Thursday October 11, 2001
Of course, Pudge is wrong
Of course, I don't expect him to change his mind after reading this,
but what the hell, here goes.
Pudge says that we (I'm taking this to mean 'the US') cannot withdraw
from the middle east because:
"1. We do not give terrorists what they want."
Not true. A single successful terrorist attack in Beirut caused the US
to pull all their troops out of the Lebanon, sending the clear message
that terrorism works.
"2. We do not abandon our friends, and shall never abandon our allies"
Tell that to Manuel Noriega, Osama Bin Laden, The Taliban, Saddam
Okay, none of those people are exactly shining examples of humanity,
but they were all, at one time or another friends or allies of the US,
which does rather give the lie to Pudge's assertion.
"3. We use our alliances to further our own vital interests."
No denying that one. That's what alliances are for after all. Of
course, the US record of doing the Right Thing in its foreign policy
is somewhat patchy. Quite whether the Land of the Free should have
involved itself in, for example, toppling the democratically elected
(but left leaning) government of Chile is open to question. Especially
when the replacement was a mass murderer who makes Bin Laden look like
But I speak as a native of a nation that got rich on the back of the
slave trade, the ruthless exploitation of India and of the rest of the
Empire along with a whole host of other crimes about which we are
deeply embarrassed (and, in the case of our behaviour in Ireland at
least, for which we are still reaping the whirlwind). So I'm standing
on dodgy ground if I start using History as a stick with which to beat
"So while we are not doing anything wrong, we also are doing what is
right for our friends and allies, and what is right for us."
Now, this is the meat of it. It all depends on what you mean by wrong.
In the world at large, America is sometimes perceived as a 600 pound
gorilla with a big stick. (Where does it sit? Anywhere it likes.)
American foreign policy is little liked at the best of times, seeming
to sacrifice morality and human rights in the pursuit of the mighty
dollar and the comfort of the voters back home.
In the middle east it gives massive aid to Israel, another state whose
record is, um, spotty. In recent weeks and months, Israel has been
involved in a program of assassinating Palestinian leaders, both
military and civil. One can quibble about whether this is strictly
terrorism, or merely state sponsored murder. Pudge (on irc) seems to
think it's a legitimate act of war, but Israel has not declared war on
anyone, which makes that a somewhat interesting position to hold.
Israel's actions are roundly condemned by almost everyone as the
massive breaches of human rights that they are, but still the US pumps
aid into the country. Is it any wonder that almost everyone else in
the region hates them for it? Of course, when the traditional arab/jew
antipathy is added to the mix, it all gets even nastier, but even
without that antipathy there are reasons to question America's
Remember, by the way that what counts here (if you want to build a
lasting peace) is the *perception*. This perception may well be
incorrect, but stomping around saying "You're wrong!" is no way to win
friends; you have to address people's concerns on their terms.
All that said, I don't advocate withdrawing from the middle east. That
would be absolutely the Wrong Thing to do. There have been times in
the past when I've been of the opinion that we (Britain) should just
wash our hands of the whole Northern Ireland situation and just let
the murderous bastards get on with killing each other, but to do that
would have been to avoid the responsibility we had for helping to
create the mess in the first place.
So what should we do?
It always surprises me that the US doesn't even appear to learn from
its own history. The US attained its independence from Britain by
ruthlessly exploiting their home advantage. They didn't have supply
lines to worry about, and they were sensible enough to try and avoid
pitched battles in favour of a guerilla war that sapped the morale of
the British troops who were a long way from home fighting an entire
people. There's no wonder that we lost.
Just like there's no wonder that the US lost in Vietnam.
Afghanistan makes Vietnam look like a walk in the park. Nobody has
successfully conquered and held the country since Alexander, and
Alexander was *very* clever in his approach -- he offered the people
of Afghanistan full Greek citizenship, with all that that entailed.
