A response to John Pilger's "War is Peace and Ignorance is Strength", published in the New Statesman on October 15, 2009.
(Thanks to Lawrence Hill for directing this to my attention.)
It will help to read if you read the Pilger article first: http://www.newstatesman.com/international-politics/2009/10/obama-pilger-war-peace
Much as I intensely dislike the cult of worship which has developed around US President Barack Obama in the past 18 months or so, this article by John Pilger is remarkably unfair to him - it basically calls Obama a dishonest warmonger. While this diatribe is about what I'd expect from the pen of John Pilger, who leans so far to the left that his brains seem to have seeped out of his ear, what I find most interesting is that hell hath no fury like a liberal scorned - if old Pilgie wasn't one of those liberal commentators near the forefront of the "go-'bama" campaign in the foreign (ie non American) press then he was certainly watching with joy from the sidelines, but he's now turned his back on the Golden Child. However, it is nice to know that such people can change their minds.
I would like to address some of the key issues raised in the article, which is why, if you haven't read it, you should probably click on the link and do so before moving forward.
We need to acknowledge some home truths here. The Taleban do not obey the rules of war. They are not signatories to the Geneva Convention. They kill, beat, maim, rape, torture and steal from people who do not hold their views. After the recent Afghan elections Taleban agents cut off the hands or even limbs of people they caught with the indelible ink mark imprinted on their thumbs while voting, because they did not want Afghans to vote at all. The Taleban routinely hold meetings, training camps, and recruitment posts under cover of weddings, birthday celebrations, and the like on innocent peoples farms, on construction sites, in schools and especially mosques, etc. Sometimes the people involved are forced to be there in order to provide cover; sometimes they themselves are Taleban sympathisers. The Taleban are not stupid - they know that the West puts more faith in a couple of minutes of one sided, disjointed emotive drivel on a news report than in the strategy and tactics of fighting a war against people who welcome death as martyrdom.
Yes, civilians have died, and more are dying, as a result of US and allied raids and tactics. The Taleban have been routinely killing civilians for years, raping women who go out in public without a male escort or revealing too much skin, raiding schools where girls are taught to read in order to keep the fairer sex subjugated and oppressed, murdering anyone who speaks out against them. This is a WAR, people, and until the boffins can create weapons which have a friend / foe distinguishing button, collateral damage will happen - ESPECIALLY when the enemy deliberately use civilian shields to maximise the death count.
Yes, more money does need to be spent on infrastructure such as roads, electricity, education, and medical care, but it must be noted that a lot of the money given to the government for such projects is being siphoned off and diverted to the Taleban by corrupt bureaucrats and sympathisers within the Afghan administration. A lot of the existing projects in Taleban controlled areas are being destroyed by the insurgents, so obviously we need to get rid of the Taleban first before the serious reconstruction can begin - otherwise, it's just money down a sinkhole.
Yes, the current 'President' of Afghanistan appears to have stolen the election, but he has bowed to international pressure and a new run-off election is to be held within the next fortnight.
We in the West have a choice: we fight these people on their home ground, now, or we leave them alone, wait for them to gather strength, allow their agents to infiltrate our society as 'refugees', and then fight them in our own streets when they try to force NZ neighbourhoods to adopt sharia law, female genital mutilation, institutionalised rape (aka arranged marriages, or the belief that men should rape women who are out in public and not wearing a hijab or a burqa, or even that to avenge an insult against your family the men of your clan can rape a woman of another clan, who will then be put to death by her own family in order to save face - yes these things happen, not just in Afghanistan and Pakistan and the Sudan but in Amsterdam and Oslo and Bradford!) and all those other fundamentalist practices which have been adopted by Islamic extremists and which are an anathema to our way of life. Gay rights and marriage? Forget about it - under sharia law homosexuals can be stoned to death, and I don't mean the kind where they lock you in a room with several kilos of maryjane and tell you to go for it. These fundamentalists hate our way of life, and they hate our perceived weakness in accepting other ways of life, and they despise our secularism, our freedom and our democracy as an affront to Allah, who alone has the right to legislate the regulation of society (through the earthly intervention of the mullahs and imams, of course).
The 'war in Pakistan' has nothing to do with Obama. It is a Taleban inspired insurgency which has more to do with the rise of militant Islamic fundamentalism in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas of the North-West Frontier Province and reaction to the Pakistani system of government than anything the US and its President are doing. The fact that Taleban funded mullahs have had free access in the tribal areas in the north for a number of years without the authorities intervening, providing educational and social services which were poorly funded by the federal goverment, has been a major catalyst for the extremist sympathies and anti-government feeling in this area. US pressure on the Pakistani authorities to deal with this situation before it spirals out of control (remember that many commentators believe that, if he is still alive, Osama Bin Laden is most likely in this area) fell on deaf ears for a number of years; the previous Pakistani military dictator General Musharraf used the existence of the pro-Islamist militia as an excuse to maintain a strong army and also as a scapegoat for anti-Indian agitation and action when such things occured. The new civilian government of Pakistan has taken the threat seriously but their poorly trained troops are not doing particularly well, simply encouraging the pro-Taleban cause through their ineptitude.
