The Independent Open House:

Johann Hari

Late last year, a tiny little ten year old girl turned up alone at the court in Sana, Yemen, and declared: “I have come to get a divorce.” This hadn’t happened before. According to the Yemen Times, in some parts of the country the average marriage age is ten, and some 50 percent of marriages are to underage girls. But Nujood Ali was unique in escaping to a court door, pleading for help.

Nujood explained how her father had married her off to a thirtysomething motorcycle courier. On their wedding night, he ordered her to share a bed with him. She ran out of the room, so he dragged her back and raped her.

At first she was ashamed. “But I passed through that,” she said recently. “All I want now is to finish my education. I want to be a lawyer… I want to defend oppressed people. I want to be an example for all the other girls.” After saying this, she ran off to play hide-and-seek.

The court eventually dissolved the marriage – and awarded compensation to her husband in apology. But Nujood has spearheaded a national revulsion against child-marriage. The conservative Islamic mullahs have reacted by saying there is nothing wrong with child-marriage – because Mohammed did it. I discuss this in my column today. It is true Mohammed did this. If you are trapped in the fundamentalist mindset of Mohammed-is-our-moral-exemplar, you have no way to answer back. The debate is resolved; Nujood’s “husband” was in the right.

To get out of this bind, you need to leave behind a fundamentalist reading of Islam. You need to accept that parts of it are metaphor – or, better still, abandon supernatural explanations for life altogether.

This is far from confined to Yemen. The excellent reporter Amelia Hill discovered that child marriages are happening here in Britain too. She met a young Muslim woman who at the age of fourteen was forced to marry her cousin in an unofficial “community ceremony.” She explained: “They kept whispering in my ear to ask why I wasn’t smiling. I told them I was terrified and desperate, that I was just a child and far too young to get married. I pleaded with them to help me escape, but no-one saw anything wrong in what was happening. I begged my husband not to marry me, but he told me I had no choice.” She was raped that night. “It was disgusting, awful. I used to scream and cry all night. I was too young, too tender inside. It killed me inside. Life became meaningless… I had my childhood taken away and missed out on all my teenage years. Sometimes I still wonder if it’s worth trying to have a future. Many days, I’m not at all sure it is.” After two suicide attempts, she managed to escape, and when Hill found her she was living, alone, in a refuge.

Peter Cripps, head of the Community Safety Unit at my local police station in Shoreditch, told Hill these forced child-marriages “are happening and numbers are growing.” Nobody is trying to figure out how many Muslim girls are suffering this way.

To call anyone who tries to help them “Islamopohobic” is an obscene betrayal of these young women. Some of the bravest critics of this barbarism are in fact British Muslim women: they staff and run a series of brilliant domestic violence refuges. But the fundamentalist literalist reading of Islam chokes their efforts. It will always tell the girls that child-marriage is acceptable, because Mohammed did it. If we can’t criticize and reinterpret Mohammed without being threatened, then we may be unable – in the end – to cut away the intellectual justification for abusing these girls.


Ed McMahon’s Realtor is appealing to his realty brethren to hurry up and find a buyer for the entertainer’s Beverly Hills home before it is foreclosed in the next two weeks. McMahon has already slashed the asking price on the house from $7.7 million to $4.6 million.

In an unusual open letter appearing as an ad in this week’s the MLS Open House Guide, Alex Davis, of Hilton & Hyland in Beverly Hills, says that all of the junior lien holders are “miraculously” going to allow a short sale at $4.6 million.

A buyer made a lowball offer of that amount, the letter says, but the deal fell apart. “Now we have two weeks to find a new buyer and sell the estate. We will show the property to anyone with the resources to close the deal in a timely manner,” it says.

“The situation has nearly hit rock bottom,” the letter reads, and “if it’s not sold in the next two weeks or so (or in escrow), they will not only be foreclosed on, but lose everything in their home including all personal items,” the letter reads.

Davis notes that he is “able to pay the selling broker a $115,000 commission and want you all to know that you will be the hero of a man who’s been the hero of so many others if you could help bring this deal to fruition.” That’s a 2.5% commission.

Concluding, Davis notes, “In a business where people thrive on money and commissions, the reward is infinite, as you are truly changing someone’s life.”

Davis couldn’t be reached for comment.

