In international politics, if an action seems reckless or callous and the ones taking it are not certified loonies, usually it’s because it was made to look that way, on purpose. To send a message.
Take Israel’s attack in international waters on a civilian flotilla that resulted in the death of nine Turkish passengers. There were many ways that flotilla could have been prevented from reaching a Gaza port that did not entail resorting to violence; Israel could have waited until the flotilla had actually breached the blockade and reached the territorial waters where they arguably have a right to patrol and control, making whatever harm that befell the blockade-breachers their own “fault” and giving Israel’s actions at least the appearance of legality. But no, they had to do it in international waters in a way that made it sure that violence would erupt, killing nine unarmed civilians in the process.
You can say whatever you want about Israel’s military, except that they are incompetent. And they’re certainly not loonies. All the subsequent half-baked excuses about “unexpected reaction” by the victims and the obviously biased unilateral “investigation” of the incident are part of the show: Israel did not make an “error” in deciding to attack the flotilla as it did, nor was the job “botched.” The message was loud and clear: we will do whatever it takes to prevent the breaching of the Gaza blockade, and we do not care what the rest of the world thinks. So loud and so clear that despite the show of international indignation about the killing of nine civilians in international waters and despite all the saber-rattling about sending “hundreds” of flotillas, so far not one thing has been done to hold Israel accountable for its actions, and the Gazans are still abandoned to their fate, being collectively punished for having cast the wrong ballot four years ago.
Subsidiarily, there was a second message being sent: they’re mad dogs, look at what they have done and think of what they may do if we don’t appease them. That this “appeasement,” in the form of sanctions against Iran, serves another purpose is just part of the game: we give you an excuse, you watch our back, and we both talk about something else while we do it. More than ever, what you do does not matter, the important thing is what you are seen to be doing — and “seeing” is open to manipulation of all sorts.
The invasion of Iraq in 2003 is another example, on a larger scale. Once the Afghan precedent was set and a case for war was made based on flimsy and — as was proved later — downright false evidence, in the face of the largest worldwide mass demonstrations in recent history, the war plan was followed through to the final invasion and occupation of a sovereign country, resulting in the nearly complete destruction of Iraq’s economic infrastructure and uncountable thousands of civilian deaths. Again, the message was clear: we do not care what the world thinks of it, we do not care about international law: we will wage preemptive wars of aggression against any country, any time we deem fit, for any reason we consider appropriate.
Those who said that Israel only employed the means at her disposal to keep potentially dangerous goods from reaching the hands of Gaza “terrorists” were right after all, and we were wrong as usual: the very dangerous idea that common citizens could sidestep governments and take the Gaza affair into their own hands to end the blockade had to be quashed by any means, and a message had to be sent to prevent any other such initiatives in the future — the safety of those who own Israel and command the use of her military might was at stake. And those who cited the needs of “world security” in response to the accusations of “oil-grabbing” as the driving force that led to the invasion of Iraq were also right, as we were again wrong: the war against Iraq was not about oil (though having direct control of the world’s third largest oil reserve is a nice side effect): it was about sending a message and setting a precedent: we have the right to decide who can do what, and we will enforce this right by any means, including by waging wars of aggression and killing civilians. And, through manipulation, blackmail, and threats, we will do so with full support from the very institutions that were created to keep us from doing it.
In a time when the emergence of new world powers is challenging the owners of this world on all fronts, it was urgent to draw a line: we can learn to live with trade competition and we can even encourage it within certain limits to make ourselves more competitive, but we will not surrender the total control we have on the world’s destiny. We will continue to take the ultimate decisions, and you will continue to abide by them. Bully your own neighbors all you want, as long as we keep bullying you — and, through you, your neighbors too.
There is a war going on, and they have been preparing for it, and fighting it, even before their adversaries realized there was a dispute. Iran is the current battleground of this war, the place where they will take a further step in securing their power. This is why Turkey and Brazil could not be allowed to negotiate a way out of the Iranian nuclear standoff, this is why the Tehran Declaration had to be ignored and a new round of sanctions had to be imposed on Iran: the only solution acceptable for them is that the Iranians forgo their right to develop their own nuclear technology for civilian purposes, regardless of their being entitled to it under international laws and standing international treaties. And this “solution” has to be reached through their own efforts and means, not through the intervention of meddling upstarts like Brazil or Turkey. These countries have to be kept in their place as part of the problem and cannot for a moment think they can provide a solution.
The current goal of the nuclear powers, which they have been pursuing steadily for the past two decades, step by step, is to make the development of the full cycle of nuclear technology for civilian purposes a monopoly of those who already have it, the so-called NPT nuclear states. The means to this end are the Additional Protocols to the NPT Safeguards, making intrusive inspections mandatory for all countries (except the nuclear states, of course), and the prohibition of international nuclear technology transfers, through new rules on nuclear trade imposed by the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG). Once the Iranian precedent is set, and they have established their right to force a country to renounce its rights, they will go about solving the remaining “problems”: Brazil, Turkey, Argentina, South Korea, Pakistan, South Africa, and ultimately India, already the object of heavy bullying in NSG talks.
While Turkey takes a firm stand in the NSG against additional restrictions on the international trade of nuclear technology and continues to be heavily involved in the Iranian nuclear-program negotiations, Brazil, yielding to undeclared constraints from unstated parties, stays home licking its burned fingers and generally promises to behave. But as the Iranian example clearly shows, “behaving” is not a guarantee of being left alone, and the Brazilians may be assured they are the next in line for this special brand of “compliance enforcement” if they abandon the battleground now and allow the curbing of Iran to take place.
Tomás Rosa Bueno is a freelance translator. Visit his Web site at <www.lionbueno.net>. See, also, Tomás Rosa Bueno, “Brazil and Iran: Our Motives and the Bullying Trio” (MRZine, 22 June 2010); and “A Lesson in Bad Faith: The Vienna Group’s Response to the Tehran Joint Declaration” (MRZine, 14 July 2010).