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Mary Robinson and the constitutional question

William Crawley | 15:13 UK time, Sunday, 25 May 2008

mary_robinson.jpgToday's Sunday Sequence included my extended interview with the former Irish President . We talked about the remarkable changes we have seen in Northern Ireland since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, the transformation of the moral landscape of Ireland during and since Dr Robinson's tenure as president, and the "bullying" she experienced from the Unites States in her subsequent role as UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

I asked Mary Robinson if the great changes Ireland has undergone, north and south, in recent years mean that we have moved closer to a re-united Ireland. Perhaps significantly, given that she speaks as a former president, Dr Robinson said this constitutional question "isn't on the agenda" and "doesn't need to be on the agenda". In fact, she said, the notion of a united Ireland " isn't even relevant to the context of what is happening [here nw] ... There is no constituency of pressure for a united Ireland." She explained that when asked by Irish Americans, "Do you see the day?" she replies, "Not really."

You can listen again to this interview on the Sunday Sequence website.


  • Comment number 1.

    It would have been a very disturbing interview if she weren't completely irrelevant to what is going on in the world. You could write a book about how wrong she got it. If she's hoping that if Barack Obama is elected President of the United States, the US will somehow roll over and play dead for al Qaeda and Iran the way Britain and France played dead at Munich in 1938, she's in for a rude awakening and a big disappointment.

  • Comment number 2.

    A recent report by the Humanist representative at the UN, Roy Brown, says that bloc voting by the Islamic states is undermining the basic principles of the UN Declaration. Many of those states show little regard for Human Rights and yet they have seats on the Council. As Brown's report shows, in a recent vote on Freedom of Expression, the Islamic states have shifted the aim of the UN Declaration from protecting freedom to limiting it. Anyone who criticises the brutality of Shariah law, for example, will be guilty of an abuse of freedom expression, on their interpretation.

    You can read Roy Brown's report at:

  • Comment number 3.

    I would agree with Robinson saying that united Ireland isn't an issue any more. In united Europe, one can easily pass Ulster - Irish border without being checked and that makes at least a feeling of united island. The problem is still to be solved in Belfast, not in Dublin.

  • Comment number 4.

    Her opininon is irrelevant.

  • Comment number 5.

    smasher-lagru, that's what I said. She has no power to affect anything and never did. All she could do was be an irritant. To the US government, she became an annoying one. That's why she had to go.

  • Comment number 6.

    Dr Robinson's opinion is as important i our national conversation as any other former head of state, such as Nelson Mandela. She has influence still. Her comments about America are important, since she has seen the face of a bullying administration, and the rest of the world should know about that. She became inconvenient for the US because she called attention to their own human rights abuses and she focused attention on abuses in countries supported by the US.

  • Comment number 7.


    Quite right. What Marcus means is that she had to go because she did the right thing and stood up impartially for human rights, even against the arch-bully, the US (undermining the International Criminal Court, treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, capital punishment in many states etc).

    America as a standard bearer of freedom and democracy in the world is a myth. Its bullying at the UN is about 63 years old; Islamic bullying is a more recent phenomenon. Of course, America doesn't just bully the UN; it bullies the entire world. And when it doesn’t get its way at the UN, it just ignores it. It has invaded other countries far more than any country since Nazi Germany in World War II. It has bombed far more countries than any other. In recent decades it has bombed Afghanistan, Sudan, Iraq, Serbia, Bosnia, Kosovo, Libya, Lebanon and North Vietnam. It has tried to overthrow more governments than any other country, and it certainly attacks smaller, weaker countries far more frequently than any other nation.

    However, since 1945 it has avoided attacking any really strong countries. Thus it took extrordinary care in Korea and Vietnam to avoid getting into a fight with Russia. Today, it even avoids invading relatively powerful countries like Iran and North Korea. Both are in Bush's 'axis of evil' and both have nuclear weapons programmes. Iraq, which it did invade, is much weaker and was well known to have minimal nuclear capacity. It's hard to avoid the conclusion that the U.S. will attack the weak but is scared of the strong, a key characteristic of a bully. The U.S. also looks like a bully because it has built a global military empire and has troops all over the world.

    Why does the U.S. need such an enormous military? The only possible explanation is that it wants to run the world. America will decide who lives and who dies, who rules and who is ruled, which regimes shall stand and which shall be 'changed' Not surprisingly, a lot of people aren't too happy about this. Mary Robinson was right to stand up to it.

    Indeed, Mary tried to make the UNCHR effective, but of course that included getting up America’s nose. The US has refused to participate in the Human Rights Council which has replaced it. It is typical of the US. "Look see, this doesn’t work: we told you so". But if the US had stood foursquare with Europe in defence of human rights, instead of breaching rights and ignoring the UN when it suits it, then the block voting of Islamic countries could be thwarted.

    Roy Brown’s article on the Islamic threat to human rights will be reprinted in the next edition of Humanism Ireland.

    As for Mary’s view of the constitutional question, she is just as entitled as Smasher to voice them, and her opinion is certainly less irrelevant than his. She is right that it is not currenly on the agenda, and of course a united Ireland can only come about with the consent of a majority in NI. But opponents of Irish unity are, in my view, mistaken and need to be persuaded of its rightness. This will take time and, I think, it needs a new republican party untainted by the fascism of Sinn Fein to do it.

