The deeper issue in Bush's holy war

Tomorrow Pete Hodgson will announce the government’s energy conservation strategy. It will be ambitious and far-reaching, digging into our wallets to save the planet from greenhouse gases.

More policies will follow. This government is determined to meet the Kyoto targets (though it appears set to eschew the option of genetic modification of fodder to tame this country’s worst offender, animal methane emissions).

The point underlying this jihad against the forces of planetary destruction is interconnectedness. We are all in this war together, all of us all around the world, even in the most distant and “benign” nooks and crannies.

Our biological exports are vulnerable to the disruption of weather patterns global warming may already be inflicting (yet another drought threatens). That, at least, is the government’s argument.

You can see where I am heading. The terrorists against whom the boy Bush is itching to wage war can now reach all of us — in our air travel, our water supply, our computer-dependency.

To beat this will at the least require very long concerted international action of the sort the insular United States — twice slow to fight world aggressors and longtime foot-dragger on its United Nations dues — has yet to prove good at. There is a market for madness of the sort we saw two weeks ago. If Bush’s war goes wrong, he will make the market, not break it.

There is a warning in the “war on drugs”, which the United States has been waging for some time now with little to show. The lesson is from prohibition in the United States itself, which didn’t stop booze but put it in the hands of serious criminals.

The deep lesson in the new terror is the interconnectedness of rich societies and poor societies, of secular societies and religious ones.

Tony Blair told Americans their loss was Britons’ loss. Well spoken, from one civil nation to another — and Bill English tried this line last Tuesday to wrongfoot Helen Clark with revenge-seeking middle New Zealanders by suggesting she undervalued our American kinship.

But Blair’s metaphor missed the deep point. Others’ poverty is now our poverty, their anarchy our anarchy. New Yorkers have now felt that in action.

As I noted here some weeks back, there is developing among modern internationalist thinkers an analysis that rests on the notion that states have a responsibility to protect their people — from poverty, ignorance, human rights abuses and so on.

Bad states don’t protect their people. The Taleban is a prime example. But there are many others and potentially more in the making if Islamic fundamentalists can undermine fragile states which already underprotect their people from poverty, ignorance and human rights abuses.

In the past a bad state’s failure to protect its people mattered only to those people. We could leave them to it. What the events of this month have shown is that now it matters to the citizens of good states. The forces of madness a bad state can foster can undermine a good state’s ability to protect its own citizens.

So when states go bad, the new internationalist thinking goes, good states have the responsibility thrust upon them to protect the bad states’ people. Knocking off a bad regime and providing palliative food and medical aid won’t do because a new bad regime is likely to replace it and the bad state endure. Look at Africa.

To convert a bad state into a good state requires a strong civil society, strong institutions and a strong economy. And that takes years, maybe decades of nurturing.

A “war” such as Bush is now embarking is not that. Only a coalition of good states committed to very long-term, deep assistance will.

That is a huge burden. It is one good states, especially the insular and angry United States, are not ready for.

It is easier — and better television — to harry terrorists than drain the pestilential political swamps they breed in. And the underlying interconnectedness — well, it impinges on us only intermittently.