Rabbi Haim Cassorla Views Memorial Day 2004
THE RABBI'S VIEW
How to make a Righteous Conflict into an Unjustified Unwinnable Costly Error
(in one easy lesson).

There is an important lesson for all of us humans to remember. It may be the hardest lesson to learn.The principles I am about to set out are principles that history has taught us, teaches us, and will teach us as long as man insists on engaging in conflict. These principles may be simple, but as far as I can discern, they are truths; unbendable; inexorable laws of "how the system works."

1. The aggressor always has the advantage. The nature of aggression is that the aggressor chooses where, when, who, and how to attack. Given that, we should clearly see the large advantage of aggression. The defender, by nature, does not ever aggress against the aggressor because there is no advantage in doing that.


1.1. The Sages teach us that a man should always be happy with his lot in life. They tell the story of a great Rabbi who was walking down the road and saw a beautiful garden plot. As he looked at the plot, he saw a sign in the middle of the plot, which read: "Blessed is the one who is happy with his lot." One of my children, still not ten years old at the time, hearing that story asked me, "Abba, who wrote that sign?" I looked into my child's face, and saw that the question was about to be answered, so I paused, and he answered his own question, "Abba, the guy who owned the garden, of course!"
1.2. The defender, or the peaceful, peace loving owner of garden is usually not even thinking of the passerby who is coveting what he has. Think about it, you lock your doors at night, not because you believe that you are threatened, either by a specific person or group of people who want your five-year-old's magnificent framed finger-painting. Even if you live in a very violent place and time, you don't "expect" to be attacked.
1.3. Even if you suspect that someone might be intent on stealing your truly prized and highly valued possessions, you may not know who is about to break in to your house to steal wealth or take your life. Even if you know who is plotting against you, societal rules prevent you from "pre-emptive strikes" against someone whom you suspect might wish you harm. This despite the Talmudic injunction, "Haba l'horgekha, hashkem l'horgo," "If someone is coming to kill you, arise before him (pre-empt) and kill him."


2. Irregulars have the advantage over armies. From the Maccabbees, to the American Colonists, to the VietCong, to the Taliban, the advantage always goes to the irregular army that can disappear into the general local population. As William Cosby, Dr. Ed. used to point out in a monologue: "General Burguoine, your troops must march in straight lines, carry large flags, march behind drummers and pipers, and wear red jackets. General Washington, your troops can wear whatever they want and hide behind trees."


3. True believers have the advantage. When either side comes to believe that there is a Divine Decree that they will win, they are given a great advantage. Historically, however, this specific advantage has been nullified, by the fact that both sides have contended that "God is on our side." This belief advantage has evaporated for the West, since the Viet Nam conflict. The first Gulf War was carried out by an American Army behind a political credo which publicly held to some interesting philosophy:


3.1. We are not the enemies of the Iraqi people.
3.2. We do not engage in War as a means of deposing a Head of State
3.3. The goal of this war is not the murder of Saddam Hussein


4. A timetable linked to a calendar and not to a progression of events/results is an admission of defeat. What we should have learned from the closing phases of the Viet Nam conflict is that once we negotiated the final date of the end of United States involvement, we had negotiated the final date of the existence of South Viet Nam. The aggressor has a single, or at least singular goal. The aggressor's goal is to win. The aggressor's goal is to achieve that which the aggressor coveted and was the cause of the aggression. There is no timetable external to achievement of goals can have any validity in the mind of the aggressor.


5. In the mind of the aggressor, the conflict is an event, not an end. The aggressor needs what (s)he covets. If you give the aggressor that object, the conflict will end. Do not believe that I am recommending appeasement. The designs of the aggressor often are not as simple as they appear on the surface. A home invader may be initially interested, even in his own mind, only on stealing your diamond ring; but soon he sees all of the wealth that you possess which far exceeds his previous interest and he modifies his goal. Some political aggressors fall into this category and only initially want lands "traditionally belonging to our people," but quickly modify their goals when they achieve the modest goals originally set. - I am not in any way claiming that the Nazis ever wanted "only" to "free" lands which they believed they had a "right to." - Some may have grander goals set from the outset, but couch their initial goals in modest terms as a means of deception, sometimes self-deception.

If all of the above are true, what is the hope for the "defender?" First the defender must recognize the advantages that the aggressor has and then the defender must turn these into advantages of his own.

