Reading Backwards

This was a very good piece:

David Bromwich: Self-Deception and the Assault on Gaza

Probably no people are so prone as Americans and Israelis are to think admiringly of our own good intentions. We hew to a rarer and higher standard than other people, we believe. We are generous beyond all expectation; and still, other people continue to criticize and demand more of us. The trouble with such an innocent self-image is that we read the pattern of our actions forward from our supposed intentions to their effects in the world; we forgive the imperfection of the result from our certainty of the purpose. But that is not the way to interpret the character of a person, or the character of a people, accurately. The error is easy enough to recognize when we look at persons who are not ourselves. The way to make a judgment that is in some measure accurate is to read backward from the total drift and pattern of the actions to the intentions that are likely to have yielded such effects.

Thus, if Israel in 2006 destroyed large parts of Lebanon, there is a strong chance that this happened because Israel intended to reduce to rubble large parts of Lebanon; even if the Israeli claim at the time was that it sought nothing more than to weaken Hezbollah and destroy its hiding places. Again, if Israel in 2009 reduces to rubble a large portion of the Gaza Strip and leaves tens of thousands homeless, there is a strong chance that this was what it intended to do; even if the Israeli claim is merely that it wished to stop the rockets at their source.

It is the same with the good intentions of the United States. Listen to the neoconservative apologists for the Bush-Cheney policy, and you would think that America intended to liberate the enslaved people of Iraq, and in doing so, to confer an incidental benefit by planting a democracy in the region. But then read backward from the actions of the U.S. — a country destroyed, half a million killed, four and a half million refugees, American contractors and companies and oil men prospering on the scene, and several superbases built and manned–and you would conclude the U.S. intended to plant a military force in the region and make a solid claim to the dome of oil that covers Iraq and Iran and East Africa, while also asserting its rivalry with Russia and China for control of West Asia. Notice that the second surmise has one advantage as an explanation. It bears some relation to the things that were actually accomplished.

and then

The creation of a Palestinian state has been postponed now for more than 40 years while the Israeli settlements have expanded. Why should any witness of the pattern be expected to follow the Israeli reasoning from good intentions to misfired actions, when the pattern of the actions, reading backward to the intentions, so plainly seems to indicate that annexation was always the stronger motive? Read backward from result to probable purpose and the assault on Gaza looks like the last postponement, the one after which nothing further need be said or done.


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