On War, Humiliation and the Making of History

CounterPunchJune 18, 2012; The Nation, June 20, 2012

The “global war on terror” started by President George W. Bush more than a decade ago has taken a new and more sinister turn. Now we know that Barack Obama, the current president, goes through the profiles of people he wants eliminated (New York Times, May 29, 2012). He decides their fate in escalating drone wars in a growing number of countries.

Those to be killed may or may not be combatants engaged in war against America. They may or may not even be involved in an armed struggle against a brutal dictatorship which is America’s regional proxy. Mere age of others or their relationship and proximity to the “target” in a loose tribal community can be enough to be given the label of “militant”––a crime punishable by death. In Obama’s world, what else could their motive be if they were in the same area as a “terrorist?” It is a license to kill at will.

But never underestimate the cost of humiliation. For in war victory is never clean, because it empowers the vanquished or their successors to struggle in the future. Recent wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere in the Muslim world confirm this, often unheeded, lesson of history. From Alexander the Great, king of the Macedonian Empire, nearly two-and-a-half millennia ago to date, imperial powers far afield have sent their rampaging armies to conquer and to humiliate the populations of vast fertile lands, cradles of civilization, close to the four great rivers, the Nile, the Euphrates, the Indus and the Hwang He. What has transpired forms a pattern.

Those lands include modern Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan and the South Asian subcontinent, Pakistan and India in particular. Amid extreme volatility in this region, there has existed something consistent. Alexander’s campaign of conquest finally ran out of steam on the banks of the Hydaspes, modern-day Jhelum river in India and Pakistan. Exhausted, his troops mutinied, refusing to march any further. The rebellion continued later at Opis, a Babylonian city on the east bank of the Tigris, where Alexander gave a stirring speech admonishing his troops. But his rhetoric failed.

Elsewhere in the Kunar and Swat valleys, tribes put up extraordinary resistance forewarning one of history’s greatest military geniuses. However, the message from those uprisings was not enough for Alexander to overcome his hubris. After the Battle of Hydaspes, he retreated to Persia, leaving governors he had appointed in charge. They, too, misbehaved. Alexander was exhausted, injured, his aura of invincibility having abandoned him. Alexander became even more brutal. He retreated to Persia and died three years later. A remark attributed to him at the time: “I am dying from the treatment of too many physicians.”

The hills and valleys of Swat and Kunar, together with lands of the vast region of South and West Asia, have been subjected to repeated invasions through the centuries. The soil is soaked in blood spilled in violence between invaders and defenders, communities and tribes, whose fortunes and failings have attracted eagle-eyed predators far and near. The soil is fertile for resistance as it is for agriculture. Foreign armies have found this to their detriment time and again.

Subjugation by external forces renders victims helpless, but consolidates their long-term resolve. It breeds local resistance to foreign occupiers and their culture. It results in the colonization of lands occupied by foreign troops, mercenaries, and those wearing civilian hats as administrators and advisers. They engage in activities to extract and sell local assets, manufactured and agricultural goods through market mechanisms created and managed by themselves, not by those who owned them in the first place. Or they use the location of occupied lands to extend their control further.

In Chapter V of The Prince, Niccolo Machiavelli discussed three ways to hold newly acquired states that once had their own sovereign laws. His methods were: by devastating them; going and living there in person; or by letting them keep their own laws, extracting tribute and setting up an oligarchy which will keep the state friendly. Machiavelli’s work is associated with corrupt, manipulative and totalitarian government.

Examples are provided by Spartans and Romans. The Spartans ruled Athens and Thebes through the oligarchies they established there, although in the end they lost them. The Romans, in order to hold Capua, Carthage, and Numantia, destroyed them and so never lost them. They wanted to rule Greece almost as the Spartans did, freely, under its own laws, but they did not succeed. So, in order to maintain their power, they destroyed many cities in that province.

Five centuries after, Machiavellianism, a mishmash of cunning and duplicity, lives on–– despised if words of condemnation were to be believed, but witnessed extensively in practice.

