Sunday 17 February 2019

Retribution is coming, and it will be horrific

Ireland must build on its magnificent response so far and avaoid the usual role of self-righteous posturing, writes George Dempsey

YES, we could well have a retaliatory war. President Bush has warned that those governments which host terrorists will be held as responsible as the terrorists themselves. And Nato has invoked the mutual defence response of its treaty for the first time in its history by determining that the terrorist attacks on the United States constitute an attack on all of its member states.

Retribution is coming and when it does it will be inflicted by a united alliance and it will be horrific. And it will be sustained. American spokesmen, notably Secretary of State Colin Powell, have made it clear that this will be a campaign not just against the perpetrators of Tuesday's atrocities but against all global terrorism.

The first target has already been identified as it becomes increasingly evident that Osama bin Laden was indeed the key responsible figure. His objectives are irrelevant destabilising moderate pro-US Arab governments, driving the US military from Saudi Arabia, punishing the US for backing Israel it matters not at all what that deranged mind thought were the reasons for his actions. What he made happen quite simply constituted acts of war driven by an irrational hatred of America.

It's not that there isn't still hope that war can be averted. But doing so requires the unyielding support of America's friends, as well as its allies support for actions which could well involve the use of terrible force, not against conventional armies but against already impoverished countries. It will be harsh. It could be horrifying. But this time there will be no space for public Ireland to play its usual role of self-righteous posturing and condemnatory moralising, for what took place in America on Tuesday was truly an attack on us all, on civilised society itself.

Fortunately, judging by the response of Irish political leaders which has been magnificent and by the heartfelt reactions of the Irish people, there is no fear of this. Ireland is standing "shoulder to shoulder" with the US.

And then we have The Irish Times. Its editorial response to the atrocities, together with the op-ed opinion piece by its resident moraliser Fintan O'Toole, equated the American people with the terrorists: "so arrogant and merciless ... as blindly passionate as the emotions that led yesterday's killers". Implicit in both pieces were the judgement that we brought it all on ourselves and the prediction that our response will be as "savage" as the actions of the terrorists. And, surely, once we have responded, some correspondent will pen one of his condemnations of us for war crimes.

WHAT, then, about Irish radio and television? From a news point of view they can hardly be faulted. Unfortunately, on the talk shows, rather than uniform rationality, we have had the ubiquitous Robert Fisk, once again parading his views to argue that it's all the fault of Israel and, thus, of the United States for "bankrolling" that "brutal" state. If I heard the exchange correctly, Alan Dershowitz, on Wednesday's Last Word talk show, called Fisk a "bigot" and an "anti-Semite". Whereupon Eamon Dunphy pulled the plug on him, saying he would not have Fisk insulted on his programme. And we all thought Dunphy was interested in real debate.

Let us be clear about this. The Irish media, in general, bear their share of the responsibility for what happened in the United States. For far too long in this country there has been a prevailing view which denigrates and condemns and even vilifies American foreign policy. Many of these venomous falsehoods such as claims that hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians were killed in the Gulf War have continued to spill out over Irish airwaves this past week. The hatred of America which drove the suicidal terrorists doesn't flourish in a global vacuum.

Any society which glorifies suicide as a heroic act is a sick society. America suffered at the hands of such people before in the kamikaze attacks of Japanese militarism. And, in the present-day case of the Palestinian Arabs, their society has been made what it is by decades of being lied to by their leaders who, instead of reasoned argument, preach hatred and murder lying and hatred given sustenance by those, in our societies, who practise a tolerance for terrorism. "Oh," they'll cry, "of course it's terrible what they did, it's absolutely unacceptable, but you have to consider the cause."

And, then, they call for "understanding". This is no more than a witless pandering to Arab irrationality and intransigence.

We understand all too well the true causes of the violence. The Palestinians, and the Arab world in general, has had more than a half-century to come to terms with the existence of the Jewish state of Israel. Instead, they have answered every Israeli offer of a negotiated peace with violence. No appeal to the misery of their lives in refugee camps or to their anguish can change the simple truth that their situation is of their own making or, perhaps, the making of the Arab governments which have perpetuated their refugee condition as a weapon against Israel. The world is full of refugees, tens of millions since World War II. The others, most suffering far greater hardships than any the Palestinian Arabs have witnessed, get on with their lives. The sole difference in Palestine is that the Jews are involved.

So, here in Ireland, what's to be done? A bit of truth would help. For starters, there could be some honest articles on such contentious Middle Eastern issues involving the US as the effect of depleted uranium used in shells fired by the allies during the Gulf War or the impact of the UN sanctions on Iraq. Neither, after all, involves rocket science.

Unless the laws of physics change, "depleted" uranium cannot cause cancer. And documents, publicly available from the United Nations, establish that the oil-for-food programme generates more than sufficient revenue to cover all of Iraq's needs in the areas of food, medicine and infrastructural repairs. The blame lies entirely with Saddam Hussein, who has deliberately underspent the monies available to his government from this programme by up to 50 per cent in order to exploit the continuing misery of his people to con the gullible into supporting his demand for a lifting of the sanctions.

No, this isn't about a failure of American foreign policy. This is about hate-mongering. President McAleese, in her truly affecting unscripted response on television to the tragedy, nailed the cause of the atrocities beyond cavil by anyone rational it was "crazed hatred unchecked". Now is not the time for vacuous moralising about dialogue rather than retaliation. It is the time for all of us to exhibit the resolve to check the evil of terrorism by holding those who preach and practise hatred to account. This is as clear as what needs to be done. Osama bin Laden is target number one and, if the Taliban leadership continue to shelter him, they become the target.

By all means, talk first. And then, if the terrorists are not surrendered, war.

* George Dempsey is a retired US diplomat

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