Instead, the west should demonstrate to Moscow its real will and ability to defend those east European countries that have already been admitted into Nato, and to which it is therefore legally and morally committed – especially the Baltic states. We should say this and mean it. Under no circumstances should we extend such guarantees to more countries that we do not intend to defend. To do so would be irresponsible, unethical and above all contemptible.

Financial Times:

The bloody conflict over South Ossetia will have been good for something at least if it teaches two lessons. The first is that Georgia will never now get South Ossetia and Abkhazia back. The second is for the west: it is not to make promises that it neither can, nor will, fulfil when push comes to shove.

Georgia will not get its separatist provinces back unless Russia collapses as a state, which is unlikely. The populations and leaderships of these regions have repeatedly demonstrated their desire to separate from Georgia; and Vladimir Putin, Russia’s prime minister, made it clear again and again that Russia would fight to defend these regions if Georgian forces attacked them.

The Georgians, like the Serbs in the case of Kosovo, should recognise reality and formally recognise the independence of these territories in return for a limited partition and an agreement to join certain Georgian-populated areas to Georgia. This would open the way either for an internationally recognised independence from Georgia or, more likely in the case of South Ossetia, joining North Ossetia as an autonomous republic of the Russian Federation. For the Georgians, the resolution of their territorial conflicts would make it more likely that they could eventually join the European Union – though after the Georgian administration’s initiation of this conflict, that cannot possibly be considered for many years.

Western governments should exert pressure on Georgia to accept this solution. These governments have a duty to do this because they, and most especially the US, bear a considerable share of the responsibility for the Georgian assault on South Ossetia and deserve the humiliation they are now suffering. It is true that western governments, including the US, always urged restraint on Tbilisi. Mikheil Saakashvili, Georgia’s president, was told firmly by the Bush administration that he must not start a war.

On the other hand, the Bush administration, with the full support of the US Congress, armed, trained and overwhelmingly financed the Georgian military. It did this although the dangers of war involving these forces were obvious and after the Georgian government had told its own people that these forces were intended for the recovery of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

The Bush administration, backed by Congress, Republican presidential candidate John McCain and most of the US media also adopted a highly uncritical attitude to both the undemocratic and the chauvinist aspects of the Saakashvili administration and its growing resemblance to that of the crazed nationalist leader, Zviad Gamsakhurdia, in the early 1990s.

Instead, according to European officials, the Bush administration even put heavy pressure on US and international monitoring groups not to condemn flagrant abuses by Mr Saakashvili’s supporters during the last Georgian elections. Ossete and Abkhaz concerns were ignored, and the origins of the conflict were often wittingly or unwittingly falsified in accordance with Georgian propaganda.

Finally, and most importantly, the US pushed strongly for a Nato membership action plan for Georgia at the last alliance summit and would have achieved this if France and Germany had not resisted strongly. Given all this, it was not wholly unreasonable of Mr Saakashvili to assume that if he started a war with Russia and was defeated, the US would come to his aid.

Yet all this time, Washington had not the slightest intention of defending Georgia, and knew it. Quite apart from its lack of desire to go to war with Russia over a place almost no American had heard of until last week, with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan it does not have an army to send to the Caucasus.

The latest conflict is humiliating for the US, but it may have saved us from a far more catastrophic future: namely an offer of Nato membership to Georgia and Ukraine provoking conflicts with Russia in which the west would be legally committed to come to these countries’ aid – and would yet again fail to do so. There must be no question of this being allowed to happen – above all because the expansion of Nato would make such conflicts much more likely.

Instead, the west should demonstrate to Moscow its real will and ability to defend those east European countries that have already been admitted into Nato, and to which it is therefore legally and morally committed – especially the Baltic states. We should say this and mean it. Under no circumstances should we extend such guarantees to more countries that we do not intend to defend. To do so would be irresponsible, unethical and above all contemptible.

Financial Times:

Russia indicated on Thursday that it was prepared to break up Georgia as tensions with Washington increased over US aid flights to the country.

Sergei Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister, said: “One can forget about any talk about Georgia’s territorial integrity because, I believe, it is impossible to persuade South Ossetia and Abkhazia to agree with the logic that they can be forced back into the Georgian state.”

As if on cue, the Russian-backed leaders of South Ossetia and Abkhazia walked out of a meeting with Dmitry Medvedev, Russian president, and announced they would push for total independence from Tbilisi, which would be a formality as Russian troops already occupy the enclaves and the Georgian army is routed.

