Reaction to the Withdrawal – Part I

 

In business there is a fundamental concept called the ‘sunk cost fallacy.’ The idea is simple: when you assess what to do in the future, make sure not to be blinded by the costs of the past. Those costs have been sunk already, and they can’t figure into your calculus. Otherwise, you’d just be wasting good money in pursuit of what is already lost.

In war, there is an echo of the same concept. We say, “If we don’t do X, then all those men would have died for nothing.” If we held true to the mathematical reality of the sunk cost fallacy it would be smarter to say, “Let’s ignore all those boys who died already, and focus on what we can achieve from this point forward.”

That was the thought that occurred to me when I heard the Israeli government had withdrawn a large number of troops from Gaza. Israel was up against a wall and was forced to withdraw by threats from the United States. The result was a complete recasting of the war effort to date. Instead of the war being about replacing Hamas, recovering the hostages, and finding a better way forward, the war has become one enormous retaliatory strike.

From Hamas’ perspective all those people – Hamas fighters and Gazan civilians – died to show that the Hamas terror-state can survive Israel (unlike the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria). It was a worthy investment as you may see from the victory dance they will do if things stay as they are.

But from the Israeli perspective? From the Israeli perspective, those roughly 30,000 people died for nothing. We killed tens of thousands and we achieved nothing. After all, the ineffectiveness of retaliatory strikes was already demonstrated by Oct 7th.

If things remain as they are, then Hamas will have achieved a complete victory. They still hold well over a hundred hostages with no incentive to hand them over. Their enemy, Israel, is under threat of arms embargoes that encourage those seeking the worst genocide since the Holocaust – as a natural followup to the largest geographic ethnic cleansing in history (99.8% of Jews were cleansed from the vast Arab world). Hamas’ use of the press, especially through their Qatari sponsors and allies, was masterful. Just as one example, 260 aid workers were killed in other conflicts around the world in 2023. Not one warranted front-page news and condemnations by the White House.

For Hamas and its Iranian sponsors, it is clear. October 7th was an historical achievement and a remarkable victory. There is a reason 70% of Palestinians see it as a good move – and did so prior to the latest news. Hamas and Hezbollah will rebuild, retrench, and repeat. Every repetition of this formula by Hezbollah and Hamas, including the small wars in 2006, 2014, 2021 and the constant hostilities in between, has yielded concrete gains. Israel has been further restrained, Hamas and Hezbollah have seen their reputations enhanced, their holds in the territories they can control have been redoubled, and their military capabilities have grown. For people motivated by a mission greater than life itself, they are winners. What is their next step? At this point, they can do anything they want except give back the hostages for free.

By contrast, for the American allies in Saudi Arabia and Egypt, the present outcome of the war is a catastrophe, and it is very unclear what they should do next.

The Muslim Brotherhood, of which Hamas is a part, represents a massive danger to the Egyptian government – which came to power due to a counter-democratic coup against that same Muslim Brotherhood. The Egyptian government can’t say it explicitly, but Hamas’ reputational gain threatens the stability of the Egyptian government (as well as the peace with Israel). It obviously threatens Christian populations in Egypt as well (a minority of somewhere around 6 million people). The shipping constraints through the Bab-al-Mandeb strait – carried without any serious consequences for the Iran-backed Houthis – has hit the bankrupt Egyptian government in the pocketbook and will not be easily recovered from.

For Saudi Arabia, abandoned in near-historical fashion after the massive Iranian attacks on its oil facilities, Iran is the enemy, and the ayatollahs have been emboldened. The most oil-rich areas of Saudi Arabia are in the Eastern Province, where 30% of the population is Shia and has strong sympathies for the Iranian regime. These dynamics are why Saudi troops rolled into Bahrain to support the Sunni government there. From the Saudi perspective, an Iranian sponsored Shia rebellion could not be allowed to spread. This outcome is extremely negative for them. The Saudis lost in a war against the Houthis and now their enemy will strengthen their position on both their southern and northern borders. Everybody loves a winner.

