Tuesday, November 29, 2005

How Unlike the Home-Life of Our Own Dear Queen
Or so a Victorian complacently remarked who understood, and disapproved of, the sensuality and marital irregularity of Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra. The Mother of Parliaments at Westminster is customarily supine and submissive, a place whose lockstep fealty to the government of the day makes the current Republican House majority look fractious (oh, wait...) Yet following the Blair government's unprecedented defeat on police 90-day detentions for terrorism, another substantive debate has erupted during the last week.

The Slangwhanger-in-Chief earlier posted a link to the Congressional Record giving the individual speeches in the Iraq debate that followed Rep. John Murtha's volte face statement on the war, which he also posted together with a biting anti-Cheney speech by Sen. Robert C. Byrd. The speeches are well worth reading during the Congressional recess which effectively lasts until the New Year. The TV heads and print columnists are not likely to surface any new arguments, so the Congress, normally behind the curve of public perception, is for once a proper storehouse for the current state of the public mind.

Since the debate, the Administration has agreed to shoot itself in the fork by proclaiming, "Why, yes, we'll bring home many troops (totally coincidentally in time for the 2006 Congressional elections) just as soon as we have asserted a sufficient number of times that the Iraqi Army and police forces are capable of preventing civil war there."

Well, let's see. The US spent ten years preparing the South Vietnamese. It took South Vietnam two years to collapse after we left. On a similar calculus, we've been preparing the Iraqis for a year, so it should take 20% of that time for Iraq to collapse after we leave, which would be about two and a half months. That means we have to be out by mid-August for the Administration to try to make the disaster happen after the elections. The Bushies are trapped by events and that's all there is to that.

Meantime we are being put to shame by Her Majesty's Government, which staged a 5-hour Parliamentary debate last week on the most difficult part of the Northern Irish peace agreement. The bill being debated sets up special Northern Irish courts to deal with the cases of those "on the run" for crimes before Good Friday 1998. Tony Blair is getting a lot of stick for this as being a "side deal" with the IRA, but it was clearly signalled as necessary from the beginning of the peace process. Most of the objections imply that special courts are in some way un-British, whereas in plain fact special courts and procedures for Ireland began with the invention of the Special (Irish) Branch in the 1890s and proceed through the continued existence of Diplock courts today.

What is encouraging is seeing a wounded government, as Blair's is, go ahead and push for a politically costly measure simply because, in agreement with the Irish government and not with the IRA, it said it would. Regardless of its other immeasurable follies, the Blair government is committed to moving the peace process forward in Northern Ireland and its steadfastness in the face of Unionist and Conservative misrepresentation, in addition to Labor backbench doubt, is astonishing.

Northern Ireland, like Chechnya, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Palestine, is a case study showing that under televised conditions empires cannot defeat guerrillas. Northern Ireland is the granddaddy of all insurgencies in point of duration. Any remote dose of hope arising amid "the dreary steeples of Fermanagh and Tyrone" as in 1914 Churchill called that sadly misgoverned province (for whose institutionalized misgovernment he bears a dishonorable responsibility) must be both acknowledged and encouraged.

Lest the Slangwhanger-in-Chief be accused of Blairite sympathies in general, you are reminded that historically the scale of the Blair government's sellout of progressive values matches the Clinton Administration's. Meantime, a Labor backbencher has introduced a bill to require release of the Blair/Bush discussion minutes in which Bush called for bombing a neutral country in order to take out Al-Jazeera. Though not expected to succeed, the measure will help keep the heat on the issue.

But Blair deserves credit on Northern Ireland. He has now maneuvered the Unionists into either restoring the devolved local government institutions (in which the Rev. Ian Paisley refuses to participate despite voluntary destruction of IRA weapons,) or accepting continued direct rule from London in a way, as Gerry Moriarty reports for the Irish Times, that Paisley and the Unionists find odious.

The predicament at the end of guerrilla situations is that the guerrillas become the government, and the former terrorist forces suddenly become the Army and the police. This is the reward their people receive for resistance . It was just such a transformation that led the Committees of Safety, famous for practicing ethnic cleansing of British Loyalists, to become the Continental Congress.

Three hundred fifteen years after the military subjugation of Catholic Ireland by Protestant Britain at the Battle of the Boyne, and seven years after the beginning of a peace process in Northern Ireland, the British Government is finally able to promote local government institutions which will eventually render its occupation of Northern Ireland, already hideously expensive, completely anachronistic. It is taking incredibly hard political slogging to get this done.

The dismal and dispiriting lesson for us is that there is absolutely no reason to think the US government capable of, interested in, or aiming toward such political labor in Iraq in the next eight and a half months. And lamentably one must recall that it has taken the Brits 79.5% of the time since the death of Shakespeare to get this far in Northern Ireland...


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