“We will achieve independence in accordance with all of the rules of international law,” Eduard Kokoity, the South Ossetian leader, told a press conference in Moscow, flanked by his Abkhaz counterpart Sergei Bagapsh. “The aim [of independence] has been set and we will move toward it together,” Mr Bagapsh said.

Mr Medvedev said Russia would act as guarantor for the two territories whatever they decided about their future status.

Whether the break-up of Georgia is a real Kremlin policy goal, or a short-term negotiating position, was unclear. Analysts have said Moscow was deeply angered by western backing for Kosovo independence in February and wanted to set an example to the west in Georgia.

George W. Bush, US president, signalled on Thursday that the break-up of Georgia or the loss of its sovereignty was unacceptable to the US. He said Washington, which backs Tbilisi, would seek to preserve “a sovereign, free Georgia and its territorial integrity”, according to a US administration official.

Tensions between Russia and the US have risen following Mr Bush’s announcement of US aid to be delivered on military flights and navy ships to Georgia.

The deputy chief of Russia’s armed forces, Anatoly Nogovitsyn, said the US should disclose what was in the aid cargoes. “Let’s ask the American side so that you are convinced of whether the cargo is humanitarian or not,” he said.

The second US aid flight arrived on Thursday, carrying sleeping bags, medical supplies and antibiotics, a US aid worker said. Manana Jebashvili, Georgia’s deputy health minister, said 175 Georgians had died in the conflict, both military and civilian. She said the government does not have reliable data yet on refugees.

Aid groups called for a humanitarian aid corridor to be opened to the central city of Gori, which has been closed off after being occupied since Wednesday by Russian troops. According to witnesses, Russian troops looted and destroyed a Georgian army base there.

Georgia’s government said Russian troops had again moved into the port of Poti. Earlier the troops had sunk Georgian coastguard vessels there with explosives.

Human Rights Watch, the New York-based monitoring group, said its representatives had seen South Ossetian militia looting and burning Georgian towns outside the enclave near Gori.

Angela Merkel, German chancellor, will travel to Georgia on Sunday for talks with President Mikheil Saakashvili aimed at forging a lasting peace between Tbilisi and Moscow, Reuters reports . Ms Merkel will meet Mr Medvedev on Friday.

The Telegraph:

American and Georgian officials said that Russian soldiers were sabotaging airfields and tearing up army facilities.

Russia is defying an appeal by Condoleezza Rice, the US Secretary of State, for it to obey the terms of a peace deal with Georgia. In Moscow its foreign minister Sergei Lavrov announced that the world can “forget about” Georgia’s territorial integrity.

A Georgian spokesman said: “The Russian troops are destroying the city of Gori. They are mining the city. They are destroying everything in Poti port. They are destroying the newly built roads in western Georgia.”

Moscow appeared to renege on a pledge to end its occupation of Gori, where several explosions were heard today. Russian soldiers and Georgian troops were involved in a tense stand-off at the strategic town.

Russian troops were also alleged to have re-entered the port of Poti, on the Black Sea, further testing an already shaky ceasefire brokered by President Nicolas Sarkozy of France.

Under intense pressure from the United States, which has ordered a military-led humanitarian mission to Georgia, hopes of a peaceful resolution to the crisis were raised after Russia said it would hand over Gori to the Georgian police this morning.

Russian troops used the first day of the truce on Wednesday to take the town, 15 miles into undisputed Georgian territory from the South Ossetian border, in contravention of a six-point ceasefire plan that called on all combatants to withdraw to positions held before the conflict began.

But as Georgian police in military vehicles approached a checkpoint outside Gori, the Russians appeared to change their minds. Both sides drew their guns, before the Georgians withdrew as Russian tanks arrived to reinforce the position.

A tense stand-off ensued as the Georgians retreated 200 yards. Drunk South Ossetian irregulars, manning the checkpoint alongside the Russian soldiers, most of them drawn from a Chechen battalion, began to barrack onlookers. One fired his handgun into the air as his colleagues robbed passers-by of their vehicles. Moments later, Russian field guns fired shells at what was said to be an ammunitions dump behind a nearby hill.

Behind the Russian checkpoint, fire could be seen raging though hillside farms and there was the occasional crackle of gunfire.