Since the end of the Cold War and the defeat of Soviet communism, the terms of the United States-led Western military campaign for unrestrained access to petroleum and other strategic resources have altered. War today is fought for “freedom” against “terrorism” when both terms remain highly contested. Definitions, when attempted, are arbitrary, incoherent and irrational. The right to use unreserved force under the pretext of “self-defense” for the powerful has superseded the underdog’s right to self-defense and to resist.

We hear the absurd logic of brute military power couched in legal jargon. As an example, the rights of the Israeli state prevail over the basic rights of the Palestinians. Israel is allowed to have its clandestine nuclear weapons program, but no other country in the region. Elections in Iran are “fraudulent” in the absence of irrefutable evidence. But polls are “acceptable” in Afghanistan where plenty of evidence of fraud exists. High-altitude bombing in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, and drone attacks killing civilians posthumously described as “militants” or “terrorists” are justified in the “war on terror.” Talk is rare of “night raids”–– a euphemism for breaking into Afghans’ homes at night. Those at the receiving end of such treatment see it as humiliation under foreign occupation.

Loss of possessions is one thing, loss of dignity is quite another. There exists an inverse relationship between humiliation and pride. Take away a people’s dignity and they will be ever more determined to take revenge in the form that their culture and values dictate when the opportunity arises. History has repeatedly shown that the price of great power intervention is high; national humiliation caused to the victim leaves a legacy that haunts the intervenor and tempts the conqueror to resort to even more force.

The dynamic of the victor-vanquished relationship is that the fewer means the humiliated has, the more precious his honor becomes, and the stronger and more determined his retaliatory instinct is. Imperial powers like Britain and Russia––and more recently the United States––have intervened at will in the oil-rich Middle East and surroundings for resources and access to waterways. The legacy of imperial subjugation continues in the form of conflict and social upheaval.

At the advent of the twenty-first century, a decade after the Soviet Union’s collapse, the United States tried to reshape the region in President George W. Bush’s vision. The world’s greatest military power found the spirit of resistance in the peoples radicalized by past interventions as strong as ever. When Bush left the White House in January 2009, America was involved in costly wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, exhausted and in deep economic crisis. Under the Obama presidency, the “war on terror” has been expanded and the economic crisis is deeper, not only for America, but for the entire industrialized world.

Unchecked military power and hubris, seeking pleasure in the abuse and humiliation of others, are corrosive. They take the perpetrator on a path of infamy leading to the abuser’s own humiliation.

War is history’s revenge.

[END]

Rational Conflict Resolution: What Stands In The Way?

by Johan Galtung, TRANSCEND Media Service, May 14, 2012

Basel, Switzerland, World Peace Academy 

Six conflicts, four current, one past and one future are shaping our present reality.  Conflict is a relation of incompatibility between parties; not an attribute of one party.  It spells danger of violence and opportunity to create new realities.  Thus, to understand the shoa the narratives of unspeakable German atrocity and infinite Jewish suffering are indispensable.  But so are the narratives of German-Jewish relations, Germans to others, Jews to others.  Failure to do so blocks rationality: if conflict is in the relation, then the solution is in a new relation.  This is not blaming the victim. What matters most is changing the relation.  Are we able?

First case: USA vs Latin America-Caribbean.  The recent meeting of the Organization of American States ended 32 against 1, USA. The 32 wanted Cuba readmitted and decriminalization of marijuana.  Obama vetoed both; the relation a scandal, overshadowed by a sex scandal.

Solution: The USA yields to democracy on both, negotiates some time for the transition, and a review clause after 5 years.  The USA also welcomes CELAC–the organization of Latin American and Caribbean states without USA and Canada–with OAS as a meeting ground for equitable and amicable South-North relations.  Washington would be embraced by CELAC and the whole world.  A sigh of relief.  And the world could continue its fight against the far more lethal tobacco.

What stands in the way?  A falling empire clinging to the past, fear of looking weak, elections, huge problems like a crisis economy and social disintegration: Charles Murray Coming Apartand Timothy Noah The Great Divergence. Backyard treatment of the US backyard.

Second case: Israel vs Iran; the nuclear issue; war or not.  Uri Avnery[1]:  “–in our country we are now seeing a verbal uprising against the elected politicians by a group of current and former army generals, foreign intelligence [Meir Dagan, Mossad] and internal security [Yuval Diskin, Shin Beth] chiefs–condemn the government’s threat to start a war against Iran, and some of them condemning the government’s failure to negotiate with the Palestinians for peace.”

