No One Puts Bibi in the Corner

“That’s so rich,” Bibi Netanyahu must be thinking to himself, in response to U.S. murmurs for restraint in (what Israel calls) its ongoing war against Hamas.

Quickly branded “Israel’s 9/11,” Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack took the lives of approximately 1,200 revelers, and led to the taking of hundreds of hostages. Israel’s response, we would later come to learn, would be certain, sustained, and seemingly indiscriminate. “How could it not be?” Bibi Netanyahu must have thought. The parallel to 9/11 firmly established, all Israel needed to do was look to how the U.S. reacted when the Twin Towers were attacked, leaving approximately 3,000 individuals dead. Recall that the U.S. went into Afghanistan with the goal of eradicating Al-Qaeda, who claimed responsibility for the 9/11 attack. The Taliban who held power in Afghanistan, it was alleged, provided shelter to Al-Qaeda terrorists, and so The Taliban also had to be removed. Likewise Iraq, the U.S. alleged that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction, that Saddam Hussein was a brutal dictator intent on sowing chaos in the region, and that Iraq had links to Al-Qaeda.

The aftermath of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars left, by some estimates, easily upwards of four million civilians dead. Maybe it was because I was a child, then adolescent, at the time—since those wars went on for so long—but I don’t recall seeing stories about the human impact our involvement in the region had. What I do recall was a media trend that moved toward describing the wars as quagmires, money pits, and aimless nation-building. It wasn’t until I turned to books that I had some idea of how damaging our presence had proven.

The U.S. faced little repercussion because, quite simply, it is a world power with an incomparable military—at least that’s what we’re told, while simultaneously warned about its languishing state, even in the face of record budgets (but that’s just one of the many instances of cognitive dissonance this country appears to be increasingly conditioned for). In addition, the U.S. exerts global influence through the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, numerous democracy-promoting programs, etc. We claim among our friends basically the entire Western World, along with anyone else who receives financial or military aid, such that the most we’ve ever had to endure by way of outside criticism has been from some third-rank government official, quickly let go, waiving their finger or tweeting in disapproval from literal oceans away.

On more pragmatic grounds, the Iraq and Afghanistan wars were increasingly framed in the media as political issues, not human rights ones. The human toll was a note in the factual background of the conflict, but questions regarding Iraq and Afghanistan’s longevity went to electability, differences in responses and approaches between Democrats and Republicans, and veteran care, again in the context of elections. Simply put, the U.S. could, and did, get away with what objectively amounted to a sustained atrocity that spilled out beyond Iraq’s and Afghanistan’s border because the U.S. population was not exposed to the consequences of its actions. If we had been, I don’t think we could quite so quickly utter potential involvement in Yemen.

It’s my guess that Bibi Netanyahu is well aware of this history, and surely knows details I don’t. Media coverage might have been different in that part of the world, simply by proximity to the conflicts. I suspect he hasn’t bitten his tongue when Anthony Blinken paid him his umpteenth visit, or Joe Biden rang his phone for the umpteenth time. Surely Bibi has been stricken with incredulity over Biden’s criticism of Israel’s bombardment of Gaza, let alone the entirety of Palestine.

“You bombed two countries!” Bibi would be right to point out. “For over two decades!”

Al-Qaeda made no secret of its desire to see America destroyed. George Bush, Jr. vowed to destroy terrorism, to eradicate enemies of freedom around the world. These abstract enemies gave the U.S. carte blanche to begin, continue, and extend its conflicts ad infinitum. Bibi Netanyahu has vowed the same thing, in almost identical language. “Hamas,” Bibi has in essence declared, “must be completely destroyed.” And, based on his conduct and use of the Israeli military, it looks like Bibi means it. He means it so much that the displacement of the entire Palestinian population seems to him to be a mere obstacle to total victory. In fact, his conduct and use of the Israeli military suggests that the displacement of the entire Palestinian population, to say nothing of the number who have died, is a necessary prerequisite to his goal. The rug must be moved, you see, if one is to clean the dirt underneath.

The problem for Bibi Netanyahu is that the U.S.’s outsized influence in world affairs means that its problems become the world’s problems. Though Israel has not engaged in a 20+ year war (arguable, of course, given the land grabs it has involved itself in), the rhetoric it has used, along with the direct parallel to 9/11, makes the Israel-Hamas war appear to be a 9/11, Pt. II. The world tolerated it before when the U.S. did it, in part because the early 2000s didn’t have the democratization of media that we do today, but global patience toward conflicts of this kind—indiscriminate attacks against abstract enemies for the fulfillment absolute victory—appears to be waning. Israel cannot so easily control the narrative, as the U.S. could, though it has certainly tried. Neither can it make a strong moral case, certainly not to the families of the hostages taken who plead to their own government for their return, for why it can’t exert anything other than brute force against Hamas. Surely the country who created the software capable of tapping into anyone’s phone can, at the very least, deploy precise attacks that don’t kill innocents—let alone the hostages it means to save, on multiple occasions, mind you.

It has been surprising to see the pushback Bibi Netanyahu has faced, not only from domestic Israelis, but from the world at large. Bibi’s attempt to label Palestinians indiscriminately—read: an entire group of people—as Hamas sympathizers for not doing the most to permit Israeli incursion (into long-coveted land) walks a very thin line, one that a Jewish head of state should think twice about. But Bibi appears ready to burn what goodwill might have remained in the hands of a hegemon, while using the civilian casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan as the metric against which his actions will be judged.

Unfortunately for the Palestinian people, their entire population is little more than the amount of civilians who died as a result of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

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