Saturday 31 May 2008

The old men say, talk with the enemy

Learning lessons from the past

If they before us have anything to bequeath to generations after them it would be a history of how they lived their lives and hopefully some insight into making the best choices by learning from their mistakes.

There are people today now in their 80s who seem to have a wealth of experience about politics, economics, social policy and general participatory or observational view of changes that have created the world we have now - we would do well to heed their views – they can neatly count on 50 years of experience at the least on world affairs.

They may not be relevant in terms of having the power to change things now but their opinions are anything but irrelevant.

Gore Vidal – Beyond the perceived view of history

I had the pleasure of watching Gore Vidal (82) on BBC World Hard Talk last weekend, he was quite excoriating about George W. Bush but he gave some perspectives into contemporary American history. The interview on BBC (RealPlayer).

A week earlier, he was at the Los Angeles Times – Festival of Books – and he was interviewed by Amy Goodman, the transcript of which reads almost like the Hard Talk interview.

Much as John F. Kennedy is revered in America and the world over, he does not believe JFK did much more than polarise the world even more, JFK did not achieve much but his assassination created a legend of renown.

It is amazing that it is mainly intellectuals that seem to see the way the state is running roughshod over our privacy and liberties in the quest for security whilst breaking every law in the book on the premise of being at war – no greater indictment can be made of a President than to say that the America constitution has been shredded by the sitting President.

The Congress is also culpable in this travesty of democracy that was hard-won in the 20th Century, some way into the interview Gore Vidal indicated it was better to be a writer than a politician considering the way elected people seem to be marionettes controlled by lobbyists.

More on historical perspectives

Vidal is considered one of the foremost commentators on American socio-political life, his despair with his country is exemplified in the phrase United States of Amnesia - the collective inability of Americans to learn from history to know when they are being cajoled.

That brings us to the speech that President George W. Bush gave on the 15th of May at the Knesset in celebration of the 60th anniversary of the founding of Israel where he labelled as appeasers in the context of the appeasement of Hitler those who advocate talking with American enemies.

This is no doubt a distortion of historical context and Bush is no scholar of history as he is both making history and failing to learn from history.

Worse still is to forklift historical events from one time in history to accentuate a flawed logic, that is unconscionable and disingenuous.

President Bush appears to be living in a glass house casting boulder-like stones considering some records of history which had his grandfather Senator Prescott Bush “unwittingly” involved in businesses and banks that “inadvertently” bankrolled the Nazis and helped bring them to power in Germany.

You can read into this research and report what you like, but the mere fact that one of those company’s assets where he was a director were seized under the Trading with the enemy Act in 1942 is interesting enough though Senator Bush was not cited for wrongdoing.

Hero or heroics?

That speech has been criticised as an attack on Senator Barrack Obama who as Democratic Presidential candidate aspirant has suggested that the United States talks unconditionally with its enemies, most especially Iran.

Senator John McCain took on this speech and used it to ram home a few points about Senator Obama’s naivety about world politics, but before we get carried away with the perceived war credentials of John McCain; Gore Vidal does not think John McCain is a hero in the same class as John Kerry.

He says John McCain smashed his plane which would normally attract a court martial; interesting because I would reckon that would not be the case if your father and grandfather were four star Navy admirals – though this is not to discount anything about his political life and savvy.

Then the Financial Times takes Henry Kissinger (85) to lunch (interview); Kissinger who could well be a war criminal in some countries is quite well received in many other countries as a proponent of realpolitik and probably an authority on global diplomacy - a rather busy travelling man he has been, lately.

It is all well today to view some of the ideas and actions in the 1970s and draw conclusions that give us the benefit of hindsight, but it does not detract from the fact that a changing world required some tough and sometimes illegal activity to keep the world at peace.

Comprehensive negotiations with Iran

Mr. Kissinger, is German-born but also a Jew says during a discussion about diplomacy and the way the world has changed – “I have advocated that the United States have comprehensive negotiations with Iran ... We need to have an open discussion of all differences.

The difficulty comes when he says that Iran has to decide whether it is a nation or a cause – now, that is a difficult, the nation has to defend itself against its enemy on both sides in Iran and Afghanistan and it has a cause which is to remain seriously relevant in the Middle-East where the possibility of having nuclear weapons is looking like a national cause. This is the Iran we are told wants to obliterate Israel.

Talking with the enemy

The Economist in its leader last week pooh-poohed the President Bush’s slanted view of appeasement with the byline; when talking to the enemy. “Sometimes it makes sense; sometimes it doesn't; sometimes not talking can be appeasement”.

Appeasement is not so much the talking but the action that could follow the talking, like how Chamberlain sold Czechoslovakia down the river. And no one would call Secretary James Baker talking to the Saddam Hussein regime after the invasion of Kuwait appeasement; however, if America had not driven Iraq out of Kuwait, it would have been appeasement. Should I mention North Korea?

There is no way real dialogue would happen between America and Iran, if preconditions that give America the upperhand in negotiations are doggedly insisted upon.

In fact, talking to the enemy might well be the best way of keeping with the proven policies of containment and deterrence, if not engagement to secure the peace and eliminate threats.

President Jimmy Carter (83) visits Syria in April and insists that Syria and Hamas are integral to the peace process, they need to be involved.

Then Archbishop Desmond Tutu (76) visits Gaza and sees the international appeasement of Israel that allows for the blockade of Gaza to continue without any condemnation from those who can really change things. He called it an abomination.

But the most important statement he made was “conflicts were resolved through talking to enemies not friends”, surely; the man of the cloth knows something about this kind of thing.

It leaves one in no doubt that we have to talk before we can decide on what conditions are necessary to keep talking – a difficult thing for the Bush administration to comprehend because they probably have no knowledge of history to be able to make any sense of history and hence learn the lessons thereof.

Surely, these old men can not all be speaking nonsense.

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