It was the sort of chaos that has characterised so much of this conflict and raises fears that while Moscow may have been talking peace and pledging to withdraw troops on Tuesday, it is in no rush to pull out of Georgia.

Russian troops had agreed to withdraw from positions around Gori, but diplomats say they may have delayed their pull out as the Kremlin digests the implications of the American humanitarian mission.

While US military aircraft and warships are being sent to the region to deliver aid, and Miss Rice is due to visit the Georgian capital Tblisi on Friday, the presence of US soldiers in Georgia is also intended to send a strong signal to Russia of Washington’s support for the government of President Mikheil Saakashvili.

It is unclear whether the Kremlin, convinced of Russia’s re-emergence as a global power, will be persuaded to ease tensions or increase its defiance as a result of the American move.

Georgia sent Alexander Lomaia, the secretary of the country’s National Security Mission, to negotiate with the Russian troops holding Gori.

Mr Lomaia said that although Russia had reneged on its initial promise to leave Gori it was now saying it would do so at some stage on Friday.

“We are trying to agree on the deployment of Georgian police into Gori,” he said. “But there is mutual suspicion. There are [South Ossetian] separatists trying to intervene. The situation is tense. The ceasefire is quite fragile.”

Mr Lomaia then met a Russian colonel, who, in an apparent drunken rage, railed incoherently at western correspondents.

Mr Lomaia tried to reason with him. “There’s no need to shout at the correspondents,” he said quietly. “Why don’t we go and sit in the car.”

Meanwhile, South Ossetian irregulars continuing to loot and pillage in Gori and nearby Georgian villages, often with the encouragement of Russian troops.

“Take whatever you want,” a Russian officer shouted at the Ossetian militiamen in one village.

Fears of Balkans-style reprisals by South Ossetian fighters have grown since they entered Georgian territory after the ceasefire was agreed.

Human Rights Watch accused Russia of inflaming the mood of the irregulars by exaggerating the number of civilian deaths in the secessionist province of South Ossetia since Georgia attempted to win back the region last Friday.

The Kremlin has accused Georgia or perpetrating a genocide in the region, claiming that 1,600 civilians had been killed. But Human Rights Watch, a respected New York based advocacy group that monitors abuses around the world, said it had so far only been able to find evidence of 44 civilian deaths in South Ossetia.

Two US aid flights today delivered cots, blankets and medicine to help the estimated 100,000 civilians displaced by the weeklong fighting. The shipment arrived on a C-17 military plane, an illustration of the close US-Georgia military co-operation that has angered Russia.

Russia’s Payback

August 14, 2008

The Washington Post:

Russia’s victory in Georgia is payback for years of geopolitical irrelevance, for Moscow’s retreat from Eastern Europe and from the Soviet Union, for Western finger-wagging at Russian transgressions at home and abroad. Russia is back: Its gross domestic product has increased from $200 billion in 1999 to $1.2 trillion in 2007. Moscow has more money from oil and gas exports than it knows what to do with.

The Russian military is showing off its newfound strength, punishing the Georgians for their sins, the greatest of which is forgetting in whose back yard they live. Moscow has warned Poland and the Czech Republic not to deploy U.S. missile defense components on their territories. The Kremlin has also told Washington that it should mind its own business.

We have seen something like this before, though. Thirty years ago, flush with oil and gas revenue, the Soviet Union was threatening Europe and challenging the United States. In 1979, Soviet tanks rolled into Afghanistan and seemed poised to keep going to fulfill centuries-old Russian ambitions of reaching the warm waters of the Indian Ocean. The West could do nothing to stop Moscow’s juggernaut unless it was willing to risk nuclear annihilation.

The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan drove the final nail into the coffin of detente — a policy of tentative East-West rapprochement. It also marked the start of one of the frostiest chapters in the Cold War saga, which ended with the Soviet Union’s collapse. A decade later, there would be no more Warsaw Pact. Europe would be sending humanitarian aid to Russia. The Soviet military would be defeated in Afghanistan. What caused all that? We are still not quite sure. The war in Afghanistan, excessive military spending, reliance on oil and gas exports for revenue, failure to reform the Soviet economy, and the lack of outlets for domestic opposition are all high on the list of regular suspects.

