International lessons are hard learned. When powerful countries mess about in other lands sooner or later it backfires.
Afghanistan is but one lesson. From Alexander the Great until today it has been unconquerable in the sense of a conquering country permanently ruling the place. When the United States moved in to destroy Al Qaeda and Osama Bin Laden much of the world understood even if it didn’t join in themselves. Canada sent troops which are still there and we must ask why?
The all-embracing question is why is America still there? I have long believed and written that ethnicity never dies. This doesn’t mean that you cannot construct a state with minority populations – clearly you can but you must understand that ethnic groups will hold on to their culture, language and religion for a very long time. This axiom must be recognized by any central government.
A very good example of how ethnicity never dies is Yugoslavia under Turkish rule, as various provinces, then Yugoslavia. In fact, after Tito’s death and wars broke out it was like the salesman in the baseball park hollering «get your programs! You can’t tell the players without a program!»
The situation in the Middle East has been simmering for a long time and it is indeed hard to tell the players without a program. There are, however, two realities the United States must understand – forms of government cannot be forced upon unwilling countries and that the real issue is not the USA’s perception of democracy but a combination of pride and reluctance to «lose face»…
It is true that an Allied notion of democracy was imposed upon West Germany in 1945 and that it worked. It must be noted, however, that Germany had had parliaments and a form of Democracy since Bismarck’s time in the 1860s.
What about Japan? Hasn’t the Douglas MacArthur constitution worked there? Yes it has. But the key was retaining the Emperor. When he approved, so did his subjects. Moreover, Japan was never faced with different ethnic groups and the country was physically and mentally obliterated by war. Like no other place I can think of, it was ready for a makeover.
Let’s start with the proposition that fundamentalist Islam and the theocracies it produces is antithetical to secular «democracy». We in North America at least, should get rid of out «liberal utterances like «it’s not Islam, just the nasty men at the top». Islam theocracies are nasty. Their approach to freedom of expression, towards the democratic process, to women and to education are horrible. Much like Christian countries in the Middle Ages were.
Now let’s remember that Islam’s memory is a long one. The Crusades left a lingering, often-festering sore. As we see in Turkey, the notion of a secular government in an Islam country often only papers over what many see as the basic tenets of Islam.
America refuses to understand, then, this basic truth – even if she was selling a perfect system with freedom and justice for all it would not be acceptable to many if not all Muslims in the target country. None of us readily accept what we’re told is good for us.
Then there’s the matter of inconsistency, if not hypocrisy. If Egypt, why not Saudi Arabia one of the most stringent autocracies on the face of the earth? The US stays in Afghanistan – so does Canada – because women are mistreated, justice is vicious, and real democracy nowhere to be seen yet we saw George W Bush holding hands with the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia!
Surely it must be said that war has little if anything to do with morals and lofty principles. It’s interesting to note that The Muslim Brotherhood, just ousted from power in Egypt, and not the worst of the «bad guys» – that ‘honour’ goes to the hitherto coalition partners known as Salafists. This enforces my longstanding point that in many of these countries the people ready to take over from the «bad guys» are worse – such as well might be the case in Syria.
Joel Chandler Harris was a 19th Century American writer who wrote The Uncle Remus Stories for children. In one he tells of the «tar baby» who is discovered by Br’er Rabbit. When the tar baby doesn’t answer him, Bre’r Rabbit hits him and is horrified to have his paw stick. After some more of these efforts to elicit conversation Bre’r Rabbit has all four paws stuck. The United States of America has all four paws stuck on the broad area we call the «Middle East».
Except it’s worse than that if the US is telling the truth about being energy self sufficient by 2016. What then for Saudi Arabia with its one large cash crop – oil? Without oil there is nothing the royal family and its hangers-on can use to keep their hold on power, meaning ultra fundamentalist Wahhabi will be in power. Then what happens to Israel? And now we’re at the meat of the matter – Israel. Nuclear armed, cosseted and fed by America may not be enough to save Israel and God help us all if she goes.
I don’t pretend to have the answers except to say that those being acted out by the US now are making things worse by the day. It may be time to start a process, a sort of «roadmap» sponsored by the UN Security Council of the UN but drawn from the General Assembly. It would, at best, be like extracting teeth especially when the big powers do the usual huffing and puffing to, like dogs making sure they’ve peed on all the right trees. But as Churchill so aptly put it «jaw, jaw is better than war, war». Talk Shops, such as the UN General Assembly and the European Parliament have their role to play which, if only to allow steam to escape the boiler, can be critical.
For this to work the US must change its underlying position. They must understand that by western standards, we’re not dealing with nice guys here. Having our standards as conditions precedent presents a non-starter. Civil Liberties will have to be made and enforced from within.
The hardest part will be for America to adjust its foreign funding practices. One thing is for sure – there has to be a new beginning and that can’t happen unless the US wants it to. If done, however, President Obama might actually get the Nobel Peace Prize on merit.