CONDOLENCES TO THE PEOPLE OF JAPAN. . . AND ALSO OF LIBYA by CAMERON DUODU
There are few countries I admire more than Japan. Any country that was devastated by getting itself bombed with nuclear weapons by the Americans, and yet succeeded in appropriating — and sometimes even cleverly expropriating — American knowhow to rise to within a whisker of toppling the USA to become the world’s leading industrial power (until China came along, at any rate!) deserves unalloyed praise.
More important, ‘brand-Japan’ has hitherto been unbeatable. Let me give you an example: before ever deigning to drive a Japanese car, I used to be snotty about them. Then one day, out of curiosity, I took over the wheel of my official car as editor of the Ghana Daily Graphic. It was a four-door saloon Mazda, but the road-holding was superior to my own prized Sunbeam Alpine sports car, a two-door coupé with both a soft and a hard top, made in Britain.
When seven years later, I bought an unwieldy-looking Datsun-280C (it looked as if its shape had not only been copied from an Oldsmobile graveyard but also, that the design drawings were rescued from a shredding bin!) I discovered that unwieldy though it looked, its road-holding was just as superlative as the Mazda I had admired years earlier. That car never failed to respond to any request I made of it – and I drive my cars hard.
Japanese technology in those days was supreme, because – as my curiosity spurred me on to find out – before 2001, Japanese companies within specialised industries were jointly assisted by their country’s Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI) to co-operate together in carrying out research and development, before launching new products.
The companies shared the results of the jointly-developed technologies, even though each was free to use its own unique designs when manufacturing its products. So the manufactured goods looked different, but underneath their skin, they all had a common base of solidity and reliability. And, of course, they exhibited ingenuity through innovation.
So, the Japanese just went and conquered the consumer world for their country. Very soon, you couldn’t buy a camera, video, Walkman and cheap motor-car, without paying obeisance to Japanese craftsmanship. Germany (cameras) the USA (cars) and Europe (tell me: what was it Europe used to manufacture?) watched helplessly as Japan monopolised the world’s export trade.
In those years, you just couldn’t buy a bad Japanese car. But since the demise of MITI in 2001, some Japanese companies have begun to cut corners. The MITI “national standard”, which held the companies to a very high range of quality, and also encouraged equitable practices in worker-employer relations, have largely been jettisoned. Hence the frequent recall, in recent years, of Japanese cars found to be unsafe to drive.
It saddens me to hear of the problems of Lexus and Toyota: 30 years ago, I could boast that my Datsun 280C would never once refuse to cool its passengers despite Accra’s humid and hot climate. Yet now, ordinary equipment like accelerator pedals can get stuck in some Japanese cars and kill their occupants. The decline in standards has been unbelievable.
It is with the greatest empathy, therefore, that I have been watching the pictures of the ‘triple-whammy’ disaster that has hit Japan: a colossal earthquake, a horrific tsunami and near-nuclear meltdown. Each disaster has been frightening in its own right, and yet its ugliness has been compounded by the apocalyptic proportions of the other two. Worse, Japanese prescience in running nuclear power stations in particular — in an earthquake-prone region — has been called into the question. It’s been pathetic wat6ching those poor chaps in white overalls risking their lives as they brave radiation to try and make their nuclear power stations safe.
Only one person gained from the Japanese disaster. It was Muammar Gaddafi of Libya, whose relentless suppression of the revolt against his regime’s dictatorship, was temporarily bumped off the world’s television screens, while the Japanese tragedy occupied the hastily vacated space.
To see Libyan warplanes bombarding combatants armed only with rifles and other ineffective weapons, day after day after day, was an extremely sad spectacle.
I found it amazing that on some Internet forums, many of my fellow Africans who, one suspects, set a great deal of store by freedom and democracy in their own countries, and who would be the first to protest if their governments showed any signs of repressing them with warplanes, were supporting Gaddafi’s actions.
