Monday, April 7, 2014

Reihan Salam- neocon unlimited

The neo-con motto: sometimes you have to burn down the barn in order to spring clean the house. In medical/surgical terms, the doctors will declare the operation a success (aka mission accomplished) even if the patient shuffles off his mortal coil.

Many americans are (justifiably) convinced that their country is a force for the good. Indeed there are defenders of the empire who aver that the US Army should be the default awardee of the Nobel Peace prize (due to its role as globo-cop).

Of course when you are rich and powerful, the very people you wish to protect will want throw insults (and sticks) at you. People will accuse you of all sorts of crimes: betrayal of a trusted friend, vaccination masquerading as a sterilization program, twitter messaging to trigger a revolution....the list goes on.

Reihan Salam does not mind the ingratitude and would like to keep playing with a straight bat for the greater good of the world. And also because it is personal. However his argument about the Bangladesh war leaves us (a bit) confused. Richard Nixon never found the time (and the will) to tell the genocidal Pak Army to back off (despite being warned by his own diplomat of the innocent blood being spilled). As Reihan himself admits, all it required was for Nixon to lift his (little) finger- no invasions, no "moralistic crusades" were required.

The "neocon" in the Bangladesh war was Mrs Gandhi. Even though Reihan does not quite give her the full credit (that is due from one brother to the other), she withdrew her army once the battle was over and handed off power to the Bangladeshis. Perhaps America would have done good by following her example. Defeating Saddam was the easy part, it was winning the peace which proved bothersome for the USA in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.

At a bare minimum, those of us who favored the war might have hoped for a democratic Iraq in which the rights of ethnic and religious minorities were respected and that was more closely aligned with the United States than Iran. The new Iraq fails on both of these counts.

Given all of this, why am I still a neocon? Why do I still believe that the U.S. should maintain an overwhelming military edge over all potential rivals, and that we as a country ought to be willing to use our military power in defense of our ideals as well as our interests narrowly defined? There are two reasons: The first is that American strength is the linchpin of a peaceful, economically integrating world; and the second is that we know what it looks like when America embraces amoral realpolitik, and it’s not pretty.

Of course, all of these arguments could be true and one could nevertheless believe that the U.S. should avoid doing anything more than narrowly fulfill its security commitments. Why insist on moralistic crusades, as neocons are wont to do? I suppose I have a personal reason for doing so.

It turns out that this week isn’t just the anniversary of the fall of Baghdad. It is also the 43rd anniversary of a telegram in which an American consul general, Archer Blood, took the unusual step of condemning his own government. 

As Gary Bass recounts in his chilling book The Blood Telegram, Richard Nixon and his chief foreign policy consigliere, Henry Kissinger, enthusiastically backed Pakistan’s military junta in its efforts to not only overturn the results of its country’s first free and fair election, but to massacre hundreds of thousands of Bengalis in an effort to teach what was then a rebellious province a lesson. One of the men who died, as it happens, was my uncle.

Knowing fully well that he was endangering his career, Blood decried the American failure to defend democracy or to denounce Pakistani atrocities. He also knew that had President Nixon decided to lift a finger, he could have forced Pakistan to stay its hand. Yet it seems that humanitarian considerations never entered the picture for Nixon and Kissinger. They were apparently too taken with treating the world as a chessboard to bother reckoning with the monstrous crimes they were aiding and abetting. 

Though Pakistan was unable to prevent the emergence of an independent Bangladesh, thanks in large part to India’s decision to intervene, the country remains scarred by the bloodletting. Imagine if a different president hadn’t cheered on Pakistan’s military rulers but rather threatened to use U.S. power in defense of Bengali civilians.

1 comment:

  1. The UN is observing a remembrance day for the Rwandan genocide of 1994, and the Western media has been full of articles about it.

    Why has the UN more or less ignored the Bengali genocide?