And being a greek wasn't a bad gig. Many of the volunteers fighting in
his army by the time he reached Afghanistan were natives of the lands
he'd conquered on the way there.
Everyone since has bounced off Afghanistan. Hard. We couldn't do it
and we had machine guns, rifles and a professional army that'd beaten
almost everything else the world could throw at it (except for you
lot, but the supply lines thing made a *big* difference). Russia
couldn't do it and they had tanks and all the other paraphenalia of a
modern army (well, not as modern as the US army, but still way better
equipped than the Taliban)
Bombs aren't going to work; Bush spoke the truth with his
crack about the camel and the tent. And even if they did, what'd it
achieve. Al Qaida is a Hydra; chop off its head and 7 new ones will
appear. We tried it in Northern Ireland with internment; we rounded up
all the leaders of the IRA that we knew about and locked 'em up
without trial (we knew they were baddies, but we didn't have enough
evidence that'd stand up in court) and inside a few months a whole new
command structure sprang up. We achieved nothing, but we pissed off
thousands of innocent (and not so innocent) Northern Ireland citizens,
and generally increased the support for Sinn Fein and the IRA. Not
exactly the smartest move in the playbook.
Then we tried shoot to kill, essentially letting the SAS off the
leash, though I think we tend to deny that. And *boy* did that not
work. That pissed off and politicized a whole new generation of
Catholics, thus helping the IRA get more recruits. It was also found
to be illegal (no surprise there then...)
And now, we have dialogue. We have a peace process and an IRA ceasfire
that has held for years. In the current climate, we might even manage
to get decommissioning. How did we get from there to here? It could be
argued that we forced the IRA to the table by a concerted 'attack' on
its constituency. By various means we worked to marginalize the
terrorist organizations, encouraging the people who would normally be
expected to support them to think of them as irrelevant, mere thugs
and bullies instead of the bold fenian men of songs and stories. And
the IRA helped us. WTF they thought they were doing when they bombed
Omagh is a complete bloody mystery. At the same time, we continued to
make it plain that, no matter what new atrocities were committed, we
were not going to give up the province without the assent of the
majority of the population, which isn't going to happen any time soon.
What hurts most is that we are freeing admitted and convicted
terrorists on license, because that's the price of Peace, and it's a
hard price to pay.
That's what I suggest we (the west) do in the middle east (and
everywhere else for that matter.) Engage with people. Listen to what
they want, and help them to achieve it. Don't enforce what's right for
us, work to make things right for all of us. Marginalize the likes of
Bin Laden by treating him with compassion and mercy. This
disproportionate response just makes him more important. Remember,
happy, prosperous people by stuff, which is good for everyone.
Both George Bush and Tony Blair make a thing about their Christianity,
but they're not acting like Christians. The core message of
Christianity is to turn the other cheek. Love thy neighbour as
yourself and all that. And the message of the parable of the good
Samaritan and of many of Christ's alleged deeds is that there is
nobody who is not your neighbour. The current, vengeful response runs
directly contrary to this and will, in the long run, make more enemies
for America and its allies.
The enormity of the attack on September the 11th is undeniable, and
maybe even unforgiveable, but if we ever want to achieve peace then we
are going to need to forgive. We must come to some accommodation with
these people (or rather, with the people who currently support them)
or be forever engaged in an endless round of attack and retribution
and, I contend, be forever seeing our rights and liberties eroded in
the name of prosecuting this fruitless war.
The current response sends a message to OBL and that message is 'What
you did really hurt us'. So, like any bully, he's going to do it
again. And again. And again. Until we kill him. And then his followers
will carry on his jihad. Hmm...
Surely it's better to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and carry
on with living free and happy, whilst at the same time extending the
hand of friendship to those who will take it and working on changing
the opinions of those who currently support the terrorists. After all,
as the Jewish proverb has it, "The best revenge is a life lived well."
Sorry that this has been so long, I didn't have the time (or maybe the
skill) to make it shorter.