The killing of bin Laden and
the American arrogance of power
Associate since 1991
Comments directly to
May 2, 2011
At the time of 9/11, nearly ten years ago, America was not only immensely distressed and angry but it was surprised too. It couldn’t- and still cannot- understand why anyone should be moved by such hatred against it. Inured from the rest of us by the isolationism of most of its political representatives and its media it had little idea of the currents swirling against it.
An event of 9/ll’s magnitude was not only unimagined, it was unimaginable. Yet long before George W. Bush became president with his forceful in-your-face, take-it-or-leave-it attitude to the world outside on issues as diverse as global warming, the International Criminal Court and anti-missile defences, America had been turning in on itself, to the point of self-destructiveness. Thanks to President Barack Obama this has begun to change, though the Republicans in Congress, as with his urge to close Guantanamo, hamper him at every turn.
America’s most distinguished foreign affairs commentator, William Pfaff, wrote in his seminal book, “Barbarian Sentiments” that “America is a dangerous nation while remaining a righteous one”. America’s pre-eminent post-war diplomat, the late George Kennan, wrote: “I do not think that the United States civilization of these last 40-50 years is a successful civilization. I think this country is destined to succumb to failures which cannot be other than tragic and enormous in their scope.” And later added that for Americans “to see ourselves as the centre of political enlightenment and teachers to a great part of the rest of the world is unthought-through, vainglorious and undesirable.”
Americans had not learnt by 9/ll and in many ways many still haven’t that action produces reaction and not for nothing is anti-American resentment so ingrained in much of the world. In Europe during the Bush administration there was some astonishment that the US ploughed ahead with its self-interested agenda as if no one else had a legitimate opinion or could perhaps view the same situation in a different light.
A Pentagon think tank issued a report that argued for America’s need to use the special moment after the defeat of European communism and the break up of the Soviet Union to make sure that America remained militarily superior the world over and that no one, even its closest allies, should be in a position to tell it what to do.
The first law of holes is to stop digging- which is what Washington should have firmly told Israel when it started its foolish policy of building settlements on what everyone knew was Palestinian land. While Arab governments wrung their hands and young Palestinians fought one of the best trained armies in the world, there were the inevitable few attached to the Palestinian cause who were moved towards serious, even apocalyptic, violence. Bin Laden was one of these. As he often made clear the Israel/Palestine problem was the number one issue on his agenda.
But as Gandhi once said, to meet the enemy eye for eye and tooth for tooth is to make everyone blind. This goes not just for Israel but also for America’s post 9/11 wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. As Pffaff wrote in his book, “America now is the repository of exhausted ideas, like dead stars”
Obama today, now that bin Laden is dead, has his big chance to reverse the decisions made by George W. Bush. At the time Bush made it clear that the US and its European allies were launching the war in Afghanistan in an attempt to kill bin Laden and destroy Al Qaeda. Nothing beyond that. They failed. He fled to Pakistan which at that time was considered a nervous and unreliable ally whose nuclear weapons were not particularly well guarded where, in effect, he had sanctuary since the US feared to rock the political boat.
The war in Afghanistan took on its own momentum. It was mission creep writ large. First came the urge to destroy the Taliban, the Muslim fundamentalist movement, quite popular in Afghanistan because it gave a measure of order in a disordered country, picking up the pieces after the Soviet invasion and occupation, and outlawing the growing of heroin-producing poppies. Then came the urge to implant democracy, improve the roads, build schools and clinics and to emancipate girls and women. All these are worthy goals but they should have been pursued without the recourse to war, using traditional aid programmes and the hard work of NGOs.
Imagine our forefathers’ reaction if in the Middle Ages Martians had landed in Europe and told everyone they must be democratic, observe human rights, liberate the serfs, give everyone the vote and end women being subservient to men, otherwise they would bomb the hell out of them.
Afghanistan remains a predominantly feudal society. It has to find its own way in its own time, just as the West did. We can help it with aid and advice but not bomb it and try to kill off the fundamentalists.
Copyright © 2011 Jonathan
Jonathan Power can be
reached by phone +44 7785 351172
and e-mail: JonatPower@aol.com
The Quest for Global Justice
of Humanity” poses eleven questions for our future progress, ranging
from “Can we diminish War?” to “How far and fast can
we push forward the frontiers of Human Rights?” to “Will
China dominate the century?”
The answers to these questions, the author believes, growing out of
his long experience as a foreign correspondent and columnist for the
International Herald Tribune, are largely positive ones, despite the
hurdles yet to be overcome. Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, London, 2007.
William Pfaff, September 17, 2007
Jonathan Power's book "Conundrums" - A Review
"His is a powerful and comprehensive statement of ways to make the world better.
Is that worth the Nobel Prize?
I say, why not?"
Tell a friend about this column by Jonathan Power
Message and your name
free articles & updates