For the fall of the Taliban I shall not weep. Like every regime of religious fundamentalists é Muslims, Jews, Christians or any others, you name them é it was based on cruelty, oppression and backwardness. It’s enough to mention its attitude to women.
But this victory of the United States frightens me. Frightens me terribly.
Because this victory was too easy. Much easier than many (myself included) thought possible. A large country has been conquered virtually without sacrificing the life of a single American soldier in battle. The tribal chiefs were bought with money and changed sides. Opposition was shattered by giant bombers, riding high in the sky, nearly out of eyesight, dropping enormous bombs, more powerful than any of those used against the Nazis in World War II.
At no time in history has any state had such untrammeled power. Even the Roman Empire, at its zenith, did not come close to it. The Romans always had a rival power to contend with é Persia. In order to achieve their victories, they had to send the legions and sacrifice human lives on far-away battlefields. From time to time they suffered terrible defeats. No victory came easily, and certainly not cheaply.
In the absence of enemies, America has to invent them. “Islam” or “International Terrorism” (one and the same) fill this need. In a country based on the myth of the Wild West, the Good Guys (America) need the Bad Guys in order to function properly.
“Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely,” said Lord Acton, adding that “great men are always bad men.” This applies even more to great powers. When a state has unlimited might, it is quite unable to exercise wisdom, moderation or modesty. Like a junkie who becomes more and more dependent on his drug, so does a great power become more and more inclined to use force for every purpose, against anyone who dares to obstruct its will, be he right or wrong. The power will also be used domestically, to curtail freedoms that were attained after centuries of struggle.
The last few weeks have already given us a foretaste of what is in store. While preparing for the “war against terrorism”, the United States exercised considerable caution and self-restraint. It courted the governments in Europe and throughout the world. It built a great coalition of Arab states. But the moment President Bush concluded that he does not need help in order to win, that he can do it alone with bombs and money, he turned his back on everybody who had been a courted as a partner only a moment before.
The European partners, who were so eager to offer their armies, were suddenly given the cold shoulder. America did not ask them what to do and did not consult with any of them throughout the war. Now it leaves them the job of the village policeman, after the real soldiers (the American) go home. The United Nations reverts to its usual function é dancing to the American tune.
The Arab “coalition” partners are even more humiliated. The United States simply spits in their faces, treating them according to the old formula “Ahmed, bring the coffee.” The Americans discuss with themselves, freely and openly, what the next target should be é to dismember Iraq, to bash the Sudan or to use the opportunity to settle old accounts with Somalia. And the Arabs? Who asks them?
This new reality is exemplified in the most blatant and dangerous way vis-a-vis the Palestinian problem. Immediately after September 11, while building the “coalition”, American experts understood that Sharon’s rampage in the Palestinian territories has to be stopped, so as to enable the Arab governments to still the growing anger of their masses. President Bush spoke of the “vision” of a Palestinian state, Colin Powell worked on a new peace initiative, a poor ex-Marines general was sent to Jerusalem. For a brief spell, it seemed that America was about to use its power to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which created so much of the fury in the Arab world on which Bin Laden & Co. were riding. After all, what is the sense in killing one Bin Laden while producing ten new ones?
All these wise thoughts evaporated in the wind when the United States attained its easy victory. Practically overnight, America returned to what it has always been é the generous patron of the Israeli right-wing-military establishment. The Israeli lobby again dictates policy in Washington DC. President Bush has given a free hand to Sharon’s efforts to liquidate the Palestinian leadership, much as, in 1982, President Reagan gave a free hand to Sharon’s plan to invade Lebanon for the same purpose. See: Sabra and Shatila.
And this is only the beginning.
An easy victory can be a disaster to the victor, even more so than a defeat. The defeat in Vietnam had a sobering effect on America and created a mood of reflection and stock-taking. Our easy victory in the Six-day war, by contrast, brought us a disaster that continues to haunt us to this very day.
The maxim of the wise lord could be supplemented as follows: “Victory tends to corrupt, and easy victory corrupts tenfold.”