1. A bloody nose, is a bloody nose, is a bloody nose. After many years of study, our scientists have found out that pain is important. Pain is a call to arms. An attack against our body is a call to protect ourselves. The defender should be moved from passivity to an alert sense of defense. (S)He must find out whom it was who attacked and learn what the aggressor's vulnerabilities are. Society, which looks askance at pre-emptive strikes, allows for retaliatory activity. The important point is that once aggressive activity has been taken against a passive defender, all the rules change.


2. The attacked party MUST identify the aggressor and cause the aggressor to self-identify. Currently accepted rules of international engagement hold that governments may not send irregulars into combat, but a nation responding to aggression has all rights of self-defense and retaliation. The difficult part is to cause the aggressor to self-identify. It is important to make them stand up and say "here I am," by whatever means possible.


3. Become a zealot. If it is true that the zealots have an advantage by virtue of their zeal, it is important that the aggrieved defender must become a zealot to grab that advantage, or at the least to nullify it by counterbalancing it. It is, after all, your nose that is bloodied, and the aggressor will not cease and desist from attacking, especially after a victory. The President of the United States, George W. Bush took the proper position, when after 9/11/01 he said "we will bring the perpetrators to justice or we will bring justice to the perpetrators." This position is clearly on moral and political high ground. The problem faced by the United States is that the U.S. is an extremely diverse country and one must be careful not to alienate a large segment of the population by "religious" pronouncements. The "zeal" must be of itself, a religion of democratic ideals and diversity of outlook. This is a very powerful position when the aggressor is a monolithic and "orthodox" interpretation of a Religion, which tolerates no diversity and has a stated goal of world domination.


4. Goals must set the timetable. A statement of "we will hand over the governance of Iraq when the people of Iraq are capable of self-governance within the following parameters" is a workable position. The crumbling of this, the initial U.S. position before international pressure was and will always be considered a sign of weakness by our adversaries. A stated "date certain" sets unreasonable and unattainable goals, especially when the opposition has control of some of the factors of success. I would never bet that you will lose ten pounds by June 30th. You have too much control over your own weight, and I have no control and very little influence, (most of it lost by your chance of winning). Despite the clarity of this proposition, we fall into this trap time after time. The end stage of the Viet Nam conflict is but one instance of the poor outcomes one can expect following this faulty reasoning.
Each and every proposal by the United States or the United Nations which calls for a final settlement of borders between Israel and a Palestinian State falls into the same category. When the success of negotiations depends on both sides, (as they always do), we cannot accept that the aggressor will negotiate with the same good faith as the defender. This concept is reinforced when there is international pressure on the defender to "finish" as soon as possible.
Another point to consider is that we have become accustomed, in the West, to fairly instantaneous response. We have lost patience and clearly have no real "long view."
5. Delve into your opponent's heart. The defender, or the victim of aggression, must do all that can be done to find out what the aggressor "really wants" and how the aggressor "really percieves the world." We, in the West, have made a science of negotiation. We arbitrate what we used to fight or sue over. One of the most important tools of the arbitrator or negotiator is the concept of "Win Win." Win Win works only after the arbitrator finds out what each side "absolutely needs." The first step in reaching an end to conflict is to determine what the conflict is about. Without that information, can expect to achieve nothing but defeat through negotiation with an opponent who is "working by different rules." This problem is exacerbated by linguistic/cultural problems such as we, the West, is currently experiencing while interacting with Moslem/Islamist/Arab adversaries. The ability of a negotiater to meet with an adversary and agree to specific terms in English and then go back to his/her local press/constituency and say something totally different in Arabic is an advantage that must be short circuited soon, completely, and effectively. It cannot be accomplished if we don't understand Arabic with its socio-cultural nuance, while our adversaries understand English. This applies equally to American direct interaction with Moslem/Islamist/Arab adversaries as well as to American intervention in the Arab-Israel conflict. Israel has a higher level of the Arabic language and a deeper cultural understanding of Moslems, Arabs, and Islamists, be they extemists or otherwise.

Sometimes, there is no possibility of Win Win. In those cases, arbitration, and mediation must be abandoned, and it is in the interest of your side to seek victory, in the most efficacious manner, thereby guaranteeing the lowest cost in lives and property to both sides of the conflict. If we do not do so, we may very well find ourselves, again "Knee Deep In The Big Muddy."

(c) 2004 Rabbi Haim Cassorla

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Rabbi Haim Cassorla


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