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How-to: Defend the indefensible. By Stephan M Walt

Powerful states often do bad things. When they do, government officials and sympathizers inevitably try to defend their conduct, even when those actions are clearly wrong or obviously counterproductive. This is called being an "apologist," although people who do this rarely apologize for much of anything.

Some readers out there may aspire to careers in foreign policy, and you may be called upon to perform these duties as part of your professional obligations. Moreover, all of us need to be able to spot the rhetorical ploys that governments use to justify their own misconduct. To help students prepare for future acts of diplomatic casuistry, and to raise public consciousness about these tactics, I offer as a public service this handy 21-step guide: "How to Defend the Indefensible and Get Away With It." The connection to recent events is obvious, but such practices are commonplace in many countries and widely practiced by non-state actors as well.

Here are my 21 handy talking-points when you need to apply the white-wash:

1. We didn't do it! (Denials usually don't work, but it's worth a try).

2. We know you think we did it but we aren't admitting anything.

3. Actually, maybe we did do something but not what we are accused of doing.

4. Ok, we did it but it wasn't that bad ("waterboarding isn't really torture, you know").

5. Well, maybe it was pretty bad but it was justified or necessary. (We only torture terrorists, or suspected terrorists, or people who might know a terrorist...")

6. What we did was really quite restrained, when you consider how powerful we really are. I mean, we could have done something even worse.

7. Besides, what we did was technically legal under some interpretations of international law (or at least as our lawyers interpret the law as it applies to us.)

8. Don't forget: the other side is much worse. In fact, they're evil. Really.

9. Plus, they started it.

10. And remember: We are the good guys. We are not morally equivalent to the bad guys no matter what we did. Only morally obtuse, misguided critics could fail to see this fundamental distinction between Them and Us.

11. The results may have been imperfect, but our intentions were noble. (Invading Iraq may have resulted in tens of thousands of dead and wounded and millions of refugees, but we meant well.)

12. We have to do things like this to maintain our credibility. You don't want to encourage those bad guys, do you?

13. Especially because the only language the other side understands is force.

14. In fact, it was imperative to teach them a lesson. For the Nth time.

15. If we hadn't done this to them they would undoubtedly have done something even worse to us. Well, maybe not. But who could take that chance?  

16. In fact, no responsible government could have acted otherwise in the face of such provocation.

17. Plus, we had no choice. What we did may have been awful, but all other policy options had failed and/or nothing else would have worked.

18. It's a tough world out there and Serious People understand that sometimes you have to do these things. Only ignorant idealists, terrorist sympathizers, craven appeasers and/or treasonous liberals would question our actions.

19. In fact, whatever we did will be worth it eventually, and someday the rest of the world will thank us.

20. We are the victims of a double-standard. Other states do the same things (or worse) and nobody complains about them. What we did was therefore permissible.

21. And if you keep criticizing us, we'll get really upset and then we might do something really crazy. You don't want that, do you?

Repeat as necessary.How to defend the indefencable

11 Replies

Re: How-to: Defend the indefensible. By Stephan M Walt

Senior Advisor

Re: How-to: Defend the indefensible. By Stephan M Walt

They weren't civilians or peace seekers, they were terrorist looking for trouble....and they found it.

Honored Advisor

Re: How-to: Defend the indefensible. By Stephan M Walt

Hey John, you forgot Sargent Shultz`s defense. I know notttttthik! I see NottttthiK! Smiley Happy


Re: How-to: Defend the indefensible. By Stephan M Walt

Try reading the story in the Israeli press and you may learn more about brain washing.  Now the IDF has admitted the doctored the audio, Israelis don't believe the story, the military  openly censor information and the news.  It's to protect the Israelis from the outside world, don't you know, the more the enemies the lukid gangsters create the more scared their political base is the more control they can grab.   It a old story, look at the history of the 1930's, the more control of their media a political group can assume it draws certain criminal minds and characters.  If you believe, to be safe in a fascist military state, citizens except political control of the media, give up some Liberty for the illusion of safety.  It's a regular habit in Europe and the middle east.   The American reason we have freedom of press, expression,  is to be safe from being control by those who would use our government from enslaving us.     


Re: How-to: Defend the indefensible. By Stephan M Walt

That's last weeks tune, it a distant echo now, go here and volunteer -- -and they will send you the latest, or you can go the Ynetnews site and hear the chorus singing the latest in the "talkbacks".  You will fit right in, they will welcome you to the chant.

Senior Contributor

Re: How-to: Defend the indefensible. By Stephan M Walt

The only hope I see for building peace and understanding between Israel and the Palestinians lies with the young people of Israel and the young Palestinians.  Much like the youth in Iran is slowly pressuring it's government to a more open and free society and away from its more extremist hard line views so to do the youth of Israel need to bring about the needed change in their country.   I don't think resolutions and condemnations will do much to change Israel's current policy towards Palestinians.  Don't see much chance of in swaying the opinions of the older generations on either side.


Re: How-to: Defend the indefensible. By Stephan M Walt

You say:


"The only hope I see for building peace and understanding between Israel and the Palestinians lies with the young people of Israel and the young Palestinians."


Brace yourself for a brick wall colision there dag....the fundamental support on both sides comes from folks of extremist persuations. Literature and real life history are full of romances and working relationships between young Israelis and Palestinians. But whn the rubber meets the road, it's the Zionists and the Mullahs that will need to iron this out. And both of those factions are well suppported from outside of the region.


Things aren't going so smoothly here in the U.S. for the guy who carried our young people by an astronomical margin. Crusted over, deeply entrenched institutions still make the rules.