Gaddafi’s forces bombed the opposition from both the air and the ground
Some said that he was worth supporting, because he is ‘anti-Western.’ But that is not true at all. One of his best friends is the former British prime minister, Tony Blair, that hypocritical and unprincipled fruit-case who joined George W Bush and his Neocons in a brutal and stupid war against Iraq, based on patent lies. Some of these Africans argue that because Bush and Blair invaded Iraq and unleashed so much suffering on the Iraqi populace, it would be wrong for the Western countries to invade another Arab country, Libya, and assist its anti-Gaddafi forces.
The only thing wrong with that argument is that no-one had been asking for a Western invasion of Libya, on the scale of Iraq or Afghanistan. The anti-Gaddafi fighters in Benghazi and elsewhere were only asking for a “no-fly-zone” over Libya, so that Gaddafi’s Air Force could be prevented from continuing to bombard them and annihilate their struggle for freedom.
The request of the anti-Gaddafi forces was supported – most unusually – by the Arab League, whose representative, Lebanon, joined the group at the UN Security Council that drafted the resolution that authorised action against Gaddafi – Resolution No. 1973.
We may loathe the politics of the USA, Britain or France, but when they go out on a limb to assist people in danger of being incinerated by bombs dropped by warplanes, they ought to be applauded.
The Western “rescuers” must, of course, be watched with a wary eye, though, for slimy Western companies will be queuing up to exploit the political confusion in Libya to obtain control of Libya’s oil production – just as they unscrupulously did in Iraq.
I strongly believe that if the Western countries had reacted earlier against Gaddafi, the worst aspects of the tragedy unfolding before our eyes could have been avoided. Gaddafi was in an extremely weak position to begin with, and it was not until he had been able to rally round to import mercenaries — some of whom were black Africans and whose role in the fighting endangered the lives of a lot of black Africans in Libya — and if the anti-Gaddafi forces had been supported from the air and also against Gaddafi’s tanks, we would not now be witnessing what could turn out to be a prolonged struggle for control of Libya.
The Americans, in particular, reacted in a most pathetic manner. They dithered endlessly over whether to help the anti-Gaddafi forces or not. The Americans always dither when freedom and democracy are at stake. They refused to help the Poles when the Poles fought against their dictatorial Communist Party in Poznan in June 1956. They didn’t even break off diplomatic relations with Poland when Polish soldiers murdered 57 workers who were taking part in demonstrations in favour of improved living conditions.
The Americans also left the heroic Hungarian freedom fighters, who heroically challenged their ruthless Communist Government, in November 1956. And they repeated their mistake when the Soviet Union invaded Czechoslovakia in August 1968.
The annoying thing is that the Americans were all the time carrying out an enormous propaganda campaign, through “Radio Free Europe” and the “Voice of America”, extolling the values of the “free World”, to the people of Eastern Europe. They laced this sugar-coated message with “Music USA” broadcasts, which consisted of mainly melodious jazz music, which, although jammed by the Communists, managed to attract wide audiences.
But when political action followed, the Americans were nowhere to be found. (That did not prevent them, in 1989, from triumphantly claiming that it was they who caused the Berlin Wall to fall)! Even when Mikhail Gorbachev risked his life to tear down the totalitarian walls that enclosed the Soviet Union itself as well as its satellites, again the Americans claimed that it was they who’d done it – by making the Cold War ‘too expensive’ for the Soviets. Not only that – Gorbachev, if the version of the American reading of history favoured by the proponents of “The Project for A New American Century” is to be believed, dismantled the Soviet Union to please Reagan and his ‘Iron Lady’ friend, Margaret Thatcher of Great Britain, who had apparenly ‘converted’ him from Communism! He couldn’t think for himself and convince others with his ideas, could he?
Well, it was indeed the relatively feeble knocks made by the Poles, the Hungarians, the East Germans and the Czechs — in themselves, “insignificant” when considered in terms of military forays, but in psychological terms, of the greatest consequence — that gradually eroded the concrete core of the Berlin Wall, and shot Communist self-confidence to pieces. And thus, Eastern Europe was freed. Through the heroism of its own people.
Whilst America watched — and carefully salivated over how to benefit economically from the riches of the Eastern bloc, by sending the IMF and the World Bank there as marauders, preaching from a Bible of the ‘Free Market’, which would deliver the wealth of the Eastern bloc into the hands Mafiosi elements, allied with Western ‘financiers’.
