The march of folly and the guns of war

20 Sep

Yes, I have appropriated and adapted two of Barbara Tuchman’s famous 20th century histories to create that title, because they are so sadly apt in the current world climate. First, let me get a disclaimer (or several) out of the way: I am opposed to suicide bombing especially when it targets innocent people going about their everyday lives — I call that murder, and a particularly vile kind of murder at that. Second, I do not for one moment believe that there is a war against Islam. That is a paranoid religious interpretation put with often unhelpful consequences on conflicts and tensions that arise for much more mundane reasons. Angry Muslims should have a bit more faith in God’s ability to look after himself. No-one is in the slightest bit interested in Muslim countries or Muslim minorities in other countries unless they happen to be sitting on or near a very large oil reserve. I will come back to that in a moment. Third, the state of Israel is the most destabilising factor in the Middle East, and I say that as, in general, a supporter of Israel. But it should never have been allowed to settle Gaza and the West Bank. Fourth, much of the talk of democracy in the Middle East is open to criticism on the grounds of hypocrisy, as democratic choices that go the “wrong” way are vigorously rejected: Gaza (in vile dehumanising Newspeak — resist this worst abuse of human language with every fibre of your being — now an “enemy entity” like a microbe or a cancer cell or It Came From Outer Space) and Iran are two cases in point. Finally, I am not a great admirer of the current Iranian regime.

I find myself more and more convinced that Blood and Oil by Michael Klare (Hamish Hamilton 2004) is really on the money.

Politically and morally, the price will be just as steep. To retain our access to oil and to secure permission to deploy our troops where we deem them necessary, in such oil-rich states as Saudi Arabia, Oman, Qatar, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan, we will have to crawl into bed with some of the world’s most corrupt and despotic leaders — plying them with ever more arms, military training, technical assistance, diplomatic support, and White House access while ignoring their contempt for democracy and their egregious human rights violations. And the numerous victims of these regimes will come to view America not as a standard-bearer of democracy but as a greedy prop of dictatorship.

These are the circumstances that breed terrorism. While anger at American support for Israel is a central source of Arab and Muslim rage, it is, as Kenneth Pollack has explained, our backing of corrupt and authoritarian governments that supplies the major impetus to rebellion. “Terrorism and internal instability in the Persian Gulf are ultimately fueled by the political, economic, and social stagnation of the local Arab states,” he wrote in 2003. “Too many [ordinary people] feel powerless and humiliated by despotic governments that do less and less for them while preventing them from having any say in their own governance.” Militants direct their anger first at the regime in power, but, because they regard the United States — not unreasonably — as a major factor in the regime’s survival, they extend their fury, and their vengeance, to American forces.

Ultimately, the cost of oil will be measured in blood: the blood of American soldiers who die in combat, and the blood of the many other casualties of oil-related violence, including the victims of terrorism… (p. 183)

Witness the drumbeats to which folly marches:

TONY JONES: Alexander Downer, let me just quickly go to your own portfolio area where otherwise we would have started. Last night John Bolton, the former US ambassador to the UN, told us it would be absolutely right for the United States to attack Iranian nuclear facilities with limited air strikes to stop Iran getting a nuclear weapon. Do you agree with him?
ALEXANDER DOWNER: Well, I wouldn’t put it that way. No, I think what the situation is, is this – that the United States will never rule in or rule out the use of force. They simply don’t do that and I think that’s entirely understandable. And I think the Iranians need to understand, and the French foreign minister made a very fiery statement about this just the other day, the Iranians need to understand that the international community is truly looking and feels very strongly about this, is truly looking to them to fulfil all of their obligations under United Nations Security Council resolutions. I noticed the French foreign minister, by the way, saying that he and the Germans were of the view that further sanctions would be needed if Iran didn’t adhere to current security council resolutions, which could be sanctions over and above the sanctions that the United Nations itself has put in place. So, the Iranians in any case need to understand they are under a lot of pressure from the international community.
TONY JONES: A final quick question, because what also came out of that interview was his strong belief, John Bolton’s strong belief, that the Israelis had struck at a significant target inside Syria, very likely a nuclear facility, and he suggested it was also extremely likely that the North Koreans had been assisting the Syrians to build or to do something related to nuclear weapons.
ALEXANDER DOWNER: Well, first of all, I haven’t got any confirmation of any of that and I simply have to admit that I don’t know. But what I do know is that there have been quite a number of reports to that effect. And if that is true, and remember, a lot of people have been reporting this, if that is true, then that constitutes a very, very serious threat to Israel and a revelation of proliferation from North Korea that we haven’t previously been aware of, and that in itself is an extremely serious matter. But by the way, I can’t give you any confirmation of that, it is just, there have been a number of reports about it to that effect, but not yet confirmed.

