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America vs. The World

The big trouble with dumb bastards is that they are too dumb to believe there is such a thing as being smart. — Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

Monday, August 14, 2006

More harm than good

Note from Buck: We will have several guest bloggers while Mero is on his honeymoon. J-Flash, who has been providing intriguing comments as Adam since we began, brings a knowledge of world affairs that rivals Mero's.

Reports following the foiled alleged terrorist plots of last week are pointing to Al Qaeda links in Pakistan. And it would seem that this isn't the first time such a link has been established.

On the one hand, I'm not surprised, because it's long been believed that extremists groups — Qaeda and others — have trained and operated with impunity in the Western provinces of Pakistan. That area that was hardly colonized by the British before Partition; neither the Pakistani government, nor aid agencies can have much reach there.

So it's been a prime territory for an outfit like Qaeda because of the ability to avoid detection and the loyal or fearful sentiments of the residents. Basically, it's a safe haven.

But the discovery of the plots and their thwarting is credited in part to Pakistan. This throws into sharp relief the complicated situation in the country.

Since the country split from India, there has been a multilateral clash among hardline Islamic elements in the country (the cleric establishment as well as the super-secret Interserivces Intelligence agency), the military (as separate from ISI)and the descendants of the Westernized elite left from the partition of India by Britain.

Despite what the West tends to think, Pakistan is not entirely in the grips of an Islamic revolution. Moderation is still very much alive. Though some in Pakistan were complicit in the rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan, if not outright encouraging of it, there's a sizable population of this mostly Muslim country that truly has no interest in that brand of extremism.

In actuality, many of Pakistan's residents (similar to most of India's Muslims) view the Islamic extremist movement as anathema. The same is true of the country's military leadership, because extremism is a direct threat to the ruling coalition's power.

That's because these elements: business-, democratic-, and military-interests have no desire for instability. While they're not likely to put Western concepts of capitalism and governance ahead of their religion (anyone who expects or even hopes this shows his or her own ignorance of Islam), they know extremism makes life worse for rank-and-file Pakistani residents, not better.

That had been one of the main reasons why relations between Pakistan and India were warming. Both countries' economies have been growing, and both populations were beginning to understand that compromise in the Kashmir situationis a must. Both sides were growing tired of the perpetual hatred and fighting.

Well, I should say: that was true until recent years, in part because of the United State's actions elsewhere. Now, Pakistanis are being forced — because of our ideas of Islam, democracy, freedom, etc. — to choose between being Muslim and being comfortable. Guess what they'll choose if push comes to shove.

Now, I don't want to just make the cliche argument that U.S. aggression is breeding hostility, because it's more than that. It's the U.S. habit of ignorant diplomacy and arrogant ideas.

For one, the United States plays India and Pakistan off each other. Enlist Pakistan in the war on terror and then give her most-favored-nation trading status. Stand beside India in democracy and step around the nuclear non-proliferation treaty to give her civilian nuclear technology (a move I actually support).

From the Pakistani side, it looks as if the America giveth and taketh away. And India has felt spurned at times too.

(As an aside, I note that India, too, is worrying about the growth of fundamentalism in its own citizens.)

It also doesn't help when the United States pressures Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf to play along in the war on terror. The expectation on Pakistan, to simply play nice and fall in line is both unreasonable and impossible, given the tensions in the country's body politic.

It doesn't help when the United States backs Israel for its own goals in the current Near East crisis. Then there's Iraq. And Iran. And even China.

Or when we view Islam as the enemy. When we tell Muslim women that they are oppressed and ignorant of such oppression, when we tell Muslim men that they are barbaric, when we say a theocracy can't work, we only do more damage.

In fact, even when we target extremism, we make any kind of understanding more difficult. We seemingly commit to the idea that hardline ideas are absolutely unallowable. It's an arrogant nationalistic trait.

Ultimately, all of the above — particularly with respect to Pakistan — are the failures of U.S. diplomacy. Pakistan is a definite trouble spot on the geopolitical map. We only make matters worse by continuing to march to our ignorant drumbeat. We continually believe that the country can be pressed into the role of Western proxy, that it will simply accept our decree and turn a blind eye to our egocentric actions.

If we continue with that cadence, I wouldn't be surprised if the most recent terror plot out of Pakistan turns out to be only a warmup act.

I stop here, only because I could go one forever. Look for future posts/comments to offer possible solutions.


Anonymous P. Pirx said...

Was about to let this one slide, as being not interesting enough to warrant a comment, till I encountered this pearl:

"In fact, even when we target extremism, we make any kind of understanding more difficult. We seemingly commit to the idea that hardline ideas are absolutely unallowable. It's an arrogant nationalistic trait."

Well, yes, when we target extremism we make any kind of understanding more difficult. The way that bastard Churchill made the understanding with the Nazis more difficult, unlike the good guy, Chamberlain, who went out of his way to promote understanding in Munich, selling away Chechoslovakia at end of season price as a gesture of good will. A true triumph of international understanding it was. Would Hitler have only been willing to wait another few months before swallowing what was left of Chechoslovakia, he and Chamberlain would've been a shoo-in for a Nobel Peace Prize. A pity.