Now, here was Libya, trying to free itself of a Gaddafi yoke that had lasted nearly 42 years. Not only did the Americans not help them, but the most senior intelligence chieftain of the US, James R. Clapper, Jr. (a retired lieutenant general in the United States Air Force who is currently the Director of National Intelligence) made it a point of telling the Congressional Armed Servicea Committee, in open session, that he thought the Gaddafi forces would “prevail”! I suppose he expected Saif Gaddafi, the psychotic son of Muammar, to go into his room and weep when he heard that?
Obama’s Defence Secretary, Robert Gates, also publicly poured cold water on the idea of a “no-fly-zone”, thus embarrassing Barack Obama, who was under great pressure to “do something” about the (then) imminent slaughter by Gaddafi’s warplanes, of the populace of Benghazi and elsewhere.
The confusion in Washington was nothing new. The Obama administration had appeared divided, and had indeed stumbled, whilst trying to react to every stage of the “Arab spring of democracy” – from Tunisia to Egypt. Egypt was the most spectacular debacle — a former US ambassador to Egypt, Frank Wisner, was sent to Egypt as President Obama’s envoy to Cairo to try and influence the course of events and ensure that the revolution did not go too much against US interests, But as it happened, he was working for a New York and Washington law firm, which was being retained by Hosni Mubarak’s government. So, what he could find to say was that “President Mubarak’s continued leadership is critical: it’s his opportunity to write his own legacy”! This shocked the democratic opposition in Egypt, and almost alienated it permanently from the Obama administration. Frantic effortys wer5e made by the White House to discredit Wisner’s judgement, and of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who approved the Wisner mission, nearly fell ion her sword..
The Wisner episode illustrates how US foreign policy is often conflated with the personal interests of those who formulate and implement it. Robert Fisk of the London Independent, writing about the Wisner debacle, noted that “the US State Department and Mr Wisner himself have now both claimed that his remarks were made in a “personal capacity”. But there is nothing “personal” about Mr Wisner’s connections with the litigation firm Patton Boggs, which openly boasts that it advises “the Egyptian military [under Mubakarak] , the Egyptian Economic Development Agency, and has handled arbitrations and litigation on the [Mubarak] government’s behalf in Europe and the US”. Robert Fisk added, “Oddly, not a single journalist raised … the blatant conflict of interest [this] appears to represent”
That on top of the Wisner faux pas, US Director of National Intelligence,James Clapper could also thoughtlessly knock the psychological stuffing out of the anti-Ghaddafi forces, will merit a special place in the history of the movement of the world’s peoples towards freedom and democracy. And, one must add, of US incompetence in handling complex, fast-moving, outbreaks of unusual events in the world.
However, it was lucky for the ‘West’ that, as it is written, ‘cometh the hour, cometh the man’. In this case, two men actually — David Cameron, prime minister of Great Britain, and Nicholas Sarkozy, president of France. Both men pursue policies at home that are seen by their opponents as “reactionary”, and they were the last persons anyone would have expected to go out on a limb to confront the large elements of “isolationist” politicians within their own parties, and adopt a militant line on a foreign policy issue — namely, what action to take against a man called Muammar Gaddafi, who lived in a small country in the African desert far away.
Yet that is exactly what Cameron and Sarkozy did. And when their effort at the UN began to bear fruit, an unwilling Obama administration allowed itself to be dragged along — a case of the tail wagging the dog, if ever there was one. Cameron and Sarkozy managed to get that all-important Security Council Resolution 1973 drafted. And once they were on board, the Americans added new teeth to it. The Resolution was notable for the fact that even though the Russians and the Chinese were rumoured to be unhappy about it, they did not veto it. Another remarkable thing about it was that all the three African countries on the United Nations Security Council – Gabon, Nigeria and South Africa – voted in favour, as did an Arab country, Lebanon.
One of the Resolution’s most compelling paragraphs drew attention to the “widespread and systematic attacks currently taking place in the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya against the civilian population, [which] may amount to crimes against humanity,” and authorised the establishment of a “no-fly-zone”, as well as other measures, to prevent the “crimes against humanity” from happening.
