Answer: doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Case in point: Israel. The Israelis have been pounding the crap out of the Palestinians for 60 years now, and for some odd reason the Palestinians still hate them. And, by extension because we're the ones providing the Caterpillar tractors, F-16s, and other nifty pieces of technology along with absolutely obscene amounts of money, us. The U.S., the superpower that seems to employ the same approach to foreign policy that an abuser does towards a battered spouse. Then we're shocked, absolutely shocked, when that battered spouse decides to beat us unconscious and then set the bed on fire.
Back when I was teaching sociology to engineering students (and you think herding cats is hard? At least cats respond to can openers), we'd always get into long discussions about "root causes." No one ever wants to talk about root causes, to ask the very basic "why" questions. Okay, we can all agree that it's bad that someone is doing drugs/robbing banks/getting pregnant/swearing jihad and strapping on a C-4 bra prior to strolling into a shopping mall, now can someone explain the Why? What is the root cause? How do we eliminate that root cause? Even more important, how do we eliminate the root cause instead of exacerbating it?
Well, in the case of the C-4 underwear and the desire for martyrdom, you don't eliminate the root cause by turning the occupied territories into a giant concentration camp, building illegal settlements, evicting people from houses their families had occupied for generations, bulldozing olive groves that were hundreds of years old, and doing bombing runs with F-16s and then describing dead toddlers as acceptable collateral damage. How do you eliminate the root causes? In the case of Gaza, maybe talking to the government the citizens of Gaza elected would be a start. Three years the Bush administration held a meeting in Maryland to discuss peace in the middle east and a solution to the Palestinian question -- lots of people at the table, with one notable exception: the Palestinians. And we're surprised that particular peace plan didn't work?
I'm not sure just what sort of meddling the U.S. will end up doing this time around. Bush has a mere 16 days left in which to screw things up more; Obama already has blood on his hands with his off-hand comment about rockets and protecting his daughters. Although who knows? Maybe he didn't envision active genocide when he greenlighted the Israeli army. It's a mess. It's going to get worse. The nuclear weapons Israeli possesses aren't going to do them a whole lot of good when they're fighting on their own ground.