For the United States the war has also been a loss. It isn’t catastrophic, though. The reputational losses incurred by the abandonment of an ally have already been incurred elsewhere. American inactions in Kurdistan (after the 1991 Iraq war), Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Afghanistan, and even Ukraine (which wasn’t technically an ally) have all shown how unreliable the United States is – under administrations from both parties. The administration had to know the costs of a war in Gaza on the population of Gaza; the only surprise in this invasion was the relatively low number of Israelis killed. Nonetheless, when those costs were seen (or perhaps when too few Israelis were killed to satisfy their calculus of shared suffering), they withdrew support. This is despite the fact that Israel is a resolute ally with a pro-American population, caught in a conflict that requires no American boots on the ground. This fecklessness, combined with the inability of the United States to even build new Coast Guard cutters to support their outreach in the Pacific, fundamentally undermines their credibility as an ally.

On the domestic front, the US has become no stranger to ‘peaceful riots’, as shown with the George Floyd protests. The continuation of calls for violent upheaval by the radical left and their new allies, the far-right Islamists, are just that – a continuation. Both of these movements have been accompanied by a dramatic rise in anti-Jewish incidents. ADL figures show a 360% rise in anti-Jewish attacks after 10/7. This, in turn, followed a five-fold increase from 2013-2022. Even if you disagree with their measurement criteria, the scale of the change is clear. As is normal in a society experiencing an upswing in anti-semitism, the US is in massive cultural decline. This is best manifested by a drug death rate that is now more than twice as high as any other country on earth. Support for Israel wouldn’t have limited these riots or these problems. However, the prevarication reinforces the sense that the United States is a country entirely adrift.

The natural response from potential international allies is to get what short-term benefits they can from the US – but to in no way hitch themselves to the US unless the other options are erasure. Australia signed an alliance with the US but now sees the fruits of that alliance, top-tier submarines, delayed by 2-3 years. Predictably, they have left their most strategic port in Chinese hands. The Philippines whipsaw back and forth between US and Chinese support. The UAE maintains strong ties with Russia. India has cut Russian arms imports in the wake of the Ukrainian failures, but Russia remains the largest supplier. Relationships with the United States are thus becoming relationships of convenience – not relationships of principle and not relationships that can be relied on.

Israel may soon be exploring an alliance with Saudi Arabia. Not under the aegis of the United States, but contrary to it.

Although it may not feel like it, the post-Cold War period has been one of the greatest periods of peace history has ever known. From 1946 to 1991 (the Cold War), war deaths averaged 349,000 a year. From 1991-2020 (Pax America), that dipped to 96,000. Roughly 1 in 70,000 was killed in interstate war. Since 2021, the average has risen to 250,000 – a dramatic rise. Given the aspirations of China, Iran, and Russia, and the failure of the free world to do more than deliver stirring speeches, things are only likely to get worse.

This little war has seen total deaths that are roughly 1/10th of the average since 2021. Nonetheless, it will recast the entire region and the global order. The disappearance of the Pax Americana will be accelerated. The Egyptian government may fall, the Saudis will be fundamentally threatened, and the Iranian march across the Arab world will continue. Unless something dramatic changes, the anti-free alliance of Chinese, Russian and Iranian forces, emboldened by the fecklessness of the West in the face of Hamas, will extend their incredible advances of the past year.

While Israel might yet go into Rafah and finish their work against Hamas, the US has put the final nail in the coffin of their own credibility. Even a 180-degree turn by the United States would not change that reality.

Given all of this, what hope is there for improvement in the future?

For that you’ll have to wait for Part II.

Published in Foreign Policy
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  1. Paul Stinchfield Member
    Paul Stinchfield
    @PaulStinchfield

    JosephCox: The Muslim Brotherhood, of which Hamas is a part, represents a massive danger

    Note that Barack Obama supports them, even though they are thoroughly fascist. Or rather “because”.

    • #1
  2. Michael Minnott Member
    Michael Minnott
    @MichaelMinnott

    Paul Stinchfield (View Comment):

    JosephCox: The Muslim Brotherhood, of which Hamas is a part, represents a massive danger

    Note that Barack Obama supports them, even though they are thoroughly fascist. Or rather “because”.

    They only need be anti-American.

