Saturday, November 14, 2015

Friday's Paris terrorist attack and the dream of rebooting history

The Austrian news service, Nachrichten.at, the website of the Oberösterreichische Nachrichten, ran an editorial on Saturday, Europa in Krieg (Europe At War) 14.11.2015:

Unser Mitgefühl gilt allen Opfern, unsere Solidarität Frankreich.

Dabei hat das wahllose gestrige Morden nicht Frankreich allein gegolten. Es ist ein Anschlag auf Europa, unsere Werte, unsere Form des Zusammenlebens, unsere Prinzipien, die offenen Grenzen, das Nebeneinander verschiedener Kulturen, die Freiheiten. Die Codewörter dazu sind eindeutig: Syrien, Islamischer Staat, radikaler Islam. Unabhängig von der Zahl der Toten, die sich stündlich erhöht, steht der gestrige Tag gleichauf neben 9/11, er wird die globale Politik verändern. Europa befindet sich im Ausnahmezustand. Uns muss klar sein.

Es wird sich wehren und den Kampf aufnehmen. Es wird ihn überall dort führen müssen, wo der Angriff auf unsere Werte seinen Ausgang nimmt. Auch dazu bestehen keine Alternativen.

[All the victims have our sympathy, France has our solidarity.

In the event, the innumerable {sic} murders yesterday did not affect only France. It is an attack on Europe, our values, our form of living together, our principles, the open borders, the co-existence of different cultures, the freedoms. The code words there are clear: Syria, Islamic State, radical Islam. Regardless of the number of dead, that keeps increasing, yesterday stands next to 9/11, it will change global politics. Europe finds itself in a state of emergency. We must be clear.

It {Europe} will defend itself and take up the fight. It will have to conduct it everywhere from which the attack on our value originated. And there are no alternatives available.]
The euro crisis alone should have taught everyone that TINA (There Is No Alternative) can be a bad guide to action. At least, if the goal is to actually solve problems.

This kind of pompous, melodramatic declaration is painfully familiar to Americans. At least to the majority who don't want the Permanent War for Permanent Peace to which Donald Trump, Dr. Ben Carson and the rest of today's Republican Party leaders are committed.

Realism and reason go out the window with this kind of posturing. And it's not just newspaper editors. The French President struck a similar tone (Adam Nossiter et al, Three Teams of Coordinated Attackers Carried Out Assault on Paris, Officials Say; Hollande Blames ISIS 11/14/2015):

“It is an act of war that was committed by a terrorist army, a jihadist army, Daesh, against France,” President François Hollande told the nation from the Élysée Palace, using an Arabic acronym for the Islamic State. “It is an act of war that was prepared, organized and planned from abroad, with complicity from the inside, which the investigation will help establish.”
The Oberösterreichische Nachrichten editorial is sadly reminiscent of the war and revenge talk after the 9/11 attacks in the US.

The 9/11 attacks were planned in Germany, but at least we didn't attack Germany. Early indications on the Paris attack Friday are that two of the places "from which the attack ... originated" could be Germany and Belgium. Hopefully, France will have the restraint not to invade either of those two countries. But defending our civilized values by bombing the crap out of some Arab (or maybe Persian) country has become a dreary cliche in American politics. So far, over 14 years after 9/11, our interventions and freedom bombs have left us with civil wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Libya. The "war on terrorism" obviously hasn't done away with terrorism as a form of military conflict. And Europe is already experiencing a refugee crisis, many of whom are fleeing conflicts connected with our Afghanistan War and Iraq War, neither of which are entirely over.

The editorial's comment that the Paris attack "will change global politics" reminds me so much of the comment that Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage made to the Pakistani head of intelligence just after 9/11, "History starts today." But history didn't reboot itself. Nuclear-armed Pakistan is still supporting the Taliban in Afghanistan, and their long-standing dispute with nuclear-armed India over Kashmir still takes precedence over Washington's demands in their strategic decisions, in which the current Afghan government is a "pro-Indian" danger in their eyes. (James Mann quotes the Armitage comment in Rise of the Vulcans, 2004)

And the justifiable outrage over the Paris attacks won't make any French intervention in Syria any easier. History didn't reboot on Friday any more than it did on 9/11/2001. Many of the current problems in the Middle East go directly back to the ways in which Britain and France enacted their civilizing mission to the Arab countries after they dismembered the Ottoman Empire after the First World War. France got Syria as a colony, uh, "mandate." France and Britain took the lead in their most recent effort to civilize Libya with bombs, which the US joined. Even supporters of that intervention have a difficult time seeing the results as anything but grim.

Friday didn't "change global politics" in any way that will make an military intervention in Syria and Iraq easier. Outside powers will still have to make choices among supporting the Syrian government, of Daesh/ISIS, or the Al Qaeda affiliate there. They will still have to navigate the conflicting allegiances of Israel, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Turkey, Qatar and Russia.

It's not as though nationalist delusions haven't already done tremendous damage to the EU with the euro and refugee crises, neither of which are over. A massive escalation of war in Syria will make the latter even worse. More border controls, more (literal) walls between countries, more refugees. The actions to come by France and NATO can certainly "change global politics" in some way. Further disintegrative pressures on the EU could definitely have that effect.

If the comment, "Europe finds itself in a state of emergency," is meant for, say, this weekend, it is just routine hyperbole. But if France or the EU were to respond to Friday's attack by creating something like a permanent state of emergency, well, Carl Schmitt will be laughing heartily in whatever nasty precincts of the Great Beyond he currently finds himself.

I see that France is already dropping their freedom bombs, which will surely kill no innocent civilians as the terrorists did in Paris on Friday. (Francia lanza primeros ataques aéreos contra ISIS en Siria La Opinión/BBC Mundo 14.11.2015)

By the way, the Obama Administration is still dropping our freedom bombs in Libya: Libya IS head 'killed in US air strike' BBC News 11/14/2015. Also magically avoiding killing civilian noncombatants, no doubt.