How to completely ruin the United States, among other things: have a war against Iran. Foreign Policy: Think Again: Iran is a post in my Archive from 2005. It is still true. The source is the US magazine Foreign Policy.

This one is available if you sign up for free registration. I urge you to do so. In summary, the article argues these points:

1. “If Iran Gets a Nuclear Bomb, Iran Will Use It” — Very unlikely.
2. “Iran Has No Use for Nuclear Power” — False.
3. “The Iranian People Support Their Leaders’ Nuclear Program” — Not really.
4. “Only the Threat of Force Can Dissuade Iran from Advancing with Its Nuclear Plans” — Doubtful.
5. “U.S. Military Action Would Embolden Dissidents to Topple the Islamic Republic” — Wrong.
6. “Criticizing the Islamic Republic Helps Dissidents Inside Iran” — No.
7. “If Iraq Becomes a Democracy, so Will Iran” — Wishful thinking.
8. “Iran Cannot Be Reformed from Within” — Wrong again.

Such a shame the regime in America ignores the best opinions from its own people, isn’t it?

Still true, as is Don’t Blitz Iran — Brian Cloughley (April 18, 2006). But they won’t take any notice of me, will they?

See also: Inside Iran (August 27, 2007); Iran, Hilaly, The Heathlander, and trying to keep some perspective… (April 10, 2007); Visiting Israeli fascist’s advice spurned? (February 17, 2007); Dissenting Jews on Israel (February 6, 2007); They would have to be mad of course… (February 3, 2007); Eteraz on Iran (December 16, 2006); Building peace on a foundation of lies? (December 14, 2006); Robert Scheer tells it like it is… (August 3, 2006); From The Poet: How We Miss Yitzhak Rabin (July 31, 2006); Three from Truthout (July 26, 2006); The new war in the Middle East — Sojourners (July 22, 2006); Strong stuff from the grumpy old man from Burgundy (June 3, 2006); CounterPunch: always provocative, sometimes enlightening (May 15, 2006); Raed Jarrar is hard to rebut on Iran (May 13, 2006); The Backlash Against Democracy Promotion (April 28, 2006); Zbigniew Brzezinski: Been there, done that (April 24, 2006); Yet more from The Poet (April 13, 2006). So I really have had a bit to say, or I have added thoughts to this “commonplace book” of my blog, on quite a few occasions. I just don’t see much point to banging on about it every day.

But let me reprise that last one from April last year:

Too many to record them all from the last couple of days, but here are three:

1) Newspeak and the Corruption of Politics by Ernest Partridge. The descent of the term “liberal” into a term of abuse, especially but not only in US Right circles, is one of the more regrettable phenomena of recent years. Only those who have lost their hold on the history of ideas and of democracy could go along with it. “Liberalism – the program and the ideology – is distinctly and inalienably American. It is in our founding documents. It is validated by our history of emancipation, of scientific and technological advancement, of the improvement of the workplace, of the emergence of the middle class, of the advancement of civil rights, and of the emergence of the environmental movement.”

2) Robert Scheer: Now Powell Tells Us . “On Monday, former Secretary of State Colin Powell told me that he and his department’s top experts never believed that Iraq posed an imminent nuclear threat, but that the president followed the misleading advice of Vice President Dick Cheney and the CIA in making the claim. Now he tells us.”

