In response to the savage mayhem wrought by Hamas on Israeli citizens, Israel has called up 300,000 reserves and begun punitive operations in Gaza. Their mission is to make good on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s grim statement, “Every Hamas terrorist is a dead man,” and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant’s pledge “we will wipe them off the face of the Earth.”
Leftist activists in the U.S. and Europe, of course, have been trying to undermine the resolve of Israel and its allies. The functionally anti-Semitic UN has declared that Israel’s attempt to save Gazans’ lives by evacuating them is illegal under international law. Meanwhile Israel’s enemies deploy duplicitous clichés like “disproportionate response” and “war crimes,” and call for “restraint,” while displaying a concern for the aggressor’s civilian casualties and misery brought on by Hamas’ depredations—a concern seldom shown for the Israeli dead, except when making the equally despicable claims of moral equivalence between the victims with their murderers, thus ignoring the question of who is responsible for the conflict.
Expect these rhetorical attacks on Israel’s morale to become more frequent and strident as the operation continues and gets more violent. In this age of hypersensitive “snowflakes,” incontinent “virtue-signalers,” and “safe spaces,” such efforts can bear fruit that poisons resolve. That’s why the West needs to stiffen its realist spine, and accept the tragic “awful arithmetic” necessary in war.
This phrase is attributed to Abraham Lincoln in 1862 during a string of victories by smaller Confederate forces. Lincoln believed that Union generals were too protective of their men and too risk-averse. He needed a general who understood the “awful arithmetic”: given the North’s big advantage in manpower, it could lose a third more men than the Confederates and still prevail over a passionate enemy that would not surrender easily. Lincoln found that general in Ulysses S. Grant, who in 1864 relentlessly marched to Richmond and victory, all the way fighting grisly and costly battles like Cold Harbor, which cost 1844 Union dead to the South’s 83.
In World War II, the “awful arithmetic” was even more tragic, as it included whole cities filled with women and children who were killed in the area bombings of Germany and Japan––between 700,000 and 1.2 million. Today many historians argue that such slaughter was unnecessary, just as no doubt many Northerners believed was the waste of their sons’, husbands’, and fathers’ lives by the “butcher” Grant.
We’ll never know if the fanatical, murderous regimes in Germany and Japan could have been neutralized any other way, or if the Allied soldiers and citizens who had to fight the sadistic racist enemy would have been willing to sacrifice many more thousands of their own people’s lives in order to spare the enemies’ non-combatants. What we do know is that Germany and Japan were utterly defeated, and have been good, peaceful global citizens for the last 75 years.
No one should be cavaliere about such decisions and such gruesome losses. But war seldom gives us easy questions with morally simple answers. The point is not whether people will live or die, or which decision is good, and which is bad. In war the choice is always between the bad and the worse, between some people dying now so more people don’t die later. Leaders in the past have to be able to accept this “awful arithmetic,” and communicate to their citizens why the sacrifice is necessary.
But in the last twenty years much of our leadership and half the citizenry have become besotted with a specious “citizen-of-the world globalism” and its “new world order” of dangerous delusions, fashionable anti-patriotism and oikophobia, and the juvenile pacifism of John Lennon’s “Imagine”––luxuries that only rich hedonists can afford, at least for a while.
The Cold War realism that managed the containment of Soviet communism, and the Mutually Assured Destruction that backed it, relied on the civilizational confidence expressed by Ronald Reagan’s “evil empire” and “we win, they lose,” sentiments derided by our foreign policy clerks.
And the risks were historically unprecedented. But the “awful arithmetic” told us the alternative was gulags, secret police, summary executions, constant surveillance of private life, the death of civil society, censorship, and the extinction of the freedom that makes us human in the first place, reducing all of us to slaves of a monstrous tyranny.
But our foreign policy seriously misread the new world that arose after the Cold War. As Wall Street Journal columnist Walter Russell Mead put it, “The post-Cold War trance of the West, reaping peace dividends, celebrating flower power, and generally living as if utopia had already arrived, has left us mentally and morally disarmed.” The orthodox narrative boasted that the “rules-based international order” with its globalist transnational institutions and international diplomacy, had won the Cold War. In fact, atomic Mutually Assured Destruction, the bloody proxy duels like Korea and Vietnam with over 90,000 dead, hundreds of thousands of American forward-deployed troops in Europe, and trillions in defense spending defeated Soviet communism.
Even after the carnage of 9/11 reminded us that the West’s oldest and most lethal historical enemy had not disappeared from history, we entertained dubious Wilsonian policies like democracy promotion and nation-building. It didn’t take long after that crisis for the West to return to binging on the “peace dividend” and the reductions of military spending that arose in the Nineties.
In the case of Israel and its enemies, the pressure to negotiate the defunct “two-state solution” intensified, given the democracy-promotion policies pursued by the Bush administration in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the burst of optimism over the “Arab Spring” that started in 2010. More than ever, the “two-states living side-by-side in peace” solution put more pressure on Israel to cede land in their traditional homeland of Judea and Samaria, a.k.a. the West Bank, to the Palestinian Arabs.
Now Israel is facing the difficult task of neutralizing Hamas to ensure such carnage like 10/7 never happens again. The Biden administration has made the right sounds with its rhetoric of support, the president’s visit to Israel, and the deployment of two Carrier Strike Groups to the region. But mere deterrence is not going to solve the biggest problem: Iran and its genocidal regime that for 44 years has attacked this country and stained its hands with American blood, as well as financing and training Israel’s terrorist enemies.
Now is the time to defeat this enemy, before it starts producing nuclear weapons and raises the stakes exponentially. The U.S. certainly has the means to destroy Iran’s nuclear facilities. The two Carrier Strike Groups now in the region are the most powerful non-nuclear weapons in the world. Tom Sharpe in the Daily Telegraph has detailed the awesome firepower of a CSGs:
“The ship itself is the largest aircraft carrier ever built and she carries an air group more powerful than many national air forces. Add to this a Ticonderoga class cruiser and three Arleigh Burke destroyers, all four ships loaded for bear with Tomahawk land-attack cruise missiles and the Aegis missile shield capable of knocking down any threat from sea-skimming ship killers to satellites in low orbit. Then there are special forces, US Marines, logistics support and a couple of force elements that don’t appear in the photos. The firepower is remarkable even before you factor in other USN assets not directly associated with the CSG.”
Deploy these lethal assets to the Persian Gulf, and supplement them with GBU-72 “bunker-buster” bombs, and there’s more than enough destructive power to eliminate Iran’s nuclear weapons facilities, or at the very least set the program back for multiple decades. As for Israel, we should support her not just with words but with whatever action and materiel will help her to prevail.
All we need is the will, and the confidence that our cause is just enough to accept the “awful arithmetic” necessary in a fallen world.