Thursday, July 27, 2006

On why the Middle East needs a daddy

Okay, so I just got finished geeking out and saying that the Iraq needs a bunch of gravity-defying, vinyl-clad movie characters, and now I’m saying that the Middle East needs a daddy. What shall I think of next?

[Note: The following post relies heavily on stereotypical and gender-normative views of parenthood for the purpose of allegory. The author in no way intends to impose this view of parenthood on the world at large, nor does she claim this view as indicative of her own upbringing. In fact, the author's own family life involved a lot more respect and a lot less fear, and she'd hate to think that either parent might read it and think otherwise. I love you, Mommy and Daddy.]

Actually, to be completely accurate, I’m going to spout the uber-conservative family-values line that the Middle East needs a mommy and a daddy, at least in the hideously heteronormative traditional sense. It seems kind of irreverent to reduce the recent conflict in the Middle East to backyard-squabble terms, since the consequences are so grave. But our basest human behavior is usually quick to take us back to times when our needs were a little simpler and closer to the surface, and the fact is, both Hezbollah and Israel are acting like children.

Which is not to say that their motivations are immature. They aren’t; they’re just based more on id than on superego. Right now, in Lebanon and in Israel, people are worrying about their very survival. And people worried about their survival are rarely very likely to try and take the high road. Does Israel have the right to defend itself against aggression from Hezbollah? Sure. Has Hezbollah acted unconscionably? Absolutely. Has either side taken the best approach, the one most conducive to future peace in the region? Arguably no.

And that’s why they need supervision.


Daddy is, traditionally, the enforcer. He’s generally the tallest and hairiest of the two parents, and thus when the kids are fighting, he’s the one to step in and break it up. (This is not to say that Mommy doesn’t have a pretty impressive grip when she gets you by the upper arm, but such interventions are traditionally a Daddy job.) He gets what he wants by commanding respect. Lacking respect, he commands fear, and that usually works too. When a situation calls for conflict resolution, he's abble to intervene by virtue of being bigger and meaner than any of the other parties involved.

Daddy is also the guy in charge of the ass-whuppings. When it comes down to superior size and strength, Daddy cuts the more imposing figure. Frequently, the mere sight of Daddy taking off his belt in preparation for an ass-whupping is sufficient to curtail all ass-whuppable behavior.

Now, in the Harmless household, Daddy and Mommy both had some say in the punishment. When one of us kids misbehaved, we got the sit-down from both parents, who would hear both sides of the story and then retire to their room to decide on a punishment. It's generally accepted that if Daddy were in charge of the discipline, Big Brother and I would both still be grounded. Or several inches shorter apiece.

But we're free, and we're tall, and that's because of...


Mommy doesn't mean cream puff, but she's generally (traditionally) the kinder, gentler of the two. If Daddy makes you behave, Mommy makes you want to behave. Mommy nurtures. She bandages skinned knees. If you get into a fight at the park, Daddy whups your ass and Mommy gives your cupcakes to the kid you were fighting with. Then, when you get home, she whups your ass again, and then gives you cupcakes of your own. She's a bit erratic like that, but her heart's in the right place, and the most important thing is the feeling of warmth and safety that you get when you're around her, the knowledge that you're not going to starve and you're not going to die of exsanguination from the knee because Mommy is there.

Between them, Mommy and Daddy take care of basic needs like food and shelter and health, and they take care of more abstract needs like nurturance, discipline, and a sense of safety. And more than anything, that's what people in Israel and Lebanon need right now.

The Kids

First of all, Hezbollah has never been a good kid. It doesn't even get black sheep status; Hezbollah is rotten, and his parents have never been able to figure out how he turned out so badly when so many of the other kids at least try to be good. Hezbollah is the kid who tied fireworks to the cat at age 8, started drinking at 12 and probably was the one who knocked up the neighbor's daughter, although she refuses to say. Hezbollah is a weird kid, too; sometimes he's nice to his sister Lebanon, but more often than not, he just gets her in trouble. And yet, she keeps standing up for him. But that's another story.

Poor Israel was adopted, and Hezbollah has been picking on him ever since. They've had a few squabbles, particularly after Hezbollah had to start sharing a room with him. Beyond just resenting his presence, Hezbollah resents Israel's very existence and has made no secret of his intent to eliminate him entirely. Israel has, on occasion, snapped at Hezbollah more vigorously than was absolutely necessary, but it's hard to blame him when that bastard kid has been picking on him constantly, pinching and hitting and just asking for it.

And now Hezbollah has kidnapped two Israeli soldiers. And Israel declared that that was absolutely freaking it, it was the final straw, and Hezbollah was going to get what was coming to him. Israel had just been waiting for a reason to go off, and he gave it to Hezbollah with everything he had, bombing the ever-living crap out of him, taking out infrastructure right and left, airports, power stations, broadcast capabilities, roads, everything, because Hezbollah freaking had it coming. And he did. Hezbollah had it coming.

But Hezbollah isn't the only one getting hurt.

Lebanon is getting it, too. When the power goes out, Lebanon is stuck without light, without electricity, without water, in the stifling desert heat. When a road gets bombed, Lebanon is trapped in a war zone - or blown up. Whatever damage is being done to Hezbollah, Lebanon is getting it just as badly - or maybe worse, because Hezbollah, at least, knows how to defend himself. And while it can be argued that Lebanon puts herself in that situation through her continued loyalty to Hezbollah, it can also be said that she doesn't generally mess with Israel, that she's been trying to be good, that she even broke up with Syria just a few months ago, and that she doesn't deserve what she's getting.

Who's going to resolve this?


And thus we come to the problem the world faces: Who's going to step up and be Daddy? Mommy is already pretty much taken care of; the UN makes a pretty good mommy. The UN knows how to round up aid, set up refugee camps, establish hospitals to help the victims of war. The UN is also pretty good at setting rules. But when it comes down to enforcing the rules, actually laying down the law, the UN is pretty ineffective without Daddy standing by to keep everyone in line. But still, we're left with the question: Who's going to be Daddy?

The obvious choice is the US. The US has the "big and scary" thing down pat; he's got nukes, and he knows how to use them, and he has used them when absolutely necessary. And even in terms of conventional warfare, the US can lay a pretty effective smackdown.


The US, I hate to say, has been a kind of crappy daddy lately. His enforcement of the rules has been spotty; Iraq got an ass-whupping without even having WMD, while North Korea actually fired off missiles and got nothing more than a talking-to. And the US's ass-whupping resources are stretching mighty thin, with ongoing efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq.

More importantly, though, the US just isn't ready for fatherhood. George W. Bush himself has some maturing to do; he still thinks that he can manage foreign policy from the cowboy perspective. He still thinks in dichotomies of good guys and bad guys, always-right and always-wrong, unconditional support and unconditional condemnation, and that just doesn't apply in a world where the good guys sometimes do wrong things. Bush wants to be a friend, and certainly Israel needs a friend, but what the world needs is a daddy.

Israel has shown some maturity and self-control in choosing not to expand military operations in south Lebanon, although they haven't withdrawn and they haven't stopped bombing. Hezbollah has shown no restraint at all, in spite of the fact that Lebanon is taking the worst punishment for Hezbollah's actions. They need a neutral party, a voice of reason, who's able to enforce a cease fire - on both sides - and, yes, even negotiate with despicable characters previously declared un-negotiatable. Daddy needs to be someone who doesn't want to see this conflict escalate, who does want to see both sides satisfied within limits set by the basic boundaries of humanity, and most importantly, who truly believes that peace is possible without either party being completely erased from the map.

God help me, I really, really want to see signs that George W. Bush can become that Daddy.

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