Thursday, 5 May 2011

Ground Zero: US policy after bin Laden

When old Hammond describes the civil war of 1952-54 to William Guest in News from Nowhere he notes that during it the ruling class ‘at least and at last learned something about the reality of life, and its sorrows, which they – their class, I mean - had once known nothing of’ (ch.XVIII). I suspect that the appalling terrorist attack on the World Trade Centre of 9.11 potentially had just that kind of impact on the United States in 2001. The US had blithely intervened militarily, both openly and covertly, in so many other countries, and now some of that relentless violence had horrendously bounced back and hit it in its very heartlands.

That might have been a moment of great awakening as well as great trauma, in which the USA seriously reassessed its role in the world. But no, George Bush was at the helm with his fellow neo-cons, so we got the disastrous ‘war on terror’, Afghanistan, Iraq and Guantanamo. Now, with the killing of Osama bin Laden, one particular strand of Bush’s war on terror has been pushed through to a conclusion which he himself wasn’t able to achieve in his own term of office.

So Barack Obama has now done the gung-ho, cowboy-style ‘wanted dead or alive’ thing as Commander in Chief, which may also serve to get him re-elected in 2012 (for, heaven help us, we don’t want Donald Trump). And perhaps, having done that, Obama can now turn to the more thoughtful international approach he seems eminently qualified to pursue. Serious non-violent American support for the ‘Arab Spring’ and a determined attempt to solve the Israel-Palestine conflict (which will involve standing up to Israel in ways American presidents traditionally have not done) might just possibly create a new democratic Arab politics and a new US relation to the Arab world which would dissolve the bitter sense of grievance which gave bin Laden and Al Qaeda their emotional pull in that part of the world in the first place.

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