Meanwhile, Gaddafi became apoplectic.
He described his enemies in Benghazi and elsewhere in these intemperate terms: “They are rats and drug users. They are Al Qaeda!” In a radio broadcast on 17 March 2011, in which he fiercely promised to storm Benghazi, a city of 700,000 inhabitants, he declared: “We shall show “no mercy, no pity”, he threatened, adding: “We will come… House by house, room by room!” As he was mouthing these fiery words, did he expect the watching world to stand by unconcerned?
When I was growing up, one of the lessons I learnt was that if you went and played with a known bully, and the bully – as expected – belted you well and proper, your own mother would beat you as well, when you ran home crying and complained. “But why at all did you go and play with him? Haven’t I told you that he is no good and you shouldn’t go near him?” my mother would say. So one got punished twice – first by the bully, and a second time by one’s own mum, for placing oneself to in the hands of the merciless bullyboy.
As I watched Gaddafi’s TV tantrums, and those of his sons, I said to myself, “These guys are really nuts.”
Yes. In the atmosphere created by the post-Tunisian, post-Egyptian revolutions, it was impossible to threaten fighters for democracy that way and expect the rest of the world not to take any notice. As Shakespeare said,
There is a tide in the affairs of men,
Which taken at the flood…”
If Gaddafi had had a functioning, analytical foreign intelligence to interpret the world for him, and if he was inclined to listen to the experts, he would have realised that “politics is the art of the possible” and that what is “possible” changes from time to time.
The ‘tide’ in the Middle East had “romance” written all over the scenario it wrote for the world to watchit: it started with the immense courage shown by a young individual, Mohammed Bouazizi, a 26-year-old vegetable seller in Tunis, who immolated himself rather than continue to tolerate the corrupt dictatorship of the Tunisian authorities. They had been making his life a misery by seizing his stall repeatedly, on the grounds that he was occupying illegal space on a street corner.
His action of impotent rage produced a greater resonance within the Tunisian populace than, perhaps, the mutiny of a unit of the Tunisia army probably could have caused. Self-immolation always catches the eye – as was proved in South Vietnam, to the dismay of that country’s American former occupiers. Now, the Tunisian populace transmogrified Boazizi’s simple act of personal bravery into a national metaphor that went beyond the feeble protest of a single wronged individual, into a symbolic act of resistance by a weak entity against a strong-armed authority.
People began to fill the streets of Tunis, chanting abuse against the corrupt government. Their numbers swelled with each passing day. The police and the army were sent to disperse the crowds, but they had been reading the “Tweets” and “Facebook entries uploaded by people in the crowd, and thus understood their motive in staying put where they were, despite being ordered to leave or be killed. The security forces found it more sensible to join the crowd and could be seen on TV, fraternising with the protesters. Ben Ali’s 24-year-old regime was at an end.
The permanent lesson taught by the Tunisian revolution is that when a government makes itself unpopular with its own people, its security forces cannot save it from falling. They may go into the street and shoot at unarmed protestors. But they will return to their barracks and be forced to discuss what they had done. They will watch the reaction of their loved ones towards themselves. When they realise that they have gone against the popular will, nothing can make them stay loyal to the regime that has turned them into unclean murderers. The conscience of a human being is mightier than a gun.
Next, the “tide” turned and propelled its angry, unstoppable waters towards Cairo. Mubarak was receiving over $1.3 billion a year from the Americans to beef up his security. Yet when Tahrir Square filled up with angry crowds, shouting at him to “Leave! Leave now!” because, they yelled, he was corrupt and authoritarian, the soldiers Mubarak sent to disperse the crowds, like their Tunisian counterparts, also joined the crowds! Their solidarity with the Tahrir Square crowd was even more eye-catching than the Tunisian solider-civilian rapport had been.
Who could not marvel at the tanks climbed by ordinary members of the public, who were putting scarves around the necks of the Mubarak-paid soldiers?
So Mubarak too fell – in a game that now resembled the children’s counting lesson game: “Ten green bottles standing on the wall.”
