The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Friday, November 28, 2003

Lee Kwan Yew still raining on Whitey's parade...

The news - my piece of November 25 - of the Old Fox-cum-Bloviator's retirement from the bully pulpit was exaggerated.

While I'm no student of the man, it seems to me that Lee, in some ways, was like an old-style American machine politician - a Frank Hague or Edward Crump: he maintained an iron grip on his little patch of turf as a quid pro quo for being consistently effective in delivering goodies to his voters; and used that local power to make himself a player on the wider scene. The completeness and longevity of his control prompted the envious respect of leaders in more mutable democracies, who had a pretty good idea he would outlast them.

Now, in addition, he has elder statesman - even oracular - status. It shows a certain strength of character, I suppose, that being the object of so much kow-towing for so long hasn't turned him into a total megalomaniac.

Newsweek sent a supplicant (one Fareed Zakaria) to bend his ear on Iraq and Al Qaida.

The opening graf is not for the recently lunched:
Richard Nixon once remarked that had Singapore's Lee Kuan Yew lived in a different country in a different time, he would have achieved the status of a major historical figure-a Churchill, Disraeli or Gladstone.

(I suspect that Lee would have taken that as an insult - I'm fairly sure he does think himself on such an exalted plane! Was Nixon deliberately damning with faint praise? Do we think it would occur to Zakaria to consider the point? Answers on a postcard...)

Lee's shtick is friendly concern about the differences between the US and Europe - getting a bit of his own back for the old Imperial divide and rule!

He says (to cut a long story short) that the Europeans (with an ETA/IRA frame of reference) are wrong on AQ because they ignore the global reach of its terror; whilst the US is wrong because of its emphasis on a military solution.

Zakaria ventured to enquire (as it were) what the Wisdom of the Orient might have to suggest. My recollection is that Lee has a Rummy-type twinkle-eyed smile of his own which I suspect was deployed at this point:
Well, America can't do it alone. You can't go into the mosques, Islamic centers and madrassas. We don't have any standing as non-Muslims. Barging in will create havoc. Only Muslims can win this struggle. Moderate, modernizing Muslims, political, religious, civic leaders together have to make the case against the fundamentalists.

(Love the we - by the way.)

Of course, Lee knows quite well that the moderate, modernizing Muslim is the Philosopher's Stone of Middle East policy: or rather, such creatures exist, but no one has been able to deploy them with any degree of success [1]. The best we can do is countries like Morocco and Jordan, with a veneer of democracy, under which one has old-fashioned our sons of bitches [2]. These MMMs - a picture of Ahmed Chalabi popped up in my mind's eye for some reason - are a key part of the PNAC/NSS fantasy on which Bush expatiated in his London speech (my piece of November 24).

While Vietnam (as with all historical) analogies are to be handled with care, it seems to me there is some similarity between the MMM obsession and the absurd belief of USG's in the early 1960s, first, that South Vietnamese leader Ngo Dinh Diem could be provided with the qualities of legitimacy and authority essential to any successful campaign against Ho Chi Minh; and, second, that by removing Diem from power, such qualities might be vested in his successor.

(There are MMMs outside the Middle East with actual power: in Mahathir Mohamad's Malaysia, for instance. But, in each case (that I can think of), MMM supremacy depended on the conditions in the country concerned, and was accomplished without foreign intervention: Uncle Sam parachuting in exile MMMs - or raising up the local Great and the Good from the professional - Europhile - classes would result (in the eyes of the general population) in so many béni-oui-ouis, Christmas tigers [3] nodding at the Yankee word of command.)

Lee's recipe in Iraq?
Iraq has become a test of American perseverance. You must see it through, and I believe that you will. It is related to the larger struggle. You must put in place moderates who can create a modern society. If you walk away from Iraq, the jihadis will follow you wherever you go. You may think you've left them behind, but they will pursue you. Their ambitions are not confined to any one territory or people.

You don't say?

Lee, in properly diplomatic language, is taking the piss. If he has any sensible ideas on either AQ or Iraq, he's not telling. (Perhaps he has in mind a private consultation with Bush - accompanied by an appropriate fee [4].) But, even without the fee, he has the pleasure of knowing that the fawning hack thinks he's got a story.

And, under the cockamamie US media regime, he has! It's another example of objective journalism (last castigated here on November 14): Lee's position alone guarantees his column-inches.

(Just like Joseph McCarthy could spout any old bollocks about Commies (or not, depending on his formulation du jour) in the State Department - 205, 57, any damned number he chose - and the hacks would dutifully report his words as if handed down by the Almighty on Mount Sinai! [5])

[The link via Geitner Simmon's excellent Regions of Mind - which is rather more impressed with Zakaria's story than I am!

The blog has a somewhat similar approach to US politics, in the sense of enlightening the subject with a historical perspective - whilst it labours successfully under a crushing burden of actual knowledge about the subject that I am fortunately spared...]

  1. There's an analogy here with the enormous anti-war demonstrations that were seen in the West earlier this year - especially in the UK and US. The numbers were impressive - but there was no way to give them traction in the political process, in such a way as to affect the outcome of the decision.

  2. Code-word to mention: honour killings.

  3. Mr Smith Goes To Washington reference...

  4. For some reason, my mind wanders over to Pooh-Bah, the Enormous Swell who will do almost anything if the size of the insult is right.

  5. A subject I've mentioned once or twice before! Edwin Bayley's book Joe McCarthy and the Press is still the best for McCarthy press coverage, I think. (Well, it's the only one I've seen on the subject...)

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