Thursday, September 11, 2014

The United States as defender of Freedom, my response to Tim Montgomerie

The above exchange with the distinguished Conservative commentator is self-explanatory. I have picked up the challenge and this is my response. The link in Tim’s original tweet was to a report in the New York Times about the announcement by President Obama that the US would be launching air strikes against the Islamic State. This announcement Tim turned into a statement that had three elements in it:

(1)   Freedom is in danger

(2)   Only one nation [The United States] counts

(3)   Great Britain” (sic) is the United States “best ally”

In response to my challenge Tim added a question (1) and an assertion (2). These are:

(1)   Who else [other than the US] will “lead the fight” against ISIS, Al Qaida and the Taliban

(2)   The US led the fight against communism

There is a surprising amount of meat here and it has been food for thought. Let’s start with the ideology. Tim Mongomerie used to describe himself as a “NeoCon” – I’m not sure that he still does but I doubt that he’s moved much away from his NeoCon predilections – indeed the evidence is that he clearly has not.

The Neoconservatives gave us the Afghanistan and the Iraq wars. On the thirteenth anniversary of 9/11 its worth remembering what the original motive for the ground War in Afghanistan was. It was to track down and punish Osama Bin Laden and Al Qaida. Because these terrorists were sheltered by the Taliban the war became a war against them. As they were in charge in Afghanistan it became, in effect, a war against the Afghans. The original mission was lost and it took a decade to find and take out Bin Laden (in Pakistan!). Meanwhile the more the Americans and British (and a few others) got sucked into Afghanistan the more deadly the adventure became. And now, thirteen years on, we have the certainty that within a year or so the Taliban will be back in charge – full circle has been reached. The Afghan war went badly but the Iraq war was much, much worse.

In Afghanistan the pursuit of the 9/11 terrorists had widespread support. The extension to a war against the Taliban rather less so. But one thing led to another… In Iraq there was no pretext for war. Iraq was not a threat to the West, was harbouring no terrorists bent on attacking it and had destroyed what “Weapons of Mass Destruction” it once had – as United Nations investigations showed clearly. That Iraq was led by an evil dictator who used vile means to keep his disparate nation together was true. But that last sentence could be applied to many countries around the world in varying degrees. North Korea, Zimbabwe, Burma, Iran… and so on. The NeoCon ideology says that the West, especially the United States, has a duty to confront these dictators. Whether they actually threaten western “Freedoms” (or “Freedom’s” in Tim Montgomerie’s use of the singular) or not.

The first problem we must have with this assertion is “Who decides”? In Afghanistan in the light of 9/11 the answer was the United Nations – not the body itself but the collective that made up the Security Council. There was support for the plan to hunt down Bin Laden. For the attack on Iraq there was no such endorsement. Indeed the US and Britain received very patchy diplomatic and Military assistance indeed. Not one major European nation, for example, supported the war. And the idea that western freedoms were challenged by Saddam Hussein was absurd – there was no such threat. That “only one nation” and its “best ally” launched the attack on Iraq is true, but the idea that our freedom was under threat was not.

Back in the 1960s the “Domino Theory” held that nations would fall to “communism” like dominos in a row. Tim Mongomerie asserts that the “US led [the fight] against communism.” Militarily this was true, and it was a disaster. From the tragedy of Vietnam and Cambodia to the smaller failures in South America and elsewhere the US militarily did nothing but harm. The dominos didn’t topple over so the motivation was wrong anyway. And Vietnam showed beyond doubt that huge military power won’t defeat a guerrilla army. Roll forward to Afghanistan and the Taliban and it’s just the same. Might isn’t Right, and it rarely wins however much initial shock and awe there is.

The defeat of communism, in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, came not from military intervention (thank God!) but from economic change. Yes the US was part of this process, but so was Western Europe and much of the rest of the Free World. Yes the Cold War was won in part because the USSR could not keep up with the West’s military spending. But it was also won because young people looked across the Wall and into the West from the communist bloc and wanted change. Democratic change and above all economic change. When in 1989 Chinese students tried to do the same the West, including the US was utterly impotent. Then the Chinese decided that they liked the benefits of controlled capitalism and the US and the rest agreed. And forgot that “Freedom”, if it means anything, means more than investment and economic progress. China remains a Communist autocracy, but it makes a lot of iPhones so that’s alright.

So that’s my answer to Tim. The military fights against both real and imaginary threats led by the United States have been unmitigated disasters. We need more of these like we need a hole in the head. Airstrikes against ISIS will have some effect as for a while they did against the Vietcong and the Taliban. But guerrilla armies regroup and even when attacked with ground troops, as with the Taliban, they are almost impossible to defeat. NeoCon ideology led assaults, as against Saddam, can achieve short term goals but without coherent long term plans they will fail. And when OUR actual freedoms are not really under attack - and when the fight is “only” for the abstract concept of “Freedom” you will struggle to take people with you, even if you resort to “Dodgy Dossier” type lies. And we won’t accept any body bags this time around.


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