The Quiet American
THE QUIET AMERICAN was the hero of Graham Greene’s novel about the first Vietnam War, the one fought by the French.
He was a young and naïve American, a professor’s son, who had enjoyed a good education at Harvard, an idealist with all the best intentions. When he was sent to
Since this book was written, 54 years have passed, but it seems that the Quiet American has not changed a bit. He is still an idealist (at least, in his own view of himself), still wants to bring redemption to foreign and far-away peoples about whom he knows nothing, still causes terrible disasters: in Iraq, Afghanistan, and now, it seems, in Yemen.
THE IRAQI example is the simplest one.
The American soldiers were sent there to overthrow the tyrannical regime of Saddam Hussein. There were, of course, also some less altruistic objectives, such as taking control of the Iraqi oil resources and stationing an American garrison in the heart of the Middle Eastern oil region. But for the American public, the adventure was presented as an idealistic enterprise to topple a bloody dictator, who was menacing the world with nuclear bombs.
That was six years ago, and the war is still going on. Barack Obama, who opposed the war right from the start, promised to lead the Americans out of there. In the meantime, in spite of all the talking, no end is in sight.
Why? Because the real decision-makers in
Contrary to their expectations, they were not received with flowers. Neither did they discover Saddam’s terrible atom bomb. Like the proverbial elephant in the porcelain shop, they shattered everything, destroyed the country and got bogged in a swamp.
After years of bloody military operations that led nowhere, they found a temporary remedy. To hell with idealism, to hell with the lofty aims, to hell with all military doctrines – they’re now simply buying off the tribal chiefs, who constitute the reality of
The Quiet American has no idea how to get out. He knows that if he does, the country may well disintegrate in mutual bloodletting.
Why? Because an organization called al-Qaeda (“the basis”) had claimed responsibility for the destruction of the
If they had had any knowledge of the country they were about to invade, they might have, perhaps, hesitated.
The elephant entered the shop without knocking and achieved a resounding victory. The Air Force pounded, the army conquered without problems, al-Qaeda disappeared like a ghost, the Taliban (“religious pupils”) ran away. Women could again appear in the streets without covering their hair, girls could attend schools, the opium fields flourished again, and so did
However - the war goes on, year after year, the number of American dead is rising inexorably. What for? Nobody knows. It seems as if the war has acquired a life of its own, without aim, without reason.
An American could well ask himself: What the hell are we doing there?
I wrote once that al-Qaeda is an
That was, of course, a bit of an exaggeration. But not altogether. The
That aim is nonsense. Terrorism is nothing but an instrument of war. It is used by organizations that are vastly different from each other, which are fighting in vastly different countries for vastly different objectives. A war on “International Terror” is like a war on “International Artillery” or “International Navy”.
A world-embracing movement led by Osama Bin-Laden just does not exist. Thanks to the Americans, al-Qaeda has become a prestige brand in the guerrilla market, much like McDonald’s and Armani in the world of fast food and fashion. Every militant Islamist organization can appropriate the name for itself, even without a franchise from Bin-Laden.
American client regimes, who used to brand all their local enemies as “communist” in order to procure the help of their patrons, now brand them as “al-Qaeda terrorists”.
Nobody knows where Bin-Laden is – if he is at all – and there is no proof of his being in
Some say: OK, so there is no Bin-Laden. But the Taliban have to be prevented from coming back.
Why, for god’s sake? What business is it of the
If the Afghans themselves prefer the Taliban to the opium dealers who are in power in
But how do you get out? Obama does not know. During the election campaign he promised, with a candidate’s foolhardiness, to enlarge the war there, as a compensation for leaving
The elephant is raring to enter another shop. And this time, too, it doesn’t care about the porcelain.
I know very little about
There, too, is an organization that has adopted the grandiose name of “Al-Qaeda of the
(By the way, Obama may be interested to hear that another leader of a superpower, Caesar Augustus, once tried to invade
If the Quiet American, in his usual mixture of idealism and ignorance, decides to bring democracy and all the other goodies there, that will be the end of this happiness. The Americans will sink into another quagmire, tens of thousands of people will be killed, and it will all end in disaster.
IT MAY well be that the problem is rooted – inter alia – in the architecture of
This city is full of huge buildings populated with the ministries and other offices of the only superpower in the world. The people working there feel the tremendous might of their empire. They look upon the tribal chiefs of
Altogether, the Quiet American resembles Mephistopheles in Goethe’s Faust, who defines himself as the force that “always wants the bad and always creates the good”. Only the other way round.
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