Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Nothing changes

Everything has changed, and nothing has changed. And in the "nothing changed" camp, we are in exactly the same position that we were yesterday: a man whom the US president sincerely believes to have been Bin Laden was shot on Sunday by special forces, but no reliable evidence of his identity has yet been shown to the wider public.

As far as it goes, therefore, we are still in "belief system" politics. If you believe Bin Laden was killed on Sunday by US special forces, then you are in the belief business. You are not relying on evidence, and just because the self-referential media loop is caught up in the hystérie du jour doesn't make the fact of Bin Laden's death (or not) any more true ... or less true.

It has got to the stage now, however, where facts and the truth no longer matter. We are in one of those not uncommon situations where the "truth" becomes the truth because that is what people believe it to be, and want it to be. And there's nought more wrong than folks, when they want to be. After all, enough voted respectively for Obama and Cameron for them to get to some position of authority, if not power.

This is the same brand of "truth" that has it that the Germans rather than the French provoked the start of the Second World War, that RAF Fighter Command and "the few" won the Battle of Britain, and even that the Tesco store was responsible for the recent riots in Bristol. People believe what they want to believe, and it is their beliefs – largely untrammelled by the truth – that shape events.

In that sense, things have changed. The Americans have woken up feeling differently about themselves. Obama has taken on – briefly – the mantle of a credible leader. The Pakistanis are temporarily discommoded, and the Indian politicians are as usual stirring things in the background, putting on the "goody-two-shoes" act while continuing to cause mayhem.

The thing to watch for is that all of this may translate into an American determination now to quit Afghanistan. If enough of them manage to convince themselves of a new and convenient "truth", that the demise of Bin Laden means the end of al Qaida, they can then argue that there is no justification for the continuing military adventure.

The Armed Forces can leave with "honor", bands playing; they can all give themselves another batch of medals and knitting badges and go home to pile on the pounds in the obesity stakes that kill more Americans than Bin Laden ever did.

As for the "war on terror", Afghanistan can revert to the Biden "surveillance" model. The benighted country can return its backwater of sodomy and corruption. The EU will find in this its natural home and can run the policing. The Chinese can run the productive economy and the tribes will continue their traditional occupations of opium production and gun running. That leaves the Indians to carry on fomenting trouble and wrecking the Pakistani economy, while milking gullible Western nations for aid, which they can then use to further their interests in the region.

With that, we are back where we came in. Everything has changed, and nothing has changed. For a very short time I watched BBC News 24 this morning, and briefly listened to some supposed security expert prattle on about the current situation, observing that he did not even begin to know what he is talking about.

Then that doesn't matter either. We are in the grip of the Great Game. In a few days time, or perhaps a little longer - depending on whether something else crops up for the hand wavers to get excited about – the drama of the day will have moved on. But what will remain in place will be the belief systems which keep the show on the road. To that extent, nothing has changed at all.