  • Comment number 8.

    Your absolutely right. Now let's see, which small weak countries hasn't the US bombed yet it can put on its list? I know. How about.....Northern Ireland :-)

    So what were Mary Robinson's accomplishments at the UN? It says in Wikipedia she gave one hell of a speech there once.

    "And here's to you, Mrs. Robinson
    Jesus loves you more than you will know (Wo, wo, wo)
    God bless you please, Mrs. Robinson
    Heaven holds a place for those who pray
    (Hey, hey, hey...hey, hey, hey)"

    "Laugh about it, shout about it
    When you've got to choose
    Ev'ry way you look at it, you lose"


  • Comment number 9.


    Every time I let myself imagine that you're an intelligent guy, you write something like post #7 and I'm chastened. I know it's cool in European-liberal circles to be anti-American. But you'd do better to keep it at the vague, general level of, 'My my, thank goodness we have the BBC in this country as an antidote to [scornful tone] Fox News,' or, 'It's raining? Tut, tut, America, America, global warming, global warming,' or, shaking head, 'Did you know that X number of people in America have no health insurance?' ...rather than to make the mistake of attempting to go into more detail as you did here.

    Sensible people realise that America is - on balance - a force for good in the world and that you'd do better to lay the blame for war at the feet of, oh, let's say real imperialism or, I don't know, Islamic fascism rather than the United States of America, one of the only nations in history that goes to war in countries it doesn't intend to keep. But that would be too cliché, wouldn't it?; much more edgy and trendy and 'enlightened' to blame Bush and America and capitalism and the West and blah-de-blah.

    I'm aware that these issues aren't black and white, Brian, and as someone who takes a keen interest in these things for a living, I share your sense of frustration at global politics and particularly the issues which cause wars. I also won't pretend that America has always been right. But in the great scheme of things, Ron Reagan was right when he said that of the four wars that happened during his lifetime, not one of them began because America was too strong. The net result of America's military activity over the past fifty years has been overwhelmingly good for the world in general.

    Your opinion is asinine.

  • Comment number 10.

    Hi John,

    This is not the way most people in Europe see it, according to opinion polls. Several recent polls in Europe have found that more people regard the US as a bigger threat to world peace than than any other state. History is on their side.

    Islamic fascism is certainly a threat, but you have to accept that until America invaded Afghanistan and Iraq it wasn't such a threat. Where was the Islamic threat in the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, 1980s and 1999s?
    In other words, America has helped to create the Islamic threat by its bullying behaviour on the world stage and its persistent support for everything done by Israel.

    The behaviour of some Islamic governments in their own countries is deplorable but invading the weaker Islamic states is not the answer.

  • Comment number 11.

    Europeans are almost completely ignorant when it comes to America - if they read anything it's almost always liberal pro-Democrat rubbish. There has never been a country as powerful as America which has used its power so selflessly.

    Where was the Islamic threat from the 1950s to the 1990s? It was attacking Israel, destroying Beiruit, establishing itself in Iran, Libya and other parts of Africa.

  • Comment number 12.

    Brian- I realise Europeans don't see it that way, and I acknowledged that earlier. The view that the US is a bigger threat to world peace than any other state is precisely what I'm describing as asinine.

    History is complicated, of course, but you couldn't be more wrong than to think that if only America hadn't gone to war in Afghanistan and in Iraq then Islamic fascists would leave the rest of the world alone. I also find it interesting that you disapprove of America's activity in Afghanistan, which was the response to what happened on 9/11. You, Brian McClinton, are President of the United States. It's 9/12/2001. What is your response?

  • Comment number 13.


    I would have treated it as an action which required a police response, which has been the reaction in other countries to terrorist attacks, not as an action which led to the military invasion of two countries and a failure to apprehend the actual planners.

    Fifteen of the nineteen 9/11 hijackers were Saudis, the other four were from Egypt. Of course, the US did not attack Saudi Arabia and Egypt because they are states which have been friendly to the US. Instead it picked two who were currently unfriendly but whose links to 9/11 were either tenuous or non-existent.

    The invasions mean that the biggest threat to the world has resided in the US reactions to 9/11, and not the incident itself. Sure, it was a tragedy. But the devastation caused by the attack itself pales in comparison to the loss of human life and the economic cost that has resulted from the inappropriate response to it. Hundreds of thousands have been killed, not merely 3,000.

    Worst of all was to invade Iraq and occupy the country, thereby giving terrorists the perfect target and a reason to become a terrorist.

    $3 trillion have been spent fighting a war the US shouldn't have been fighting. This is money that could have been better spent on matters like the economy and education. Moreover, that war could lead to other wars. Those wars could likely lead to further terrorist attacks. All of which can escalate without end. So if the US makes bad decisions, it can kick start a death spiral of devastation in which the more it fights it, the worse it gets. The US could literally become its own worst enemy.

    Even among the coalition of the willing, America's reputation has plummeted. In Italy, only 34% view the US positively, compared to 70% in 2002. In Spain, only 14% have a favourable image.

