Slow news day yesterday. A combination of event-lag and a head cold which has taken up residence and is now inviting a large group of noisy friends has meant that I mostly wandered around like a hopeless drunk whilst C unpacked, abused Richard and Caroline’s washing machines and reloaded Doris. Horror of horrors she went for a run round the big field out the back of their house and I resorted to taking my ailments for a walk – well done her. But that did give Richard and I another hour or so to put the world to right – he’s got wide ranging military and adventure training background – from recently walking in Georgia to canoeing in the Antarctic – so there’s always something we can wrestle with.
Our latest, and I’ll try and summarise this in a short paragraph, is the impact that the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan is having on the West and how we (that is Richard and I) would have done things differently in hindsight. My view has always been that whilst we have to defend ourselves what gives us the right to impose liberal democracy on other people? You might argue that what we have is better than the previous regimes in those countries, but with ‘our way’ comes a myriad of subtle, complicated and unpleasant issues such as drugs, alcohol, mass consumerism (shopping as a pastime), racism, rampant ambition, broken marriages, lack of respect for the elderly, gun crime, fear of crime, sexualising young people, over-the-fence jealousy…..I could go on. I’ve not been to Iraq, but I have been to and worked in a number of third-world countries including Afghanistan, and whilst the poverty, disease and, in some oppression, is appalling and not something I would exchange my life for, I’m totally unconvinced that blanketly applying our way of life with all its rubbish add-ons is the right solution. And I guess the aftermath of the West’s incursions in Iraq in particular must support my view. Afghanistan will follow after we’ve all gone…
But more important – and absolutely why we will not be able to apply a solution to these countries – we have to ask ourselves and then answer the question ‘why is there an issue in the first place?’ We eventually did this in Northern Ireland where we engaged with the terrorists and amended the imbalance of civil rights between the Catholics and the Protestants. We took away the core reason for the need for one side to feel aggrieved and, with no remaining reason to fight the terrorists lost the general support of the side they were purportedly fighting for. I know that there are still very small elements of that society on both sides that would like to kill each other and sectarianism still exists, but we did ask and then answer the question (eventually). For much of the Middle East the Arab/Israeli issue is central to general disenchantment and the West’s, particularly, as the Arabs would see it, the right wing Christian US’s underpinning of Israel, wholly exacerbates the problem. Add to that US/Christian soles treading the tarmacs of their towns (come on, what would we think if the Saudi military patrolled the streets of Wolverhampton?) and mix in mass poverty ruled over by an uber-rich elite and, have a guess what? I certainly would be taking up arms against the infidels. Come and join me?
Bombing and killing the terrorists is not the answer. It’s part of the problem. Yes we must protect ourselves and yes that means we have to stop terrorists and that might mean surgical involvement with special forces and spies. But, and I know it’s a cliche, for every one terrorist you kill you spawn ten more. We absolutely have to help answer the Arab/Israeli question in a meaningful way; it must be the top of everyone’s foreign policy list. We do have to help regimes become better regimes and close the gap between rich and poor. We have to help regimes see that human rights are key to building a future in their countries. But we must not, never, believe that the way we live our lives is so special everyone should get some of it. And, anything other than an UN mandated, Arab led force, the west should not but boots on the ground unilaterally. We should always be seen as the last people they call, and we can diplomatically help them make that call, but not force them to; then come along in a supporting role, sheepishly but effectively. I appreciate that this approach is neither instant nor will it attract many right-wing votes, but in a basket case of a region it will not stoke the fire, it might eventually dampen it.
So that’s told you.
Leaving the v kind hospitality of Richard and Caroline’s today for a CL near Frome (I have an ENT appointment tomorrow in Frome). The consultant’s going to love it when I sneeze all over him. But back in Doris – yippee!