Thursday, 17 March 2011
Might / Might Not
We hear that Gaddafi's troops might or might not take Benghazi today. We hear that there might or might not be agreement to provide a no-fly zone. We hear that a no-fly zone might or might not help the rebels. We hear that whatever we do now might or might not do anything to prevent carnage. So we might or might not stand helplessly by while Gaddafi's forces take revenge in the manner generally expected, and we might or might not hear that the voices we heard being interviewed during the rise of the rebellions might or might not have been silenced by killing, torture and imprisonment.
Human responsibility is never as clear as the conscience might hope. Whatever new regimes may emerge out of similar regional rebellions that might or might not be successful, might or might not be more fundamentally Islamicist, or might or might not be more democratic than what preceded them. The calculations of realpolitik - which is to say the politics that actually happens almost all the time, as opposed to the rhetoric and the drama - are not about abstractions: they are about possibilities as large and as dramatic as the events of this or that specific moment. If 'The West', meaning primarily the US and the UK, followed, with a show of reluctance, by the rest of Europe and the rest of whatever remains of the Commonwealth, intervenes in an area that is already deeply suspicious of it, possibly in a state of loathing of it, the chain reaction of events might head towards more confrontation (or might not).
Nevertheless, I for one, will feel a kind of despair when I hear that Gaddafi has suppressed the revolt, killed a vast number of people in the process and will go on killing more of them over the next few years. And I will feel very much like a hypocrite when the dust settles and everyone will have to go on talking to Gaddafi again as if nothing had happened.
It is not because I think 'The West' is the model of righteousness, but because I, like most people I imagine, do feel a sense of involvement with others, a sense that is, in some ways, a product of democracy, meaning the enabling of individuals and groups to influence decisions taken at remote levels. That is what being in a democracy entails. And that is why any movement towards genuine democracy is so moving, however it turns out in the end.
The balance of forces in the Middle East and North Africa - indeed anywhere in the world - is realpolitik. Realpolitik is that which we cannot help happening, whether it goes one way or the other. All politics, once out of the heat of the moment, is realpolitik. Realpolitik can save lives as well as destroy them in the long run. Realpolitik is what is possible to be done: it is what we do.
But the lives of those living that realpolitik through are a matter of human conscience. And it isn't the newspaper cries, the storming editorials or opinion columns that gnaw at the heart. It is the knowledge we cannot help knowing.