    • #2
  3. Michael Minnott Member
    Michael Minnott
    @MichaelMinnott

    This is an excellent post.  I fear that the issue is more than just moral collapse on the part of the United States.  IMHO the fundamental failing of the Pax Americana post Cold War is that it was run as a charity.  We assumed that any military commitments could be handled on the cheap via a small reactionary force (this was the ill fated Donald Rumsfeld’s theory) and immigration, even the illegal kind, would always be a net economic benefit (plus an “act of love” per the Bushes).

    In practice the it has cost us thousands of American lives and trillions of dollars, plus the gigantic and unfunded fiscal and social liability of mass immigration.  We have spent the past 30 years subsidizing our own immiseration so that we no longer have the money, or will to maintain the global order.

    • #3
  4. JosephCox Coolidge
    JosephCox
    @JosephCox

    Michael Minnott (View Comment):
    IMHO the fundamental failing of the Pax Americana post Cold War is that it was run as a charity.

    It definitely didn’t help. The commitments to Iraqi democracy ended up being something around a trillion dollars. Afghanistan was another 2 trillion. Then there were the 7,000 dead and many more wounded or otherwise damaged.

    Catastrophes.

    Of course, the rest of the spending is even worse. The national debt including unfunded liabilities is probably closer to $158 trillion (https://www.truthinaccounting.org/about/our_national_debt). In 2000, by the same analysis, it was only $105 trillion (https://www.truthinaccounting.org/library/doclib/Financial-State-of-the-Union-2018.pdf). Little of that had to do with wars.

    That said, these debts may well have the same effect as WWII had on Britain.

    • #4
  5. Painter Jean Moderator
    Painter Jean
    @PainterJean

    Thank you for this post. I was puzzled by this –their new allies, the far-right Islamists – as I don’t know  who you mean by this description. The pro-Hamas Islamists in this country (like the ones yelling “Death to America” in Michigan on the last day of Ramadan) are on the Left, not the Right. There may be some oddball anti-Semites on the Right, but they’re not Islamists. 

    • #5
  6. Zafar Member
    Zafar
    @Zafar

    JosephCox (View Comment):

    That said, these debts may well have the same effect as WWII had on Britain.

    Who would be the replacement?

    • #6
  7. JosephCox Coolidge
    JosephCox
    @JosephCox

    Painter Jean (View Comment):
    Thank you for this post. I was puzzled by this –their new allies, the far-right Islamists – as I don’t know  who you mean by this description. The pro-Hamas Islamists in this country (like the ones yelling “Death to America” in Michigan on the last day of Ramadan) are on the Left, not the Right. There may be some oddball anti-Semites on the Right, but they’re not Islamists. 

    Well, they fall under what many on the left would call hard-right.

    They are against LGBTQ+, abortion, separation of church and state etc… They favor prayer in school and ethnic and racial nationalism. They support the murder of minorities and ethnic cleansing. Hamas are basically the KKK with a lot more seriousness behind their actions. They just aren’t hard right Americans as their ethnic and racial nationalism is quite solidly anti-American. 

    Hard-left is erasure of ethnic and religious lines and replacement with secular concepts (not Hamas), redistribution of wealth (obviously not) and abolition of private private property (again, no).

    Neither hard-left nor hard-right are nice guys. They happen to be allies in this case because they share a, um, disdain, for the United States. Hamas has made a point of using left-wing talking points (e.g. anti-colonial) but their fundamental policies fall into the hard-right side of the equation.

    • #7
  8. JosephCox Coolidge
    JosephCox
    @JosephCox

    Zafar (View Comment):
    Who would be the replacement?

    Not a clue. That’s the danger.

    • #8
  9. Painter Jean Moderator
    Painter Jean
    @PainterJean

    JosephCox (View Comment):

    Painter Jean (View Comment):
    Thank you for this post. I was puzzled by this –their new allies, the far-right Islamists – as I don’t know who you mean by this description. The pro-Hamas Islamists in this country (like the ones yelling “Death to America” in Michigan on the last day of Ramadan) are on the Left, not the Right. There may be some oddball anti-Semites on the Right, but they’re not Islamists.

    Well, they fall under what many on the left would call hard-right.

