Tuesday, 12 March 2013

The grey people who make it a grey world

One of the most interesting things about power is how hidden and how concentrated it is. It's a world in which very grey and very, very anonymous people make calculations with people's lives that depend on typologising and characterising them only as a series of caricatures. They can then be shoved around the chessboard of international politics at will.

Let me give you two examples of what I mean. And then some historical parallels. You wouldn't expect anything else, would you?

The first is China's failure to restrain North Korea. Nothing more crazy could be invited in a Cold War thriller. If North Korea uses the nuclear bomb on her southern neighbour (a very unlikely outcome, I'll grant you) parts of China will be irradiated. Japan and the United States may feel duty-bound to intervene in the region. China will look ridiculous, and many of her allies or potential allies will blame her for this catastrophe. But will she get her sleeves rolled up and start shouting in Pyongyang? Nope. And why? Because she sees North Korea as a counterweight to Japan and the United States. She's locked in an absurd argument over some meaningless islands with the former, and wants to start challenging the later power for maritime supremacy in the Pacific (and especially in the China Sea). So North Korea gets to do what it wants. If Seoul gets wiped off the map in the next few years, you'll know who to blame.

Then take Syria. Tens of thousands of Syrians are dead. Many more are refugees. The country's government seems to want the take the whole world down with it, rather than admitting defeat and folding its hand. The opposition is riddled with ideological divides, and not able to mount any final push to bring the disaster to an end. Why? Because the United States and Iran are using Syria as an arena for their proxy warfare and their posturing. Iran backs the regime; so the US and its allies (and the Gulf States, who think that a more congenial regime might replace Assad) back the rebels. Iran and the Russians send in helicopter gunships and 'advisers'. The West pours in money. People die. Well done, 'international community'.

You know, and I know, that I could list loads more examples of this cynical, nasty, whey-faced game-playing. It's like China and the United States getting together behind the scenes to bleed Vietnam dry after it invaded Cambodia, even though that cynical game involved backing the genocidal mass murdered Pol Pot. It's like President Nixon's opening to China (above), designed to put pressure on the Soviet Union. And it stinks.

It's a good example of what our international leaders are really like.