But, no, we do not commit to the idea that hardline ideas are absolutely unacceptable. In fact, for a long time we did commit to the idea that, as long as they're practiced within the sovereign territory of whoever harbors said hardline ideas, they're quite acceptable, or at least tolerable (I'm not commenting here on whether this was a wise approach, just stating the facts). Even when the Taliban government, getting bored with lopping off the heads of apostates and other assorted limbs of lesser offenders decided to liven things up by blowing up Buddha statues, nobody seemed to care much. However, when (in the spirit of globalization) the harborers of hardline ides started acting on them within our territory then, yes, we took objection to this. And yes, I agree, this was terribly insensitive of us. After all, shouldn't we show more understanding towards the exponents of an ancient and honorable civilization who, folowing the precepts of their peace loving religion, are duty bound to slaughter infidels wherever they can find them. Surely we could've reached some understanding on this, something like setting annual quotas on the number of infidels being slaughtered or something of the sort. That's what any peace loving and sensitivity trained government would've been expected to do, no? Instead we go and start killing them. Yes, for sure, that's arrogant nationalism.
And, I'm an arrogant nationalist (by your standards) and I'm proud of it.

Still, as entertaining as some of those notions are, they hardly warrant spending time commenting on them. What is more interesting are hints of what I would call "the post modern mythology of war". Mythology, since it is based on beliefs having little if anything to do with reality. Now, would I've been interested (which I'm not)in actually posting something to this blog, I could write a few pages on the topic. As it is, though, I'll just comment on some details and recommend to those interested to study history and read some Clausevitz. A must source for anybody who wants to talk seriously about war.

So, one of the myths hinted on here is this of "war as a misunderstanding". It is the belief that wars are caused by people and nations failing to understand each other and that if we'll only make an effort to hold a dialog, we'll eventually reach "harmony and understanding" and wars will be a thing of the past. Nice story, quite touching indeed but, as empirical data shows (somebody here was singing the praises of empiricism), quite falls.

One would have to search really hard to find examples of wars resulting from misunderstandings. The vast majority of wars in history were fought between people who understood each other very well and were not happy with what they understood. When the ancient empires clashed in the Fertile Crescent, they shared similar goals and each of them understood very well what the other is up to. When the Greek city-states kept warring for centuries, they understood each other quite well. Heck, they shared a common language and a common culture, after all. Fast forward to more recent times (I said that I don't want to make it a full fledged post, didn't I?) there was no misunderstanding between the North and the South during the Civil War. Again, both sides shared a common language and common culture. They understood each other very well and they just didn't like what they understood.

Similarly, there was no misunderstanding involved in WWI. as for WWII, the only misunderstanding present was the failure (for a long time) to understand that Hitler does in fact mean what he says. A misunderstanding of sorts, for sure, but rather not in the spirit present in the "misundestanding myth".

So, no, the key to lasting peace is not "understanding" but "respect". And by "respect" I do not mean the PC sense of the word, like "respect for other's values and beliefs". Just a respect for the other side's readiness to do its best to beat the crap out of you once you cross some lines. A primitive and old fashioned idea, no doubt, but with plenty of empirical support.

The longest running period of continuous peace in history (well, in western history at least) was the Roman Peace, the Pax Romana. It was based on a very simple "understanding", namely the understanding that there exist a force which is committed to keeping the peace and which is quite ready and willing to break any hand which'll be raised against the peace. It did hold for some 120 years. I would suggest to draw some lessons from this.

Blogger J-Flash said...

Didn't see this until now.

I'll gladly accept the denunciation that I'm something of a peacenik, or a sissy, or PC, or just wanting everyone to play nice.

It's a poor interpretation of my position, but thanks just the same. Thanks also for the subtle implication that my position is similar to that held by those who wanted to appease Hitler in the 1930s.

And your argument is weakened by referring to the Draconian enforcement of Pax Romana, and the blind eye it turned to the plights of hundreds of thousands of people in deference to the aristocracy.

Now that that's out of the way, I would say that Vom Kriege held that a) war is something much more complex than your brief analysis printed here; b) war is neither sheer violence, nor just an extension of politics (despite famous quoting and misquoting); and c) historical analysis and reference must be conducted in, as Clausewitz said, the "spirit of the age," which I will again argue is considerably different today from the Napoleonic campaigns or even Churchill's day.

I'm not saying that Clausewitz or Sun Tzu for that matter aren't useful at all, but conflict, in my opinion, has evolved far beyond your concept "respect."

I will allow that absolutely obliterating our enemies (or the heavy-handed threat of such destruction) might keep them from trying to obliterate us. But that's no more profound than a lesson in basic logic and betting on odds.

Instead, all I ever espoused was that our fears of Pakistan are slightly overblown and, with respect to Pakistan and Islamic extremism, U.S. foreign policy -- much like I believe your "respect" concept -- is outdated.

And I have never advocated dialogue alone to reach "harmony and understanding." In fact, I typically believe that economic cooperation leading to interdependence with appropriate automony of culture will likely improve the world overall. But that's generalizing too much.

But we can try it your way: just whack anyone who shows disagreement or whose hand is "raised against the peace."

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Jeff Goldstein is a wanker.