Sludge Report #122: Why The Centre May Yet Hold
In This Edition: Why The Centre May Yet Hold - Afghanistani Peace Means Iraq Is About To Get A Pasting - Peace Is Infectious - Meanwhile... Sharon Is Not To Be Left Behind - Those Who Live By The Sword…
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Sludge Report #122
Why The Centre May Yet Hold
The old saying “it is always darkest before the dawn” contains an interesting lesson when it comes to consideration of the latest – dreadful and seemingly appalling - developments in the world of international relations
Ironically it is precisely because the centre cannot hold - i.e. because George Bush and Ariel Sharon now appear to have completely lost any perspective they may have had on the path to world peace – that we may now be approaching an opportunity to get the peace train properly back on track.
Admittedly this is the optimistic side of Sludge speaking here, but consider the following.
Question: Why is Ariel Sharon so anxious to stomp all over the Palestinians right now, today, with just two weeks to go till Christmas?
And why is George W. Bush et al seemingly so intent on widening the “War against terrorism” to include Iraq, just as an apparent glimpse of victory, and more importantly an end to the conflict, is approaching in Afghanistan?
Answer: Because they both know that if they let the sunlight of peace shine in, for a moment, then their chance to achieve their true objectives, in the US case – fulfilling a decade long obsession with displacing Saddam Hussein, and in Sharon’s case - an enlarged Zionist state, will be lost.
Afghanistan Peace Means Iraq Is About To Get A Pasting
Ever since the remarkable summit of Afghani opposition groups in Bonn Germany under UN auspices achieved agreement, signs of peace, and the prospects of a better future, have been stubbornly breaking out all over Afghanistan.
Even the unwelcome rumblings from spurned war lord Dostum in Mazar-e-Sharif have - so far anyway - failed to take the gloss of what would appear to be a remarkably positive and rapid resolution to the Afghanistan war and accompanying crisis.
And a massive humanitarian operation is about to get underway which is likely to further warm the cockles of peace loving people around the world.
Accompanying these developments however has been an intense diplomatic offensive by Colin Powell through Europe, Russia, and the Central Asian republics.
While he has been barely mentioning the word Iraq in public, we now know with a reasonable degree of certainty what Powell has been up to.
Firstly, he has been informing the Russians and Europeans that the US intends to do something which would ordinarily be considered unthinkable in the world of international relations, that is, withdrawing unilaterally from a central pillar to the international Nuclear defence arrangements, the Anti Ballistic Missile (ABM) treaty.
And secondly he has been sounding out “the allies” on a planned US offensive against Iraq.
The importance of the Anti Ballistic Missile treaty to international relations cannot be over stated.
It is the only reason the doctrine of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) has led to an end to the arms race in space, and for that matter the end of the cold war.
But says the U.S., says, George W. Bush, “Russia is no longer the enemy”. Terrorists are the enemy now, and rogue states (like Iraq).
And to be fair to George, Russia wasn’t an enemy of the US at the time he made his remarks.
But now, after being insulted diplomatically over the ABM treaty, and on the eve of a new US military adventure in the Persian Gulf - against Russia’s some time friend Saddam Hussain - Sludge can only wonder if this state of Russo-American understanding will last very long.
But perhaps the most remarkable aspect to the US announcement on the ABM treaty is what has been forsaken for its accomplishment.
At a time when the US could have been celebrating a remarkable public relations and military victory in Afghanistan, which has come just in time to warm the hearts of American Christian voters, rather than bathing in the glory of this apparent foreign policy success, the US administration has decided instead to press on with its most controversial, most dangerous and most unpopular international policy.
George Bush could have become the first diplomatic darling of the 21st Century, but he has chosen instead to become its pariah.
The ABM treaty move has been explicitly and gravely warned against by all other permanent members of the UN Security Council, the UK, France, Russia and China, not to mention the UN Secretary General himself.
In short it is a policy that is probably equally destructive to the stability of the US’s much vaunted “International coalition against terror”, as the increasingly unhinged situation in the occupied territories of Palestine.
So why is the Pentagon in such a hurry to bomb Iraq that it hasn’t got time to admire the runs it has scored on the board in Afghanistan?