Where was Muammar Gaddafi all this time? He thought he was safe, did he? Yes, the self-delusions of men come to haunt them at crucial times. Bahrain was in flames. So was Yemen. There were rumblings in Saudi Arabia, and its King distributed scores of billions of dollars to the populace to buy time. The “tide” of freedom sweeping Arabia had become viral.
But Gaddafi was shored up by his sense of self-deification. He was the “Brother Leader” of the Libyans, who – per his own description — held “no post” and was as constitutionally impotent as “the Queen of England”. Ah – yes. Until someone criticised him, in which case, that person would be strung up on a wall, and his fingernails and toenails painfully extracted, or his genitals burnished with electric shocks.
Wasn’t Muammar Gaddafi the uncrowned ‘King of Africa’, who had disciples spread across Central and West Africa – from Chad to Burkina Faso, from Nigeria to Ghana, and from Liberia to Mauritania? Hadn’t traditional rulers from Ghana, Uganda, Zululand other African kingdoms flocked to him to decorate his person with eye-catching traditional symbols, in exchange for millions of dollars filched from Libya’s oil earnings?
No wonder, then that when the “tide” reached his shores, he mistook its tsunami power for the rumblings of a mere breaker that was inviting swimmers to come and surf it. When it became evident that he was in serious trouble, he could not remain calm, but over-reacted in total hysterical fashion, thus falling into the image trap his opponents had sprung for him. He would suppress the rebellion with overwhelming military power. He wouldn’t be as ‘defeatist’ or ‘weak-kneed’ as Mubarak and Ben Ali had shown themselves to be. He would send jet bombers and huge tanks to mow down those stupid “rats” who thought they could overthrow him with rifles, sticks and stones.
Both Gaddafi and his sons gave wild-eyed TV interviews, threatening the opposition with fire and brimstone. What they did not realise was that what was happening in Arab countries had become world political theatre. Great cries of anguish emanated from the throats of sympathisers all over of the world: “Gaddafi and his sons are going to massacre the people of Benghazi!”
Western politicians reacted in different ways. David Cameron of Great Britain and Nicholas Sarkozy of France were among those who “seized the tide at the flood.” They both realised that this was a cause which, if embraced, could provide them with a “win-win” situation. In becoming the “tail” that wagged the American dog, they gained greatly in prestige, despite the post-imperial decline of their two countries.
As noted before, the Americans reacted in a pathetic manner. They did eventually come round, thanks to (according to the New York Times) three women’s resolute action in opposing the do-nothing attitude of the old foggies at the State and Defence Departments. The women were Susan Rice, the US representative at the UN, Secretary of State Hilary Clinton (a late convert) and Samantha Power, a senior aide at the National Security Council. Ms. Power is a former journalist and human rights advocate; Ms. Rice was an Africa adviser to President Clinton when the United States failed to intervene to stop the Rwanda genocide in 1994. Both she and Mr. Clinton have been living with consequences of that failure and she wasn’t about to watch Obama fumble now and come back later, when it was too late, to express the view that his failure to act on Libya was his “biggest regret”.
While all these battles were going on behind the scenes, Gaddafi himself was still breathing fire. Nothing could touch him. Like Saddam Hussein and his idiotic negotiator, Tarikh Aziz, in 2003, who wouldn’t pause to analyse and find out what they could do, in practical, realpolitik terms, to prevent the dispatching of the awesome forces being assembled against their nation, Gaddafi went on TV to ramble and issue threats.
The West, on the other hand, resorted to skilful diplomacy – they even craftily got the Arab League to help them draft the resolution that was to become UN Security Council Resolution 1973.
But Gaddafi still did not get the message. He tried to pull a fast one on the Western military forces after the Resolution had been passed, – by announcing an immediate “ceasefire”, even as he launched a fierce attack to capture Benghazi and effect a fait accompli. Of course, he was caught with his poants down, and right now, he is facing Armageddon.
Where it will all end, only God knows. But the people of Libya deserve all our sympathy — for having been obliged to endure the calamitous rule of a man, apparently destined to inflict so much suffering on them.
Does Gaddafi have a mother? Did she not teach him not to go and insanely court a fight with bullies who are palpably stronger than oneself? Oh cry! Cry for the people of Libya! For they are dying — because of the actions of one madman.