The new rules needed to build a new world

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The Independent Online

The world didn't change on 11 September last year. Its American citizens – alongside all nations who share their values – were simply reminded, more forcibly than anyone could ever have predicted, that Western values are not quite as universally coveted as we like to assume them to be. In fact, we were brutally told, (albeit merely by some fanatically hate-fuelled people), our values are wholly, utterly, nihilistically, rejected.

The world didn't change on 11 September last year. Its American citizens – alongside all nations who share their values – were simply reminded, more forcibly than anyone could ever have predicted, that Western values are not quite as universally coveted as we like to assume them to be. In fact, we were brutally told, (albeit merely by some fanatically hate-fuelled people), our values are wholly, utterly, nihilistically, rejected.

That this was news to the US is confirmed in the much repeated, achingly bathetic question: "Why do they hate us?" That the world has not changed, is confirmed in the fact that this question is always rhetorical. Any misguided fool who attempts a dispassionate answer, in the eyes of the hawks setting the agenda, is anti-American, anti-capitalist, pro-terrorist, and an appeaser.

That the American way might not be quite so perfectly geared to the ways of others is still not something the vast majority of US citizens want to hear. In this important way, the world has not changed. There's much to be said for the view that until such self-examination starts to happen, the world cannot change so very much either. However, the actions of the suicide bombers have made it more difficult for such an assessment to take place, as it would be seen by many as "giving in" to the terrorist agenda. It wouldn't, but nevertheless, in this and other respects, 11 September has made the world less likely to change.

That the world has not changed, is confirmed also in the fact that the US feels such an urgent need now to change it. So keen is the US to change the world, that it is willing to go to war for the second time in a year. Paradoxically though, it is this very activity that is cited as the great shift that has been wrought in the past 12 months. Before 11 September, goes the argument, the US did not have much in the way of a foreign policy. Now, the US does.

Nonsense. America did have foreign policies before. It's just that they were mainly based on the idea that the most odious of self-appointed leaders could be controlled simply by the promise of US friendship (and plenty still are). The US has had fascinating dealings with Saddam Hussein, going back many decades, just as it had been involved with the fate of Afghanistan long before 11 September 2001. The present situation, in both countries, is not unconnected to US involvement in the past.

The focus on Iraq right now, is due as much to the feeling that there is long-running, unfinished, business between the two countries, as it is to careful consideration of exactly which regime is the most evil on the planet. Ask any dissenter from the view of the US as the world's knight in shining armour what really gets up their nose about America, and they'll point out the many shameful, hypocritical contradictions in America's foreign dealings.

Not that the attitudes of other countries to the US aren't just as shameful and contradictory. A young Turkish woman recently explained to me that while the Turks dislike their neighbour, Saddam Hussein, they also despise the Americans. When asked whether her country feared Saddam, though, she replied that it did not, because it was fairly certain that in the event of trouble, the US would sort matters out. In this respect, the US is in a terrible situation, resented and relied on in equal measure. Likewise, I've heard again and again the complaint that Tony Blair should not align himself with George Bush so strongly, because in doing so he's making London a bigger terrorist target than it would otherwise be. I don't, I'm afraid, find this to be a particularly edifying argument. All credit to Mr Blair that he isn't so craven as to put his own safety and comfort before what he believes to be right. And there can be little doubt that Mr Blair believes this war on selected terrorism and selected regimes that the US has declared, to be right.

He is right to say that one should not turn away and ignore a person who is violating another, just because they are not under the same governmental jurisdiction as us. Surely we know from our own personal morality that to stand by and fail to come to the aid of those we can save, is wrong.

Many optimistic and humanitarian people are behind Mr Blair in believing that 11 September was the moment when the world woke up, and realised that unfairness could not be left to fester, for from it evil would breed. They believe that America's war on terrorism is about building a fairer world.

But while Mr Bush apes Mr Blair's humanitarian rhetoric, in no deed does he betray any understanding of what that might really mean. Nor, in all of his talk of the change in the world, does he seek to pin down any of the abstract or universal shifts he believes the world to have experienced. And that the world has not changed, can also be seen in the way that no one appears to be at all interested in rewriting the world's rules. A new world would need new rules. Our old one prefers simply to cite the old ones when it suits them, and ridicule them when it doesn't.

Not so long ago, it appeared to be international law that one country, or even an international coalition, didn't declare war on another country with the intention of imposing a regime change. Now, we appear on the brink of doing this for the third time in as many years.

Realistically, isn't it worth facing the fact that the idea of the sovereignty of the nation state, whatever crimes it has committed against its own people, is not necessarily a desirable moral compass? That maybe, in some carefully defined circumstances that all leaders understand, action does have to be taken internationally?

And while we're on that subject, couldn't we start discussing such little details as whether it might be useful to have a fairly clear idea prior to action, of what that new regime, or at least what those in charge of putting together that new regime, may look like, how much investment that regime can expect from the West, and what kind of timetable for democratic elections might sensibly be laid down?

Might it also be agreed that in the event of such action, it might be humanly decent to count, list and honour the innocent dead of the country we decide to drop bombs on, and include those people too in the silence of remembrance that will from now on mark this day? For there would be some evidence of a changed world, if the West would start considering that maybe all lives are as precious as their own.

There's no sign of that, 12 months on. America remains far and away the most powerful nation in the world. There's no change there either, except that she is all the more keen for the people to acknowledge it, to understand it, to remember it. Which unfortunately, is exactly what 19 nutcases were doing, when they kicked off this long killing spree.

d.orr@independent.co.uk

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