Collateral damage


Mahmood Mamdani recently appeared on Now, with Bill Moyers,” where he expanded upon the thesis of his new book, which I had previously described as being about how terrorism had been the defining feature of the last years of the Cold War:

MOYERS: You say in your writing that the spread of terror as a tactic is largely an outgrowth of American Cold War foreign policy. During the last years of the Cold War, America created, financed and nurtured the terrorists who later began to plague us. Are you saying that we are ultimately responsible for the rise, the creation of a Frankenstein named Osama bin Laden?

MAMDANI: Sure. I’m saying a little more than that. I’m saying that the Cold War was not fought in Europe, it was not fought in America. The Cold War was fought in Asia, it was fought in Africa, it was fought in Latin America. The wreckage of that war lies in these places.

His argument, here, is that the majority of the World’s population has been treated as little more than collateral damage” in a game being played between the United States and the Soviet Union. So, not only were terrorists trained and used as proxies by the United States, but the very nature of realpolitik policies was to deny the humanity of those populations who were the innocent bystanders in our proxy wars. By choosing a military, as opposed to a political, response to the events of 9-11, the Bush administration has perpetuated the same mistake in the War on Terror, treating the desires and concerns, indeed even the lives of the majority of the world’s population as unimportant:

… that’s what demagoguery is about. It is about turning the population into bystanders as if they’re watching a baseball game, as to which side is going to win with no thought that they will ever participate in the game.

Which is not to say that Mamdani doesn’t have Realpolitik elements in his own thinking. He seems to feel that embracing the nationalistic desires of the majority of the population is a necessary precondition for democracy. For this reason he is against the Kurds having veto power over the new constitution. Honestly, I’m not sure what I think of this. I can see how a Kurdish veto could hurt the legitimacy of an interim government, but I’m not sure how else one would go about ensuring that the Kurds remain committed to a unified Iraq and don’t instead start a civil war. On the other hand, I fully agree with him that the United States should make an eventual (and total) withdrawal of its military presence the starting point of any future plans. I don’t see how plans to maintain Iraq as the largest U.S. military base in the world can possibly convince the Iraqis that we love Freedom” as our President so eloquently put it.

Read the full transcript.

Watch the interview (not up yet at the time of this post).