    The 9/11 attacks were a predictable result of US foreign policy over the past 60 years. Most children learn pretty quickly that if you constantly bully others and try to use force to influence their behaviour towards you, eventually those others will retaliate, and in many cases this leads to an escalating cycle of violent behaviour. Children who go on to be successful very quickly learn that the way forward is to work hard and build trusting, mutually beneficial relationships with others. Children who don't learn this usually don’t get far in life. The comparison here is obvious.

    9/11 should have been taken as a warning sign that America’s international reputation is bad and that it must move to correct it or face more incidents. That means working cooperatively with other countries, not against them. It must be seen as a friend and not an enemy or a threat.

    America's foreign policy have been a travesty of its own ideals. We live in a world of economic globalisation, the growth of the East, transnational terrorism, global warming and pollution etc. American realpolitik is totally inappropriate and self-defeating in this context. The cosmopolitan model is the best way forward, and sooner or later America will have to come to terms with this reality.

  • Comment number 14.

    Brian- You say: "I would have treated it as an action which required a police response, which has been-"

    Oh, come on Brian. America didn't carpet-bomb Afghan cities and invade the country to take it over; it targeted al Qaeda camps and Tora Bora etc. specifically. How would a 'police response' have been any different? It was a war on terrorism, not on the Afghan people or a national army.

    The subject of Iraq is different, and I agree that it was - in hindsight - a major blunder. My theory is that most people are basing their opinion of America on Iraq alone. It's become the only issue for many people, and given the massive scale involved, I don't particularly blame them. But that proves how irrational the thinking process in these polls, because America cannot be judged on a war as a result of a single administration's policy and it's, frankly, extremely flakey to shift opinion so readily.

  • Comment number 15.

    John_Wright you are wasting your time. Most Europeans are dense. But then you came from there so you already know that.

    Mr. Mcclinton, the British did treat the attacks on the underground as a police matter. And as a result they shot a Brazilian electrician by mistake. Now what difference does it make if you are an accidental casualty of a panicky municipal police force in London or of an attack on a safe house by the American Army in Baghdad? Dead is dead.

    Actually I am happy my tax dollars are going to fight the war on Islamic terrorists. I prefer it go there than to continued support for Europe which no longer needs it. We could afford a lot more wars if we pulled our troops out of Europe and left Europe to itself. I think we should start with Kosovo. Let the EU rapid reaction force handle it. They can handle it can't they? Can they handle a traffic jam in Belfast?

  • Comment number 16.


    "Most Europeans are dense" is interesting. Who is your President? And wasn't Reagan's brain missing too?

    "Dead is dead". One dead Brazilian electrician is equated with perhaps a million dead in Afghanistan and Iraq? Now who is dense?

  • Comment number 17.

    There is a huge cultural gap between many Americans and many Europeans and one of the ways it shows is in Europeans disrespect for American presidents. Most Americans had and continue to have tremendous respect for Ronald Reagan, regarding him as a great president. Certainly he had a significant role in the defeat of communism.

    The problem George Bush has, and all of us have, is dealing with jihadism (which I think is a more accurate term than islamic fascism). How do you deal with people who are prepared to fly planes into buildings, or blow themselves up on buses or in cafés? And don't answer by saying - well you don't do it by invading their countries or supporting Israel. What do you do? Spreading democracy only works if everyone accepts basic principles of human rights and the rule of law - otherwise you get an elected jihadist state in the same way the nazis were elected.

    What I don't buy is the notion that the Americans are stupid and/or only act from self interest, while the Europeans are enlightened guardians of human rights.

    Clearly the UN structures are not sufficient for dealing with current world problems. We have the situation in Burma and under UN rules no one can intervene. We have 2 non-democratic, human rights breaching superpowers, China and Russian, consistently blocking meaningful action.

  • Comment number 18.

    Smasher asks about jihadism: "What do you do?"

    According to Brian McClinton's school of thought (European liberals) you create a world where people don't want to blow anybody else up. The problem with this is that the desire to do so is centuries old, and human beings have a fairly violent history. America's role is primarily in the provision of aid to people in war-torn places around the world - by a staggering amount - most of it given voluntarily. When people in Europe are ignorant enough to judge America on the war in Iraq alone, they find such facts an annoyance. It also has done the most to create the relatively peaceful time we live in today by spreading capitalism: when people are paid for what they produce for trade with America, they're less likely to want to blow us all to smithereens (this effect remains the most powerful anti-war force in existence).

    And, finally, America steps in militarily when it believes its citizens or a humanitarian crisis requires it to. That one's controversial. "What do you do? Create a world where you don't need a military. That answer misses the point entirely, since we're dealing with a world where you do. Would I like to see the American military scaled down? I'd like to see it change shape drastically. How's this for a plan: bring most troops home, bring most tanks and planes and helicopters home, and where they are, keep them in bases around the world. Use 60 percent of the money saved by those measures to scale up the missile defence system and homeland security. This way, the American military will be back, mostly, to the single task of protecting US citizens from aggression.

    I guarantee within a year or two, at signs of the first major crisis in the absence of American power, somewhere around the world we'll hear Brian McClinton's voice calling them back, because what is happening is so unconscionable that America must not allow it to happen.

  • Comment number 19.