3) William Rivers Pitt on Iran. “Things have come to a pretty pass in the United States of America when the first question you have to ask yourself on matters of war and death is, “Just how crazy are these people?” Every cogent estimate sees Iran’s nuclear capabilities not becoming any kind of reality for another ten years, leaving open a dozen diplomatic and economic options for dealing with the situation. There is no good reason for attacking that country, but there are a few bad reasons to be found.”

Mind you, former weapons inspector and rather unsuccessful Tasmanian Governor Richard Butler did make a good point on SBS News last night: the real issue is that NO-ONE should have nuclear weapons, starting with the USA itself.

Crazy world, but I wouldn’t give up on “human nature”. Humanity manifests compassion and co-operativeness just as much as it reveals the Beast of Lord of the Flies. One could argue, and people have so argued, that the ability to empathise and co-operate just as much “explains” human evolution as those characteristics some pessimists choose to highlight.

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2 responses to “The march of folly and the guns of war

  1. Daniel

    September 20, 2007 at 5:28 pm

    Hey, Neil, this must be the most complex, broad post you’ve ever created. To comment upon it would require volumes.

    Speaking of volumes, I believe that The Lord of the Flies and 1984 together brilliantly expose the human condition and its eventual endpoint.

    They beat the Bible hands down.

  2. ninglun

    September 20, 2007 at 7:22 pm

    No, it’s just a summary of things I have been saying for several years. Yes, I endorse those novels, but my recent reading of Ecclesiastes and Job shows much is worthwhile, indeed splendid, in the Bible — so long as it is not treated as a single book, as something that somehow exists in a vacuum, or as a document in any literal way dictated by God.

    Then there is Gulliver’s Travels:

    In hopes to ingratiate my self farther into his Majesty’s Favour, I told him of an Invention discovered between three and four hundred Years ago, to make a certain Powder, into a Heap of which the smallest Spark of Fire falling, would kindle the whole in a Moment, although it were as big as a Mountain, and make it all fly up in the Air together, with a Noise and Agitation greater than Thunder. That a proper Quantity of this Powder rammed into a hollow Tube of Brass or Iron, according to its Bigness, would drive a Ball of Iron or Lead with such Violence and Speed, as nothing was able to sustain its Force. That the largest Balls thus discharged, would not only destroy whole Ranks of an Army at once, but batter the strongest Walls to the Ground, sink down Ships, with a Thousand Men in each, to the Bottom of the Sea; and, when linked together by a Chain, would cut through Masts and Rigging, divide hundreds of Bodies in the Middle, and lay all waste before them. That we often put this Powder into large hollow Balls of Iron, and discharged them by an Engine into some City we were besieging, which would rip up the Pavements, tear the Houses to pieces, burst and throw Splinters on every Side, dashing out the Brains of all who came near. That I knew the Ingredients very well, which were cheap, and common; I understood the Manner of compounding them, and could direct his Workmen how to make those Tubes of a Size proportionable to all other Things in his Majesty’s Kingdom, and the largest need not be above an hundred Foot long; twenty or thirty of which Tubes, charged with the proper Quantity of Powder and Balls, would batter down the Walls of the strongest Town in his Dominions in a few Hours, or destroy the whole Metropolis, if ever it should pretend to dispute his absolute Commands. This I humbly offered to his Majesty, as a small Tribute of Acknowledgment in Return of so many Marks that I had received of his Royal Favour and Protection.

    The King was struck with Horror at the Description I had given of those terrible Engines, and the Proposal I had made. He was amazed how so impotent and grovelling an Insect as I (these were his Expressions) could entertain such inhuman Ideas, and in so Familiar a Manner as to appear wholly unmoved at all the Scenes of Blood and Desolation, which I had painted as the common Effects of those destructive Machines, whereof he said some evil Genius, Enemy to Mankind, must have been the first Contriver. As for himself, he protested that although few Things delighted him so much as new Discoveries in Art or in Nature, yet he would rather lose half his Kingdom than be privy to such a Secret, which he commanded me, as I valued my Life, never to mention any more….

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