Friday, 1 December, 2023

Memories Die Hard

Memories Die Hard

P Kharel

Former President of the United States, Donald Trump, continues to be labelled all sorts of unflattering descriptions, representing many greys of authoritarianism for what Americans perceived domestically during his four years in office. However, he is not probed in equal measure for the way foreign policy was handled, even if many of America’s closest European allies despaired over the abrupt shift in approach regarding environment change, nuclear deal with Iran and the like.

Joe Biden, 79, might be the new boss at the White House since more than two years now. But lingering doubts and uncertainties as to whether it would be wise to depend on Washington as heavily as Europe did for more than six decades after World War II cannot be dismissed.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel had three years ago expressed openly that Europe should develop its own defense policy and structure in order to reduce its reliance on the US. This was prompted by Trump’s unilateral moves that rubbed the European powers the wrong way.

Once bitten, twice shy
Soon after being sworn into office, Biden made moves aimed at reassuring and regaining the confidence of European leaders. Once bitten, twice shy, as the saying goes. Various public opinion surveys in the US consistently maintain that an overwhelming majority of Republican voters are convinced that Trump’s victory in the 2020 presidential poll was stolen by rival supporters. For that matter, more than 40 per cent of Americans in general nurse a similar belief.

That is precisely why Trump backers appear confident that Trump will not only be back as their party candidate three years hence but also return to the White House as its chief occupant. The prospect only fuels mainstream Europe’s anxiety, whose memories of Trump having turned topsy-turvy American foreign policy are too recent and fresh for even wishing to forget.
Let’s look at the case of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who led the Labour to victory in the general elections for three consecutive times. No sooner had Britain’s Queen Elizabeth conferred on Blair knighthood in January than an avalanche of protest notes flew left and right.

Within six days, a petition pressing for revoking Blair’s knighthood drew signatures of one million people from the cross-section of British society. The campaigners conclude that the three-time Labour Party prime minister was the cause of “irreparable damage” to the United Kingdom’s constitution when deciding to plunge into the Iraq war.

A Labour Party member of parliament, Richard Burgon commented in dismay: “It says a lot about what is wrong with our system when, after being one of the leading architects of the Iraq war, Tony Blair is honoured with a knighthood while Julian Assange (of the WikiLeaks), who exposed war crimes in Iraq, faces extradition to the USA and a lifetime in prison.”
Supporters of Blair, who stepped down in 2007 after a decade at 10 Downing Street, point out that the Blair government had introduced a number of welfare schemes that benefited hundreds of thousands of Britons. But this dodged the main controversy raging over Britain having been engaged in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Most Britons realise that Britain should not have joined the underserving wars flouting their country’s constitution. It was later revealed how Blair had written in a subservient manner to the then US President George W. Bush that he would endorse anything the White House pursued.
A bereaved mother, who lost her son in the war, spoke in anguish: “Instead of standing in front of the Queen being made a Sir with that stupid grin on his face, he’d (Blair) be better going to the cemetery and standing in front of my son’s grave to see what he’s done.”

The anguish is echoed in a recent survey showing more than two-thirds of Britons disapproving of the decision to award Blair knighthood.
If the loss of a few thousand troops during the wars pursued basically by the West creates such strong divisions in the invading class, one can imagine the horrendous pain and plight suffered by the populations in Afghanistan and Iraq. The innocent victims and civilians might not be prepared to forget or forgive the forces that triggered disaster against them.
In Iraq, casualty figures range between one million and a million and a half, though the US after nearly two decades conceded that 100,000 civilians lost their lives. The very claim of an excuse that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein possessed banned weapons of mass destruction proved not only false but that the US had concocted it all.

Etched in history
Just as the US did not forget the deaths of some 3,000 persons in the attacks on the Twin Towers, the victims of the invasion in Iraq might find hard to forget their sufferings. The memories are likely to pass on to younger generations too.

Nearly three dozen foreign governments participated in the US-led 2001 invasion of Afghanistan in pursuit of Al Qaeda fighters. Long past Bin Laden’s killing in Pakistan, the US forces did not quit Afghanistan. Twenty years into fighting, more than 100,000 Afghans killed and the US spending $1.25 trillion, the Americans finally and quite messily pulled out.

The Taliban had the last laugh. They were compelled to quit Kabul and fight a long guerrilla war until making a comeback two decades later in 2021. The present might suffer concealment and disinformation but history’s pursuit will ultimately come up with a fair assessment. History can render a knighthood nothing more than falsehood just as its evaluation can elevate someone unfairly labelled villain yesterday to the position of a hero today or tomorrow.

Information might trickle in patches but its eventual accumulation displays the facts covering various aspects of an issue or individual. But only a minuscule section of society care to be bothered about how history might judge them. For the vast majority, the immediate present matters the most, oblivious of the uncertain future when even the very great might figure little if at all in the annals of human history.

That people without qualms suffocate the saner and fairer minds is, unfortunately, a frequent fact of life. A reassuring side is that the past catches up with the present for an accurate perspective. Memories don’t die; they might fade in the course of time; but at crucial junctures, they have a knack for returning to calls of reference.

(Professor Kharel specialises in political communication.)