Diskin: “Israel is now led by two incompetent politicians with messianic delusions and a poor grasp of reality. Their plan to attack Iran will lead to a world-wide catastrophe.  Not only will it fail to prevent the production of an Iranian atom bomb–it will hasten this effort–with the support of the world community.

Uri Avnery on the not exactly dialogical, talmudic response:

“They did what Israelis almost always do when faced with serious problems or serious arguments; they don’t get to grips with the matter itself but select some minor detail and belabor it endlessly. Practically speaking no one tried to disprove the assertions of the officers, neither concerning the proposed attack on Iran nor the nuclear issue.  They focused on the speakers, not on what was said: Dagan and Diskin are embittered because their terms of office were not extended.  They felt humiliated–venting personal frustration”. Then Diskin on Netanyahu: “a Holocaust obsessed fantasist, out of contact with reality, distrusting all Goyim, trying to follow in the footsteps of a rigid and extremist father-altogether a dangerous person to lead a nation in real crisis” according to Avnery.

Solution: A Middle East nuclear free zone with Iran and Israel; 64 percent of Israelis are in favor, Iran the same provided Israel is in it.  Could also be a model for the Korean peninsula.  Agreement to try, a sigh of relief all over, both countries would be embraced.

There are problems: under whose auspices and whose monitoring.  How about Pakistan and Ali Bhutto’s “islamic bomb”, impossible without India that has superpower denuclearization as condition?

There are answers, all worth discussing, in depth, seriously.

Israel is wasting its time.  A wonderful talmudic tradition, a precious freedom of expression–generally very present in Ha’aretz–and misused for personal abuse instead of for solutions to very real crises.  Like Peter Beinart, The Crisis of Zionism, and Gershom Gorenberg, The Unmaking of Israel (2011).

What stands in the way?  The horrors of the past defining the discourse.  Like some Iraqis use the Baghdad massacre in 1258, some Israelis use the holocaust as a framework for world events, blind to the differences, and to what could have been done at that time.  And many let this pass not to hurt Israeli-Jewish feelings or for fear of being labeled as anti-Semites or holocaust-deniers.  Not Dagan, Diskin and some generals.  Nor real friends searching for solutions: not anti-Semites, nor holocaust deniers, nor prisoners of the past.

Third case: Israel vs Palestine.  I have argued since 1971 a Middle East Community of Israel with five Arab neighbors, Palestine recognized according to international law, 1967 borders with some exchanges, Israeli cantons on the West bank and Palestinian cantons in northwest Israel.  Solution: A two-state Israel-Palestine nucleus within that six-state community within an Organization for Security and Cooperation in the Middle East (or West Asia).  Model: Germany-France 1950, + EEC as of January 1 1958, + OSCE from 1990 onwards.  Open borders, a council of ministers, commissions for water, border patrols, economy; capitals in the two Jerusalems; right of return, also for Palestinians: numbers to be discussed, as Arafat insisted.

What stands in the way? Key Israeli and Arab contra-arguments:  “Surrounded by hostile Arabs we cannot let them in that close, they overpower us numerically, push us into the sea” says one; “The Jews penetrate us economically and run our economies”, says the other.

There are answers: Decisions would have to be by consensus.  Start slowly with free flow of goods, persons, services and ideas; settlement and investment perhaps later.  Build confidence.  Change a relation badly broken by naqba into a peaceful, evolving relation.

Fourth case: A recipe for disaster: minorities, outsiders in key niches like economy-culture: Turks vs Armenians, Hutus vs Tutsis, Indonesians vs Chinese.  But not Malays vs Chinese due to Mahathir’s discrimination in favor of the majority.  Israel would gain from lifting the Arabs out of this social rank discordance; also a feature of Germany.  Add the Versailles Treaty humiliation, Hitler and willing executioners.

Solution?  Cancel the Versailles treaty in 1924, lift the German majority through education and employment into equality and we might have avoided World War II in Europe.  What is rationality?  Not justify, but explain, understand, and then remove the causes!

What stood in the way?  Very few thought of this.

