Saturday, 3 November 2007

A question of terrorism

It is not a pleasent experience, but it is useful to find out what the other side think. So sometimes I read the Sun. And sometimes I visit the Fox News website and listen to Bill O'Reilly.
For a while Bill O'Reilly has been (sadly) getting the better of Liberals by asking them; "Do you want us to win in Iraq?"
It seems like a yes or no answer. Say yes, and you support George Bush. Say no, and you want US troops to get killed and defeated.
The correct answer of course, is whether you like it or not, the US is already defeated in Iraq, and should pull out and stop wasting the lives of their troops.
And now there is a film with Meryl Streep, and the question "Do you want us to win the war against terrorism?" is described as "quintessential" and "unanswerable". I am sure Bill O'Reilly is loving this, as it is his question.
But predictably in his latest broadcast he decides to sound angry - he is good at that. What he argues is common sense as far as it goes. "If you do not want us to win the war against terrorism, you are a Moron".
In one sense he is right. If we can do away with terrorism, life would be so much better. The point however is that the question misses the point. The "war against terrorism", like the "war against drugs" cannot be won. There is no endpoint to this war, whether we like it or not.
We can do things to lessen it. We can invest more in police work, we can improve relations with those communities that mights otherwise habour terrorists, support the moderates to marginalise the extremists. Or we can aggravate it, clamp down on civil liberties, persue an aggressive foreign policy.
The myth that "evil can be destroyed" is an attempt to create Utopia. Evil has always existed, it is Utopian to imagine that it can ever be destroyed. An attempt to "Destroy Evil" was made in Iraq, and all it did was create even more evil than existed before, remarkably.
So why the difficulty in answering the question? Partly it is the penchant for Bill O'Reilly to target the weakest Liberals, often celebrities, or the tiny number of people who make up the far left, like Rosie O'Donnell.
And partly I think because the US has a culture of optimism. You cannot say that something cannot be done, that something is insoluble.
Such optimism is disasterous. The US invaded Iraq, and no siginificant US politician would dare say that regardless of international law, you simply cannot get away with doing this, it cannot be done.
Optimism or pessimism in themselves are neither good or bad. They are appropriate when connected to realism, to be realistic is more important than anything else.
And currently the US political establishment could do with some more pessimism before they bomb Iran.

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