Notes On The News
By Gwydion M Williams
The House Of Obedience [House of Commons]
Within three months of the dramatic strike at the Pentagon and World Trade Centre, the Afghan forces of the Taliban and al Qaeda were no more than dust blowing in the wind. I’d expected it to happen eventually and said so
“By the strict forms of law, maybe bin Laden could not have been found legally guilty for killings that he undoubtedly inspired. The actual perpetrators were already dead, by their own choice. A guilty party was needed, the USA is determined on vengeance, and presumably will get it.” (Problems of Socialism & Capitalism, Issue 66)
The quick and sudden collapse of Taliban power surprised everyone, but was a rational response by them to a war that was unwinnable in the long run. Meantime the Afghan forces of al Qaeda were clearly caught napping. I’d felt for years that Islamic extremism was no substitute for Socialism or Communism as a global opposition to US power.
The USA had found a cynically successful approach, pursue your quarrel on Afghan territory, using local quarrels and with copious bribery, and without any ambition to improve Afghans or give them good government. That’s not to say it was safe, regardless. With Russian Roulette, you’d get away with it just over 83% of instances, which hardly makes it safe. And the USA played and won its game of ‘Afghan Roulette’ without obvious disaster, why not.
The USA has industrialised violence, following a tradition that began with their own wars against Native Americans and then the Union crushing of the much more skilful Confederate armies. Warfare need not be done well or destructively, just persistently and on a massive scale. The tradition of General Sherman is alive and well.
Propaganda, meantime, remains crude. The USA has got away with ‘Pre-emptive Self Defence’, going after people who might be a menace if you don’t get them first. In the aftermath of 10,000 highly visible deaths, they got away with it, even though the concept of ‘self-defence’ was thereby stripped of any meaning. At best you could call it ‘justified aggression’. And meantime the death-toll has come down from the almost obligatory 6,000 to about 3000, perhaps less deaths than the US has caused with an Afghan war than did not touch the really dangerous element, disaffected Muslims living within Western societies (including the recent bizarre shoe-bomber).
I continue to regard it as basically a war of revenge. The role of oil and the possible Afghan pipeline can be overstated. Central Asian reserves are large, but also expensive to get out of the ground, never mind get to market. The Gulf has the great merit of oil that costs a dollar a barrel to get out of the ground and is right next to the sea, where oil tankers can ship it wherever it may be sold. So to the USA, it doesn’t greatly matter if Afghanistan slips back into chaos.
The big winner so far has been Russia, with its dominance of Central Asia confirmed with US approval. I stand by my suspicions that some ex-Soviet element was involved behind the scenes in making Bin Laden’s people look briefly formidable
Britain under Blair made itself foolish by its eagerness to rush in peace-keepers and ensure that Afghans become ‘normal people’. The vast majority of Afghans are not ‘normal people’ in the sense that Blair and New Labour would understand it, and would fiercely resist the prospect. It was their own completely different sense of ‘normality’ that they suffered and died for: what else was the anti-Soviet war was about, after all? Whatever there was in Afghanistan that might have seemed normal to New Labour perished or became marginal in that struggle.
The initial deployment was a folly that nearly became a disaster. The Special Boat Service are damn good, said to be even better than the SAS. But it’s not a good strategy to have a bare hundred of them occupying all of the low ground amidst thousands of battle-hardened Tajiks with a nice mix of infantry, armour and artillery.
We are now to have ‘peacekeepers’ led by Britain, but limited in number and with the intention of rotating them out after maybe six months (just about when they’d have acclimatised and be at their most useful, if there was anything real for them to do). Curiouser and curiouser, one might say.
What I suspect has happened is that the Afghan faction leaders have accepted that Britain must be allowed to ‘save face’ by playing at peace-keeping for a few months, and that any planned civil wars should be postponed for at least that long.
In case any Afghan hasn’t got the message, we have Mr Ian Duncan Smith saying plainly that he doesn’t want the peacekeepers there at all. That’s the sort of thing that Afghans will hear about on the BBC World Service and see in its proper context, the British also are just passing through.
Meantime, I wonder what would happen if a self-appointed committee of Afghan tribal elders flew into Heathrow, offering to mediate between Tony Blaire and Gordon Brown, along with any of their cabinet colleagues they might happen to fall out with?
Hard-line Islam has been weighed in the balance and found wanting. It gave coherence to Iran, but Iranian identity is very old indeed, vastly older than any surviving nation in Europe and likely to cohere one way or another. A people who maintain an historic hostility to Alexander the Great regardless of the view of their neighbours are always likely to cohere.
Afghans behaved as tribalists, Arabs and other Muslims remain divided and weak, almost anything is possible for the West and its allies in the short term.
