Whilst President Sarkozy of France was hosting the NATO summit and saying unhelpful things about President Obama’s request for more NATO support in the war in Afghanistan, I was listening to a more eloquent Frenchman, Hector Berlioz.
Nicolas Sarkozy said he wouldn’t send in any more troops – yet another policy agreement where he and the German Chancellor, Angel Merkel, have placed themselves full square against American policy.
In London, their voices sounded like the only ones raised against a new global consensus and now, they are at it again.
The war in Afghanistan is not like the Iraq War.
It was muddled from the start by President Bush and Tony Blair’s willful confusion of Islamasist terrorism, then with its headquarters in Afghanistan, with Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi dictatorship.
The confusion has never quite gone away.
The over-throwing of the unpleasant Taleban government was seen as a victory – it was certainly good news for anyone who believes that women should have education, the right to work and even the right to go out of the house, but we would be at war with a long list of countries if we use that as the criterion.
The King of Saudi Arabia might not have sat down so comfortably with the other G20 leaders if NATO was campaigning for human, particularly female rights.
No, the war in Afghanistan was about defeating Al-Qaeda, the terrorists behind the 9/11 atrocity. The Taleban were engaged as enemies, not because of their disgusting beliefs but because they were giving AL-Qaeda refuge.
The war goes on, the original Western initiative was lost with all that muddle-thinking over Iraq but it is still a war that has to be fought.
The problem has intensified with the weakened Pakistani government forced to concede its principles to the growing Taleban strongholds within its territory.
President Karzai, the largely discredited Afghanistani leader, is both losing control and Western support as he heads towards a troublesome general election. His compromise was to agree to legislation which allows the return of Shia family law to certain parts of the country which, to the Taleban’s delight no doubt, decrees that:
“The husband….is bound to have intercourse with his wife every night in four nights” and the wife “is bound to preen for her husband as and when he desires.”
Fine, I suspect for those readers of those Lads’ magazines still popular in this country but a signal to the rest of us, I hope, to wish for President Karzai’s electoral defeat.
This is no reason though for Canada, and I suspect France and Germany, to reconsider their obligations in this difficult and bloody war.
Sometimes wars are necessary. President Bush almost succeeded in blinding us to the imperative of defeating Al-Qaeda with his all guns ablazing stupidity but Barack Obama, no matter how much he would love to pull out his troops, knows that this issue will not walk away.
There have been many wars over the last hundred years that should not have been fought, failures of diplomacy or foreign policy mostly but there have also been those moments in time when nothing short of war is demanded.
There was no question that Adolf Hitler had to be forced out by violence and now, there is really no alternative to the military being rallied again against the secretly plotting and non-negotiating terrorist groupings that are now still planning international mass murder from their bases in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Barack Obama was right to tell Europe not to “expect America to shoulder the burden alone.”
Sarkozy and Merkel are showing yet again that they are more concerned with domestic politics than the new opportunities opened to the World by the election of the new, open-to-negotiation and essentially peace-loving American President.
Their domestic politics are no more problematic than they are for British Prime Minister Gordon Brown who, I hope, will not take the easy road of short term electoral popularity over an issue which threatens all our security.
Maybe France and Germany should all consult their history books.
The deaths of soldiers from the allied countries, mostly America and Britain, are much to be lamented and the gigantic costs involved in this campaign are to be dreaded but anyone remembering, and doesn’t everyone, the horror of those planes flying into the World Trade Center and the many subsequent Islamasist atrocities must shuffle uneasily when their political leaders, mostly in Europe, start to equivocate.
As Barack Obama said yesterday: “This is a joint problem it requires a joint effort”.
It is alright for me to say this of course, all I have to do is go back to Berlioz’s magnificent take on Virgil’s Aeneid, his four hour epic opera, Les Troyens, which deals so passionately with those issues of the causes, consequences and casualties of war.
At its centre is the love of Dido and Aeneas…two politicians, one, the Queen of Carthage, the other, a warrior hero who must leave love behind and move on to establish the new civilization that was to be Italy.
For them, as for everyone bereaved in these terrible and all too human clashes, there is that same centuries-old loss – lost love.
When Aeneas leaves Dido for foreign shores and when Dido dies on the funeral pyre of her hopes, we remember and feel what they have lost because Berlioz captured it in music maybe the most overwhelming and inspiring recreation of the power of mutual love in classical music. It is one of the great tragedies of our times that those men from Al-Qaeda have no sense of what they are really attempting to destroy. It is what the rest of the world has to defend.
So for Afghanistan, read the tragedies of ancient Troy and Carthage.
Berlioz borrowed from Shakespeare for this duet. In The Merchant of Venice, Lorenzo and Jessica express their love in “a green place”:
The moon shines bright. In such a night as this,
When the sweet wind did gently kiss the trees,
And they did make no noise, in such a night
Troilus methinks mounted the Trojan walls,
And sigh’s his soul toward the Grecian tents
Where Cressid lay that night.
Dido and Aeneas, on a starry night on the Carthaginian shore, similarly remember that in such a night, par une telle nuit, many of the great lovers from the classical age came together in love and by remembering them, found their own consummation.
As so often in moments of great import, it is the soft quiet voice that is most rousing and Berlioz is the master of this.
Night of boundless ecstasy and rapture!
Golden Phoebe, and you, great stars of her court, Pour on us your enchanted light;
Flowers of heaven, smile on our immortal love.
Nuit d’ivresse et d’extase infinie!
Blonde Phoebe, grands astres de sa coeur,
Versez sur nous votre lueur benie;
Fleurs des cieux, souriez a l’immortel amour!
The God Mercury, standing for all those forces of destruction, appears at the end, disrupting the peace with his call of Italie!
If only we could all live in peace, if only all you needed was, indeed, love.