    John - I agree with you. One could argue America's mistake in Iraq was not going in hard enough. What they tried to do was remove the worst of the bad guys and then rely on the good sense of the Iraqui people to run things. One of the unfortunate lessons of the first and second world wars is that when a country is ruled by despots you can only fix things by unconditional surrender.

  • Comment number 20.

    Smasher- I'm glad to enjoy this rare moment where we agree!

    You can't talk tactics with people like Brian, though. He won't hear anything except the voice inside his head crying, "Unjust war unjust war!" Much public opinion was with the coalition near the beginning, particularly right after 'Shock and Awe' and the fall of Saddam (which went perfectly by the way); as you say it was being unprepared for the kind of insurgency we've seen ever since that turned people against the action in Iraq, for the most part. The fact that it's been turned into a single-issue political lava ball says more about the fickleness of the Left particularly in Europe than it does about America, or even Bush and the administration.

  • Comment number 21.


    'People like me' sounds too personal for my liking and is stooping to Smasher’s level. I don't think I've ever made a personal comment about you, so let's have a little bit of reciprocity and stick to the arguments. Otherwise, we shall end up hurling insults at each other.

    You say that much public opinion was with the coalition near the beginning of the war in Iraq. Not so in Europe. But this is not simply an argument about Iraq. It is about American foreign policy over a range of issues and situations over decades, which is why Mary Robinson got up the nose of the US government.

    Let's take another current example, Somalia. The US is at present bombing towns in southern Somalia, killing civilians, destroying homes and driving thousands into refugee camps. Last Sunday it bombed two towns, killing hundreds. It is also assisting a neighbouring state, Ethiopia, in its invasion of Somalia. Troops from the Ethiopian government have, according to reports, slit the throats of Somali civilians, carried out gang rapes and summarily killed hundreds of residents of Mogadishu.

    The irony of the 'Black Hawk Down' incident is that the US, in order to thwart Al-Qaeda, is now supporting the very Somali warlords that its troops targeted in 1992/93. Once again, the 'war on terror' is a travesty of America’s ideals.

  • Comment number 22.

    brianmcclinton #16

    "Most Europeans are dense" is interesting. Who is your President?"

    Let's see...who is my president? Oh yeah, now I remember, it's that guy who kept anyone from attacking the US on American soil since the terrorist attacks of 9-11. He also kept the economy in fair shape until it came out that the banks gave away a couple of trillion in mortgages they never should have. Isn't his name shrub, hedge, planting, tree, or something like that? Can't quite remember. Why don't you look it up and let us know brian? Well whomever he is, I'll vote for him if he runs again.

    "And wasn't Reagan's brain missing too?"

    It must have been. He made it impossible for Western Europe to fall prey to the Soviet evil empire the way Eastern Europe did. Terrible thing to do. Now all Western Europe has to look forward to in the way of a tyrannical dictatorship is the EUSSR. Well, it's making a good start at it anyway. With any luck the Lisbon Treaty will be passed. Too bad about the Constitution.

    ""Dead is dead". One dead Brazilian electrician is equated with perhaps a million dead in Afghanistan and Iraq?"

    Funny you seemed to hae overlooked the fact that each of us gets only one life. You're just as dead if you are killed by a bullet fired by a London policeman who mistook you for a terrorist as by a bullet fired by an American soldier in Baghdad who mistook you for a terrorist. The rest is just a numbers game for your political agenda of bashing America as usual.

    "Now who is dense?"

    I love it when Europeans make my point for me right after I say it. They offer incontrovertable proof for me immediately. Thank you Brian.

    BTW brian, when you are told to stop by someone in a uniform, whether it's an American soldier guarding a checkpoint in Baghdad or a London policeman in a tube station....I'd stop if I were you.

  • Comment number 23.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 24.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 25.

    Third time lucky? (The above removals were due to a 'swear' word, by the way: it seems some people are offended by the way a word would sound as it would emanate from one's lips.) Reposting my response to Brian:



    "'People like me' sounds too personal for my liking and is stooping to Smasher's level. I don't think I've ever made a personal comment about you..."

    I didn't mean that to be personal.

    "But this is not simply an argument about Iraq."

    I contend that it is, since you referred me to European polls where the contrast in opinion is between 2002 and the present day (the only factor the war in Iraq and Bush).

    "Let's take another current example, Somalia. The US is at present bombing towns in southern Somalia, killing civilians, destroying homes and driving thousands into refugee camps..."

    Brian you talk as though the US simply loves to bomb people for fun. Is that what you believe? Because if it's not, then the correct way to make your point is to critique the stated aim of some US military action and then we can debate it. Otherwise, this way, you're being more than a tad disingenuous.

    "The irony of the 'Black Hawk Down' incident is that the US, in order to thwart Al-Qaeda, is now supporting the very Somali warlords that its troops targeted in 1992/93."

    And the irony of you referring me to the Black Hawk Down incident is that the purpose of US military action in Mogadishu was a humanitarian one, with no gain to the US other than good karma for helping the UN to secure the supplies of food and supplies to the people of Somalia! And the food? The supplies? Donated... the biggest contributor.... the United States!

    You know what? You're right, Brian, let's get the US military out of humanitarian missions and all!

