Don’t Do It

The ‘feed the homeless’ fallacy is one of the most common in international politics. I’m sure you’ve heard it. It goes something like this: “For what we spend on war, we could feed and house all the homeless.”

You can even back the fallacy up with statistics. The US military spent $877 billion on the military in 2022. There are under a million homeless people in the country. That is $877,000 (actually more) per homeless person per year. You could even siphon some of that money off for education and still have quite a bit left over.

Given this fact, whoever is supporting military expenditure must be evil.

This contention would be true if we were dealing with static systems. If the enemies of a country didn’t react to a lack of military spending, there would be no need for military spending. You could eliminate it and be safe. If the ranks of the homeless didn’t rise with the extension of benefits, then spending far more money on the problem of homelessness would just make it go away.

In reality, both issues react to the resources available to them. Spend too much on homelessness and it spreads, spend too little on your military and you’ll find yourself in conflict.

As I write, Israel is on the precipice of making another hostage deal with Hamas. On the face of it, the choice is obvious. If you can bring hostages home, you do it. The problem is that Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood, and Iran do not represent a static system. Rewarding these organizations for taking hostages will embolden them to do it again and again.

For its part, the US should have learned this lesson with the numerous American hostages taken by North Korea, Russia, Iran and even (though not as often discussed) China. These countries have adopted American hostage-taking as a core of their foreign policies. But no, the US hasn’t learned. Instead, the Biden administration is pushing for the hostage deal as a stepping-stone to a permanent cease fire and a Palestinian State. They are looking for the murders and hostage-takings of Oct 7th to lead to a stronger and more threatening Palestinian entity. Don’t get me wrong, I want a Palestinian entity – but the road to get there isn’t straight-forward (read my article, A Truly Free Palestine).

The idea that Hamas might effectively be rewarded with a State might seem to be borderline unbelievable, but it isn’t. Israeli’s enemies understand the power of hostages. The families of those taken captive are a sympathetic and powerful voice that – deployed properly – could end the campaign in Gaza  bring down the Israeli government and sow discord in Israeli society. Their power is so clearly recognized that they are being advised by by lobbyists paid for by Qatar. These Qatari lobbyists have been involved since October 8th. Let that sink in for a moment – Qatar, a funder of Hamas and ally of Iran, has been advising hostage families in Israel since the day after their loved ones were taken.

Again, these are not static systems. Hamas, Iran and Qatar all knew what the Israeli reaction would be. We’ve trained them to behave in exactly the way they are behaving.

Offering to end the war in return for the hostages is akin to ending World War II in return for the return of Allied POWs. If this had been in the table, the Nazis and Imperial Japan would not only still exist – they would be overwhelmingly powerful. No, Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran will learn all the wrong lessons from this response. Although it is hard to imagine, they will up the stakes, again and again. With almost unlimited guided munitions, these entities can hold all of Israel hostage. Is it hard to imagine them saying: “If don’t do what we want, we’ll pick a single town and overwhelm it with missiles.”

It is time for Israel to break the pattern and take back the leverage.

To date, Israel has lost many soldiers in an unnecessary tunnel war and there’s a moral question as to whether one set of sons and husbands be sacrificed for another set of sons and husbands (and, yes, daughters). So, instead of negotiating for the hostages return, inform Hamas, Qatar and even the Israeli public that Israel will start destroying the tunnels – without looking for hostages. Israel has done some flooding, but I believe attacking the generator exhaust points necessary to supply electricity and air is far easier to do. Like a World War I submarine, tunnels can’t survive long on battery power.

Then Israel can extend an offer: if Hamas returns the hostages, surrenders and leaves – then its members will be allowed to live.

This is the only way you negotiate with terrorists.

Not only that, but it is more likely to bring everybody home.

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