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Death of Diplomacy: Bush/Blair Policies a One Note Melody PDF Print E-mail
Peace News
Saturday, 01 April 2006 01:53
Death of Diplomacy: Bush/Blair Policies a One Note Melody

Agence Global - Tom Porteous - As the situation in Iraq and Afghanistan has deteriorated, Bush, Blair and their fellow travellers have increasingly portrayed the military campaigns in those countries as part of a Manichaean struggle between good and evil, a long global war to promote freedom, democracy and human rights over terrorism, tyranny and Islamic radicalism. Such rhetoric may sound good on the evening news, it may help to rally the troops, and it may also help to cover up the blunders of the Iraq war. But it is not a good basis for Western strategy in navigating the treacherous currents of Middle East politics, for at least three reasons.

www.agenceglobal.com

The Demise of Diplomacy
Tom Porteous


Agence Global
April 1, 2006

Copyright ? 2006 Tom Porteous / Agence Global
[republished at PEJ News with permission of AG]


In two prominent instances, one in Iraq and another in Afghanistan, the shrill rhetoric of U.S. President George Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair have failed to employ the sort of diplomacy that would improve the situation.  Instead, Bush, Blair and their fellow travellers have increasingly portrayed the military campaigns in those countries as part of a Manichaean struggle between good and evil.

In March, U.S. diplomacy had a modest success in Iraq.

An Iraqi dissident, Kamal Sayid Qadir, who had been sentenced to 30 years in jail last year, was given a retrial and his sentence was reduced to 18 months. A low key international campaign for his release and behind the scenes U.S. diplomacy played important roles. Now Kamal is likely to be pardoned.

Kamal was first arrested in Kurdistan in October after publishing articles which accused the leader of the Autonomous Kurdish Government of Iraq, Mas'ud Barzani, and his family of massive corruption. In December he was convicted of ?defamation? and given an outrageous 30 year prison sentence.

The outcome of last month's trial and the likely pardon are not bad results for hard pressed U.S. diplomats, whose main task in Iraq these days is damage limitation. They have avoided the appearance of interfering overtly in the ?sovereign? affairs of their Kurdish proxies, but they have nudged a corrupt and repressive Kurdish leadership, steeped in the ways of old Saddamist Iraq, in the right direction.

It's the kind of diplomatic finessing which has long been a staple of U.S. and British diplomacy in the Middle East. Now, more than ever, the United States needs to make use of these traditional diplomatic methods if it is to deal effectively with the emerging challenges posed by Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Islamism, and Israel/Palestine.

Unfortunately, the shrill rhetoric of U.S. President George Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair makes this sort of diplomacy more and more difficult. As the situation in Iraq and Afghanistan has deteriorated, Bush, Blair and their fellow travellers have increasingly portrayed the military campaigns in those countries as part of a Manichaean struggle between good and evil, a long global war to promote freedom, democracy and human rights over terrorism, tyranny and Islamic radicalism.

Such rhetoric may sound good on the evening news, it may help to rally the troops, and it may also help to cover up the blunders of the Iraq war. But it is not a good basis for Western strategy in navigating the treacherous currents of Middle East politics, for at least three reasons.

First, it leads to the setting of objectives which are wildly unrealistic and unachievable.  The U.S. National Security Strategy published in March is full of such unattainable objectives. It's replete with profundities such as, ?the success of democracy in Iraq will be a launching pad for freedom's success throughout a region that for decades has been a source of instability and stagnation."

Second, where the policies and methods fail to live up to ideals (as they inevitably must), the rhetoric undermines credibility and exposes Western governments to charges of rank hypocrisy. In spite of the high-flown idealism of Bush and Blair, the U.S. and British governments continue to support repressive and corrupt regimes (like Barzani's) throughout the Middle East. They have also used coercive methods in the pursuit of their war aims which fall far short of international standards, including arbitrary arrest and detention without trial, torture, extra judicial killing and collective punishment.

Third, the increasing tendency of Bush and Blair to conflate the war on terrorism with a war against radical Islam gives traction to Islamists' accusations that the United States and Britain are engaged in a crusade against Islam itself.

Bush and Blair should ask themselves: Where does the rhetoric of a struggle against radical Islam - the most popular political ideology in the Muslim world today - end? How far are they ready to take this ?battle of ideas?? Would they seek to topple the Islamist governments of Iran and the Palestinian territories? Would they seek to replace, by force, Islamic religious law, sharia, with the Napoleonic Code, the burka with the mini skirt?   

For Muslims, thanks in part to the policies and rhetoric of Bush and Blair, such questions lurked not far beneath the surface of the furor generated by another legal case in March, this one in Afghanistan.

Abdur Rahman's ?crime? was not political dissent but religious dissent. He had converted from Islam to Christianity whilst working for a Western NGO in Pakistan in the early 1990s. Denounced by his relatives, he was arrested by the Afghan authorities, locked up in jail and charged with apostasy.

The new Afghan constitution, drawn up with the help of Western advisers after the overthrow of the Taliban regime, and described in the U.S. National Security Strategy as guaranteeing for Afghans ?rights and freedoms unprecedented in their history,? does nonetheless apparently allow a possible death sentence for apostasy.

Abdur Rahman's story quickly became headline news throughout the world in a way which the comparable story of Kamal Sayid Qadir did not. The massive amount of airtime given to Abdur Rahman suggests that, on balance, religious freedom for Muslims has more supporters in the West these days than political freedom.

Western parliamentarians, commentators and church leaders asked whether the blood of U.S. and allied soldiers had been shed to uphold a state whose conservative judiciary sought the death penalty for conversion to Christianity. As with the Muhammed cartoons, the right wing media had a field day, using the case to do what they like doing best -- casting Islam in the worst possible light. It is an endeavour in which the conservative Pashtun mullahs of Kabul can usually be counted on to cooperate.

The huge reaction of the Western media and public opinion to the arrest of Abdur Rahman forced the hand of U.S. and European diplomacy. The president of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai, was issued with demarches from all directions, including Washington and the Vatican. Within a few days, Abdur Rahman was flown to Italy where the Italian government -- with a cynical eye, no doubt, on the upcoming general elections -- had granted him political asylum.

The Abdur Rahman affair has not helped the West's strategic efforts in Afghanistan and the wider region. It has provided grist to the propaganda mill of the religious conservatives. It has exposed the weakness and dependence of the Karzai government to its many internal enemies. In a country and region where the United States and its allies have committed egregious human rights abuses it has demonstrated to Muslim public opinion that the West cares more about the fate of one convert to Christianity than about the lives of thousands of Muslim victims of United States military power.

A quieter, more measured Western diplomatic response would have no less certainly secured Abdur Rahman's safety. But in the current atmosphere of tension between the West and the Muslim world such diplomacy is becoming increasingly difficult to implement, and the strident rhetoric of Western leaders, playing to increasingly Islamophobic publics, is doing nothing to reduce the tension.

 

Tom Porteous is a syndicated columnist and author who was formerly with the BBC and the British Foreign Office.

Copyright ? 2006 Tom Porteous / Agence Global

Agence Global is the exclusive syndication agency for The Nation and The American Prospect, as well as expert commentary by William Beeman, Richard Bulliet, Mark Hertsgaard, Rami G. Khouri, Tom Porteous, Patrick Seale and Immanuel Wallerstein.

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Released: 1 April 2006
Word Count: 1,120 words
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Advisory Release: 1 April 2006
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Last Updated on Saturday, 01 April 2006 01:53
 

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