    Would that the US had a strict policy of self-interest in foreign policy.

  • Comment number 26.


    No it is not just about Iraq. It is about all those things Mary Robinson criticised the US for, and also about the question of Ireland’s border (though only one or two of us have bothered to make a comment on that score).

    The US spends over $600 billion annually on its military, more than the rest of the world combined.  China, its nearest competitor, spends about one-tenth of that amount. The US also sells more weapons to other countries than any other nation in the world.

    The U.S. has about 700 military bases in 130 countries world-wide and another 6000 bases in the US and its territories.

    It has about 1.4 million active duty military personnel.  Over a quarter of a million are in other countries from Iraq and Afghanistan to Europe, North Africa, South Asia and the rest of the Western Hemisphere. The US has used its armed forces abroad over 230 times according to researchers at its Department of the Navy Historical Center. Their publications list over 60 military efforts outside the US since World War II. 

    You are suggesting that most of this military preparedness and military intervention is not about self-interest but about the spread and protection of freedom and democracy around the world. Oh, how altruistic of it! To do all that spending just for the rest of us! And what an ungrateful lot we are!

    The trouble with this theory is that (a) the evidence doesn't support it over 60 years or more (the US didn't even enter WW2 until Pearl Harbor was attacked) and (b) most of the rest of the world doesn't want it. Some governments do, but they are often out of step with the electorate. Our wiser heads know that it makes the world a more dangerous, not safer, place, and that is why opinion polls throughout Europe see America as the main threat to world peace and survival.

    But, if you are right, and the US is not acting merely out of self-interest, maybe, just maybe, it should stop changing sides in conflicts when it suits and start listening to its critics around the world whom it is supposedly defending instead of bulldozing its way through military solutions to political problems.

    In particular, it should stop assuming that it has a right to violate the sovereignty of other countries willy nilly and firing cruise missiles into them. It is hardly surprising that for Somalis, Iraqis, Afghans etc, the so-called war ON terror is really a war OF terror.

  • Comment number 27.

    "The US spends over 600 billion annually on its military."

    That's money well spent. Finally my tax dollars put to a useful purpose.

    Now what do you suppose would happen if the US pulled out of some of those bases? If it left Kosovo, the EU would stand around helplessly like they did when the Serbs slaughtered the Kosovars. I'm OK with that. If they pulled out of the Pacific, Japan would be forced to use its vast stockpile of plutonium to build a nuclear arsenal. East Asia would go nuts. I'm OK with that too. If the US pulled out of Somalia, al Qaeda under the protection of the Islamic Courts Union would have free reign to train and plan new attacks against the US and we'd have to bomb the entire place flat to protect ourselves. I'm OK with that too. If the US pulled out of Iraq, the battle between the Shia and Sunnis would escalate to a regional religious war involving most Moslem countries in the area. I'm OK with that too, especially if it shoots the price of oil up to about $250 to $300 a barrel. We could shut down GITMO and just release the terrorists on the European continent letting the local authorities decide what to do with them. Europeans believe it's only a police matter anyway. And we could pull out of NATO and let the EU battle it out with Russia without our help. I'm OK with that too. I'd prefer a fortress America where you can leave but it will be almost impossible to get back in unless you are an American citizen. Americans were much better off when they were almost completely self reliant. We could go back to making everything we need at home ourselves the way we once did and what little we needs to import, they can leave on the doormat. That would put a halt to the negative balance of trade very quickly. BTW, the US should also quit the UN and WTO in my opinion. It should use its economic power as a weapon to force others to make very one sided trade treaties if they want to deal with the US at all. Food would be an excellent economic weapon, don't you think?

  • Comment number 28.


    What Mark said.

  • Comment number 29.

    I could write something like your
    # 9 comment: "Every time I let myself imagine that you're an intelligent guy, you write something like post #28 and I'm chastened".

    Two reasons: one is the obvious one of agreeing with Mark's madcap foreign policy ideas; the other is because 'what Mark said' adds nothing whatsoever to the argument. It merely says: "Look you, here's two of two and only one of you, so you must be tallking garbage". And, to add another of your comments, I am really disappointed that you cannot speak for yourself.

  • Comment number 30.

    On the matter of who is to be the village policeman I would rather have America than the Islamic cluster, or even the hired soldiers of the U.N. who live of the poor and rape the victims when they feel like it. By the time the EC decide to respond to the aggressor the unprotected would be obliterated. There is an anti-American drive in these days, but those who hate her like the wealth of the USA dollar and the free world printing press and media to spue out their damnations.

  • Comment number 31.

    Brian- I disagree with Mark as often as you do on a wide variety of topics, but I agreed largely with his direct response to you, including the consequences of your suggested US foreign policy. I didn't have much to add, although I'll say this: yes, the US has turned into the world's policeman, and it's easy to resent an entity with that job (and particularly with such a huge potential for making mistakes which I've admitted isn't unheard of). Do I think the US should be the policeman of the world? No. It's unfair to ask US citizens to bankroll such an outlandish idea. As I said before, I wish America did have a policy of strict self-interest. So my purpose here is not to argue in favour of America's current foreign policy (humanitarian though it may largely be).