Fast-forward to 2008. Russia is riding high, making up for all that was lost in preceding decades. U.S. and European leaders are flummoxed by how to punish the rising giant that they also badly need — to feed our oil addiction, to help us cut a deal with Iran and to go on buying our currency to keep its value from sliding further. But who is to say that Russia’s victory in Georgia will not lead to another disaster in a few years?

There is plenty of trouble brewing in Russia, not unlike the trouble to which Moscow turned a blind eye 30 years ago, as its tanks rolled into Afghanistan and caused a break in relations with the West. The vast Russian military can crush Georgia’s army of 35,000. But Russia’s own North Caucasus region, just across the border from Georgia, has been a simmering cauldron for nearly two decades. The conditions in Russia look different from the conditions of 30 years ago, but Russia’s reality is still grim. Moscow may have more billionaires than other European capitals, but the Russian population is still shrinking, the average Russian man is not expected to live past 60, oil still dominates the country’s economic future, and the taps are running dry.

No matter how the current crisis is resolved, the consequences for East-West (that Cold War term again) relations will be far-reaching. The stain on Russia’s reputation in the West will not be erased for years. It will take a very different — and most improbable — Russian attitude to repair the damage.

In the meantime, could it be that Russia, petro-confident and irredentist, seeking to reverse the record of the past two decades, is careering toward another 1989 or 1991? Will it heed the lessons of the Soviet era? What will happen if it does not? Will the North Caucasus break out of Moscow’s grip? Will the Far East turn into a Chinese colony? Will the West once again confront the prospect of Moscow’s former satrapies suddenly becoming major nuclear powers? Will the specter of Russian “loose nukes” keep haunting the West?

It will take skill and patience to get Russia to a soft landing from its present high. Moscow’s record at soft landings is not good. The consequences of it landing hard will be felt far beyond its borders. We should be thinking about that, even if the Russians are not.

The received wisdom is that President Bush has been a foreign policy disaster, and that America is threatened by the rise of Asia. Both claims are wrong—Bush has successfully rolled back jihadism, and the US will benefit from Asian growth

Excerpt from Prospect:

That George W Bush’s foreign policy has been a total failure is now taken for granted by so many people that one usually hears it stated as a simple truth that need not be argued at all.

It has happened before. When President Harry S Truman said in March 1952 that he would not seek re-election, most Americans could agree on one thing: that his foreign policy had been a catastrophic failure. In Korea his indecision had invited aggression, and then his incompetence had cost the lives of some 54,000 Americans and millions of Korean civilians in just two years of fighting—on both counts more than ten times the number of casualties in Iraq. Right-wingers reviled Truman for having lost China to communism and for his dismissal of the great General Douglas MacArthur, who had wanted to win it back, with nukes if necessary. Liberals despised Truman because he was the failed shopkeeper who had usurped the patrician Franklin Roosevelt’s White House—liberals always were the snobs of US politics.

Abroad, Truman was widely hated too. The communist accusation that he had waged “bacteriological warfare” to kill Korean children and destroy Chinese crops was believed by many, and was fully endorsed by a 669-page report issued by a commission chaired by the eminent British biochemist Joseph Needham. Even more people believed that Truman was guilty of having started the cold war by trying to intimidate our brave Soviet ally, or at least that he and Stalin were equally to blame.

How did this same Harry Truman come to be universally viewed as a great president, especially for his foreign policy? It is all a question of time perspectives: the Korean war is half forgotten, while everyone now knows that Truman’s strategy of containment was successful and finally ended with the almost peaceful disintegration of the Soviet empire.

For Bush to be recognised as a great president in the Truman mould, the Iraq war too must become half forgotten. The swift removal of the murderous Saddam Hussein was followed by years of expensive violence instead of the instant democracy that had been promised. To confuse the imam-ridden Iraqis with Danes or Norwegians under German occupation, ready to return to democracy as soon as they were liberated, was not a forgivable error: before invading a country, a US president is supposed to know if it is in the middle east or Scandinavia.

Yet the costly Iraq war must also be recognised as a sideshow in the Bush global counteroffensive against Islamist militancy, just as the far more costly Korean war was a sideshow to global cold war containment. For the Bush response to 9/11 was precisely that—a global attack against the ideology of Islamic militancy. While anti-terrorist operations have been successful here and there in a patchy way, and the fate of Afghanistan remains in doubt, the far more important ideological war has ended with a spectacular global victory for President Bush.

