The further to the left or the right you move, the more your lens on life distorts.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Zeno’s paradox

Each of us has observed a predictable phenomenom that occurs when diplomacy is initiated. Talks make some “progress,” we get close to a solution or to "consequences" that will occur if a solution is not reached, talks continue, we may backslide a bit but then get closer to "consequences," we backslide a bit more, but continue talking, getting even closer to the "consequences," but more times than not, and virtually all of the time in the Middle East, we never get to a place where both parties can be satisfied and only rarely enact the promised "consequences."

It seems to me that representative from some Islamic countries in the Middle East play the game of diplomacy well, aided and abetted by Western diplomats and many intellectuals who believe that as long as we keep talking, everything is alright.

In an interesting piece at The Belmont Club, the on-going violence between Christian and Muslim militias in Indonesia is described. Each group works to slaughter the other with predictable atrocities on both sides. Observing the carnage, Wretchard comments:
Civilization was invented so that ordinary folks could leave the tasks of vengeance and justice to a state who would presumably dispense it impartially according to laws enacted by common consent. But as states fail to do their job, and as the "International Community" gets reduced to impotence and symbolic acts by the dead weight of political correctness, a growing number of people are finding themselves living in a world of increasing anarchy. Paradoxically, the amount of real civilization in the world -- as represented by actual security and effective governance -- is declining in direct proportion to the increase in the number of filigrees and curlicues in the treaties, declarations, understandings and covenants that the "International Community" has barricaded itself with. Two parallel universes begin to coexist. An imaginary universe obsessed with Global Warming, multiculturalism, world governance and image inhabited by bureaucrats and intellectuals, and a real universe shot with poverty, rife with ethnic hatreds, chaos and inhabited by militias; with the imaginary universe pretending it is in control of the real universe.

I don't want to make too much of a single example, but I think it is reasonable to say that the international system is starved for effective action. The incessant back and forth between the United Nations and Iran over the issue of its uranium enrichment program is classic example of Zeno's paradox as applied to international affairs. Every diplomatic moment halves the distance between warning and activity but the distance, though ever decreasing, never quite crosses the line between thought and deed. We will always almost, but never quite, come to the rescue of Darfur; just as we are condemned to be forever on the verge of stopping Iran's nuclear program. The moment of action never comes; and the process of warning never ends. Kofi Annan denied having advised Iran's Ahmadinejad that he could safely ignore the Security Council's demands to stop the uranium enrichment program. In this case Annan was on the side of right, or at least of fact. He should have admitted the accusation and defended himself by claiming he was only telling the truth.

At some level I want to follow those who believe that diplomacy is the only option when we are faced with a group or nation that threatens us. After all, it’s is far better to talk than to resort to "consequences." But then I think about the “real universe” and Zeno’s paradox.

Diplomats are a lot like a physician who sees life threatening symptoms in a patient, but has no clue about how to treat the illness. The physician may try a few palliative measures, but overall, he hope that the disease will run its course and the patent will get better on his own. I get the feeling that that’s what diplomats hope for – they just want to keep talking and maybe something might happen that will cause the problem to go away. It might, but then again, while they continue to talk, something else might be taking shape. And that something else can kill as surely as any fatal disease.