    But to hear it suggested that the US is an evil in the world is not only wrong; it's preposterous and the result of delusion. And so Mark's response of, "Think we're evil? Fine! Boys, let's pull out of everywhere and see how they like it," is an appropriate one since I think that if you are ideologically stunted enough to believe that America is a force for evil rather than for good in the world, then you deserve to experience an Americaless world to pull you to your senses.

    "If we ever for a single moment think that it is smart to be anti-American then we will make a mistake of fundamental proportions for our future." - Tony Blair, after leaving the office of Prime Minister.

  • Comment number 32.

    The only reasons the US gets involved militarily around the world is a) it was attacked at Pearl Harbor and realized that if it didn't it could be attacked again and again by hostile forces from anywhere in the world, and b) to protect American based multinational corporations whose investments have transformed the world since WWII from an endless series of self destructive impovrished despotisms to places with some hope for their futures, some stake in world peace. Countries like China whose leaders once advocated that the USSR launch a nuclear strike against America even though they'd lose a few hundred million people wouldn't think of it now if for no other reason than they don't want to kill off their best customers. But I think it is long overdo for these nations to foot at least part of the bill for it, otherwise, I'd have the US pull out and let the rest of the savage world revert to what it has shown it does best.

  • Comment number 33.

    My, how the gung-ho militarism flourishes on this thread. It's a bit like an Ulster library, where the shelves on war and religion sag under the weight of the endless Gun and God tomes, while the space for the ancient Greeks, the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, liberalism (yes, liberalism, the ideology on which most of our rights are based), socialism (yes, socialism, the philosophy on which the acknowledgement of the essential equality of all of us is based) and humanism (yes, humanism, the philosophy on which the acknowledgement of our commoin humanity is based) is tiny or non-existent.

    Smasher   – the upholder of the absolute right to life, who in # 71 of Abortion: Rights and Flights laments that "millions of unborn children have been killed in the last forty years"  – doesn’t blink an eye at the thought that the US has been responsible for the deaths of between 20 and 30 million real people in wars and conflicts scattered over the world in a similar period. Oh no, that is defending rights, apparently: "There has never been a country as powerful as America which has used its power so selflessly". (#11). Selflessly defending people’s rights by killing 20-30 million of them! That's some commitment.

    Smasher, it implies that you should be sellflessly defending women's rights to abortion! And what about the 40,000 Iraqi children under five who, according to UN estimates, died each year throughout the 1990s from the effects of the US-led embargo on Iraq?

    As for the US being the 'world's policeman', that is a complete misnomer since a policeman supposedly exists to defend the law, not make it up as he goes along and failing to live by the same civilised rules which he regards as desirable for everyone else. The role of the police is to uphold the law. But the police don't boast that they will respect only those laws they decide to respect and indeed when officers are nailed for breaking the law, they become criminals.

    There is a basic neurosis in the US which consists of a love of war and a constant search for 'the enemy'.

    Since the fall of communism, the enemy has changes periodically. The Taliban? Didn't the US supply them to defeat the Russians? Saddam Hussein? Didn't the US back him when Iraq granted lucrative oil concessions to US multinationals and attack him when he didn't? Sometimes it's impossible to keep up with the reversals.

    Mary Robinson was absolutely right.

  • Comment number 34.


    Congratulations upon finding a way to do the right thing in the world without incurring any casualties along the way. It's what humanity has been looking for all this time! From ancient times until now, it has been necessary to see civilian casualties in war, as necessary as war has been; and it is only now that we hear an alternative. PLEASE, bring it! We're listening, Brian!

    "As for the US being the 'world's policeman', that is a complete misnomer since a policeman supposedly exists to defend the law, not make it up as he goes along..."

    Which law would the US defend except one which it has "made up"? It's a sovereign nation, Brian. Ever hear of the Declaration of Independence? The law followed by the United States is the law enshrined in the United States. (Just as the law upheld by the Chinese is the law enshrined in China and as the law defended by the Russians is the law enshrined in Russia and as the EU imagines it's doing something wonderful by creating its own law... this isn't unusual or outlandish.)

    "There is a basic neurosis in the US which consists of a love of war and a constant search for 'the enemy.'"

    America doesn't need to SEARCH for the enemy, Brian: that much is patently obvious. What happened on 9/11? Oh, let me guess: America provoked it through years of interfering in the affairs of the Middle East, right? Muslim hate of the US is justified and brought on by America's actions... is that it? That view is moronic. For your information, the US has never had to search for enemies and has had very good reasons to be involved in the Middle East (for one thing there is a huge concentration of American citizens there for which the US government exists to protect).

    "Since the fall of communism..."

    What distinguishes communism from socialism, by the way?

    "The Taliban? Didn't the US supply them to defeat the Russians? Saddam Hussein? Didn't the US back him when Iraq granted lucrative oil concessions to US multinationals and attack him when he didn't? Sometimes it's impossible to keep up with the reversals."

    It's impossible for you to keep up? Maybe that's why you've managed to believe this nonsense about the US in the first place. One of the challenges of foreign policy is deciding what evil in the world we should intervene to stop and what evil in the world we could still live with ourselves if we don't. As an altruist, you have a tougher job in that regard than I do, since I think we should pull out of everything and leave them all to it (an action that would kill many more people than the current US foreign policy, which is beautifully ironic, given your stated views).