Of course, the analogy with Truman is far from perfect: the Soviet Union was a state, not a state of mind. But even so, once Bush’s victory is recognised, the errors of Iraq will be forgiven, just as nobody now blames Truman for having sent mixed signals on whether Korea would be defended. Of course, the Bush victory has not yet been recognised, which is very odd indeed because it has all happened in full view.

Until 9/11, Islamic militants, including violent jihadists of every sort, from al Qaeda to purely local outfits, enjoyed much public support—either overt or tacit—across most of the Muslim world. From Morocco to Indonesia, governments appeased militants at home while encouraging them to focus their violent activities abroad. Some, like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) funded both militant preachers and armed jihadists. The Saudis financed extremist schools in many countries, including the US and Britain, and had thousands of militant preachers on the payroll in addition to writing cheques for jihadists in the Caucasus, Pakistan and a dozen other places (although not to Osama bin Laden himself, their declared enemy). The UAE rulers who now talk only of their airlines and banks are reliably reported to have handed over sackfuls of cash to Osama in person, meeting him at Kandahar’s airfield when flying in to hunt endangered species. Saudi Arabia and the UAE were also the only countries that joined Pakistan in recognising the Taliban as the legitimate rulers of Afghanistan. Other Muslim governments, notably Sudan, Syria and Yemen, helped jihadists by giving them passports and safe havens, while others still, including Indonesia, simply turned a blind eye to Islamist indoctrination and jihadist recruitment.

Other than the Algerian and Egyptian governments, every Muslim state preferred at least to coexist with militant preachers and jihadis in some way. Pakistan did much more than that; its Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI, funded, armed and trained both the Taliban in Afghanistan and thousands of jihadists dedicated to killing Indian civilians, policemen and soldiers in Kashmir and beyond.

All this came to an abrupt end after 9/11. Sophisticates everywhere ridiculed the uncompromising Bush stance, “Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists,” as a cowboy stunt, but it was swiftly successful. Governments across the Muslim world quickly changed their conduct. Some moved energetically to close down local jihadist groups they had long tolerated, to silence extremist preachers and to keep out foreign jihadis they had previously welcomed. Others were initially in denial. The Saudis, in the person of interior minister Prince Nayef bin Abdul Aziz, started off by denying that the 9/11 terrorists were Arabs, let alone Saudis, while the UAE princes accused of giving cash to Bin Laden pretended they had never heard of him.

Denial did not last. As they saw American special forces and long-range bombers smashing the Taliban, the Saudis began to admit responsibility for having spread extremism through the thousands of schools and academies they financed at home and abroad. An agonising reappraisal of their own Wahhabi form of Islam continues. The Saudi king has convened an inter-faith conference of Muslims, Christians and Jews—a huge step given the Wahhabi prohibitions of any form of amity with non-Muslims. Inside the kingdom, only less extreme preachers now receive public support. Bin Laden had been the Saudis’ enemy for years, but it was only after 9/11 that they began actively to hunt down his supporters and made their first moves to discourage rich Saudis from sending money to jihadists abroad. More than a thousand Saudis have been arrested, dozens have been killed while resisting arrest, and Saudi banks must now check if wire transfers are being sent to Muslim organisations on the terrorist list.

In different ways, other governments in Muslim countries all the way to Indonesia also took their stand with Bush and the US against the jihadists, even though jihad against the infidel is widely regarded as an Islamic duty. Suddenly, active Islamists and violent jihadists suffered a catastrophic loss of status. Instead of being admired, respected or at least tolerated, they had to hide, flee or give it up. Numbers started to shrink. The number of terrorist incidents outside the war zones of Afghanistan and Iraq keeps going down, while madrassas almost everywhere have preferred toning down their teachings to being shut down. In Indonesia, the largest Muslim country, the dominant association of imams condemns all forms of violence without exception.