So much for a major fourth conflict of the past.  Fifth case: rampant US anti-Semitism, now latent, using scapegoating to explain the decline of the USA and Israel; failing to grasp solutions for their eyes, both lost in the past, one in glory, one in trauma.

Imagine USA losing even more: support from allies, the magic of being exceptional-invincible-indispensable gone, torn between misery at the bottom and incredible riches at the top, the dollar no longer a world reserve currency, etc.  A real fear right now: rampant anti-Semitism in the USA.  This must be handled constructively, not by churning out anti-Semitism certificates, scaring US congressmen from questioning Israel, thereby jeopardizing US democracy itself.  The tipping point from christian zionism to an anti-Semitism against Israel, Wall Street and American Jews in general may be close.

Solution: The US mainstream media become more pluralistic, less monochromatic, opening up to a range of discourses and solutions.  Criticism of Israel and Wall Street is not enough, constructive solutions are needed.  A solution culture, not a blaming culture.  Like the ideas above for USA vs CELAC, Israel vs Iran, Israel vs Arab states.  Nothing extreme, outlandish, and much to discuss.

But mainstream media constructive discussions are few in the US.  There are hundreds of points to be made, like there once were when Europe was emerging from the ruins of World War II.  Instead of degrading and humiliating Germany two brilliant French invited them into the family (now with its problems).   Let thousand good ideas blossom!  There is too much about the Cartagena sex scandal and too little about new ways of lifting the bottom of US poor into dignity, reducing the ever increasing inequality devastating the US economy.

What stands in the way? Clinging to the past, vested interests, the war industry, a blaming culture rather than a solution culture.  But vast majorities and new and old media should be able to overcome.

Sixth case, very much related to this: debt bondage.  China-Japan-EU vs USA; Germany vs Greece-Italy-Portugal-Spain-Ireland (GIPSI); the World Bank vs the Third World, with John Perkins’ Confessions of an Economic Hit Man as a gruesome illustration.

Yes, I have mentioned that fabrication by the Russian secret police, the Protocols–a conspiracy revealed long time ago.  But like Mein Kampf condemnation is not enough, better know what one talks about.  The Protocols read like a textbook on how to get others into debt bondage, starting with making workers believe they can be better paid and how these entitlements as they are called in the US debate can push a country into bondage.  The first reaction to credit is a sigh of relief, the second is not knowing how to cut expenses or make some income to service the debt.  The third is hatred mobilizing old traumas–look at Greece and Germany.

Solution: debt forgiveness, and contracting fewer debts.  The time horizon can vary, and it must be accompanied by mobilization of all internal resources to lift the bottom up from suffering and into some acquisitive power, rejuvenating countrysides with agricultural cooperatives, trade among GIPSI countries.  The threat to EU today is not only a single currency with no treasury–much better would have been the euro as a common currency–but a debt bondage gradient in what should be a more egalitarian community.  The material out of which aggression is made.  Not only forgiveness but also stimulus would be in Germany’s interest relative to the EU periphery, and the same goes for China relative to the USA (possibly coupled to agreed reduction of their arms budgets), and to the World Bank in general.

What stands in the way?  Long on neo-liberal market ideology, short on eclecticism, of all good ideas, for alternative economies.

Conclusion:  Humanity has vast positive and negative experiences. We should all join building on them, wherever they can be found.

NOTE:

[1] Uri Avnery, “A Putsch against War.” TRANSCEND Media Service-TMS May 7 2012.
_______________
Johan Galtung, a Professor of Peace Studies, is Rector of the TRANSCEND Peace University-TPU. He is author of over 150 books on peace and related issues, including ‘50 Years – 100 Peace and Conflict Perspectives’ published by the TRANSCEND University Press-TUP

Old State Instruments Are Still in Place: What’s Changed in Egypt?

CounterPunch, June 5, 2012; Palestine Chronicle, June 4, 2012

The day of judgment for Hosni Mubarak arrived on June 2. The 84-year-old deposed president was given a life sentence with his interior minister Habib al-Adly for the killing of hundreds of protesters during last year’s uprising. Mubarak and his sons, Gamal and Alaa, were acquitted of corruption charges. The court also acquitted a number of key interior ministry officials and security chiefs. Some Egyptians celebrated immediately after the verdicts were announced. Soon, however, the mood turned angry, because many thought that the verdicts were too lenient. Both Mubarak and Adly will have the right to appeal. Other factors, too, continue to foment anxiety in the country.