    Now if party A is being oppressed in 1980 and we intervene to stop it, and then in 1990 we find that it has become the oppressor rather than the oppressed, and we intervene again - this time to stop them - how are any of those decisions the result of 'imperialism'? You've bought into the leftwing credo on this hook, line and sinker, haven't you, and yet the only people to whom it makes sense are those of you already predisposed to get things so wrong in the first place.

    I believe you are being willfully simpleminded.

  • Comment number 35.


    Your last pointing is a tissue of willful simplemindedness and moronic views.

    According to you, America did the right thing despite killing 20-30 million people. Are you taking this on trust? Are you simple-mindedly not assuming that if America killed 20-30 million people then all those deaths must have been necessary. Were they? How about the upwards of 5 million Vietnamese killed? Were they necessary? Why? To prevent a unity that later happened??

    To describe America's policy as 'doing good' is willfully simple-minded. Why has she intervened in Venezuela, Somalia, Iraq, etc but not in Rwanda, Sudan or the Congo? The lack of an oil connection in the last three surely has something to do with it.

    You disparagingly say I am an altruist, yet this is exactly what you are saying about America. What I am saying is that America's policy has been motivated largely by self-interest, with a dose of altruism throw in when it is coincides with the self-interest. Mine is therefore a slightly more complex picture than your willfully simple-minded and uncritical praise.

    You keep returning to 9/11 as if history began on that date. The fact of the matter is that it was an attack by a relatively small group who used no sophisticated weapons, not a grand plot by a powerful state armed with nukes. Yet the US overreacted and has helped to increase the threat by its disproportionate response.
    Arthur Koestler said that if you treat people like rats they will grew whiskers and bite your finger.

    You talk simple-mindedly of 'evil' as if Americans were the good guys and 'the others' (commies, Islamicists) were the bad guys, Don't you know that it was the Indians who were the good guys?
    Watch Soldier Blue if you don't believe me.

    The US response to 9/11 in Iraq was not sanctioned by the UN. The point about the 'policemen' is that they uphold a law made by another section of society. There is what is called international law, John. By going into Iraq, the US ignored the UN Charter, which prohibits the use of force except in self-defence or without UN authorisation.

    Of course, the US will say that its federal laws take precedence, but the fact is that it keeps shifting the goal posts here. Americans helped to frame much of modern international law including the Geneva Conventions and the UN Charter. The present Bush government, however, is not supportive.

    Once in Iraq, the US ignored the Hague Conventions which require nations to put a stop to looting and to make only necessary changes to local law and government.

    It also ignored the Geneva Conventions, which prohibit secret detention and the abuse of prisoners. The news that the US has prisoners on 17 prison ships around the world is also more evidence of a breach of the Geneva Convention.

    According to the Geneva Convention on the treatment of prisoners of war, PoWs can only be tried by "the same courts according to the same procedure as in the case of members of the armed forces of the detaining power". This does not apply to prisoners in Guantanamo Bay, arbitraily defined as 'unlawful combatants'.

    America needs to understand that international law does applies to everyone, and that includes America. Otherwise any US action against any other nation breaking the law is nothing but hypocrisy.

  • Comment number 36.

    Nothing is as disingenuous in a discussion like this as someone misrepresenting the other's views. For the record:

    1) I never offered America "uncritical praise"; to the contrary there are numerous examples in the thread above where I disclaim that very thing. My point doesn't rely on America having done nothing wrong.

    2) I'm not defending America's altruism, I'm attacking your belief system which suggests that America is an evil in the world and using examples of its altruism to support that argument.

    3) You say that I "keep returning to 9/11 as if history began on that date." I mentioned it only once before, and then only because you were objecting to the war on al Qaeda in Afghanistan which was the response to 9/11. I love how you try to torpedo the mention of 9/11, as if there is something wrong with my mentioning it (and by the way, to describe America's response as an overreaction is the funniest thing you've said so far).

    4) You say "I talk simple-mindedly of 'evil'"; I know the leftwing doesn't approve of that language (it seems any language ever used by the Bush administration is now tarred and feathered). What, you don't believe in evil now?

    When you finally get to your point, you say:

    "Americans helped to frame much of modern international law including the Geneva Conventions and the UN Charter. The present Bush government, however, is not supportive." [Then you list some of the evidence for that.]

    Isn't that precisely what I said earlier? Europeans are fickle enough to base their opinion of the entire United States on the job done by a single administration, an administration which is being treated to some of the lowest approval ratings ever within the United States itself! So which is it, Brian: the US is a force for evil and has been for most of the 20th century, or it's waiting out the final days of an administration that's made some bad decisions (Afghanistan Afghanistan, Iraq Iraq, etc. etc.)?

  • Comment number 37.

    Hi John:

    First of all, Americans are no better or worse than people anywhere else. They are just as capable of kindness, love and generosity; but they are also just as capable of lies, deceit, cruelty, cunning. hypocrisy, bigotry and intolerance etc. Unfortunately, many of them don’t seem to realise this truth and have imbibed a myth of American niceness, a belief in their own special goodness and decency above everyone else on this planet. This leads them to believe that they deserve special treatment: that their lives count more than others.

