been mistranslated, and whether it’s exploited for fear-mongering purposes and the like. Obviously, Ahmadinejad does not recognize the existence of Israel. His religion gears him towards not doing so just as lots of Christians and Jews don’t recognize the right of the Palestinians to exist in that land. But Ahmadinejad is very limited in his power. I mean, he’s constantly opposed by all sorts of domestic factions. I mean, he’s not the supreme ruler, the Hitler, or the dictator of Iran. He doesn’t control their foreign policy or the military, and Iran has no history of invading other countries or bombing other countries.
HH: The Ayatollah Khamenei, who is the supreme ruler, has said similar things. Should we discount what he has said?
GG: Yeah, I think smart and powerful superpowers don’t treat the world like an adolescent does on the playground, where trash talking by weaker factions gets you riled up to the point where you take it seriously. I don’t think Iran has done anything that indicates that they could be or are willing to do anything suicidal, which is what attacking Israel or attacking the United States would be. They strike me as a very rational country, and the fact that their leaders say things to rile up their population, you know, I think is fairly common across all the political spectrum. I mean, John McCain’s sung songs about bombing Iran. How do you think that looks to Iranians? So…and it doesn’t mean we’re going to bomb Iran tomorrow. So I think that there’s a big difference between rhetoric, political rhetoric, and actions. And I don’t see anything from the Iranians that suggest they’re a real threat.
HH: Are you familiar with the writings of Ayatollah Yazdi?
GG: Not specifically, no. I’m certainly familiar with arguments about what Shiite extremism is, and what various sects in Iran call for, and the various doctrines and the like.
HH: And so should Israel discount 12th Imamism?
GG: No, I don’t think you discount it, but I think that again, the fact that a certain sect says that they are devoted to a certain goal, doesn’t mean that they are. It doesn’t mean that they can achieve it, and doesn’t mean that the only response or the smart response in reaction to it is to take the most militarized and aggressive posture possible. Often times that exacerbates the situation, and ask any expert in Iran what has been the best ally of Ahmadinejad. He has all kinds of problems economically, domestically. The way he gets strengthened is when Iran or the United States is perceived by the Iranians as being threatening to Iranian sovereignty. That’s what helps Ahmadinejad the most.
In this section what we have read is the committed dismissal and deflection of every Israeli concern – concerns based on direct threats and long history – out of no evidence-based analysis whatsoever, but only the commitment of Greenwald to dismiss and deflect.
What follows now is the ultimate demonstration of my theme. Greenwald, of course, understands Hewitt’s target analogy and his purpose. Whatever answer Greenwald might give would be applicable in principle, if not agreed similarity of circumstance, both to Israeli self-defense and U.S. responsiveness to terror threats. The extent of Greenwald’s squirmy avoidance of a clear, direct answer is remarkable.
HH: Last question, Glenn Greenwald, I appreciate the time as well, good conversation. In the 30s, as Hitler with Mein Kampf in one hand, and the brown shirts on the streets rose to power, had they adapted your approach, they would not have been stopped, correct? I mean, that’s what happened. They were appeased. How is what…
HH: My question is how is what you’re recommending Israel do now different from the appeasement of the 30s?
GG: Hitler was a, in many ways, a singular threat in the 20th Century. There were certainly others that were threatening as well, but Hitler was in absolute control over probably the most powerful industrial country on Earth. He had enormous resources to build up a huge army that was more powerful than any other country’s in the world. It was very difficult to challenge him. The threat that he posed was very genuine and quite existential. To compare that to Hamas or Hezbollah, these ragtag groups, or even Iran which has all sorts of economic difficulties and whose enemies are armed to the teeth with nuclear weapons, I think is a wild mischaracterization of the threat posed today. The fact that you do one thing with Hamas doesn’t mean that you would do the same thing with Hitler.
HH: So what ought the civilized world ought to have done vis-à-vis Hitler in ’33-’34? Should they have crushed him like a bug?
GG: I think that obviously had the threat been recognized more clearly that they would have taken the threat more seriously, and probably formed alliances more quickly, and certainly Franklin Roosevelt tried to. And had that happened, had they confronted Hitler and given him warnings, if he didn’t curb this behavior, that behavior, if they had been serious about enforcing the Versailles Treaty and other limitations on Germany, it’s very possible that he might have been stopped. And look, sometimes war is absolutely necessary if everything else that you try to your fullest extent possible fails. I just don’t think that the Israelis or the Americans with regard to these Middle Eastern countries live up to that.
HH: But I’m trying to lock down, I’m just trying to lock down one point, which is in ’33 as the West looked at Hitler, would they have been justified in using military force to crush him?
GG: Well, I think had they done, undertaken all the steps that I just described, that is all the other steps that would have been necessary to try and avert war, in 1933, 1934, I’m not sure that Germany was posing the kind of threat that would have justified war. If he continued to build up his military as he did in violation of treaties that Germany was bound by after World War I, then that might have been a sufficient cause to at least threaten war, to form alliances of Western powers against Germany, and ultimately to start a war. And that’s hard to assess hypothetically, but sure, I think that that threat was obviously more serious than anything we have now.
HH: And so what point, what year would it have been appropriate for the West to strike at Hitler?
GG: I mean, unfortunately, the threat wasn’t taken seriously, and very few steps were actually taken by Western powers acting in unison in order to attack Hitler. And so it’s hard to say. I mean, obviously when he invades Austria and Czechoslovakia and Poland, it becomes pretty clear…
HH: But those are three different…
GG: …that he had expansionist…
HH: But those are three very different events. After Austria, then after the anschluss, it would have been acceptable for the West to move?
GG: I think it would have been acceptable for the West to take the threat a lot more seriously than they did. But again, who knows what would have happened.
HH: But to use force, Glenn…
GG: What’s that?
HH: To use force, to use military force, to bomb the hell out of him would have been appropriate after the anschluss?
GG: Not without efforts to avert that situation. And had those efforts failed, and those efforts truly exhausted, then it may have been, sure. Would it have been justifiable after only Austria and not before Czechoslovakia or Poland? You know, that’s hard to say. But certainly once a country starts indicating that they are a threat to their neighbors and to world security, and have the ability to carry that out, then force becomes something that is a lot more justifiable.
HH: Glenn Greenwald, a fascinating conversation, I appreciate the time. www.salon.com, I look forward to having you back, and thanks as well for your kind words about Dean after his passing. I appreciate that, Glenn.
GG: Absolutely. He was a great guy, I enjoyed the talk, Hugh.
HH: Thank you.
In any respect, but especially given Greenwald’s reputation, this is a performance stunning in its lack of substantive support for the positions Greenwald takes, its crude and transparent faking of the context, its hyperbolic and emotive manipulations, and the sophomoric policy responses to complex problems. It is in its totality, for choice of the best word, bullshit.
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