Gareth Evans Doctrine of Bonhomie in International Relations

By Con George-Kotzabasis—January 24, 2012

Gareth Evans the former minister of Foreign Affairs and presently Chancellor of the National University in Canberra, in an article published in The Australian, on December 26, 2011,under the title Peaceful Way in a World of Grey, argues that a confrontational approach is rarely the best means of tackling serious issues. He contends “that Manichaean good vs evil typecasting, to which George W. Bush and Tony Blair were famously prone…carries two big risks for international policymakers.” The first risk is that such thinking restricts the options of dealing optimally “with those who are cast as irredeemably evil,” and the second is by seen the world in “black-and-white terms” engenders “greater public cynicism, thereby making ideals-based policymaking even harder.” To strengthen these two points he uses the “debacle,” according to him, “of the US-led invasion of Iraq…should have taught us the peril of talking only through the barrel of a gun to those whose behaviour disgusts us” (M.E.), while conceding that “sometimes threats to civilian population will be so acute as to make coercive military intervention the only option, ( M.E.) as with Muammar Gaddafi’s Libya.” Conversely, as a non-confrontational smart benign diplomacy he uses his own negotiations “with the genocidal butchers of the Khmer Rouse,” that were “acutely troubling, personally and politically, for those of us involved,” but which “secured a lasting peace in Cambodia.” He caps his argument by saying that one must see the world beyond the “two dimensions, economic and geostrategic,” and add a third: “every country’s interest in being, and being seen to be, a good international citizen.” (M.E.)

This is not Fukyama’s The End of History but the re-writing of history, and distorting it to boot, on a grand scale. Evans by a divinely made eraser rubs out all evil from the pages of history. But let us respond to his points in sequence. It is obviously true that for a policymaker to see the world in black-and-white terms would be utterly wrong. But likewise, to see the world solely in grey colours without the colour of blackness casting its evil shadow in most human affairs is to paint the world in the colours of wishful thinking. The task of statesmanship is to see the world not with the eyes of the ‘good citizen’ but with the piercing eyes of the political scientist who perceives the nucleus of evil that potentially exists in all human action motivated by ideology or extra mundane religious beliefs. It is to identify and separate the irreconcilable from the inconsolable enemy and act commensurably to the dangers issuing from these two substantially different foes.

The attacks on 9/11 were not the attacks of “good international citizens” but of evil ones driven by eschatological divinely directed goals. Bush and Blair promptly and insightfully recognized that they were facing a deadly irreconcilable enemy that could not be mollified by any ‘benevolent’ actions they could take toward him—they were already depicted by this foe as “Great Satans”—but had to be completely defeated in the battlefield. Further, astute strategy would not allow such an irreconcilable foe to become stronger but to defeat him while he was still weak and hence at less expense in human loses and materiel. The invasion of Iraq had this aim, to prevent the nexus of fanatic terrorists with weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and nuclear ones supplied deliberately or inadvertently by rogue states rigidly belligerent against America and generally the West. In the aftermath of 9/11 no statesman could underestimate the possibility of such a great threat consummated by nuclear weapons that would annihilate their people. As the success of one such attack against a western metropolis would be the ultimate incentive for Alahu Akbar terrorists to become serial users of WMD and nuclear ones against the West and its Great Satan America. And this can be illustrated comparatively and plainly by the success of the first car bomb that brought in its wake a succession of innumerable car bombs used by the terrorists against their enemies.

Indubitably, the invasion of Iraq would have been a “debacle,” due to serious tactical errors American strategists committed during the initial stages of the occupation, such as the disbanding of the Iraqi army that fuelled the yet to come insurgency, if it was not for the Surge that under the savvy new strategy implemented by General Petraeus, had not turned a potential defeat into real victory. A victory, moreover, that planted the seeds of democracy in Iraq and by establishing a nascent democratic state there soon became the catalyst that disseminated the ethos of freedom and democracy among the masses in the region and the great potential this entails for all the countries in captivity to brutal and authoritarian regimes. And one must bear in mind that the Arab Spring is the legitimate offspring of the American gate crashing of the dictatorial regime of Saddam Hussein and the transplanting of democracy in Iraq made in the U.S. However, one must not be unaware of the great dangers that could lie in wait in this transformation of democracy among those countries whose peoples in considerable numbers are imbued with the religious fervour of Islam, that Islamists, like Hamas in Gaza, could attain political power through the ballot box. And developments in Egypt after the fall of President Mubarak with the Muslim Brotherhood and extreme Salafists gaining a majority of seats in Parliament at last week’s election, are not encouraging for those sections of Egyptian society that believe in individual freedom and democracy.

There is, moreover, a fundamental inconsistency in Gareth Evans’s argument when he supports military intervention in the case when civilians are killed or threatened to be killed by an authoritarian regime, like Muammar Gaddafi’s, but not when civilians are killed and are threatened to be killed in their hundreds of thousands in the future by fanatic Islamists as it happened in New York and Washington. Lastly, his mentioning of Cambodia and the negotiations with the Khmer Rouse, in which he was directly involved, that brought a “secured a lasting peace” with the backing of “good old-fashioned containment and deterrence,” as a triumph of reason over bellicosity, he overlooks the fact that the Pol Pot regime by the time of the negotiations was already removed from power as a result of being defeated by Vietnam militarily in 1979, and existing as a weak resistance movement in West Cambodia.

It is by such a collage of diplomatic misapprehensions and awkward inconsistencies that the former minister of foreign affairs attempts to breathe life into his narrative of “a good international citizen” and the “cause of human decency” and insert it into the maelstrom of human conflicts often ensuing from Caesaro-Papist sinister ideologies. The doctrine of bonhomie in international relations can only be indulged over a café latte.

I rest on my oars: your turn now…

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