Obama did not lie about the Iranian cover up of a “secret nuclear facility” - Iran reported it to the International Atomic Energy Authority only after they realised that British and American intelligence knew it was there. As for the supposed dichotomy of the US supporting Israel's right to have nuclear weapons while contesting the Iranian nuclear programme, I can see how some people might have an issue with this. From my point of view, and this is admittedly the weakest part of my counter-argument, is that IF Israel has nuclear weapons (the Israeli government officially neither confirms nor denies the existence of any nuclear aresenal), then you can certainly understand why - ALL of its neighbours (apart from the Egyptian government which does not reflect the will of many of its people in this regard, and to some extent Jordan) want to OBLITERATE the nation, pound it into the dust, and forget it was ever there - they do not even officially recognise its existence! Israel is outnumbered significantly and with Iran aggressively pursuing nuclear weapons (oh, sorry, a 'nuclear power' policy) can we seriously ask Israel to give up the one deterrent it has to safeguard its existence? I can see the counter argument - with US forces in Iraq to the west and Afghanistan to the east, the theocratic powers that be in Iran may see themselves as being encircled by potentially hostile forces, and is seeking to build a deterrent. If this is the case, why not just admit it instead of lying to the international community at every turn? I'm sure a number of countries would support Iran's right to a nuclear deterrent if it was diplomatic and responsible enough in raising the issue. However, the actions of Iran's governments of late has been everything else BUT responsible - look at the crack down after the current government blatantly stole the election this year and demonstrated its contempt for any moderation of its hard line rule. Even Zimbabwe's Mugabe realised that, in stealing an election against such an obvious groundswell of opposition, you need to do a sneaky compromise and make people THINK you're going to accept change. (Conveniently killing off the wife of the main opposition partner and new government coalition ally can send a powerul message to other opponents as well!) The point here is preventing further proliferation of nuclear weapons - once the genie is out of the bottle, you can't put it back, but you can prevent others from releasing it. Am I uncomfortable with the Israelis having a finger on the big red button? Yes, of course - just as any of us are uncomfortable with any country which currently has them. Nuclear non-proliferation is not about getting countries to give up their existing arsenals (how would we ever trust that any country has done so?) but about preventing more countries from joining the nuclear club. Building nuclear power stations is a very small step before building weapons facilities, and we know Iran has been testing missiles with longer and further ranges over the past few years. I expect that at some point in the near future, if this is not resolved, we will see a repeat of Israel's 1981 pre-emptive strike on Iraq's nuclear facilities on Osirak. I find it hilarious that the Iranian nuclear programme was initially funded by the US 'Atoms for Peace' prorgramme in the 1950s, but of course everything changed with the toppling of the Shah in the late 1970s. I've read that Iran's "Supreme Leader", the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, once proclaimed in a fatwa that the use, and even production, of nuclear weapons was an offence to Allah and forbidden by Islamic law; then again, apparently there is nothing in the Koran about raping women to avenge honour-crimes so I guess some of this stuff can be made up as you go along. Certainly on 24 September 2005 the International Atomic Energy Authority's Board of Governors declared that Iran's failure to comply with the Safeguards Agreement in the past compised a "non-compliance" with the protocols of the agreement, and this remains the current view. Given the rhetoric from people such as Pakistan's President about Israel's right to exist, I think Iran has yet to prove that it is responsible enough to be trusted to develop a nuclear programme, even a peaceful one. Even at the height of the Cold War neither the US nor the USSR ever refused to acknowledge their adversary's right to exist.
Pilger is a well known Palestinian apologist, so of course I expect him to discuss the "Israeli war crimes" without making mention of the actions of Hamas. Is firing rockets into civilian areas on a daily basis not a war crime? Again, because Hamas is an illegal terrorist organisation, it has not signed the Geneva Convention governing the rules of war. Yes, it cannot be denied that there were more Palestinian casualties than Israeli in teh recent conflict. Much of this is due to that fact that Gaza has an extremely densely packed population, and therefore more casualties will be suffered in any conflict. The vast majority of the population are first, second, or third generation refugees, descended from people who fled Israeli forces in the War of Liberation of 1948 after the sudden and immediate declaration of war on the nascent Jewish state by its Arab neighbours. Many Jewish inhabitants of those states fled or were expelled from their homes as well; they were taken in primarily by Israel and the US and their descendants are fully functioning members of those states; some 40% of Israel's population in 2002 was comprised of or descended from these refugees. Many Palestinians remained in Israel instead of fleeing their homes - 20% of Israel's population, according to the latest census, are of Arab descent, although estimates of the 1948 'exodus' are suggest that up to 80% of the Arabs within Israeli territory (perhaps up to 750-800,000 people) left of their own volition, fled the conflict, or were expelled by Israeli Defence Forces or the government after the conflict. In 1949, at the Lausanne conference, Israel offered to accept 100,000 refugees back, while the Arab states would take the remaining refugees and Israel would take the Jewish refugees from those lands. The Arab states did not agree to this proposal. So while Jewish refugees were resettled within Israel, the supposed brethren of the Palestinian Arabs on the borders of Israel forced the Palestinian refugees to live in refugee camps by not allowing them free passage into or citizenship of their countries. While we in the West are constantly castigated about not having high enough refugee quotas, those countries which are socially and culturally a better home for many of the refugees refuse to have anything to do with them, and blame Israel for the enduring poverty of their existence.
