Back to website,,174-1059877,00.html

We need a pacifism that is ruthlessly practical

Simon Jenkins

I AM no pacifist. I hate violence but I expect peace to come with order. I accept that heads may get broken on the way. But peace can only be the one famously described by Clausewitz. If there must be war, victory lies not in defeating an army but in securing the willing submission of a populace. Stability, not a passing triumph of arms, is the test. That is my kind of pacifism.

So how to react to a ghoulish mob tearing Westerners apart in Fallujah or some Muslim preacher openly encouraging his followers to attack Western targets? What would Mahatma Gandhi have done if he saw a man walking into a crowd with a suicide bomb? Should I not use violence against such people, rather than prod aloft once more the broken dove of peace?

No responsible government can leave things to the dove. Those who preach murder must be curbed, if need be by restricting their civil liberty. Those who kill must be seized. Lord Carey of Clifton, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, was right to plead with Muslims to beware the strands of Islam which seem to encourage race conflict. The Muslim Council of Britain was right to ask that imams teach correct Koranic law against killing and show vigilance towards criminals. The police were right this week to act on a suspicion of conspiracy to mass murder. Whatever the reason, these are troubled times.

Aggression had to be repulsed in the Falklands and Kuwait. The powerful have an obligation to intervene where they can relieve suffering, as in Ethiopia, East Timor and Kosovo. Those interventions, if not always their methods, were justified reactions to natural or political disaster.

Such wars pass the Clausewitz test. Not so the War on Terror now declared against militant Islamic groups from Luton and Crawley to Chechnya, Palestine, Iraq and Indonesia. This is not a war between states. It is not, whatever headline writers imply, between faiths. Largely because of the West’s intervention in Middle Eastern politics, it is between the West and a small network of lethal gangsters. Their claim to religious justification is as tenuous as was the terror instigated by Pope Innocent III.

World opposition to these gangsters was never greater than during September and October 2001, in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. There was never a more opportune moment to mobilise peace against terror. Over the next two years that opportunity was blown. Today, support for anti-Western fanaticism has never been greater, extending even to the playgrounds of suburban Britain. This reversal has been a fiasco of Western diplomacy. For political incompetence it surpasses anything in my lifetime.

The cause was Washington and London ignoring Hannah Arendt’s maxim that nations which resort too readily to violence end up by losing power. Violence breeds violence. The doctrine of punitive aggression and pre-emptive war espoused by George Bush and Tony Blair pandered to democracy’s basest instinct, the violence instinct. Coupled with military overkill — “shock and awe” — it ensured that the West would fail the Clausewitz test.

The Taleban and the warlords are now returning to Afghanistan. America and Britain are being driven from the streets of Iraq by revenge violence which they cannot contain. If Downing Street is to be believed, the threat to Europe from militant Islam is now greater than ever since the 11th century, with Mr Blair as El Cid.

One day historians will pore over these strange months. Records will be revealed and leaders interviewed. I believe they will show that it was not al-Qaeda’s 9/11 attack that caused such deep conflict between the West and the Islamic world. The attack merely relit a fuse which had failed on the same spot in 1993. The explosion resulted from the response of American and British leaders. They took electoral comfort in a reckless violence. They laid the trail of gunpowder which ignited wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and which now has an alarming number of young Muslims applauding the killers of Baghdad and Fallujah.

Two provocative rejoinders appeared this week. One is The Unconquerable World by Jonathan Schell, a restatement of historical non-violence. To him it was not war that brought about the French Revolution or created the world’s two largest democracies, America and India. It was the logic and the negotiation of events. It was not a Bush/Blair “pre-emptive war” that achieved the overthrow of communism. It was patient confrontation. The bloodless transformation of Eastern Europe vindicated that policy.

Violence, to Schell, does not work. It is rather an easy response to a crisis by those with power. The American and British attack on Iraq, unjustified by law or self-defence, was rather a crude assertion of global power. It was unrelated to terrorism and has done nothing to stem it. Its continued slaughter only worsens international bitterness.

The other rejoinder is the Oscar-winning film, The Fog of War, which opens in London today. It is an engrossing memoir by the former American Defence Secretary, Robert McNamara. He confesses that the 1945 fire-bombing of Tokyo would have been a war crime had America not won. In Vietnam he made mistake after mistake, often through ignorance, usually through refusing to admit that he was wrong. Elsewhere he has said the same of the invasion of Iraq, “morally wrong, politically wrong, economically wrong”. He pleads only for today to heed the mistakes of yesterday, which it rarely does.

McNamara’s lessons, illustrated with vivid archive footage, require us to see foreigners as human, read their minds and histories and anticipate their responses to what we do to them. Violence should be an aid to persuasion, not an exemplary punishment. We should recognise that it rarely deters.

This neopacifism is not moral but ruthlessly practical. Unleash the 82nd Airborne on the Sunni Triangle and you may get good television but you will not win. You will lose. Use disproportionate force and your victims may cower and even “surrender”. They are unlikely to award you the victory of submission. If you bomb Muslim cities and kill their citizens, Muslim fanatics anywhere may take it upon themselves to bomb your cities and kill your citizens.

Sensible Muslims may deplore this, but enough will sympathise to give the fanatics sea in which to swim.

I am not as sanguine as Schell that “constructive engagement” can always protect me against the world’s monsters. Only force would have driven Saddam from Kuwait or Galtieri from Port Stanley. Only the disciplined deployment of nuclear weapons against the Soviet Union was likely to induce mutual disarmament. The price of peace is vigilance.

Where I agree with Schell and McNamara is in remembering that it is peace we are supposed to be buying. It is not fear or hegemony or “showing Arabs who is boss”. Mr Bush’s pre-invasion scrapping of Colin Powell’s plan for Iraqi reconstruction and opting for Donald Rumsfeld’s brutalism turned the chance of Clausewitzian victory into the certainty of defeat. Mr Blair’s compliance in this grotesque mistake was shocking. Nemesis may yet come to the streets of London.

With its crusades against Afghanistan and Iraq, Britain is party to a predictable return to anarchy in both countries. Muslims everywhere thus feel themselves targets of the West’s “exemplary violence”. They naturally seek comfort in group defensiveness. Britain treated the Catholics likewise in 19th-century Ireland and is still paying the price. We learn nothing from our past.

This neopacifism is not a limp turning away from conflict. It means leaving alone countries where we do not belong, which do not threaten us and where our soldiers breed humiliation and violence. It means facing down the rantings of the security lobby and warmongers. It means denying terrorists the oxygen of publicity and the stimulus of overreaction.

Such scepticism towards violence pays no debt to traditional pacifism but that of common sense.