America isn’t really interested in our domestic squabbles

Having spent last week in Washington, D.C. and New York, I spent the weekend catching up on the news from home that I’d missed and indeed mulling over the conversations about home I’d had.

Secretary of State Theresa Villiers announced last week a new round of all-party talks designed to break the impasse on the past, parades, flags, welfare reform and anything else anyone cares to throw into the mix now or at any time before the commencement of talks or indeed at the eleventh hour when a deal might be done. It seems there really is no agenda just yet.

One item that does seem to be on everyone’s agenda, however, is the intervention of the United States in facilitating or supporting the Talks process. Sinn Féin’s Gerry Adams has called for the United States to be directly involved in the Talks process, with Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Charlie Flanagan in Washington last week being a tad more reserved: “reiterating my message on the need for continued strong US support for the peace process in Northern Ireland.” The SDLP’s Alasdair McDonnell has said that the “US Administration should be in that room and be closely involved.”

The question then is how do the Americans feel about this?

Washington insiders last week were slow to be overtly critical of any particular party to the talks for the failure of the Haass – O’Sullivan process last year. What they weren’t slow to articulate, however, was the sense that key figures in Washington felt slighted that they’d put their “best people” on the job and those people had been essentially ignored. Amongst those I spoke to there was no urgency to send their “best people” back again to risk another failure. “Washington likes quick wins,” one said to me.

On the subject of the upcoming talks on BBC’s “The View” last week, Nancy Soderberg, who has a long and distinguished connection to the north, reassured us that “the United States will be there to help it happen.” What was perhaps more telling, however, was not that the US would continue to support the peace process but that they were actually rather fed up with having to. “The United States remains very deeply engaged in this because the parties have not shown an ability to negotiate it on their own which is unfortunate but there is no doubt that the United States will remain involved from the President on down as need be,” she said. The key qualifier there is “as need be” because the United States simply does not see the need. There is no “quick win” in it the peace process for Washington anymore. They had the “win” – albeit not a quick one – with George Mitchell and rejecting Haass – O’Sullivan was a slap in the face. “As need be” is more about encouraging economic investment than sending another envoy to be insulted.

Soderberg wasn’t shy either about laying the blame for the failure to agree on flags, parades and the past with the political leadership and to articulate a growing sense of frustration and impatience felt not just by America but it seems too by the British and Irish governments. “The United States cannot solve this for the people of Northern Ireland, it’s up to the leadership there and that’s where I’m saying perhaps if this generation can’t do it, it’s time to pass the baton and get a generation that looks forward not past. But it has to happen and as long as you’re still arguing about the past you’re preventing a prosperous future and that’s not good leadership and that’s what has to change.”

The view from Capitol Hill is that getting President Obama involved again at this stage is like sending the Chief Constable out to a domestic disturbance – do we not think he has bigger fish to fry? With mid-term elections in Washington coming up and the strong possibility of Republicans taking control of the Senate, the continuing backlash over healthcare and renewed airstrikes in the Middle East he’s kind of busy with domestics of his own.

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  • Michael Henry

    The United States will support the Peace Process whilst they blow the sh1te out of the Muslims and arm Israel with free weapons of mass destruction-

    ” America isn’t really interested in our domestic squabbles “-

    And I could not give a rats ass about Americas domestic squabbles- but I care that those fanatics are bombing another country and killing all around them- ( it’s 9 / 11 everyday in Iraq and the beheading ISIS and the bombing America are getting away with murder )- they will make a few movies out of that carry on-

  • Ian James Parsley

    In the past week alone, police in the States shot dead a deaf man for not responding to instructions. An all too familiar story.

    The notion that the Americans have anything to teach us in 2014 is laughable. Why not involve civilised successful countries like Sweden?!

  • Mister_Joe

    I have also just come home after spending 9 days in Washington DC. Talked casually with a few dozen regular citizens. None knew about our petty squabbles and low intensity 30 year war. Not one!

  • SeaanUiNeill

    I suppose that I know a reasonable number of Irish Americans who were interested and considered themselves informed (not always accurately though), but I found it noticable that in the media world of the West Coast quite a few of my associates had a decent grasp of what had occured, and who was involved.

    But one did run at times into those who would insist they had crosssed the border into County Antrim on a guided coach trip from the ROI. When I suggested they meant Armagh they were insistant that it was Antrim! (“But I live there, Antrim has no border with the ROI”, “No, Antrim, it was Antrim”.)

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Just a name;

    “Bomber Harris.”

    The problem is that once the targeting of civilians in strategic bombing was entirely normalised by Churchill’s government, all moral restraints were lifted.

