Thursday, October 19, 2006

A Way Forward in Iraq

I wrote this in March 2002, but when I was posting it today over at Letters to George I thought it would be good to put it here too. I'm especially intrigued by the references to rebuilding Germany with the support of the five surrounding nations, and how that strategy may soon be adopted in the Middle East, as Bush reluctantly comes around to seeking help from Iran and Syria in providing security and reconstruction leadership for Iraq and Afghanistan, and as Israel and Palestine attempt to emerge from their tight war embrace into some relationship with more breathing room for everyone. -KW

Dear George,

“There is no way to peace. Peace is the way.”-Abraham J. Muste

Today I heard the second part of a very interesting speech given at Pace University over the weekend. The speaker was Johan Galtung. He is the founder of the academic discipline of Peace Work and a group called Transcend, and he is regularly involved in conflict resolution projects around the world.

After going through a description of September 11: who was involved, the US response, the goals of non-state and state terrorism, the stated and unstated goals of the response, the effects of the response on the people in the Middle East (95 percent of Saudi Arabian youth are now in favor of Al Qaeda, having seen the US slaughter Afghani civilians), the views of some of the people working to create a new government in Afghanistan, etc.

He suggested that three things are going on: The US government is making “an effort to identify and locate Al Qaeda and crush it, serving military and economic interests,” and pursuing the “old geopolitical goal of encircling Eurasia, with India and Pakistan temporarily exempt.”Then he suggested three possible results, “where this will lead us.”

1. “Endless war by the United States, for at least the next 100 years, with the likelihood of use of nuclear weapons,” and with “no light at the end of the tunnel, because the methods used [to oppose terrorism] will create more of the problem.”

2. “Economic boycott of the United States ... being whispered all over the world...And drones, mini-nukes and missile shields will not be effective against this, because the decision is made by the individual in the shop. He picks something up, looks at it, turns it over, sees where it comes from, puts it back on the shelf.”

3. Starting with the premise that an act of violence is about the relationship between A and B, and using the example of a man beating his wife, he said that it is possible to say that the man beats because of the nature of men, or the woman is beaten because it is in the nature of women. But you can also start by asking “What happened yesterday?” And if you ask that, and find that the relationship has a problem, you can work to make the relationship better. He referred to Buddhist practice, in which people in conflict start with inner dialogue, or meditation, and then outer dialogue, talking with each other about what went wrong.

Bringing the World Trade Center back into the discussion, he suggested that “something went wrong” in the relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia (where 15 of the 19 hijackers were from). Then he referred to Osama bin Laden’s reference: “Now you see what we went through 80-plus years ago.”

Then the speaker, Galtung, outlined what happened in 1916, when the French and British governments told the people of Saudi Arabia that if they stood up against the Ottomans, they would get their freedom, and outlined a plan dividing up the territory, apparently allotting single geographic regions to the control of more than one group.

After the Arabs, under Husayn Ibn Ali, did provide assistance, they got colonialism instead: the carving up of Muslim lands (many thought to be holy), through French and British documents, including the 1917 Balfour Declaration by a British Foreign Secretary endorsing the creation of a Zionist Jewish state (Israel) within the borders of Palestine. This is referred to among Arabs in the Middle East as the Sykes-Picot Treason.

Rhetorically asking why the hijackers hit the World Trade Center and Pentagon rather than the Foreign Office in London, the speaker said that US aggression has been more overwhelming in recent years, ever since Franklin Roosevelt arranged in 1945 for the US to have free access to Saudi oil (discovered in 1936) with no oil to Germany and Japan, in exchange for US military protection of the increasingly unpopular Saudi royal family.

Galtung then went on to talk about how, in 1945, Europe had “a problem.” Nazi Germany, which had occupied 18 countries and genocidally murdered millions, was geographically unmoved even when the war was over. Rather than isolate the country, world leaders decided to allow Germany into a federation of European nations with its five nearest neighbors, insisting that Germany “keep quiet and foot much of the bill” for European reconstruction. As a result, Germany and Europe have successfully rebuilt, and even are part of the European Union created in 1991 after decades of work.

Israel, like Germany, is surrounded by five countries: Palestine, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and Egypt. There is a movement, in the area, to create a similar federation of nations, with porous borders, cooperation on trade, tourism, and other economic projects, and decisions made by consensus.

“This is what reasonable people are dreaming of,” he said. “There are many dreams of that type being dreamt all over the region.” He envisions Sharon and Arafat retiring to Florida, to make room for young moderates in the West and in Islamic nations, in governmental and non-governmental agencies, to get connected and get the power to forge stronger connections, and cool off militant fundamentalism in each culture.

These moderates are thinking in terms of a “Swiss-type” constitution, which is “the only multinational country in the world with dignity for all its members.” He said these moderates also want UN cooperation, but not with a Security Council comprised of four Christian nations and one Confucianist nation. These moderates want the coalition to be “basic needs oriented,” which is why they are not opposed to some (but not all) Taliban representatives in government, because the Taliban was able to provide many basic needs for civilians.Galtung himself supports option number three, neither endless war nor a global economic boycott of US produced goods and services.

I find myself agreeing with him, even while I find the idea of the boycott excellent as a non-violent way to both help the West see the benefits of supporting regional self-determination, and as a way for regions to build up their self-determination capacities.Endless war I find completely unacceptable, because killing is wrong.As Thich Nhat Hanh put it: “Observing the Ten Commandments in daily life is also the concrete practice of prayer and meditation. Prayer of the Heart is not possible for one who does not consistently observe the commandments. If you do not observe, for example, “Thou shalt not kill,” how can “Thou shall love the Lord thy God” be possible?”

In hope, and love,



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