    For example, I said to you that America overreacted to 9/11. You thought this was funny. But the fact is that Americans have killed at least a million people in Iraq, Afghanistan and Somalia since then and at least partly as a result of it. Now, you are not American, John, so surely you can see that a million lives are worth more than 3,000. Many people in the rest of the world regard the US invasions of these countries as a desire to seek revenge for that attack and a warning to further potential terrorists. What do you think? Are they so wrong about this? Would America have attacked these countries without 9/11 whether or not some people wanted them to?

    The problem is that America has more military and economic power than the rest of the world. You expect the rest of the world to view this in a friendly manner, but how can it when they see this power used arbitrarily and 'illegally' to kill so many people in so many countries over about 60 years. And how can they see the economic power as benign when, again, there is a double standard. "You, the poor country, must establish free trade principles, while we, the rich country, can break these rules and impose tariffs etc. when we feel that our interests are at stake".

    This is what I mean about hypocrisy, John. the fact of the matter is that the US reeks of it in its dealings with the rest of the world, yet blindly assumes that it is a force for good. This is the cowboy myth. And it does extend that far back. The pattern was first established within the country between the Whites and the native Indians. "The White Man made us many promises, more than I can remember", exclaimed Red Cloud of the Oglala Teton Sioux, "but they never kept but one; they promised to take our land, and they took it". And this land theft was accompanied by butchery on a massive scale, the first act of genocide in modern times.

    There are two predominant themes in American foreign policy after 1945. One is unilateralism: whether or not America intervened in the wider world was a matter that she, and she alone, decided, free from any entangling alliances and preferably with her own forces rather than multilateral ones. Secondly, while Congress has influenced foreign policy, it has largely acquiesced in presidential leadership in this area. So the leader does count in foreign policy. And in this respect Bush and the Neocons behind him have been a disaster, pushing this unilateralism to extremes.

    In 1948 the renowned American strategic planner George Kennan wrote: "We have 50% of the world’s wealth but only 6.3% of the world’s population. In this situation, our real job in the coming period... is to maintain this position of disparity. To do so, we have to dispense with all sentimentality... we should cease thinking about human rights, the raising of living standards and democratisation" .

    This theme has been repeated by US advisers and strategists ever since. Thus in his 1997 book The Grand Chessboard: American Primacy and its Geostrategic Imperatives, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Carter’s National Security Adviser, wrote that local wars are not responses to terrorism but rather the beginning of a final conflict leading inexorably to the dissolution of national governments and world domination by the United States.

    As Brzezinski sees it, nation states will be incorporated into the 'new order', controlled solely by economic interests as dictated by international banks, corporations and ruling elites concerned with the maintenance of their power: "To put it in a terminology that hearkens back to the more brutal age of ancient empires, the three grand imperatives of imperial geostrategy are to prevent collusion and maintain security dependence among the vassals, and to keep the barbarians from coming together".

    This is the kind of thinking that dominates American foreign policy today. Thus the Project for the New American Century was established in 1997 in order "to shape a new century favourable to American principles and interests". Thomas Donnelly, the deputy executive director of the Project, advocated an aggressive form of Pax Americana and shared with similar analysts the belief that America should be encouraged to practice a 'democratic imperialism', stabilising ‘trouble spots’ in the world 'without hesitation, embarrassment or shame'. Such statements are simply the extension of the shift of earlier imperial slogans, from ‘the white man’s burden’ to ‘enlightened colonialism’.
    In 2000 the PNAC published a treatise Rebuilding America’s Defences, which envisaged a worldwide Pax Americana under which democracy would be spread through military power and which called for a vast increase in arms spending to underwrite it. Until then, the US had cut defence spending as a ‘peace dividend after the end of the Cold War in 1991. What was needed, the PNAC suggested, was 'some catastrophic and catalysing event, like a new Pearl Harbour'. That event came on 11th September 2001.

    Unmistakably, the US objective under Bush has been world domination, primarily to further the interests of the military-industrial complex. The War on Iraq was therefore never really about weapons of mass destruction or links between Iraq and Al Qaeda or Saddam Hussein or UN resolutions. These pieces never seemed to fit together. Rather, the war was primarily intended to mark the official emergence of the US as the full-fledged mega imperial power, seizing sole responsibility and authority as planetary policeman. Thus when Bush talked about Saddam as a 'threat' to the US, what he really meant is that he was a threat to US military dominance in the Middle East.

    Iraq was clearly a convenient vehicle for stamping American authority on the world. The War was 'doable'. In other words, Iraq was an easy target. And afterwards, having conquered Iraq, the US would create permanent military bases in that country from which to dominate the Middle East, including neighbouring Iran.

    What we have described is nothing less than the arrogance of power on a colossal scale. The UK government shamefully became a tool - a useful idiot - for this American megalomania under Bush. Whether Obama or whoever can call a halt before the US drags us all down into a world of endless war remains to be seen.

  • Comment number 38.

    Brian- I saw your comment this morning and now realise there's no way I'm going to have time to reply at all to it today. I disagree, of course, and that's the important part! Hopefully get back to you tomorrow or over the weekend.


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