Saturday, October 04, 2008

Talking with Enemies

Whether or not to talk with so called "Enemies" has emerged as big, repetitive, obnoxious issue brought up by McCain and echoed by his pet attack dog Palin. I think that two things are in order here: first, why wouldn't talking to nations hostile to us be a good thing, and secondly, what constitutes an enemy? For the first question, why not talk to them, the answer is that there may be common ground underneath our surface differences that can be found and dealt with, thereby defusing possibly dangerous situations. Secondly, is an enemy a country that's located halfway around the world that says nasty things about us but poses absolutely no threat? Sure, the nuclear issue with Iran and North Korea has been brought up time and time again, but both countries have made efforts to comply with international atomic energy organizations in inspections, Iran in particular and North Korea sporadically. Iran doesn't have the capability to hit the U.S. with a missile so Israel is substituted as the country that has to be protected. But as Noam Chomsky once said no one is going to attack Israel with serious weapons because the result would be instant annihilation by the U.S., no matter whether McCain or Obama is in office. The only time Israel has been hit with conventional weapons outside of its wars with its immediate neighbors has been during the Gulf War, when Saddam Hussein decided to lob missiles at Israel just because he could. And the reason he could was that his country was in a state of war where normal rules were suspended. Short of being invaded by the U.S. there appears to be little reason for Iran to jeopardize its existence by attacking Israel without any provocation. So that takes out much of the immediate threat argument from Iran.

Notice, though, that they don't talk about the potential threat to Europe that a nuclear Iran could pose, since the Europeans have their own opinions on all of this that the administration would not like to be heard. The idea that israel is a sitting duck is preposterous as well. Israel is armed to the teeth with military hardware, including nuclear weapons, much of it provided by the U.S., and it would definitely be able to defend itself in case of an attack. It's not helpless Israel but an Israel that has a macho posture to the rest of the Middle East that's the reality here.

But back to Iran. Once the immediate threat issue is taken care of there remains the ultimate causes for the hostility of Iran to the U.S., and that can positively be traced to the United States overthrowing the legitimate Iranian government of Mossadegh in the '50s and replacing it with an ultra-authoritarian military dictatorship. Iran began to have a neo-colonial relationship to the U.S., which supported bloody secret police in the country. The Iranian Revolution happened in response to this. It's not a case of someone just getting the idea "Gee, Islamic government sounds like a cool thing, let's do it!" but of people formulating an alternative vision that was in part a reaction to a perceived forced westernization under the Shah. There were a number of variants out there, with some of the strongest being left wing and being a mixture of Marxism and socialism with cultural sensitivity to Islamic and Middle Eastern/Persian traditions. But they lost and a right wing variant of this sort of opposition took over. The root cause of friction between the U.S. and Iran remains, however, no matter who eventually got power after the Revolution kicked the Americans out.

That could be honestly talked about, and the U.S. could agree to let Iranians be Iranians and let them govern their country in their own way, and some of the tension would be defused. Recognize the right of Iran for development, including the development of things like nuclear reactors that unfortunately power much of Europe at this point in time. Agree that they have a right to arm themselves, although keep pressure on nuclear weapons---as opposed to nuclear power---in place through the International Atomic Energy Commission. North Korea is playing out a slightly different scenario.

Amazingly enough, the Wikipedia article on the economic history of North Korea is pretty factual and not really propagandistic. The article makes it clear that although North Korea is a totalitarian dictatorship it's still felt a long term economic decline that has pushed it in the direction of increasing democratization of economic enterprises and limited decentralization. The current drama between Kim Jong Il and Washington appears as a distraction in North Korea to the actual state of affairs there. In response to the economic crisis, the very limited reforms have been pushed forward, then pulled back, and the military and party state has decided to focus on retaining power at the expense of the well being of the average North Korean. A big propaganda target like the U.S. assists in this. The actions of North Korea then appear not as the product of a devious plan against the United States by the commies but as the final throws of a regime determined to remain in power at any cost.

Now, to disorganize this article even more, North Korea might be a threat to Japan but it isn't a threat to the United States.
Although this is not good for Japan, they have their own very serious issues with Korea. Our Korean war is to big a topic to go into at this time. Anyways, the point being are they really an enemy if they're several thousand miles away from us and can't really hurt us? Is an isolated country in the middle of nowhere, say in the interior of Africa, that rails against the United States really an enemy? Is Mugabe, for example, someone who really threatens the United States, or even the UK for that matter?

I'd answer that having a person out there thinking bad thoughts about you is tough shit, as they say. You can't police people's thought, certainly not on the international scene. A campaign by America to force the world not to think bad things about it strikes me as being as stupidly pathetic as it comes. "Don't think bad things about me or my Daddy will come and get you!".

That said, what about the case that they all cite, that of Nazi Germany. You can't negotiate with them or you'll be like Chamberlain, appeasing them and acting like if you give a little right now you'll diffuse the problem in the long run. People always forget the context in which that issue of appeasement arose. Nazi Germany on top of being a totalitarian dictatorship was an avowedly expansionist power. By the time Chamberlain came into the picture it had already incorporated Austria into itself and was wanting Czechoslovakia. Or at least what is now the Czech Republic. Chamberlain caved on Czechoslovakia in order to hopefully stave off further expansion, which benefitted neither the Czechs and Slovaks nor the rest of Europe, as Hitler betrayed the terms and seized the entire country, then invaded Poland, starting World War II. Nazi Germany, the most evil force that couldn't be reckoned with, was not an isolated, terrible, country that was content to go about its own business in private. It wanted Europe. And it got most of it. At its height Nazi Germany and the German sphere of influence included Poland, Belgium, the Netherlands, France, Spain, Italy, Yugoslavia, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, Romania, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Norway, with Switzerland and Sweden being neutral and Finland eventually allying itself to the fascist cause. Then it marched east, conquering Greece and the western Ukraine. This was a monolith.

Not only that but the Holocaust was not an intra-German thing, as terrible as that would have been. The Germans expanded the Holocaust to every country that they either occupied or controlled through puppet governments. They wanted not only all the Jews in Germany but the entire Jewish population of Europe, from east to west and north to south murdered. And they implemented it. The Holocaust and the death camps were trans-Europe. None of this even remotely resembles what's going on in the world today.

There's absolutely no parallel between this scenario of German expansion and the status of Iran and North Korea today. None. Nothing.

So there's no need to invoke the specter of appeasement if we're really being specific. Appeasement in this sense takes on a metaphorical form that sounds impressive because of World War II but that really means concern about Iran having the potential one of these days to make a nuclear weapon. It isn't the same thing. There's not the immediate urgency that World War II presented; in fact, much of the sense of urgency that exists in the U.S. was manufactured by the U.S. government for its own purposes, and continues to be manufactured. Take the paranoia of the U.S. out of the picture and you see a much more peaceful view of the world.

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