15 May 2011

The Osama theory

I'm no fan of conspiracy theories, so I assume that bin Laden is in fact dead, as reported. He was being kept under the watchful eye of Pakistani intelligence and military (or at least a certain section thereof) and obviously had nowhere else to go. Now, as Tariq Ali put it, "The only interesting question is who betrayed his whereabouts and why." And, of course, there's the question of why he was being kept in a safe house in the first place.

Pakistan's government has been trying to maintain the role of America's ally in the war on terror, even though Pakistan has suffered thousands of casualties in that war, and even though there is huge anti-American sentiment among its people. The Pakistani secret services, moreover, clearly are not a unified corps who always sing from the same song-sheet. It's quite plausible to assume that Pakistan secretly did know, and yet didn't know, that it was harbouring America's most-wanted.

We have also learned that Pakistan and the US had a deal which went: Pakistan agrees that the US can take out Osama unilaterally if they locate him on Pakistani soil, and the Pakistani government will protest vociferously in public, after the fact, as if they were innocent and outraged. So it is also plausible that the riddle of Osama's 'stay' in Pakistan can be put down to a combination of complicity and incompetence on their part. But that still doesn't help us to know exactly who was protecting him, and who betrayed him and why.

My theory about the motives for protecting him goes like this: 1. Osama always had networks high up in the Pakistani forces, and 2. he was paying them good money, and 3. his survival helped to keep the Americans involved in the region, thus helping to keep the local military in business.

The next big question is the legality of killing the man. Bin Laden declared himself an enemy of the US and had shown himself capable of organising attacks. But, at the time he was shot, despite the original reports, it appears that he was not offering any armed resistance. He could have been taken a prisoner of war, if considered to be an armed enemy, or he could have been arrested for trial. Instead he was assassinated, in my opinion. This is the rule of the gun, not the rule of law. It is sheer revenge, and not justice; but it has predictably helped to boost Obama's domestic popularity.

If the world's most powerful nation is prepared to set this kind of example to the rest of them, then it doesn't bode well, even though one can have no sympathy for those who use terror as a political weapon. If war is diplomacy by other means, then terrorism is war by other means.

Getting back to Osama, a quick assassination was clearly expedient, however, as taking him alive into custody would then have dragged the whole matter out, and would have placed pressure on the US government to put the man on trial and to produce their evidence. This would have meant exposing and compromising their most valued sources.

So far, the Pakistani military have suffered their first suicide-bomb reprisal attack. The world can hardly be said to be a safer place thanks to this recent assassination.

05 May 2011

"I ain't no great fan of diplomacy neither"

There's no need for me to join the chorus of condemnation of Harawira's comments about bin Laden, but perhaps someone should have a word with him about not putting his foot in it, and about grammar (don't use double negatives!)

Oddly enough, he could take some succour from the fact that the US military inappropriately used the code-name 'Geronimo' for bin Laden. According to the amusing notes on the Guardian website, Geronimo was indeed a defender of indigenous rights who fled US forces for the cause. But I'm afraid that that's as close as the comparison gets. Osama bin Laden comes from one of Saudi Arabia's wealthiest families, he inherited a fortune, and he used that for terrorist activity with the aim of establishing Islamic theocracy, and not 'freedom' as I would understand that word.

Bin Laden is hardly a freedom fighter, and the revolutionary events in the Middle East recently just show us further evidence of how wrong and how irrelevant his approach had become.

The sad thing about Harawira (to get back to NZ) is that, even though he may be a great guy, his ineffective leadership style has proven already to be a disaster for a party that could have provided a real alternative for working-class disfranchised people. (And I'm already using the past tense!) It's unfortunate for low-income New Zealanders (of any ethnicity) that the emerging alternative has such a loose cannon for a leader.

It's also unfortunate that Don Brash is able to use race relations as the most prominent plank for the debate so far, thus obscuring debate about and analysis of his proposed economic policies. I'd say it suits him quite nicely to have lefties and Maoris calling him a racist, as that just reinforces support for him on the right.

A quick judgement on Brash's economic ideas, however, might go something like: Brash wants to use ultra-dry economic liberalism to help NZ 'catch up with Australia', but this pushes policies that no Federal Australian government has adopted. If we want to emulate Australia, that hardly sounds like a good way to begin. In any case, we all know that the consequences of Brash-style liberalism will mean widening gaps between rich and poor. That's a predictable outcome, and that's the ground on which the Mana Party ought to be tackling him, if they can.

For different reasons than Harawira, though, history tells us that Don Brash has rather unfortunate leadership qualities too. Do you recall the 'walking the plank' photo opportunity, or the pre-election quote "I am not a liar"? It will be interesting to wait and see if Brash can overcome the 'foot-in-mouth' disease that Harawira and he seem to share.