Saturday, December 23, 2006

Can we learn this simple lesson?

2006 saw the end of the American neo-con dream (as the BBC's Paul Reynolds describes here).

The idea of American domination of the planet based on military might has foundered at the first hurdle -- a tiny, poor country called Iraq. The world has paid a huge cost for the massive mistake made by these extreme rightwing conservatives, who have pulled Tony Blair in their wake. We can only breathe a big sigh of relief, and another huge sigh at the idea that we all have to pick up the pieces and try to carry on from where they began back before 9/11 and the Bush administration's criminal (because based on electoral fraud) rise to power.

I just want to underline one simple lesson to be learned from this unsavoury episode in global history. It is so simple that even a child understands it, and yet some politicians find it terribly hard to get their heads around.

It's just this: opposition breeds opposition. Conflict breeds conflict.

Cast your minds back to the days following 9/11 and remember the global outpouring of sympathy for America. Never has most of the world been so united in such support for the American people. Briefly, there was an idea that out of the carnage of that attack, could come a realisation that to prevent such things happening again, one could talk with one's enemies, negotiate one's way out of a crisis. That by talking to the administrations of Afghanistan, Pakistan and other neighbouring countries, one could isolate Al Qaeda and the Taliban. America at that point was in a position to call in a lot of favours. It seemed to me briefly possible to obtain a non-violent solution to the problem of Osama bin Laden.

Instead, the Bush administration wanted revenge. The Neo-cons like Donald Rumsfeld saw an opportunity not just to attack Afghanistan, but to target their number one enemy, Iraq. In a few weeks, all that sympathy and goodwill in most of the world was squandered. Hatred of America began to spread like a stain. The unjustifiable level of its violence was used as an excuse to foment anti-American activity -- and by extension, anti-British activity -- in many parts of the world. We now know what a disaster the whole episode was.

Many people saw this coming right at the start -- I'm afraid I am one of them, but it gives me no pleasure to think "I told you so" in these circumstances.

It's a simple fact; I say it again: opposition breeds opposition. Aggression and breeds aggression.

For example, just remember the Second World War. When the Nazis bombed the hell out of England, did we roll over and say okay we surrender? Does any country adopt that reaction when attacked? Of course not, they unite against a common enemy. So why is it that an attacker thinks that when they attack another country they will surrender? America may be the mightiest military power on the planet. They may have by far the largest military budget. But that counts for nothing when your enemy adopts different tactics.

Where do we learn how to deal properly and sensibly with opposition? I know where I learnt -- from martial art philosophy. Taoism, t'ai chi, kung fu -- they all explain how the soft overcomes the hard. How the hard and rigid can be easily broken, but the soft absorbs the shock and bounces back.

The bigger they are the harder they fall. Case in point -- America.

Judo explains how to use the power of your enemy against themselves. T'ai chi demonstrates how you meet opposition by moving out of the way, offering no resistance for the enemy, and then with a minimal effort help them on their way using the momentum of their own attack to topple them or let them tumble to the other side of the room.

In warfare such tactics require thought instead of brute strength. It requires wisdom and patience, not the arrogant, self-centred, narrowminded and ideologically driven madness of the neo-conservatives.

The only battle worth fighting is for hearts and minds.

To create loyalty and friendship you behave with generosity and therefore inspire thanks. You lead by example. If your democracy is so great then it will produce a well-balanced, great and prosperous country, and others will want to emulate it. How, through behaving like a bully, can you expect anyone to be persuaded that you are right?

Why should anyone want to adopt a political system which contains such injustice and inequity as that demonstrated by America nowadays? Many of its people are poor, illiterate, and live in daily terror of violence from gun crime. Hmm, that sounds a bit like Iraq.

What the world needs is not a single superpower. It did not need two superpowers. America did not win the Cold War, Russia lost it. Soviet communism and American imperialism both now belong to the past and deserve to be buried there, along with Nazism.

My hope for 2007 is that we can begin to put this behind us and move towards greater global harmony.

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