Sowell on the Middle East

by Russ Roberts on July 21, 2006

in History


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patrick July 21, 2006 at 9:23 pm

This Sowell guy is so steady and so right-every article and book I've read from him just a straight shot at the truth.

Christopher July 21, 2006 at 9:29 pm

Dr. Sowell is a hero of mine.

Adam July 21, 2006 at 10:30 pm

I was watching the Israeli ambassador to the UN tell the BBC news that the Lebanese people were grateful to Israel for attacking Hezbollah. Orwell himself would have been speechless before such a display. I didn't realize that massacring hundreds of civilians is supposed to leave them grateful.

I'm unclear on why you're linking to this column. Its relevance to economics is rather difficult to discern.

shecky July 22, 2006 at 12:09 am

Sounds to me like Sowell has nothing very meaningful to add to the fray.

Ben Litchman July 22, 2006 at 2:04 am

I second that, Christopher. I've read a billion of his books (tallied it up just now). He is absolutely devastating — one of the most rigorous minds around. Sowell doesn't mess around.

Paul Philpott July 22, 2006 at 12:06 pm

Adam: The Isrealis aren't "massacring" any Lebanese. Words do mean something, don't they? "Massacre" means "The act or an instance of killing a large number of humans indiscriminately and cruelly." Surely the Isrealis are doing no such thing. They are trying to secure their border against armed men who consistently breach in acts that sometimes target civilians (resulting in actual massacres) and sometimes target soldiers. What is the alternative? Haven't they tried the alternative for the past decade or so?

Adam July 22, 2006 at 7:39 pm

"The act or an instance of killing a large number of humans indiscriminately and cruelly."

Yes, words do mean something. And that's exactly what I meant: dropping bombs on civilians and killing large numbers of them. As opposed to the rockets, which kill very, very few people. Not that that's acceptable, but killing hundreds in a week in response to the killing of a few dozen over years and years seems a bit much.

I've never understood the "what's the alternative?" argument. Widespread killing doesn't become acceptable just because there's no magic wand available.

Again, I don't think this is the place to be debating the Middle East, but it looks like it's too late for that now…

bbartlog July 22, 2006 at 10:09 pm

Sowell seems to think that the Gazans had somehow been left to live free and in peace by the Israelis. And this is kind of central to his idea that there is no 'cycle', that each flareup is somehow instigated by Arabs and that the Israelis then respond, once provoked beyond what can be endured.
Unfortunately Gaza is nothing like a free state, but more closely resembles a blockaded area. This is actually quite understandable given the anti-Israeli hatred of those that live there (I have no idea what I would do in the Israelis' shoes), but it gives the lie to the idea that Israel was living amicably with all and sundry until Hezbollah decided on a new act of war.
I will agree that there aren't really 'cycles', though. That implies too much predictability.

TGGP July 22, 2006 at 10:55 pm

Apparently under Israeli occupation Gaza and the West Bank have done much better than Egypt and Jordan, which they would otherwise be a part of:

Perhaps the best collective punishment for the people that Israel could come up with for acts of terrorism would be to hand them over to those countries.

bbartlog July 23, 2006 at 11:38 am

Yes, Gaza was doing well – for a while (note that the stats you link tend to use 1986/1993 as an endpoint). There's also no question that its *own* government as well as the corrupt governments of the surrounding states would likely do even worse for the Palestinians than Israel. Still, as long as Israel exerts damaging restrictions on Gaza, this is a tu quoque argument – you can't claim innocence merely by pointing out that someone else would have done worse.

TGGP July 23, 2006 at 9:14 pm

bbartlog: I think I get what you're saying, and I'll see if you agree with my summarization.

Life under the Israelis has been better than life under whatever regimes would have been in place in their absence. However, life under Israelis is significantly worse than it would have been if the Israelis had not adopted such damaging policies toward the Palestinians.

I think that is a very valid criticism. As a libertarian, I frequently have to point out that the growth of the U.S economy in the midst of expanding government or Japan & Germany's growth after WW2 do not demonstrate that expanding government and participation (let alone crushing defeat with heavy damage to infrastructure) in war result in growth. When criticizing specific policies, that is a very important idea to get across.

However, if we are assessing countries as a whole, I think we need to put them in context rather than imagining ideals that don't exist (sometimes referred to among my ilk as libertopia or ancapistan). Accusing the Israelis of causing the poverty of an area that started out poor and got richer under them seems odd to me, especially considering that like all governments Israel has stupid policies that have undermined quality of life even within Israel proper.

Lastly, I'd like to point out that while government policies are very important, which is why we harp on especially bad ones, they are not the only factor and so complete responsibility cannot be assigned to governments. I am reminded of Steve Sailer's musing that the southern states of america were backward for a long time partly because of the lack of air-conditioning, after which the "Sun Belt" emerged.

Paul Pennyfeather July 25, 2006 at 12:47 am

There was time when libertarian circles were almost universally hostile to the small, besieged Israeli state. That seems to over. There is a definate diversity of opinion in "free market" circles; a welcome change. The days of people like Lew Rockwell or Joseph Sobran shooting their mouth off and prominent libertarians just nodding their heads (a herd of independent minds) has come to an end. And it is driving some people batty.

This is good for libertarianism, too. Libertarianism has but one claim (or, rather, all its claims can be reduced to one): that we provide a rational view against the ravages of superstition, wishful thinking, and ideological fantasy. We see the world the way it is, the way it really works (e.g., the results of minimum wage laws; "price gouging"; trade tariffs, etc.) The rabid anti-Israel folks are the political equivelant of Jimmy Carter economics. Their history is a complete revision, their morality is idiotic, and their double-standards betray a hidden bigotry. In other words: no one who seriously states that Israel has been the aggressor during the last sixty years of Arab-led wars of extermination could possibly be trusted on any other issue, economic or otherwise.

And whatever our dislike and distrust of the state (any state), if dropping bombs makes one ipso facto a mass murderer, then the ovens of Auschwitz could not have been stopped. But of course, these laughable protestations are ONLY about Israeli bombs.

Hat's off to Sowell and to Russell Roberts.

Randy July 25, 2006 at 11:22 am

It is an idea that must be defeated – and that idea is that Israel must be destroyed.

It is true that the international community has a right to demand that Israel exercise restraint. But it is also true that the international community has an obligation to ensure Israel's survival. Support for those who believe that Israel must be destroyed merely prolongs the war.

So it you want peace, feel free to encourage Israel to exercise restraint. But never fail to condemn those who advocate Israel's destruction.

David Rossie July 25, 2006 at 8:32 pm

I was underwhelmed by the Sowell column. Nothing new and nothing deep.

The moral relativism charge is weak. Most commentators seem to agree that Hezbollah is a terrorist organization and that Israel is either marginally or wholly more legitimate. The issue is Israel's heavy response to Hezbollah's attacks, but movement types can't get away from identity politics and positioning.

Randy July 26, 2006 at 9:28 am


So, along the same lines, if you call my sister a ho and I hit you, you would be surprised and outraged, right? We're talking about an organization that is dedicated to the destruction of Israel. Their very existance is a defacto declaration of war. They deserve whatever they get.

I do understand that there are innocents caught in the crossfire. But then, when many of the supposed innocents blame Israel for their problems, how innocent are they? Get your mind around this. A two state solution is the only feasible solution. This war will end when, and only when, the idea that Israel has no right to exist is defeated.

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