I happened to be in London last week when the Independent newspaper ran a front-page petition calling for “a cease-fire now,” signed by a cross-section of the smoked-salmon socialist set—various retired ambassadors, human rights lawyers and creative geniuses such as Peter Gabriel and Harold Pinter. Which conflict were they trying to end? Not the one in Iraq, where fighting among sectarian militias is killing 100 people a day. Nor the one in Darfur, which continues to claim countless victims notwithstanding the signing of a peace accord. Nor any of the many other bloodlettings going on around this unhappy planet.
The war they’re exercised about is the one that Israel is waging after suffering unprovoked attacks on its northern and southern frontiers. Their petition calls on Prime Minister Tony Blair to force Israel “to end its disproportionate and counterproductive response to Hezbollah's aggression.” The petition also calls for bringing “all pressure possible on Hezbollah to end its attacks on Israel,” but of course the result of a cease-fire now would be to end all pressure on the terrorists. The signatories are smart enough to know that, but they don’t care.
Some of those hellbent on a cease-fire are no doubt animated by sheer animus against Israel, a nation that is held to a standard different from anyone else. (Note the “disproportionate” outrage over Israel’s bombing of a building in Qana, Lebanon, that accidentally and tragically may have killed nearly 60 civilians, compared to the relative lack of outcry over the deliberate bombings by Muslim terrorists that killed more than 200 commuters in Mumbai.)
But there’s more at work here than a Mel Gibson-esque bias (“Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world”). There is also a palpable sense of self-satisfaction among those who advocate peace at any price. It is all too easy to bask in your own virtue while castigating someone else as a warmonger, even though few peace treaties have achieved much unless preceded by decisive military action. The greatest peacemakers in modern history were generals like the Duke of Wellington, William Tecumseh Sherman, Curtis LeMay, George S. Patton and Ariel Sharon, who ruthlessly waged war on behalf of Western democracies.
However, such “militarists” win no Nobel Peace Prizes. Those accolades sometimes go to brave dissidents such as Lech Walesa and Aung San Suu Kyi, but more often they go to ineffectual peace activists such as Pugwash-founder Joseph Rotblat and U.S. Secretary of State Frank Kellogg, author of a 1928 treaty that purported to outlaw war. On two occasions, the prize was even granted to cynical aggressors—the PLO’s Yasser Arafat and North Vietnam’s Le Duc Tho—for whom a peace treaty was merely a tactical step on the way to achieving their ultimate aims by force.
Architects of unsuccessful wars are rightly held responsible for their actions, as Lyndon Johnson and Robert McNamara were for the Vietnam War and as George W. Bush and Donald Rumsfeld may be for the Iraq war, but there is no comparable settling of accounts for those responsible for failed peace pacts. Former South Korean President Kim Dae-jung still has his 2000 Nobel Peace Prize, notwithstanding North Korea's continuing development of nuclear weapons and missiles. Israeli Vice Premier Shimon Peres still has his 1994 prize despite the collapse of the Oslo accords. And United Nations peacekeeping forces still have their 1988 prize even though they have become better known for committing sex crimes than for keeping the peace. (The current fighting has exposed the ineffectuality of yet another set of blue helmets—those deployed in southern Lebanon.)
Nowhere is the dismal record of peace processes clearer than in Israel’s case. Over the years, the “international community” repeatedly has stepped in to prevent Israel from finishing off its enemies—for instance, following its 1982, 1993 and 1996 incursions into Lebanon. Unrelenting pressure even led Israel in 2000 to leave Lebanon altogether. The result? Not peace, but a stronger, more dangerous adversary on Israel’s border. The only real peace that Israel got, as a result of the 1978 Camp David accords, came after it had decisively defeated Egypt in two wars.
You would think that some lessons might be learned from this history. But no. Former Secretary of State Warren Christopher, architect of the 1993 and 1996 Israeli pullouts, is demanding yet another cease-fire that will allow Hezbollah to keep holding Lebanon and Israel hostage. And he is joined in this demand by the great and the good across the world.
Samuel Johnson’s famous epigram needs to be amended. In the 18th century, patriotism may have been the last refuge of the scoundrel. Today, it’s peace activism.
This article appears in full on CFR.org by permission of its original publisher. It was originally available here.