Monday, 15 January 2007

Getting back on-side

For the first time in my life, I feel as though we – the West, the ‘goodies’ – are behaving in many ways more like those whom we used to disdain as the ‘baddies’.

Whatever Osama bin Laden’s intentions, the Twin Towers atrocity of 9 September 2001 was a master-stroke. The first hostile attack on USA soil since the British burned the White House in the war of 1812, it touched a sensitive nerve in the American psyche which sent common-sense thinking awry and induced a national mood of undignified panic. As the incumbent president was not the most sagacious of the varied bunch who have held his office – to put it mildly – and his administration was dominated by signatories of that hubristic document Project for a New American Century [/], the USA has, in the following years, behaved like an infuriated elephant floundering in a swamp, lashing out blindly around the world. Most regrettably, it has been aided and abetted in it’s purblind policies by the UK – or at least, by our God-guided [in his own estimation] prime minister who, while protesting his intention to act as a moderating influence on Big Brother across the Pond, has in fact been dragged along willy-nilly like a tin can tied to a mastiff’s tail.

When these two proclaimed their doctrine of ‘pre-emptive intervention’ to impose democracy on countries and peoples who have no notion or desire for it, I was irresistibly reminded of the Europe of my youth, where Hitler and Mussolini rampaged across borders bringing their ‘New Order’ to reluctant recipients. Not only is the new ‘doctrine’ wrong in principle, it has little if any hope of working. Anyone with even the most superficial knowledge of the Middle East and Asia should know that however much the West meddles, and for a time dominates, it is impossible for us to keep the indigenous people of those regions permanently in subjection. Whatever the moral and practical shortcomings of the old British Empire, those who administered our colonies at least had some understanding – at times quite profound – of the peoples they ruled. Their successors here, and even more in the USA, seem bereft of any such wisdom.

All this is deeply depressing, especially when one’s personal time is drawing short. But, as Yellow Duck so sagely says in the burrow today, nothing lasts for ever and the political weather can change very quickly. There are increasingly clear signs that the majority of people in both the UK and USA no longer support the policies of our Dear Leaders. For whatever reason – even if only because the policies obviously aren’t succeeding - that gives cause for hope.


Toby Lewis said...

You underestimate the weight of policies not succeeding. I have a very optimistic theory about tyrants and megalomaniacal leaders. They crush everything under foot and become popular because they play the hard man, but eventually they anger enough people that they need for stability that historical forces bring them crashing down or (and this is the beauty of it) they stabilise, become less ambitious and effectively leave their countries in a decent economical state poised for a healthy, if scarred, democracy. Examples in the latter camp might include China, Chile, Spain, Cuba (hopefully), some of the former Eastern Bloc and hopefully Russia in the future. The former seem obvious, Nero, Charles I, Louis XVI, Robespierre, Napoleon, Hitler, Saddam, Blair, Bush....

I managed to enrage Merkin the last time I put this point of view rather confrontationally after Saddam was condemned to death but I reckon and hope there is some truth to it.

anticant said...

You are optimistic about most things, Toby. Oh to be young again!

Jose said...

Absolutisms normally have cruel ends, violent ends. The periods of transition are usually chaotic in countries with a long absolute ruling. In the case of Spain that transition was not violent. No deaths had to be lamented, in fact the death of the "Caudillo" attracted to his funeral hundreds of thousands of people and at the beginning of the transitional period the relay at government who proceeded from the cadres of the dictatorship, had a meritorious behaviour in the process of which the Communist Party, in former times so much demonised, was admitted into the political frame of the country.

Adolfo Suarez who has been praised for his behaviour during this transitional period did in actual fact betrayed his oath of allegiance to the former regime. If he had qualms of conscience for it he might as well dismiss them as totally unnecessary.

No country intervened in the process of democratisation of Spain, it was apparently all done from the inside without any outside intervention. I don't think the more than likely democratisation process in Cuba will not be made from the inside, so many Cubans living in the States will undoubtedly prevent this from being so, and if the US gets its hand into that process the consequences could be unpredictable.

The US administrations have been very active in "creating" democracies, as Anticant says, in countries which should have been left to their own fate. Creating fates with the help of autocratic rulers will always turn out to be gory, as has been the case with Iraq and was the case with Iran at the time the celebrated Shah was deposed, a Shah that had been imposed by one American Administration with the help of the UK.

Muslim countries will some time in the future change their traditions by themselves without any alien "help". We must leave to them this process, the West must never intervene for whatever may be the reason, not even because of oil or other natural resources.

Countries should live in their own independence if we want to have peace as a normal condition of living, otherwise - and this has been proved countless times - peace will not be attainable, much that leaders boast about their democratic intentions.

I would like to stress here that my comment in this or other forums are an expression of my thoughts and opinions, which I can willingly change if I am convinced otherwise.

anticant said...

All governments are conspiracies against the people. Some are more benign than others, but none believe that matters would be better if they were out of power instead of wielding it. As Curran said, the condition of liberty is eternal vigilance.

Richard W. Symonds said...

Talking of liberty, The Libertarian Pledge is worthy of note (hat-tip : Paul from Georgia) :


Toby Lewis said...

I definitely agree with much of what you say Jose. Too much intervention in the concerns of other people has been proved again and again to be catastrophic and is the reason why we can no longer be sure our leaders are the good guys! No-one here likes the idea that we are propping up numerous sons of bitches worldwide. A top tip by the way is Vargas Llosa's The Feast of the Goat for a novelistic study of one particular son of a bitch.

