Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Pro- and Anti-Israel Factions Finally Agree On One Thing: Today's Times Editorial Sucks.

Already this morning, over 150 commenters have weighed in on today's Times editorial, "Incursion Into Gaza," only its second since the war over Gaza began nearly two weeks ago.

Pro-Israel readers think the Times was way too soft on the terrorist group that precipitated this mess with its unilateral rocket fire.

Those who oppose the Israeli war effort think the Times was too kind towards the forces that fired back with enough military might to kill 550 Palestinians.

Both sides are right. Today's back-and-forth commentary reflects the Times's fear of forming a strong opinion on a war with clear and unmistakable sides.

The hair-splitting, needle-threading prose begins in the first two paragraphs:

With its ground incursion into Gaza, Israel has gambled that it can finally silence the Hamas rockets that have terrorized its people for years. We sympathize with that goal. But we are concerned that short-term success on the battlefield might encourage the Israelis to keep pressing further and longer in an attempt to decimate Hamas and wrest Gaza from its grip.

That is also a goal we can sympathize with — there is no justification for Hamas’s attacks or its virulent rejectionism. But it is highly unlikely, and there is a point of diminishing returns that could be easy to miscalculate.

So the Times sympathizes with the goal of silencing Hamas rockets, but is concerned about an attempt to decimate Hamas and wrest Gaza from its grip. But wait! The Times even sympathizes with that goal, but doesn't think it will work, or it if it does, it will have diminishing returns. Got that?

This is basically a case of the Times covering its ass in case Israel start blasting Gaza to smithereens. The paper seems to have in its head an acceptable number of casualties, although it won't specify its feelings. Indeed, its words barely even hold Israel directly accountable for the deaths so far:

The longer the Israeli incursion, the more casualties mount (550 Palestinians and 5 Israelis have died so far); the more Hamas’s popularity grows among its supporters; the more moderate Arab states, which have correctly blamed Hamas for ending a six-month cease-fire, are alienated; and the more regional instability is fueled.

That sentence seems to say that Israel is hurting its own cause by killing people, but with such roundabount syntax that it's impossible to see exactly where the Times places responsibility. Commenters on both sides have noted with alarm the Times's citation of casualty figures as though they represent a box score of blame.

A few definitive statements slip through the cracks: the Times demands that reporters be allowed into Gaza, and insists on a diplomatic solution to the crisis. But anyone reading the rest of the paper knows that scenario has little chance of happening anytime soon. The paper shifts responsibility to Condoleeza Rice, who it ridicules for working the phones while France's Nicolas Sarkozy traveled to the region in search of solutions. Again, it's clear the Times fears assessing definitive blame.

It can't be easy for a newspaper like the Times to balance its support of Israel with the humanitarian issues raised by Palestinian supporters. This war has divided reasonable observers of the Middle East like no other in recent memory. But that's why the burden falls to the Times to play a more central role in guiding our nation's thinking -- and its actions -- than it has done in two wishy-washy editorials so far.

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