President Clinton served his allowed two terms in office, and attempted to lateral the ball to his teammate Gore. George Bush, on the opposing team, intercepted. He has the ball, and now must run with it. The playing field, however, has suddenly changed texture. No recent American President, so new in office, has been faced with such a grave leadership challenge, composed of complex and interwoven economic and political factors, both domestic and foreign. Inexperienced in foreign affairs, Bush must prove to the whole world that the decision of the Supreme Court, to award him the Presidency over Gore, was wise. To do this he must act, but his degrees of freedom are sharply constrained.
Bush cannot move without consequences. He cannot graciously ignore this latest affront; the public would hound him from office in dishonour. Already he is criticised for the prudence of his bodyguards in the hours immediately following the airliner hijackings. Therefore Bush must act resolutely to remove the threat Osama bin Laden represents to the security of the world.
This is because Osama bin Laden, like a movie director, strives for greatest dramatic effect, sparing nothing and no one in his selection of location, scenery or actors. Each scene requires careful premeditation and precise planning, because it must be done in one take. In his movies, the stars are not acting, they really die. They cannot then name the director, who remains anonymous, and they take with them the script. The sets are purloined, the extras are all involuntary and adventitious. After the scene ends, only the ashes and the film remain.
The intent is to create the excessive fear that is terror, done by staging terrifying scenes, then threatening more. When threats are not definite, every possibility provides potentiality. The individual citizens (innocently un-informed) of the US and Britain are announced targets. The success of September 11 and the subsequent anthrax episode have placed the population of the US in barely repressed panic, many refusing to engage in the routine affairs of daily life for fear of chemical or biological sabotage against the already impure water and air. International travel is depressed, along with shipping, to such an extent the economic fabric of the modern world is frayed.
The economic impact of the threats is just beginning to be felt. The increased risk of terrorist acts means insurance premiums must be raised. The cost must then be passed on to the consumer, along with all the other costs associated with increased security. Fear of travel means lower demand that translates into reduced frequency of service, delaying deliveries. What was promised daily now becomes weekly. Delay increases production cost, requiring further increase in price. To the buyer, these increases in the cost of goods are inflationary. But inflation is ordinarily caused by too much money (demand) chasing too few goods (supply). So the inflation being created by terrorism is of the extraordinary kind, but inflation none-the-less. Compare the common sense picture of increased prices with official statements that there is no inflation. These statements follow an announcement that petrol prices are increased effective today. No one is fooled.
Demand in many areas is very low, and it is not possible to increase prices enough to cover the increased costs. In these areas the bottom lines will run red, perhaps for a long time. Only enterprises with deep pockets can survive bankruptcy, and only those industries deemed essential will qualify for increasingly scarce government support.
In many countries, including Malaysia, the well of government bailout money is dry, and this source will require deficit funding, which means that governments which are already deeply in debt must go ever deeper in debt, hoping against hope that means for making the interest payments will be found. Never mind repayment, that is the concern of future generations. Government retirement funds (Social Security in the US and various retirement funds in Malaysia) will be tapped as never before. New withdrawals (and thefts) may be expected, necessary in order to save individual and family fortunes.
The Formation of National Sovereignty: The Land Grab
The land surface of the earth is divided into a number of territories, the boundaries of which tend to shift with the vagaries of ethnic and cultural ambition. At the moment there are over two hundred of these geo-political entities, with boundaries often following geographical features. Once establised, the boundaries may remain unchanged for decades, even centuries. Boundaries are much more stable than governments, and thus are the basis for international recognition and respect. Crossing these boundries uninvited is an act of war, declared or not.
Usually governments change by force of arms. Contending factions compete in the game called war. As in chess, the pawns and other pieces are expected to fall in defense of the leader. Once the victors are in control, no matter how tenuously (or unjustly) the victory, the next priority is to protect the borders against interference, so that 'internal affairs' can be arranged in a manner that removes any threat from outside. Once the borders are secure, attention is directed to the remaining pockets of internal opposition. This phase is called 'mopping up' and usually means that anyone with a conscience, courage, or an independent mind is 'neutralised' by incarceration or murder. To deceive those with conscience, erect a pretext of humanity, and prevent flight of the prey, this phase is often protracted, but only while there is confidence of complete control. When loss of control is threatened, the mopping up activity is accelerated, onlookers be damned.
In the mopping up exercise, intellectuals (anyone who may have benefited from an education) suffer alongside the indigenous populations, and though the means may differ, the consequences are the same: the personal rights (along with the property rights) are extinguished to create a vacuum into which the winners may stake their ambitious claims. Indigenous peoples are never winners. This is because they must bring their claims before the courts convened by the victors. The most skilled lawyers seldom succeed in getting fair compensation or restoration of the land. They must quietly suffer dispossession. They know that physical resistance will be futile. If they are seen to fight, they will be slaughtered.
The story in Afghanistan is an old story, one which immediately captures the intense interest of dictatorial regimes the world over. The despots sense an opportunity to legitimise themselves to the democratic countries. The revolutionary thus finds himself in the ironic situation of denouncing the despotic regimes, attacking the democracies he sees to be giving support to them, and then finding as consequence of his efforts a strengthening of the corrupt dictators, who are his real targets. They are eager to join the US and Britain in running him to ground.
These are the bare facts of history, and all the niceties of diplomacy cannot conceal the horrors and brutality that have produced a world so unwieldy it can suddenly unravel before our eyes. Sad though it's state may be, still, it is for us to save it: to pass it to our children in improved condition.
- Harun Rashid
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