Bill Totten's Weblog

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Word Magic

by Charley Reese

King Features Syndicate (July 26 2006)

One of the big impediments to a sane foreign policy is the bad habit of labeling and then believing in word magic. The instant something or somebody is labeled, our politicians and press began reacting to the label and not to the reality. That's what general semanticists refer to as belief in word magic.

Words are just symbols, and quite often inaccurate symbols in terms of how they relate to reality.

The most obvious examples are Hezbollah and Hamas, which have been labeled "terrorist organizations". We tend to think, sensibly, that terrorists' main occupation is planning and executing attacks. So, if we examine Hezbollah and Hamas, that should be the case with them if they are indeed terrorists.

In fact, they are not. Hezbollah and Hamas have elected representatives in Lebanon and in the Palestinian territories. The bulk of their work is humanitarian. They operate a welfare system and provide medical care and education facilities. Hezbollah maintains a militia, and there is a small military wing of Hamas. The military wing of Hamas has committed acts, primarily suicide bombings, that can fairly be called terrorist acts. But should the entire organization be labeled terrorist?

Hezbollah hasn't committed a terrorist act in more than twenty years. All of its attacks have been against the Israeli military, with the exception of the Katyusha rockets that they fire in response to Israeli violations of Lebanese sovereignty. It is not an act of terrorism for a military unit to attack another military unit. These World War II rockets cannot be aimed except in a general direction. The logical definition of terrorism is an attack against civilians, and that includes what the US and Israel refer to as collateral damage.

(If you are killed or crippled by a high explosive, what difference does it make if it was delivered by plane, artillery, rocket or truck? For that matter, what difference does it make if the person killed you on purpose or just didn't care if you got killed?)

Because of word magic, our government refused to recognize the Hamas government that was fairly elected in a free and democratic manner. We don't talk to Hamas. Nor do we talk to Hezbollah. Because we have labeled Syria and Iran as "supporters of terrorism", we don't talk to them, either.

It's pretty hard to conduct diplomacy with people you don't talk to. If our government had taken the position that it would not talk to the Soviet Union and China, the Cold War would likely still be going on. Talking to people with whom you have disagreements is more important than talking to people who already agree with you.

Relations between nations are not unlike relations with people. There are only three alternatives that I can think of: You can talk to people; you can ignore people; or you can attack them. By far, talking is preferable to attacking.

As a result of our silly labeling and belief in word magic, we have zero influence with Hamas, Hezbollah, Syria and Iran. Our politicians can bloviate to the media what these organizations and countries should do, but they are just adding to air pollution when they do so. In the Middle East, our word is no good.

That's bad, because the Middle East is changing. Every time there is a free election, the Islamists win. It's only a matter of time before paid-for allies - Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan - have their governments displaced by people who admire Hezbollah and Hamas and hate us.

This doesn't have to be, but to prevent it, we need to deal with reality and not with labels. We need to talk to people.

Copyright (c) 2006 by King Features Syndicate, Inc.

Bill Totten


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