The Politics Of Inconsistency

24 Nov Posted by Milton in Foreign Policy, US Politics | Comments
The Politics Of Inconsistency

By Alex Fink , Guest Contributor

The United States of America is perhaps the only country in the world that never negotiates with terrorists. On its face it seems absurd – why would a country limit its own options in responding to specific situations? If refusing to negotiate were the best option every time, surely the US government would have chosen it every time anew; is there any benefit to making the choice apriori, without knowing the specifics of each case?

The answer, from a game-theoretical point of view, is actually a resounding yes. Have you ever negotiated with a car salesman who told you he has no authority to give discounts? It may sound like he’s limiting his own choices by giving up authority, but by announcing it publicly he’s limiting what you perceive as YOUR possible outcomes instead.

In any specific situation preserving the freedom to choose may seem like a reasonable approach, but in the long run limiting your own choices is sometimes beneficial. If the playbook is written in your favor, why not delegate authority to that playbook? If terrorists know that no matter what happens, you have no authority to make any concessions (and you have decades of history to prove it), risking their lives to launch an attack would seem like a futile and irrational thing to do.

Now, let’s bear in mind that the US is not a normal case study, given its unique position as the #1 military force in the world. America can respond to a single terrorist attack by invading a hostile country half-way across the globe and overturning its ruling regime; others have neither the resources nor the political capital to do so. But whether or not its actions are measured, there is one thing that Americans excel at – their reaction to terrorist actions is perfectly consistent. It works.

And that brings us to the current mess in Gaza.

Throughout 2010, Hamas has fired missiles from Gaza into Israel. Israel had no response.
Throughout 2011, Hamas has fired missiles from Gaza into Israel. Israel had no response.
Throughout 2012, Hamas has fired missiles from Gaza into Israel. Suddenly in October Israel reacted by attacking thousands of military targets in Gaza, killing hundreds of terrorists (including several high-ranking Hamas officials), and mobilizing its infantry for a march into Gaza.

And the world outrage machine was awakened:
Did Israel overreact? Was its response measured? Was it politically driven by the upcoming election?

The problem with making choices – choosing to look the other way one day or choosing to react on another – is that whenever one choice stands out from others it will be scrutinized and your motives will be questioned.

Nobody questions the fact that Hamas started the whole thing by firing missiles onto civilian targets in Israel; we’ve come to expect it. They’ve been very consistent in trying to murder civilians for decades now, so criticizing it would seem futile. It’s old news. But scrutinizing and criticizing Israel’s response is a natural thing to do, given how much it differs from their previous responses to the SAME aggression.

It may be true that criticism of Israel’s defensive actions is political, racial, or driven by a double standard; but those who hide behind screams of a double standards miss the fact that Israel DID do something to make that criticism much easier – it has spent years creating a baseline of non-reaction that makes any reaction seem unusual and excessive.

People have a very strong tendency to criticize deviations from the norm. We feel awkward criticizing normal baseline actions. It’s much easier to criticize Israel’s one-time actions than it is to criticize Hamas’ regular murderous attacks, because the former are unusual, and the latter invoke the typical “well, what do you expect?”

The repeating cycle of violence, along with the usual criticism of the defensive reaction (while being completely silent about the aggressor’s actions), are proof that Israel’s approach has been wrong all along. Perhaps Israel doesn’t have America’s military might or political capital –- it cannot eliminate the threat every single time –- but it can certainly measure what capital it does have and divide it evenly to make its reaction consistent, expected, and completely devoid of choice. If Israeli politicians don’t choose the reaction, but instead simply follow a playbook that was announced well in advance, it becomes impossible to criticize them. And like America’s no-negotiation policy, it would discourage terrorist attacks by making it obvious to the terrorists that no political gain can be extracted from it.

Here’s how it might work:
In the latest counter-attack, it would be safe to say that Israel has fired roughly 3 missiles for every missile Hamas has launched over the past 4 years. So instead of waiting for 4 years to fire all of these as a cluster, Israel should spread them out evenly over time.

Israel will never look the other way, and never overreact by firing thousands of missiles in one week; instead, it will simply announce a perpetually binding “3 for 1” policy, preferably passed by a vote in parliament and written into law, stating that for every target attacked on Israeli soil 3 palestinian targets must be leveled to the ground within 48 hours. No negotiation, no discussion, no choice, and no exceptions.

Military or civilian – it doesn’t matter.
High quality targets or random government buildings – nobody cares.

All missiles will always fall in clusters of 4, with the first being palestinian aggression, and the following 3 being a mandatory Israeli reaction. Will anyone in their right mind accuse Israel of starting the fight by hitting back?

About the author:

Alex Fink is an Israeli expat living in the US since 2008, a software entrepreneur and the founder of One Motion Metrics, a software startup in the SF Bay Area.

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