    They are against LGBTQ+, abortion, separation of church and state etc… They favor prayer in school and ethnic and racial nationalism. They support the murder of minorities and ethnic cleansing. Hamas are basically the KKK with a lot more seriousness behind their actions. They just aren’t hard right Americans as their ethnic and racial nationalism is quite solidly anti-American.

    Hard-left is erasure of ethnic and religious lines and replacement with secular concepts (not Hamas), redistribution of wealth (obviously not) and abolition of private private property (again, no).

    Neither hard-left nor hard-right are nice guys. They happen to be allies in this case because they share a, um, disdain, for the United States. Hamas has made a point of using left-wing talking points (e.g. anti-colonial) but their fundamental policies fall into the hard-right side of the equation.

    I agree that neither hard-Right or hard-Left are nice guys. I would argue that they are actually rather similar in their attitudes – both see America as evil, for example, though for different reasons. But are there really that many of these hard-Right types? I doubt it. I don’t see anti-Israel demonstrations by these people, whereas the hard-Left seems quite emboldened and is busy putting on protests in many places.

    And although you are probably quite aware of this, one can be against the anti-LGBTQ agenda and abortion and not be “hard-Right”.

    • #9
  10. kedavis Coolidge
    kedavis
    @kedavis

    Painter Jean (View Comment):
    And although you are probably quite aware of this, one can be against the anti-LGBTQ agenda and abortion and not be “hard-Right”.

    Not according to the left – and their media – you can’t.

    • #10
  11. Painter Jean Moderator
    Painter Jean
    @PainterJean

    kedavis (View Comment):

    Painter Jean (View Comment):
    And although you are probably quite aware of this, one can be against the anti-LGBTQ agenda and abortion and not be “hard-Right”.

    Not according to the left – and their media – you can’t.

    That’s a given.

    • #11
  12. Globalitarian Misanthropist Coolidge
    Globalitarian Misanthropist
    @Flicker

    JosephCox (View Comment):

    Painter Jean (View Comment):
    Thank you for this post. I was puzzled by this –their new allies, the far-right Islamists – as I don’t know who you mean by this description. The pro-Hamas Islamists in this country (like the ones yelling “Death to America” in Michigan on the last day of Ramadan) are on the Left, not the Right. There may be some oddball anti-Semites on the Right, but they’re not Islamists.

    Well, they fall under what many on the left would call hard-right.

    They are against LGBTQ+, abortion, separation of church and state etc… They favor prayer in school and ethnic and racial nationalism. They support the murder of minorities and ethnic cleansing. Hamas are basically the KKK with a lot more seriousness behind their actions. They just aren’t hard right Americans as their ethnic and racial nationalism is quite solidly anti-American.

    Hard-left is erasure of ethnic and religious lines and replacement with secular concepts (not Hamas), redistribution of wealth (obviously not) and abolition of private private property (again, no).

    Neither hard-left nor hard-right are nice guys. They happen to be allies in this case because they share a, um, disdain, for the United States. Hamas has made a point of using left-wing talking points (e.g. anti-colonial) but their fundamental policies fall into the hard-right side of the equation.

    They sound like you’re describing leftists to me.

    • #12
  13. ToryWarWriter Coolidge
    ToryWarWriter
    @ToryWarWriter

    JosephCox (View Comment):

    Zafar (View Comment):
    Who would be the replacement?

    Not a clue. That’s the danger.

    Russia and China it seems.

    Its what I have been warning about since start of Feb 22, but pointing out the problems of Ukraine meant I was Putins puppet.

    The Russians have cruise missiles that we cant shoot down and nullify the entire carrier fleet.  No doubt technology shared with Iran and China.

    Meanwhile our industries are all in those countries that we have decided to get into a fight with.

    The next couple of decades are really going to suck.

    • #13
  14. aardo vozz Member
    aardo vozz
    @aardovozz

    JosephCox (View Comment):

    Zafar (View Comment):
    Who would be the replacement?

    Not a clue. That’s the danger.

    Or, there is no replacement, which is an even bigger danger.

    • #14
  15. ToryWarWriter Coolidge
    ToryWarWriter
    @ToryWarWriter

    Some fun numbers to compare to.

    The French Army is 105,000 men

    Britain just cut their army by ten thousand.  The USA unable to meet recruiting targets lost 20K.