Israelis saw no need to moderate their policies during the Afghan War. A simple cutting off of aid and support from the USA would put intolerable pressure on them. But they act on the belief that there is not the slightest danger of any US president putting intolerable pressure on them. And so far they’ve been quite right.
Pro-American Arabs have been treated with contempt over the last few months. Israel is intentionally destroying the authority of Arafat, the one leader who could deliver a peace that most Arabs and Muslims would regard as fair.
There is peace made with Arafat, or there is no peace with Islam. the way things have gone, it seems more accurate to say simply ‘there is no peace with Islam’.
Israel is only safe when the Islamic world as a whole accepts it. This was happening with the decline of secular nationalist, weak Muslim rulers would accept Israel as it was in 1968, and maybe a bit extra, if the Palestinians would accept it.
What is not acceptable is Israel in full control of Jerusalem, and increasingly absorbing the West Bank (Judea and Samaria), a wholesale clearance of ancient Canaan of non-Jewish elements. Yet undermining Arafat makes no sort of sense unless that is the long-term goal.
One billion Muslims will never accept it. And the more things drift that way, the more the hard-liners will be vindicated and the pro-Western and moderate elements discredited. Some sorts of hard-liner may also get discredited, as with the Taliban, but one billion people who have not been given a culture they can happily live within. will not remain incoherent for ever.
There is still a window of opportunity, but it’s closing.
[Since I wrote, hard-line Islam has increased enormously. But I was not expecting 9/11 or the US response, which boosted hard-line Sunni Islamism. Iran has indeed played a lesser role, apart from pro-Iranian elements becoming dominant in Iraq after the USA smashed the secular and Sunni-dominated Baathist state]
The whole ‘Feed The Rich’ policy of the 1980s and 1990s was a blatant untruth. Giving more to the rich was nice for the rich and did no good for the rest of the society. ‘Trickle down’ never happened. ‘Hooding Rob’, take from the poor and give to the rich, on the promise that the poor will eventually benefit. Maybe its advocates believed their own nonsense, as with characters like Jeffrey Archer. But how can anyone still believe it?
With the Argentine default, it’s clear that a lot of the mainstream media know it is nonsense and see that it was crazy to ask the rulers of Argentina to squeeze needy people so as to keep up their debt repayments.
Let’s be clear. The Keynesian semi-capitalist system won the Cold War. Khrushchev tried to build an alternative semi-capitalist system, in which private enterprise would remained banned but the infinite perfection of market systems would improve the stodgy Stalinist system. Yet the stodgy Stalinist system had worked, while Khrushchev’s radical reforms were foolish and were the start of a long decline. This is different from China, where they moved from a fairly successful Maoist Communism to a very successful semi-capitalist system under Deng and Jiang.
Even if richer rich made for faster growth, the benefits would be moot. A smaller slice of a larger cake may not be a good deal, and a larger slice of a smaller cake could be a profitable deal, though selfish. 8% of 100 is a worse deal than 10% of 90, and a better deal than 6% of 120. And while the policies of the last two decades have not benefited the society as a whole, the richest 10% have flourished wonderfully.
The erosion of visible class barriers makes this harder to see. When it’s ‘them and us’, it’s easy to know where your best interests lie. But what about when it’s ‘us and super-us’, with even the poor supposing that they are only accidentally poor and will eventually find their proper place among the rich and successful. 90% of the USA has accepted an unchanging share of an ever-growing cake and are no better off than they were in the 1970s.
Britons, without Eternal Sacred Rights from a written constitution, are not such mugs and have mostly done OK. But even in Britain, the ‘us and super-us’ ideology is growing now that the old ruling class have lost their privileged slots.
“The poor are more generous than the rich when it comes to giving to good causes, according to research which challenges the “Robin Hood” myth of charity as an agent of redistribution.
“A study published today finds that the least well-off give a higher proportion of their income to charity than the wealthy, no matter what their age, class or beliefs…
“The report, titled The Widow’s Might: how charities depend on the poor, also argues that charities are not necessarily the engines of redistribution from rich to poor that they are widely believed to be.
“The general trend of the poor giving more also remains true among donors who describe themselves as religious, although believers on middle incomes give a significantly higher share of their income than those who do not call themselves religious.” (Guardian, Friday December 21, 2001)
The House Of Commons has long been the arena of party struggle, with individual MPs counting for little. The advantage of the House Of Lords was that people with a job for life have little to gain or lose and can act according to their conscience.
Getting rid of the hereditary peers was no bad thing, it also gave the slimmed-down Lords more moral authority in rejecting government policies.
A ‘reformed’ House Of Lords has now been proposed, to be dominated by appointees who are dependent on current leaders and must look to their future. Now this would be a step down, much worse than the historic oddity we have now.
Unfortunately we are up against the dogma that free votes must of necessity give people exactly the government they want. Never mind that it fails to work in practice, the sacred principle must be upheld.