I’d been thinking of doing a post about the tenth anniversary of the IRA ceasefire, pushed a little bit by
And mention of the 2001 conflict in Macedonia (which I wrote a lot about at the time, eg here and here) brings me back to the IRA and terrorism. In other countries – in both Macedonia, with regard to the Albanian insurgents, and Ireland, with respect to the IRA – the US is prepared to recognise that terrorism is a tactic, not an enemy; and that a security response to terrorism can never be the whole story. George Mitchell in Ireland and Robert Frowick in Macedonia were both sent in as US envoys to help push the men of violence onto a purely political path. Both succeeded (Frowick got his timing slightly wrong in the process and had to be replaced by James Pardew). But a key element to their success in both cases was that a political path was possible; that a peaceful and democratic strategy was a credible alternative; and also that any serious effort at a purely military solution would have meant misery for hundreds of thousands of civilians.
Apart from the 9-11 Commission in their excellent report, I don’t see anyone saying this in America with respect to the Middle East. I don’t know enough about it, but it seems to me that for any unemployed young man in the Arab world, political paths are blocked; peaceful and democratic ways of changing the world for the better are not obviously going to work; and US policy isn’t doing a lot about that. The fact that the most rapidly democratising regime in the region (not actually Arab, of course, and the reformists are currently on the back foot) is Iran, which has been ostracised by the United States since the 1979 hostage crisis (which took place before 60% of today’s Iranians were born), demonstrates that US policy has some way to go before it is seen as synonymous with democracy and freedom.
There have been some faltering steps in that direction. I had an email yesterday from a former colleague, wondering if I knew any European politicians who might be interested in a trip to Baghdad to help in a training course for members of the new Iraqi assembly. The fact that there is such a programme is of course a good thing. The fact that none of my politician friends, all of whom opposed the war, would be seen dead near a US-sponsored training program for what is seen by a lot of Europeans as a puppet assembly, is a bad thing. (I referred my friend to one of my former political enemies, who is pro-war.) But even if by some miracle this process does lead to a new democratic and peaceful Iraq, how is the US going to repeat the trick for other repressive Arab regimes which happen to already be American clients? Unless there is an answer to this question, the “war on terrorism” will end in defeat.