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Week in Review

The escalation of the conflict between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip was the biggest story of this week. In response to international confusion about America’s reticence to criticize Israel, we had this to say:

For many people around the world, this seems patently obvious: Israel has a right to respond to attacks from Hamas but it doesn’t have an unlimited right to respond to limited attacks with unlimited force. Israeli blindness to this obvious moral principle strikes many observers as evidence of hardheartedness and national moral decline, and colors their perceptions of many other Israeli policies.

The whole jus in bello argument sails right over the heads of most Americans.  The proportionality concept never went over that big here. Many Americans are instinctive Clausewitzians; Clausewitz argued that efforts to make war less cruel end up making it worse, and a lot of Americans agree.

From this perspective, the kind of tit-for-tat limited warfare that the doctrine of proportionality would require is a recipe for unending war: for decades of random air strikes, bombs and other raids. An endless war of limited intensity is worse, many Americans instinctively feel, than a time-limited war of unlimited ferocity. A crushing blow that brings an end to the war—like General Sherman’s march of destruction through the Confederacy in 1864-65—is ultimately kinder even to the vanquished than an endless state of desultory war.

Elsewhere in the region, we’ve seen some promising signs from Syria. Rebel groups are attempting to paper over their differences and present a unified front against Assad, and have already received official recognition from the Arab League. Britain is also considering plans to throw its hat into the ring by sending troops into the country. The news elsewhere in the region, however, was predictably bad. An Iranian dissident and blogger died in police custody, reminding the world that Teheran should not be trusted with nuclear weapons, the Palestinian Authority defied the wishes of the Obama Administration by pursuing its bid for observer state status at the UN, and radical Islam continued its forward march in North Africa.

News from Asia this week was dominated by China’s leadership transition, which looks like a victory for the conservative old guard and a defeat for reformist elements in the Communist Party. Not to be outdone, Japan is preparing for an election of its own, where a former Prime Minister from the conservative LDP is expected to take the country’s top job. Meanwhile, both countries continued to jockey for position over the disputed rocks in the China Seas. Internally, this was another week of bad news for China, with reports of rampant corruption within the military and a domestic preference for American-made goods over Chinese ones. America was also very active in the region, sending a number of high-ranking officials, including Secretary of State Hilary Clinton to Australia, Cambodia and Thailand. President Obama himself is preparing for the first-ever visit of an American President to Burma next week.

News from Europe this week was sadly predictable: The IMF and the EU continued their increasingly-public spat over the Greek bailout, while Germany and other “strong” Northern European economies are teetering on the brink of recession. The news from Germany was particularly bad: Right-wing extremism is on the rise again, suggesting that Germany may be turning its back on the world and Europe at the moment where its help is most needed. There are, however, some modest bright spots in Turkey, where President Abdullah Gul is emerging as a moderate voice in the ruling AK Party, in contrast to the fiery extremism of Prime Minister Erdogan.

On the home front, the pension crisis is continuing unabated, wreaking havoc on Illinois and Oregon. News is better in the world of higher-ed, where an increasing number of schools are experimenting with different ways of delivering their product online. Also promising is the rollout of Google Fiber in Kansas City, which is now the high-speed internet capital of America.

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