Criticising America


Sir, - I have always been an admirer of the work of Niall O'Dowd in relation to the Northern peace process when, in times of crisis, he has taken a firm and committed stand arguing for the involvement of Sinn FΘin when others were willing to vilify it. He now seeks to vilify others in terms not dissimilar, to question the motives of those who ask legitimate questions about what exactly is going on in the so-called "war on terrorism" (Opinion, December 19th).

I accept that Mr O'Dowd's perspective on the tragedy is more immediate than mine. I accept that he has had to live with the consequences of those terrible events in ways that I have not. He knew people who perished, he lives in the city, and the events of that day and every day since must have a profound effect on anyone who can see the scale of human and material destruction at close hand. The desire to strike back is natural and I cannot say that I would be any different should roles be reversed. However, I would like to say I would be different.

Mr O'Dowd is right to say that at times of crisis our true nature is defined. Friendships are tested. It is a legitimate question, therefore, to ask if our friendship with America is best expressed by unquestioning assent in whatever America decides to do at this time. A true friend asks the hard questions, tells us the things we don't want to hear. As a friend I tell him this war against one of the poorest countries on earth has nothing to do with combating terrorism. It will not bring security to America or anywhere else. A fitting memorial to those who died in New York and Washington would be the instigation of a world order which would at the very least minimise the likelihood of further attacks fuelled by the manic hatred responsible for the attacks on America. I do not believe that the options chosen by the Bush administration send us on our way down that path.

I am not neutral on this issue. I do not subscribe to any notional "neutralist lobby" . I am, however, "prejudiced". I cannot see how President Bush, a man who usurped democracy in his own country, could possibly defend it in anyone else's. I cannot see how bombing the Taliban to oblivion with daisy-cutter and cluster bombs will prevent some other lunatic trying to replicate the attack on America. I cannot see how anyone can justify the outright refusal to accept the Taliban offer to hand over Bin Laden without at least considering the possibility it might have been genuine, and then lecturing everyone on the notion of the primacy of the rule of law. And yes, Mr O'Dowd, the Palestinian people and their treatment is central to this issue.

American foreign policy since at least the end of the second World War has been consistent in its broad thrust, nuanced in its presentation, depending on which shade of administration is in office. The end result of the policy as stated by the American military on the commencement of the re-building of Japan after the war was not "to make the world safe for democracy but to make the world safe for corporate America". We in Ireland have benefited from this policy; we have, after all, a country very "safe" for corporate America.

Others have not been so lucky. The Palestinian people are at the receiving end of the policy. Corporate America has decided to support Israel and therefore an enemy of Israel has to be treated differently. However, one looks at it, it is a fact that American sponsorship of Israel allows the Israelis to act with impunity against the Palestinians. If the US administration cut off the supply of F-16s and Apache helicopters to the Israelis, then the option of meaningful dialogue with the Palestinians would surface.

The present policy of essentially unconditional support for the terrorism of Sharon sits uneasily with the apparent requirement of our unconditional support for a "war on terrorism" against what must be termed "approved" terrorists. Regrettably, I will withhold my support for such a war until it is a war on all terrorists. This is not neutrality, this is not prejudice, this is a call to my friends in America to live up to their rhetoric and to be a true voice for democracy. It is not in any way smug to say that the omens are not good. - Yours, etc.,

Conor O'Sullivan, Church Hill, Glanmire, Co Cork.