Senior Advisor

reverse flotilla

snip-Although most of the recent talk regarding flotillas has revolved around ships sailing toward Gaza, at least two plans have emerged for “reverse flotillas” – from Israel toward Turkey – to highlight what organizers have labeled the Turks’ “shameless hypocrisy” in their criticisms of the Jewish state.

The most ambitious of the two plans has been devised by members of Israel’s National Student Union, who this week announced their intention to set sail toward Turkey, in an effort to bring humanitarian aid to the “oppressed people of Turkish Kurdistan” and to members of the “Turkish Armenian minority.”


“But it’s here that we really get into the shameless hypocrisy of the Turks, because while they criticize us day and night, they are oppressing the Kurds and silencing the world when it comes to recognition of the Armenian Genocide.”

 Torporovsky said his group had already found a captain for the vessel, a retired Israel Navy sailor, but the ship itself was proving harder to acquire.

“It’s not easy to find a large, sea-bound vessel,” he said.

“But we’re looking, and we’re raising funds, and as soon as we’re able to do it, we will.”

But the reverse-flotilla talk hasn’t stopped there.

Another sea-bound venture is being organized in an effort to draw attention to Turkey’s own controversial policies – this time to Cyprus, to “call for an end to the Turkish occupation” of the island’s northern half – and is being organized by Meretz activist Pinchas Har-Zahav, and his son Haim, who has also signed on for the voyage.

The group is also set to include Alex Goldfarb, who was an MK with the Tzomet and Yiud parties from 1992 to 1996, and is being subsidized by an unnamed wealthy Israeli.

Speaking to the Post on Monday, Haim Har-Zahav said the goal of the voyage was to “remind the world that Turkey is not innocent.

“If Uruguay or Iceland were the ones criticizing us so harshly, it might be a different story,” he said. “But we’re talking about a country that only seven years after [the Six Day War and the beginning of Israeli control of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank] began occupying Cyprus.

“We’re talking about a country that has systematically killed the Kurds and refuses to acknowledge their role in the Armenian Genocide,” he said.

“And so no, we will not accept this. The hypocrisy has to stop here.”


Re: How-to: Defend the indefensible. By Stephan M Walt

Wish the young people were not being indoctrinated by the military---  

Right to life, survival and development 

10. The Committee is concerned over the violations of the right to life, survival and 

development of children within the jurisdiction of the State party. The Committee, while 

noting that Israeli children are affected, is concerned that Palestinian children are 

disproportionately vulnerable. The Committee expresses grave concern for the serious 

violations suffered by children in Gaza during the Operation Cast Lead in December 2008 

and January 2009 due to the disproportionate violence, the lack of distinction for civilians 

and the obstruction of humanitarian and medical aid, notably documented by the United 

Nations Fact Finding Mission on Gaza, endorsed by the General Assembly (A/RES/64/10) 

and the Human Rights Council (A/HRC/RES/S-12/1). Furthermore, the Committee is 

concerned over the threat to the life of children posed by anti-personnel mines, originating 

from the State party, which have been placed in parts of the occupied Palestinian territory, 

southern Lebanon and the occupied Syrian Golan. 

11. The Committee urges the State party to; 

 (a) Take prompt measures to comply with the fundamental principles of 

proportionality and distinction enshrined in humanitarian law, including the Fourth 


Use of children as human shields and informants 

24. The Committee is deeply concerned over the persistent practice whereby Palestinian 

children are used as human shields and as informants for intelligence purposes. 

Furthermore, the Committee regrets that the State party declines to provide information on 

compliance with the ruling of the Israeli High Court of Justice in Adalah et al. v. 

Commander of the Central Region et. al. (HCJ 3799/02, Judgement of 23 June 2005). In 

view of reports indicating the use by the Israeli army of Palestinian children as human 

shields, including during operation Cast Lead in Gaza in December 2008 and January 2009, 

the Committee notes information from the State party provided during the dialogue that 

Geneva Convention of 1949, which set out the minimum standards for the protection 

of civilians in armed conflict.  

 (b) Pay special attention to the right to life of Palestinian children and 

recommends the State party to, as a matter of urgency, discontinue the blockade and 

support the reconstruction of homes, schools and hospitals.  

 (c) Comply with the recommendations of the United Nations Fact Finding 

Mission on Gaza, while paying particular attention to those recommendations which 

directly or indirectly affect children.  

 (d) Clear all anti-personnel mines in the occupied Palestinian territory, 

southern Lebanon and the occupied Syrian Golan and seek international cooperation 

for this purpose, as necessary. 


Peace education  

26. The Committee notes information from the State party regarding efforts to promote 

peace education in Israeli schools, however is concerned that peace education is extremely 

limited in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory. The Committee is concerned over 

the lack of access to education in the occupied Palestinian territory.  Furthermore, the 

Committee is concerned over the contrasts in the values promoted in education, and in 

particular over the extensive militarization of the educational system in Israel and the 

inclusion of mandatory military components as part of the school curricula. 


Assistance for physical and psychological recovery  

37. The Committee notes the information provided on physical and psychological 

recovery for Israeli children, however regrets the absence of information on such measures 

available for Palestinian children. In particular, the Committee is deeply disturbed by the 

psychological effects on children in Gaza as a consequence of Operation Cast Lead and of 

the lack of assistance for these children. The Committee is furthermore concerned over the 

lack of adequate programmes for rehabilitation of children who have been victims of anti- 

personnel mines. 

38. Given the psychological trauma on children as a consequence of the 

disproportionate attacks on civilians by Israeli Defense Forces, the Committee urges 

the State party to assume its responsibility for providing assistance for the physical 

and psychological recovery of all affected children, Israeli as well as Palestinian. 

Furthermore, the Committee recommends the State party to support specific 

programmes for children who have been victims of anti-personnel mines.