Peace Is Infectious
Pentagon hawks knows that if they don’t launch their offensive against Iraq now then they may soon lose the imperative to do so at all.
Peace is infectious, and given just a bit of time an international diplomatic coalition against bombing Iraq comprising Europe, Russia, Islamic Nations and most of the UN is likely to form and gain traction. The fact that the ABM announcement has been made now is a signal that America no longer cares a damn what its erstwhile allies think about its conduct of campaign against terror.
And it is true, that at the moment the US and European public are still in the grip of fear of Anthrax and a repeat of 911.
European and Russian governments, meanwhile, are, diplomatically speaking, on the back foot. They warned the US against the bombing strategy in Afghanistan, and were ignored, but remarkably the gamble taken by the Pentagon hawks appears to have worked.
However this moral authority with the public to act decisively will quickly disperse. TV pictures of normality returning to Kabul, and the Christmas spirit of goodwill being distributed by peace keepers rather than B52s, will quickly dent the public’s enthusiasm for bombing other people’s countries on both sides of the Atlantic.
And so Sludge concludes, all the evidence points to Iraq being about to get a pasting.
This coming weekend the Islamic holy month of Ramadan ends, and the closer we get to Christmas the harder it gets politically to dispatch the bombers. Add in the actions of the Israeli’s and Sludge reckons it is a safe bet to assume the cruise missiles will get their launch orders this weekend.
Iraq news watchers will have noticed the public relations softening up operation has been underway for some time domestically in the US and on the international news channels, BBC and CNN.
CIA stooge and former UNSCOM Chief Richard Butler, and a raft of other Pentagon “realists” have been seen out and about trotting out the traditional tired old lines on Iraq and Saddam being a nation with an obsession for acquiring Weapons of Mass Destruction.
When asked about any plans to bomb Iraq official US spokespeople have taken to referring to the President’s comments in his speech on congress.
"Q: Mr. Secretary, you've been one of the fiercest advocates within the administration for taking the war on terrorism to Iraq and Saddam Hussein. Is it still your belief that Saddam Hussein must be eliminated, in that Iraq currently poses a major danger to the U.S.?
Wolfowitz: Don't believe everything you read. I don't believe everything I read about what I supposedly think! (Chuckles.)
Again, I want to repeat, it is very important to keep our focus on this war in Afghanistan. It's a classic military mistake to leave a partially defeated enemy on the battlefield in one form or another -- let them survive. And there are a lot of people we have to get after there, a lot of work we have to do. And we may be, in certain respects, into one of the most difficult phases because up until now, I think there has been identity of interests between us and the Afghans we're supporting in terms of a common desire to get rid of the Taliban regime. With that regime gone, our objectives may not be quite as high a priority for them, and they may start pursuing some local objectives that interfere with us. So there's a lot to keep our eye on.
With respect to Iraq, I think the president had been very clear, the secretary's been very clear, the combination of support for terrorism with the development of weapons of mass destruction is clearly one of the most dangerous potentials in the world.
And Iraq is under an obligation from the end of the Gulf War to give up all weapons of mass destruction and all programs for developing them, and under an obligation to accept inspections to verify that they've done so. And as of now, they have neither given up the weapons nor, for three years, accepted the inspectors. So that is a problem.
Q: Having said that, what do you believe should be done?
Wolfowitz: There are a lot of ways to think about that. But I think the problem -- the president stated the problem very clearly. He's also stated very clearly, from the very beginning in his address to a joint session of Congress that this is going to be a very long campaign against terrorism, against not just al Qaeda, and al Qaeda means not just Afghanistan, but 60 countries where there is an al Qaeda presence. We've seen, frankly, increasingly one of the things that comes through in the intelligence picture that you get from the various -- interrogations of various -- we're getting a lot of information about al Qaeda we didn't have. Among that information are lots of connections to other terrorist networks. So we have a much clearer picture even than before that these networks operate with one another. And as the president said from the beginning, the problem of state support for terrorism is one that we have to solve before this is over."