But it was in Pakistan that Bush forced the most dramatic reversal of policy. He had said that it was with us or against us, and he meant it. President Musharraf was given a stark choice: stand with the US to destroy the Taliban that Pakistan itself had created, or be destroyed. Musharraf made the right choice, shutting down the flow of arms to the Taliban, opening the Shahbaz airfield to US aircraft and giving blanket permission for US military overflights across Pakistan. Nothing will stop the North-West Frontier Province from being as violent as it has been since the days of Alexander the Great. Nothing can dissuade the Pashtuns from their twin passions for boys and guns. And naturally they approve of the Taliban on both counts. But at least the Pakistani state is no longer funding these pederasts. Musharraf also started to remove the bearded extremists who once practically ran Pakistan’s ISI, starting with the chief, Mahmood Ahmed, who was replaced within a month of 11th September by the moderate Ehsanul Halqas. It has been less easy for Musharraf and his acolytes to identify and remove the more subtle smooth-shaven extremists in the ISI, who still support the renascent Taliban, but they tried hard enough to trigger at least one of the assassination attempts against Musharraf himself.

What happened in Pakistan within 24 hours of 9/11 was something the world had never seen before: the overnight transformation of the very core of a country’s policy—the support of jihad—which derived from the national myth of Pakistan as the Muslim state par excellence. It was as if President Bush had sent an envoy to Italy to demand the outlawing of spaghetti al pomodoro—and succeeded.

Yet one hears well-informed people casually remark that Bush’s war on terror has been a total failure. This is not just political prejudice; after all, the dog that does not bark is not heard. But one need not be Sherlock Holmes to recall that 11th September was meant to be the beginning of a global jihad, with a 12th September, 13th September, 14th September and so on.

Not that al Qaeda itself could do it—its one shot had been fired. But the destruction of the twin towers inspired thousands of young Muslims to go down to the local Islamist prayer hall to offer their services to jihadists. The Koran, after all, explicitly promises victory in all things to the believers, making Muslim weakness the source of agonising, if unspoken, doubts about the credibility of the faith itself. That is the true source of the resentment that no policy accommodations in the middle east could possibly assuage. And it was those doubts that induced not only the hapless Palestinians but even westernised, affluent, wine-drinking Tunisians to celebrate the television images of 9/11 with tears of joy, and that of course made Bin Laden the first pan-Islamic hero since Saladin.

The destruction of the twin towers was therefore the most powerful possible call to action. It was quite enough to trigger not just a Madrid, a London or a Glasgow attack, but many more in Europe alone. The main target, however, was bound to be the US itself, as well as American tourists, expatriates, business residents and, naturally, any troops anywhere.

Instead, the global jihadi mobilisation, triggered by post-9/11 enthusiasm for Osama bin Laden, was stopped before it could gain any momentum by all that Bush set in motion: the destruction of al Qaeda training bases in Afghanistan, the killing or capture of most of its operatives, and, most importantly, the conversion of Muslim governments from the support of jihad to its repression.

Jihadism has been largely confined to Iraq and the border zones of Pakistan, where guns are fashion statements and jihad the latest excuse for millennial violence. By contrast, since 9/11, attacks against western (“Christian”) targets have been few, with not a single attack in the US and just a handful in Europe. It would not have been so if a less determined, less self-confident president had been in the White House. “You are with us or with the terrorists” was the right slogan and the right policy. The post-victory shambles in Iraq is a sideshow by comparison.

Bush’s detractors must also contend with another great success: denuclearisation. It started with Libya, which in 2003, in fear of what Bush might do, surrendered all the equipment it had bought to make nuclear weapons. Then there is Syria, which lost its secret proto-nuclear reactor to a strike by the Israeli air force last September—a move made with Bush’s approval. The demolition of North Korea’s nuclear programme has finally started. It may continue to full denuclearisation if Bush’s successor keeps up the pressure. And most recently, the direct engagement of the US with Iran’s nuclear programme has started. As usual, European diplomacy failed completely. While the E-3—Britain, France, Germany—continued to talk, the Iranians continued to build, and later publicly boasted that they had tricked the Europeans. Now matters are coming to a close. Bush has sent his own trusted envoy to offer generous incentives to the Iranians to stop enriching uranium and demolish a few installations. That is exactly what the E-3 offered. The difference is that there was no Bush involved, hence no credibility to the implied “or else.”

Bush may yet decide that it is unfair to leave the problem to his successor, or to the Israelis, who would have to fly 1,000 nautical miles to Iran instead of less than 200 from carriers in the Persian Gulf. After all, Bush has been the great denucleariser, not least in Iraq, in spite of the misleading postwar controversy. Saddam’s plan was to revive his nuclear programme in 2004 after the end of the UN embargo. Without the war there might now be an Iraqi nuclear programme to deal with, not just an Iranian one.

Read it all.


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