|November 8, 2001||atimes.com|
The political left and Afghanistan: To hell together
From German literature Nobel laureate Guenter Grass to Swedish bestselling mystery novel author Henning Mankell, from conscience-stricken German social democrats to politically clueless French socialists, it's all clear as daylight: The arrogant new imperialist Americans brought September 11 upon themselves; now they are arrogantly and callously bombing the hell out of one of the world's poorest nations, ignorantly flailing about rogue-elephant style, crushing friend and foe, presumed-guilty and innocent alike. Here's how Mankell, speaking for - ahh so many of his co-thinkers - put it: "My first thought was, oh what a horrible story. But the next thought was: I'm not surprised ... I've seen it coming. The gap between rich and poor for many years has been growing ever larger. The poor have nothing to lose. The United States, I'm afraid, has acted arrogantly in many respects ... We have to solve the problem of poverty. We have to tackle the AIDS problem. And we must strengthen the emancipation of women ..."
There are variations to the theme: The Palestinians must be given their own state; globalism must be reined in; the root causes of terrorism must be addressed; indiscriminate bombing of a poverty-stricken country will only reinforce terrorist sentiments and support; terror as such is an abstraction - fighting it an impossible dilemma.
There are truths and truisms in the war critics' and opponents' complaints and laments. But for the better part of the less left-sophisticated populace of Western and Asian nations alike (us included), such sophistry holds little water. Mass murder was committed on September 11; 5,000 people died. There is simply no way that can or will be excused or "explained" away. To the political misfortune of leftists, greens, anti-globalists, what have you, overwhelming popular majorities want justice to be done and punishment exacted. And to their greater political misfortune, that popular sentiment will prove not merely a temporary reaction but is here to stay, it is making a profound impact on the fortunes of political leaders, and it will soon make large impacts at ballot boxes.
In the US, that's an open and shut case. Question the manner in which President George W Bush expresses himself; but make no mistake about the support for his policies and leadership team and the confidence Americans have in the way conservatives from New York Mayor Rudi Giuliani to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld have conducted themselves and conducted policy over the past two months. The very notion that they are conservatives and hence might only represent the views of one portion of the political spectrum has disappeared. What they have said and done is seen as right and just and simply representing common sense. Most of those once to the left of them have joined them. The 50:50 Bush-Gore political divide of a year ago is no more.
Similarly in Europe, there has been a political seachange. Conservative French President Jacques Chirac who politically had his back against the wall earlier this year has made a dramatic comeback. Socialist Prime Minister Lionel Jospin has barely been heard from. Conservative German social-democratic Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder enjoys the highest approval ratings of his three-year tenure; leftist critics in his own party and the Greens have found no voice or cause to oppose him. The once unimaginable, that a leading Green Party politician, parliamentary defense expert Angelika Beer, now regards the deployment of ground forces in Afghanistan as necessary, now causes barely a political ripple. The center-right government of Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, shaky at home and once seen as a potential political menace Europe-wide, is firmly entrenched in power.
In Asia, the issue of Islam, that nations such as Indonesia and Malaysia and, of course, Pakistan have large Muslim majorities, tends to blur political perspectives. But radical Islamism, while politically noisy, is in fact on the retreat and seen as a threat to be combatted, not appeased. Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf made it a point to stop over in Turkey on his way to Europe and the US and the point will not be lost on his political friends and foes: Musharraf, educated in Turkey early in his life, has always regarded Turkish secularizer and modernizer Kemal Ataturk as the historical figure to emulate.
The global political landscape has changed vastly since September 11 and is continuing to change rapidly. It will now remain to be seen to what extent and how fast new political allegiances and strategic alliances will be able to transform openings and opportunities for construction and implementation of more rational political and economic policies into permanent realities. But for the first time since the end of the Cold War, that chance now realistically exists. The US, main target of the terrorists and their leftists sympathizers and "explainers", will play a lead role in this transformation. However, the political constellations world-wide are now such that much of the US agenda has broad-based support rather than being seen as an imposition. Loose talk of a "new imperialism" is off the mark; it crucially ignores new realities and political forces.
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