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A sensible, less militaristic,
way is possible




October 3, 2001

LONDON - The dust has begun to settle in more ways than one. At last America is beginning to open up to a serious debate on the complexities of defeating terrorism. Even Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld spells out the difficulties of simply going to war.

It reminds me of the great novel of the Portuguese Nobel literature laureate, Jose Saramago. In "Blindness" he describes how the inhabitants of a whole city become blind one by one. There is a universal emptiness of being, with everyone moving around like lost hungry dogs squelching through layers of excrement and refuse. "Blindness" wakes the reader up to the subtleties of everyday life- how we depend on a myriad of normal interactions everyday where we can see what we do and with whom we deal.

For a couple of weeks it seemed that the American people, blind with righteous anger, led on by the cowboy rhetoric of George Bush, wanted to make the world blind too. Forgetting that their country was the pioneer of globalisation and shared experience, they wanted to shut down on normal international too and froing, giving and taking and just fire the whole place, or at least those parts that didn't agree with it 100%.

But, as in the end of the novel, the people are finally losing their blindness. We now see that Mr Bush is going to concentrate his fire on one organisation, the al-Qaeda of Osama bin Laden. He is not going to open up on Iraq, Iran, Syria, Sudan, and Libya et al. Indeed, with the admission that three years ago Bill Clinton ordered CIA operatives to be on the ground inside Afghanistan and have yet nothing to show for their labours, the Administration is starting to educate public opinion that there may be no quick results.

All this is to the good, at least if we want to get to the bottom of this malevolence that has shaken the world. For a start - - most immediately and self-interestedly - - such caution may save the western world from a deep recession. The bombing has shaken business, consumer and insurance confidence to the core. A real war waged against an endless enemy - - the total opposite of the heroic Gulf War, over and done with in a matter of days- could be the economy's final undoing. And where then would come the resources to deal with the myriad of expensive demands the crisis has thrown up?

More subtly and more importantly this pause in the helter-skelter gives the Western, so-called Christian, world the opportunity to have an intense dialogue with the Islamic one. There has been a real danger of imminent polarisation, which seems to be part and parcel of the tactics of bin Laden. If he can create a situation where so-called fundamentalist Saudi Arabia is seen to be the frontline in America's onslaught on rank and file fundamentalists (who do live according to their creed), it may provide a sufficient shifting of the sands from below to topple the House of Saud and bring to power a populist regime.

If this happened its ripple effects would go far and wide and indeed, at that point, the West could even find itself in the invidious position of courting Saddam Hussein as a counter force to fundamentalism. (After all he set out in 1980 to overthrown the fundamentalist, revolutionary regime in Iran, and the West, so desperate were they to knock Iran on the head, were happy to sell him whatever war machines he asked for.)

Such a dialogue would mean resurrecting the promise made by Secretary of State James Baker during the Gulf War that the U.S. would move swiftly to push Israel and Palestine to a settlement. In fact nothing that offended Israel too much has been done and the push remained one sided. It would also mean pulling America's overgrown command base out of Saudi Arabia. It would mean a real rapprochement with Iran which maybe the British foreign secretary has begun with his recent visit to Tehran. And, not least, it would mean a more intense effort to ready Turkey for admission to the European Union and its corollary, a powerful effort to educate European public opinion to be more hospitable to the Muslim immigrant workers in their midst. Short of this, the Christian-Muslim relationship could sour to where indeed there would be a "clash of civilizations". (Samuel Huntington's mistake in his provocative book was not to argue that there could be such a conflict but to see only the bleak side.)

In the current issue of Prospect magazine, the Central Asian expert Anatol Lieven lays out an exceptionally clever, multi-layered, appraisal of the job that has to be done. Nothing can go forward, he argues, unless Washington "ends Cold War policies against Russia and China". They have to become allies in this task of defeating terrorism and this is not the time for maintaining a relationship that assumes they are "major threats to vital U.S. interests". Thus the talk of the imperative for National Missile Defence has to be put on one side. The U.S. also has to cut quickly loose from being "effectively at war alongside Israel". For while we cannot do much "to help the Muslim world out of its deep historical malaise, or to make up for centuries of defeat…we can diminish or at least distance ourselves from the most glaring contemporary insult".

Written from Washington this is the kind of serious long range thinking that the White House needs to absorb. Progress has been made the last week. The blind are opening their eyes. But the mess that has been created by both terrorists and responders is going to take a lot of clearing up.


I can be reached by phone +44 7785 351172 and e-mail:


Copyright © 2001 By JONATHAN POWER



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