Pilger bewails the use of Long Range Acoustic Devices against protestors in Pittsburgh. My God, what does this man want teh authorities to use? Rubber bullets and tear gas? How about a full military clamp down with sub-machine guns? Crowd control during protests and demonstrations is essential because, as learnt in Somalia over a decade ago (if not in other places earlier), crowds of innocent protestors are targetted by anarchists and terrorists and used, against the knowledge and support of many of their participants, to mask violent action. The right to organised protest should never be permitted to outweigh the right to safety and security. As for calling Guantanamo Bay a concentration camp, well, in some ways it is nice to see someone who is not scared of invoking howls of outrage from Jewish lobby groups at the blatant misuse of that term, but come on - it is an internment camp. Yes, it needs to be closed if we (the West) are to retain any moral high ground, but such a closure must be managed - a vast majority of the inmates are not suspected terrorists, they are actual terrorists, and holding them saves lives; releasing them just means more people will die, and if my mother is killed because some extremist is released from Guantanamo Bay to find his way to Christchurch and blow up the NZI building at Addington as an attack on the western financial system then there will be trouble. Oh, and the convenient thing about accusing people of "secret assassinations and torture" is that you don't need any proof - it's a secret, so there is none!
The US - Colombian military bases are primarily targeted at controlling the Western Hemisphere and intercepting the drug trade which is sponsoring the terrorists. The worst thing about the West is that we are our own worst enemy in this regard - we bleat on about drug laws and how ever many percent of our people routinely use drugs, but such recreational use creates what I call “herbological latifundia” in poor nations - farmers can earn more from growing coca and opium in one year than from growing corn or wheat in 20 years. The war on terror must tackle the purse strings as well as the terrorists. This is in no way an indication that Obama of the US plans to “rollback” the independence and democracy of Bolivia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Colombia and Paraguay - it is just a recognition that the institutions in these countries are so corrupt that they cannot deal with the problem themselves. The Colombian armed forces receive military support and training from the US and Britain; I don't read anywhere in this article about the terrorist and guerrilla warfare training camps in Afghanistan and the Sudan which are run by the Taleban and/or Al Qaeda and are paid for in roughly equal amounts by Saudi Arabian fundamentalists and European governments - the latter through the excessive welfare payments made to non-integrating 'refugees' who send money back to their 'families' at home and also donate money to their local mosque, some of which then send the money on. (In some countries such as Denmark, Muslims make up 5% of the population but receive 40% of the welfare outlay.)
The Nobel Peace Prize
Finally, Pilger and I are, if not on the same page, at least within the same chapter. I agree completely that Obama should not have been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize at such an early stage of his presidential career; in my opinion, someone like Zimbabwe's Morgan Tsvangirai, Colombian Senator Piedad Cordoba, or even Chinese activist and current political prisoner Hu Jia would have been a much better recipient. I completely agree with Pilger's concerns regarding what he calls the "Call of Obama", which he describes as being "not unlike a dog whistle: inaudible to most, irresistible to the besotted and boneheaded." And I love the quote from George Clooney which Pilger uses to illustrate his point: “When Obama walks into a room... you want to follow him somewhere, anywhere." (For those keeping score, this may well be the first time I have EVER agreed with Pilger on ANYTHING apart from the issue of sweatshops in Indonesia.) And, for a record third time, I totally embrace Pilger's comments about political debate having become so debased in our "media monoculture" that issues of race, gender and class can be used as "seductive tools of propaganda and diversion." I point the finger, in part, to the education system and our curriculum; yes, as a Social Studies teacher, I must admit that I and my colleagues are part of the disease. I do as much as I can to prevent a liberal-socialist-egalitarian view point from brainwashing my students but one person can only do so much.
For those of you who are interested, I recommend you read "While Europe Slept: How Radical Islam is Destroying the West from Within", by Bruce Bawer. It's an interesting take on the phenomenon of Islamic fundamentalism in Europe, written by a gay American who lives in Norway and has also lived in the Netherlands - two countries renowned for their tolerance.