Thursday 27 October 2016

A break spent mulling over Irish politics in Morocco

Published 19/04/2015 | 02:30

Clinton's success depends on two things: stamina on the campaign trail and credibility on policy. On both counts, she is far ahead
Clinton's success depends on two things: stamina on the campaign trail and credibility on policy. On both counts, she is far ahead

Back from a week's break in Morocco. And since I paid for the cheap and cheerful package, you can trust my plugs for my favourite Muslim country.

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Apart from talking to some local teachers I had met on previous trips to Agadir, I spent most of the week mulling over politics at home and abroad.

Two topics kept top place. First, Hillary Clinton's bid to become President of the United States - and what that might mean for Middle East politics.

Clinton's success depends on two things: stamina on the campaign trail and credibility on policy. On both counts, she is far ahead.

Clinton is a consummate campaigner. We forget - but Republicans do not - that she finished with more votes than Obama in the primaries.

She is also ahead on policy issues. But not the kind of right-on issues favoured by Irish left liberals.

Last week, Denis Staunton wrote a meaty piece in the Irish Times titled "Hilary Clinton must look to the left to succeed in 2016". If she follows that advice, she will fail.

Clinton needs the left like a hole in the head. I said the same thing to Mary Robinson in my blueprint for the 1990 presidential election.

Robinson did not need to win the left vote because she already had it. What she needed was the wider support of Middle Ireland. Robinson agreed with that analysis. By broadening her appeal, she hoovered up Fine Gael votes.

The same goes for Clinton. The Republicans would love to depict her - and destroy her - as a lefty Democrat.

But any attempt to do so runs into the rock of Hillary's hard line - left Democrats would say hawkish line - on foreign policy.

And this election is also about foreign policy. Translated into whether America should look strong or weak. And Obama has been weak beyond belief.

Obama's leftist line has not worked. Not on Putin, and not on Isil. No great power can thrive without being willing to spend blood and treasure.

Clinton believes in facing down dictators. She supported the bombing of Kosovo, and the toppling of Saddam Hussein.

As Secretary of State, she sent Navy Seals to seek out and kill Bin Laden. She openly opposed Obama's crazy decision not to support moderate opponents of Assad in Syria.

Clinton is not afraid of conflict. And that is the kind of American President needed by the alliance of Arab States, led by the courageous Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt, against the Isil barbarians who are disgracing Islam. That is why Republicans are running around in circles. Deep down, they would give anything for a runner as ruthless as Clinton.

Eventually they will produce some tough-talking challenger. But he will be a verbal hawk, not an actual hawk, not one with Hillary's hard-won experience of hammering fanatics, whether in Kosovo or Pakistan.

That means that many Republican voters, who are worried about Russian and Islamist expansion, will grit their teeth and vote for Hillary Clinton.

* * * * *

My second thinking topic in Morocco was how Sinn Fein is deploying 1916 as part of a new media strategy to smooth its path to State power. The full name of this strategy is: 'These things happen in wars.' For brevity, I will call it TTHIW.

TTHIW got its first outing when Gerry Adams was asked about the murder of Jean McConville on 60 Minutes in America. And his answer was not a throwaway, top-of-the-head rejoinder.

Adam's answer was part of a new Provo strategy: to weave the slaughter of innocent civilians in 1916 into the slaughter perpetrated by the Provo IRA since 1969.

There is no mystery about why Sinn Fein has produced the new strategy at this point. Contrary to reports from its friendly hush-puppy pals, the polls show that the publicising of Sinn Fein links to sex abuse claims is slowly leaching support.

Sinn Fein has nothing much to fear from the feeble digs in the Dail. But it has everything to fear from hard reporting. Hence Adams' dark 'joke' about threatening editors.

Hence too, the clever strategy of TTHIW: that bad stuff happens in wars. Clever, because it plays on public reverence for 1916.

Most decent Irish people have swallowed the myth that the Rising was a good thing, lock, stock and smoking barrel. The same decent Irish people also deplore the civilian casualties of the Rising - including the children, whom Joe Duffy has drawn back into public memory.

The result is moral confusion. People are torn between the empathic emotions evoked by the executions and abhorrence at the civilian and child casualties.

To their credit, many people have been casting around for a way to resolve this moral confusion.

Enter Sinn Fein with an easy sound bite solution "Bad things happen in wars. Whether the wars be in 1916 in Dublin or in 1987 at Enniskillen."

And that's what Adams's interview with CBS was all about. Sinn Fein's cynical ploy to weave the fate of Provo victims like Jean McConville into Pearse's 1916 war narrative.

The Provo package about "the pity of war" can even be extended elastically to draw a common cloak over the 1914-18 War, the Rising, and the Provo campaign.

That pernicious ploy poses problems for those who are rightly challenging the myth that 1916 was a good thing. Let me explain why.

John Bruton and others like him, who correctly challenge the glorification of blood sacrifice that led to civilian casualties, are acting with good authority.

But, given the growing green mood of the general public, which will get worse next year, they can easily be painted as cranks outside the national consensus.

Me, I refuse to be caught outside that consensus. I prefer to point to a crucial difference between Pearse and Provo leadership.

Pearse called off the "war" to prevent further civilian casualties after a week's fighting. But it took the Provos 25 years to call off their war.


* * * * *

Just as you can judge a modern European country by how it treats its poor, so you can judge a Muslim country by how it treats its Jews. Thanks to the great Mohammed V (1909-1961) Morocco has by far the best record.

Morocco was a French protectorate when Hitler took power. But the Sultan, Mohammed V, wielded huge political and moral power.

In 1940, Mohammed V robustly rejected demands by the French Vichy collaborators that the 200,000 Jews living in Morocco wear yellow stars, as they did in France.

This would have been the first step in their passage to the death camps.

Heroically, Mohammed V flatly told the French: "There are no Jews in Morocco. There are only subjects."

That's what I call acting with good authority. The same-sex referendum gives us a chance to do the same. To say this:

"There are no second-class citizens in the Irish Republic. Only citizens."

Sunday Independent

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