    German military is at 180000.

    Poland 300,000.

    Russia has gotten over 2 million now under arms.  But given they use conscription, at the rate of 600,000 a year.  Which over 20 years, means they have a trained manpower pool of 12 milllion men.

    We have a podcast on this platform called the half percent podcast dedicated to the fact that its the percentage of people in the USA who have military experience.  The Russians percentage is 8 percent.

    Russians despite some people on this platform will tell you, are very patriotic and love their country.  Thats why I believe in Putin getting 88 percent of the vote.

    Meanwhile if a bunch of planes fell on New York City and DC again, I know a bunch of people on this website who would say.  “Good.  They had it coming.”

     

     

    • #15
  16. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    ToryWarWriter (View Comment):
    Russia has gotten over 2 million now under arms.  But given they use conscription, at the rate of 600,000 a year.  Which over 20 years, means they have a trained manpower pool of 12 milllion men.

    How many of them can Putin equip?

    • #16
  17. Zafar Member
    Zafar
    @Zafar

    ToryWarWriter (View Comment):

    JosephCox (View Comment):

    Zafar (View Comment):
    Who would be the replacement?

    Not a clue. That’s the danger.

    Russia and China it seems.

    They have demographic issues.  Relevant?

    I think the US will last a while yet.  

     

    • #17
  18. JosephCox Coolidge
    JosephCox
    @JosephCox

    Zafar (View Comment):

     

    I think the US will last a while yet.  

    The US will last a while, but its enormous influence is already waning.

    Yes, everybody with scale has demographic problems. 

    • #18
  19. iWe Coolidge
    iWe
    @iWe

    JosephCox (View Comment):
    Yes, everybody with scale has demographic problems. 

    Russia and Ukraine first among them.

     

    • #19
  20. iWe Coolidge
    iWe
    @iWe

    JosephCox (View Comment):
    Well, they fall under what many on the left would call hard-right.

    Your distinction between right and left is a little … odd.

    My unit of measurement is simpler: Pro-freedom on one side, anti-freedom on the other. On this linear scale, Hamas and Woke are on the same team, which reflects reality. 

    • #20
  21. cdor Member
    cdor
    @cdor

    If the United States, by virtue of its political leaders and a large portion of its population, has become anti-Israel, then how long before Israel becomes anti-USA, not by choice but by necessity for survival? Joseph, you mentioned Saudi Arabia as a possible ally. That would be quite a shock, but no bigger than the jolt given to Israel by the Biden administration. Who else could join that alliance? Why wouldn’t Israel be a better partner for Russia than Iran? As an existential matter, Israel must find strong partners given their abandonment by the USA. This is all very disturbing for me. I feel abandoned by my own country.

    • #21
  22. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    cdor (View Comment):
    Why wouldn’t Israel be a better partner for Russia than Iran?

    I get the impression that they’d have to overcome some history.  There are many in Israel who haven’t forgotten why they or their parents (or grandparents) left Russia.  

    • #22
  23. iWe Coolidge
    iWe
    @iWe

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    cdor (View Comment):
    Why wouldn’t Israel be a better partner for Russia than Iran?

    I get the impression that they’d have to overcome some history. There are many in Israel who haven’t forgotten why they or their parents (or grandparents) left Russia.

    And Israel is not really comfortable in the “might makes right” philosophical camp. Putin is nothing if not an exemplar of this worldview.

    • #23
  24. cdor Member
    cdor
    @cdor

    iWe (View Comment):

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    cdor (View Comment):
    Why wouldn’t Israel be a better partner for Russia than Iran?

    I get the impression that they’d have to overcome some history. There are many in Israel who haven’t forgotten why they or their parents (or grandparents) left Russia.

    And Israel is not really comfortable in the “might makes right” philosophical camp. Putin is nothing if not an exemplar of this worldview.

    I agree with both of these last two comments. Do either of you have a suggestion as to who else Israel could ally with?

    • #24
  25. JosephCox Coolidge
    JosephCox
    @JosephCox

    cdor (View Comment):
    how long before Israel becomes anti-USA, not by choice but by necessity for survival? Joseph, you mentioned Saudi Arabia as a possible ally. That would be quite a shock, but no bigger than the jolt given to Israel by the Biden administration. Who else could join that alliance?