Yet I also think it unrealistic to imagine there will be no foreign intervention in any country's path towards democracy. Somehow the models they have to turn to are the existing ones and we do, at least in the West, have a highly sophisticated understanding of what a model constitution might be. Spain's democracy, for example, has been cemented by foreign investment and EU membership.

Toby Lewis said...

Anticant - I find the claim that "All governments are conspiracies against the people" deeply relativistic and corrosive. The fact that you can get rid of a government by voting them out provides the framework for the control of the people. Blair's mob will be booted out soon in response to their failings. We will have another lot come in, and this time around they will need to promise and succeed at being fairly libertarian if not they will lose promptly. If anything the Blair years will have served to politicize huge swathes of people who perhaps beforehand had little or no interest in the ruling parties. This can only be a good thing.

anticant said...

Toby, corrosive it may be and also cynical. But it holds a great deal of truth. Your optimism about the electors' power to vote out unpopular governments ignores the current democratic deficit in many elements of our constitution and political system. Do you realise that NuLab, with its big majority of Commons seats, only received 20 per cent. of the votes eligible to be cast at the last general election? Far from the current mess having 'politicized' huge swathes of people, my take is that it has apathized them - yes, they are angry, but also feel helpless to bring about effective change after nearly ten years of Blair, and so become increasingly hopeless.

Toby Lewis said...

What would you think about compulsory voting? Or maybe we could reform the first-past-the-post system? All constitutional issues can be addressed, and I personally would advocate a return to strong parliamentary democracy and the dismantling of the party system. A reform of the power of the whips especially would be a great force for democracy.

Yet given many do not vote (something that generation after generation has fought for) something is needed to galvanize people to do so. The list of things that might do so include Cameron's populism, Labour's cronyism, the increasing importance of environmental issues, the need to defend civil liberties and the fact that we've recently invaded a country with the sole grounds being a fantasy of the Prime Minister, and we've also managed to show that we can't even restore law and order there. Now my hope and bet is that the next general election will have a hugely increased turn-out and will kick Labour out of power for all their sins. Who knows, perhaps the SNP will manage to do so even before a British Election is called by attempting to push through constitutional reform for Scotland. Even though, to be honest, I'd far rather we kept the Union three hundred years on.

anticant said...

I am with you almost 100 per cent. Toby, and only hope that you are right.

I am already on record [in the burrow] as saying that, while I dislike compulsion, obligatory voting - maybe on penalty of a fine for failing to do so - would be desirable provided that there is a slot that can be marked "none of the above". The totals of these, plus spoiled, papers would reveal more clearly than anything how disillusioned people are with the conventional party system.

You are also right about parties and whips - but reforming those would be a mortal blow to the prime minister's power base, and would doubtless be fought tooth and nail.

We must have more discussion here on constitutional issues. Proportional representation needs to be a 'pure' form, and not one contaminated by party lists and other such fiddles.

Have you read J.S, Mill's "Representative Government"? A bit dry, but thought-provoking.

Thomas said...

The terrible shame of it all is that though this folly in Iraq can only end in failure, it may not even serve as a lesson. Hindsight is myopic as foresight for most. The blunder in Iraq may come to be seen as a specific failure of the incompetent Bush Administration, instead of the general policy and worldview failure that it truly is.

U.S. interventions, whether open or covert have typically failed not only to bring representative government. They have often failed to make any sense as grand strategy or American National Policy.

anticant said...

I fear there is no hope of any "sense" from the present US Administration. Bush and his cronies are a bunch of self-deluded crackpots, with - lamentably for us - Blair cheering them on. This won't change until the American and British voters, who at last are beginning to get restive, send them packing. But how, and when? Probably not before they have attacked Iran, which the pundits say is scheduled for April.

Those whom the Gods wish to destroy, they first make mad.

Richard W. Symonds said...

Voters need 'The 3 r's'...they may be getting "restive", but that means sweet fa unless they also become "radical" and "revolutionary".

anticant said...

Voters also need education, interest, and incentive for involvement. That slippery chameleon of the left, Ken Livingstone, once wrote a book called "If Voting Changed Anything, They'd Abolish It".

Richard W. Symonds said...

"Education, interest, and incentive for involvement" is in the eye of the beholder.

Such pre-conditions for freedom come from within - they can't be imposed from outside.

anticant said...

No, but they can be motivated from outside. Isn't that what good teachers do - draw out knowledge and interest: 'educare'?

OK, you can lead a horse to the water but you can't make it drink. Some, however, do.

Richard W. Symonds said...

Are there eough "good teachers" to teach ?

Are there eough "good pupils" to learn ?

Is there enough "good" to overcome "bad" in this world now ?

Jose said...

And when American and British voters send them packing who will they elect? Are we 100% sure they won't pursue their predecessors' steps and act in accordance with electors' needs?

One way or the other the final objective of those who we elect will obey to instructions issued by those who have the strength necessary to make them obey. Not the people of course.

Lobbies, let me call them so, will choose those who enough imagination to convince electors.

anticant said...

I fear they will elect those selected by the party machines. So little change is in prospect unless there is a far greater upsurge of voter revulsion and anger against present policies than is yet apparent.