GEORGE BUSH FROM THE SPEECH MENTIONED ABOVE
"This war will not be like the war against Iraq a decade ago, with a decisive liberation of territory and a swift conclusion. It will not look like the air war above Kosovo two years ago, where no ground troops were used and not a single American was lost in combat.
Our response involves far more than instant retaliation and isolated strikes. Americans should not expect one battle, but a lengthy campaign, unlike any other we have ever seen. It may include dramatic strikes, visible on TV, and covert operations, secret even in success. We will starve terrorists of funding, turn them one against another, drive them from place to place, until there is no refuge or no rest. And we will pursue nations that provide aid or safe haven to terrorism. Every nation, in every region, now has a decision to make. Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists. (Applause.) From this day forward, any nation that continues to harbor or support terrorism will be regarded by the United States as a hostile regime."
Meanwhile the US has also just walked out of an international bioterrorism conference and confirmed its rejection of the International Criminal Court.
These, plus the dismissive attitude it has shown to its allies' views on the ABM treaty are almost certainly a precursor to the adoption of an “only we know the real dangers, and solutions”, approach to justifying more air strikes against Iraq.
Meanwhile…Sharon Is Not To Be Left Behind
The situation in Israel and the occupied territories has today reached a new low point.
There is, according to Sharon’s Government, no longer any point in even trying to achieve a peace settlement with the Palestinian Authority.
Just as the U.S. appears to intend to do with an allegedly intransigent Iraq, Israel now intends to impose a peace of its designs on the Palestinians.
In adopting this position Israel knows, just like the US knows with its ABM policy, that it will not be making any friends.
And Israel’s actions therefore beg the question, why attack now?
Again the answer is simple: Because if not now, then the opportunity to attack at all may be lost.
While Israel officially says it is willing to negotiate peace anywhere anytime, if only the Palestinians will “stop the violence”, any objective observer of events over the past two weeks would conclude that Israeli provocation has been at least as intense as that of Hamas or Islamic jihad. That is, the story is starting to wear thin.
In addition Sharon will be aware that his coalition supporters in the Labour Party are coming close to breaking point in their support for his handling of the crisis.
Assuming that Sharon and his hardliners have no intention of letting peace get away on them, the question still remains, why let things come to a head just now, at Christmas?
And yet again the answer is simple.
There is no better time for Israel to attack the Palestinians than at the same time the US is attacking Iraq. The US can hardly criticise Israel when it is so closely following its example – a observation that news watchers will have noticed Israeli spokespeople have been playing up at every opportunity in recent times.
Those Who Live By The Sword…
Okay, naysayers will opinion, but how can Sludge still remain optimistic in these circumstances? If Israel and US are seemingly preparing to massively escalate the conflicts they are involved in, why is Sludge muttering platitudes about the dawn?
In response to this criticism Sludge confesses that remaining resolutely optimistic has become an article of faith. Moreover there is some cause for doing so:
There is more than a little evidence of panic in the actions of both Ariel Sharon and George Bush in the above description of recent events. And when actions are rushed and panicked they have a remarkable capacity to come unstuck.
Unquestionably both Israel and the US are now embarking into uncharted territory when it comes to the issue of diplomatic responses from their friends and allies. And that means that the responses to be expected are inherently unpredictable.
Secondly, one of the key changes in the climate of international relations over the recent millennial period has been a new capacity for events to come to a climax and resolve themselves more swiftly, and more positively, than expected by the dominant policy “realists”.
We can therefore expect the unexpected.
In East Timor and Fiji democratic transitions that were unexpected were achieved. Both resolutions occurred during periods of extreme danger, and both at times when a positive result appeared impossibly far away.
More recently a similar remarkable transition from chaos to order appears to have begun in Afghanistan.
Maybe, just maybe, the warmongers and their backers will yet be pipped at the post by a planet with enough rational people in positions of influence who simply refuse to go along a path that will lead inevitably to destruction for us all.
It will however be a big ask for the likes of Tony Blair, Kofi Annan, Javier Solana and Vladimir Putin.
So far Vladimir Putin has described the US ABM move as "a mistake", stronger rhetoric will be needed.
Let us pray they are up to the challenge.