    It has  already been discussed. An Arab Sunni alliance with Israel is a definite possibility.

    If the US and Israel were to diverge, any relationship with Russia would be transactional. In fact, there is already a transactional relationship of sorts. We routinely bomb their clients and allies in Syria and Russia basically looks the other way. In return, Israel doesn’t erase the Russian presence in Syria, which would be a strategic set back.

    The US kind of has something similar. US bases in Syria operate and the Russians don’t interfere. They tried once and the US massacred them. So Russians get to stay, so long as they don’t interfere with the Americans.

    • #25
  26. cdor Member
    cdor
    @cdor

    JosephCox (View Comment):

    cdor (View Comment):
    how long before Israel becomes anti-USA, not by choice but by necessity for survival? Joseph, you mentioned Saudi Arabia as a possible ally. That would be quite a shock, but no bigger than the jolt given to Israel by the Biden administration. Who else could join that alliance?

    It has already been discussed. An Arab Sunni alliance with Israel is a definite possibility.

    If the US and Israel were to diverge, any relationship with Russia would be transactional. In fact, there is already a transactional relationship of sorts. We routinely bomb their clients and allies in Syria and Russia basically looks the other way. In return, Israel doesn’t erase the Russian presence in Syria, which would be a strategic set back.

    The US kind of has something similar. US bases in Syria operate and the Russians don’t interfere. They tried once and the US massacred them. So Russians get to stay, so long as they don’t interfere with the Americans.

    Are the Palestinians Shia Muslims? I thought they were Sunni. And yet they are supported by Iran. Could you explain that for me, please?

    • #26
  27. aardo vozz Member
    aardo vozz
    @aardovozz

    cdor (View Comment):

    iWe (View Comment):

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    cdor (View Comment):
    Why wouldn’t Israel be a better partner for Russia than Iran?

    I get the impression that they’d have to overcome some history. There are many in Israel who haven’t forgotten why they or their parents (or grandparents) left Russia.

    And Israel is not really comfortable in the “might makes right” philosophical camp. Putin is nothing if not an exemplar of this worldview.

    I agree with both of these last two comments. Do either of you have a suggestion as to who else Israel could ally with?

    I was going to suggest India, but I don’t know enough about India’s foreign policy to know if this would be a realistic possibility.🤔

    • #27
  28. cdor Member
    cdor
    @cdor

    aardo vozz (View Comment):

    cdor (View Comment):

    iWe (View Comment):

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    cdor (View Comment):
    Why wouldn’t Israel be a better partner for Russia than Iran?

    I get the impression that they’d have to overcome some history. There are many in Israel who haven’t forgotten why they or their parents (or grandparents) left Russia.

    And Israel is not really comfortable in the “might makes right” philosophical camp. Putin is nothing if not an exemplar of this worldview.

    I agree with both of these last two comments. Do either of you have a suggestion as to who else Israel could ally with?

    I was going to suggest India, but I don’t know enough about India’s foreign policy to know if this would be a realistic possibility.🤔

    We could ask Zafar😁

    • #28
  29. JosephCox Coolidge
    JosephCox
    @JosephCox

    cdor (View Comment):

     

    Are the Palestinians Shia Muslims? I thought they were Sunni. And yet they are supported by Iran. Could you explain that for me, please?

    They are by and large Sunni. Alliances are not strictly on sectarian lines. Qatar, a Sunni state, has moved much closer to Iran. They were sponsors of Hamas. The Islamic Republic has, as a raison d’etre, the removal of the Jewish State. They are willing to work with anybody who will work with them and Hamas is in no way a rival of Iran (unlike Saudi). The Shia alliances are kind of more ‘natural’, but against an external enemy either way can work.

    • #29
  30. JosephCox Coolidge
    JosephCox
    @JosephCox

    aardo vozz (View Comment):

     

    I was going to suggest India, but I don’t know enough about India’s foreign policy to know if this would be a realistic possibility.🤔

    Oh, India and Israel absolutely already work together. But it isn’t a superpower relationship, Israel has supported the Indian military for years.

    • #30
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