Millions of Egyptians had voted in the first round of the presidential election only a few days before. Just who will become president after the final round in a fortnight is not certain, but the drift of Egyptian politics is clear enough. The two leading candidates who emerged from the first round and will fight it out for the presidency of the most important Arab state are poles apart; the moderates have been eliminated from the race. One candidate to emerge from the first round was Muhammed Mursi of the Muslim Brotherhood. Just behind Mursi was Ahmed Shafiq, a former military officer and briefly prime minister in the final days of the Mubarak presidency.

Shafiq was initially disqualified under a law prohibiting figures associated with the previous regime, but hastily reinstated as a presidential candidate. He received favorable coverage in the state media in the run-up to the first round. When the votes had been counted, the difference between Mursi and Shafiq was no more than one percent and both went into the second round.

The most fundamental question to arise at this juncture is what has changed in Egypt? The Egyptian uprising that saw the end of Hosni Mubarak’s presidency in 2011 was largely bloodless as far as the protesting millions were concerned. The same could not be said about gangs, said to be associated with Mubarak’s security services, who attacked peaceful crowds, killing and wounding hundreds of people.

Events have since included attacks on Egypt’s Coptic Christians, their churches and other members of the public. The military has maintained, even consolidated, its hold while Islamic parties have come to dominate the new parliament after recent elections. There is inevitably a tacit understanding between the Muslim Brotherhood, the most organized political force, and Egypt’s ruling Military Council. It is a familiar scenario in which two equally powerful sides learn to live with each other in the same environment.

Those eliminated include some high profile figures like Amr Mousa, former Arab League Secretary General and one-time cabinet minister under Mubarak. Supporters of the Egyptian Spring were bitterly disappointed after their vote split between Hamdin Sabbahi, a leftist, and Abdul Moneim Aboul Fatouh, a physician and lawyer renowned for years of opposition to Anwar Sadat and Hosni Mubarak. Fatouh had broken from the Muslim Brotherhood last year and stood as an independent. Together, Sabbahi and Fatouh secured forty percent of the vote, but found themselves eliminated. The feeling among many Egyptians is that the forces of real change were so close, yet so far and will have to wait for another day. The instruments of state power are still in the same place.

Their bitterness was summed up by a spokesman of the secular liberal Free Egyptians Party, Ahmed Khairy. He described Mursi as an “Islamic fascist” and Shafiq as a “military fascist.” And he lamented that the outcome of the first round was “the worst case scenario.”

For a country which endured long years of brutal dictatorship, helped by one superpower or the other, and then went through a spring which brought optimism on the horizon, the future looks far from promising. Certainly insofar as the moderate majority of nearly 60 percent Egyptians is concerned.

Thousands came out to demonstrate at Tahrir Square in Cairo after the results of the first round were confirmed. Protests are continuing in other parts of the country. Egypt’s semi-official newspaper Al-Ahram acknowledged that crowds vented their anger outside the Constitutional Court, insisting that they would never accept Shafiq––describing him as the “second Mubarak.” Amid ugly scenes, protesters were attacked by unidentified thugs. Shafiq’s headquarters was set ablaze after being ransacked and his home came under attack.

Against the background of these developments, large numbers of Egyptians continue to feel disenfranchised. To them, the second round promises one of two unwelcome scenarios and neither candidate’s victory may bring genuine change in a country yearning for democracy. The election of Shafiq would mean a continuation of the old era. It would suit the Egyptian armed forces, the United States and Israel much more than a victory for Mursi of the Muslim Brotherhood.

There have been episodes in the past, both during Hosni Mubarak’s and his predecessor Anwar Sadat’s rule, when the regime entered into a tacit understanding with the Muslim Brotherhood. Now, though, the Islamists dominate the Egyptian parliament, but real power remains with the armed forces. Egypt still does not have a new constitution and the powers of the president and parliament are yet to be defined. Powerful internal and external players are still in the game. Like the deposed strongman Hosni Mubarak and his associates, Egypt’s emerging system is on trial.

[END]