  • Michael Henry

    If you asked a few Washington DC regulars about America giving free weapons to the Israelis they would not know what you are talking about- the Washington DC regulars could not tell you about Detroit politics never mind Canada’s problems-( were any of those Washington DC regulars ashamed that their armed forces are bombing Iraq again or did you not want to bring that subject up in polite conversation )-

    Must go into town today and ask a few locals what is their opinion of Washington DC -I would get some looks-( nobody cares about them so why should they care about us )-and why would anyone care what a few dozen or a few million Yanks thought of us whilst America bombs Civilians-

    How many in Washington DC know about the last 5 Civilians that the American Air Force killed in Iraq a few hours ago-

  • Turgon

    Clearly “Americans” is an enormous group of highly diverse people. There will be some with a genuine good understanding of Northern Ireland; there will be some with neither idea nor interest and there will be some who think they know about it but actually have not got a clue.
    I once met a highly intelligent American lady who was working at a senior level with a firm in GB we had dealings with. She did not know anything about Northern Ireland: that forceably reminded me of our irrelevance on a global stage.
    A possibly fair generalisation would be that the American government and establishment really do not understand ethnic conflict. They think in terms of solving issues such as Northern Ireland, former Yugoslavia etc. rather than managing what will remain a continuous problem waxing and waning over centuries.The Blair government also committed the same error. That problem: the inability to understand the effective permanence of the problem and what looks like the refusal to learn from history that these problems recurr, could be suggested to underpin the American failure in Vietnam and their ongoing problems in the Middle East and Afghanistan.
    Furthermore the failure to understand and address this failing may help explain the feeling that many have in these areas that Americans are arrogant and think they can solve the problems overnight.

  • Mister_Joe

    Interesting Seann. Quite a few of the ones I talked with were disabled veterans of various American wars who were also visiting Washington for a ceremony that Obama was involved with and staying in the same hotel as me, so they may have been more aware of their own experiences than affairs in which they had no involvement.
    They were obviously thinking about other things but did listen with interest to my explanation of what happened in Ireland.

  • Mister_Joe

    To their credit, the American Generals did resist the concept of targeting civilians for quite some time and only joined in on it rather reluctantly. But I guess that totally changed after Hiroshima and Nagasaki and began the “norm” in Vietnam.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Indeed, they did. Mr_Joe! But by the end of the war Harris was winning the arguement by sheer force of bullying and even though the U.S. bombing of Dresden was by daylight and ‘aimed” it still ratcheted up the civilian losses. And the targeting of civilians has been an acceptable norm ever since, as most of us noticed in Belfast between 1970-96.

  • Mister_Joe

    Just a small point, Michael. Few of the folks I talked with were Washington regulars, just visitors like myself but from all over the US.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Indeed, Turgon, the desire to find a “final solution” to serious, intractable problems (“can do…”) is an ongoing problem that frequently comes up. For atleleast some, its not so much arrogance as a habit formed from generations of self-reliance, and the low level of state interference in every day lifetehat used to be much more prevellent in the United States.

    “Clearly “Americans” is an enormous group of highly diverse people.” An important thing to hold in mind when discussing them. All words, all generalisations, tend to confuse as well as clarify, for language is simply an attempt to link ideas in a situatiion where people with quite disparate experiences throw their own understandings into the act of communication, where the speaker may intend something very different. The Americans and the British are nopt the only people “divided by a common language”, we all are!

    One of those things I’ve noticed when discussing the U.S., and individuals from the U.S., is the almost automatic prejudice I find everywhere here and in Europe. People are all too willing to throw in the face of any U.S. citizen they meet the sort of abuse that, were it directed at a person of colour, or of a different religion, would be quickly seen as racial or religious abuse. I remember telling a friend he had been highly abusive to a U.S. film maker we had just met with. He could not even begin to understand my point, “but he’s white and sucessful…..”

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Oh dear, Ian, so absolutely none of the 316,130.000 citizens of the U.S. can even begin to teach us anything?

  • delphindelphin

    The USAAF were expert at this kind of thing

    On the night of 9–10 March (“Operation Meetinghouse”),334
    B-29s took off to raid with 279 of them dropping 1,665 tons of bombs on Tokyo. The bombs were mostly the 500-pound (230 kg) E-46 cluster bomb which released 38 napalm-carrying M-69 incendiary bomblets at an altitude of 2,000–2,500 ft (610–760 m). The M-69s punched through thin roofing material or landed on the ground; in either case they ignited 3–5 seconds later, throwing out a jet of flaming napalm globs. A lesser number of M-47 incendiaries was also dropped: the M-47 was a 100-pound (45 kg) jelled-gasoline
    and white phosphorus bomb which ignited upon impact. In the first two hours of the raid, 226 of the attacking aircraft unloaded their bombs to overwhelm the city’s fire defenses. The first B-29s to arrive dropped bombs in a large X pattern centered in Tokyo’s densely populated working class district near the docks in both Koto and Chuo citywards on

    the water; later aircraft simply aimed near this flaming X. Fourteen B-29s were lost.[11] The individual fires caused by the bombs joined to create a general conflagration,
    which would have been classified as a firestorm but for prevailing winds gusting at 17 to 28 mph (27 to 45 km/h).
    Approximately 15.8 square miles (4,090 ha) of the city was destroyed and some 100,000 people are estimated to have died.

    This and the atomic bombs are reckoned to have saved the lives of a million American soldiers plus many more Japanese – the projected number of dead from an American invasion of Japan, given the casualties they took, at for example
    Okinawa and the fanatical resistance they encountered.

    We are fortunate to live in the West, in relatively peaceful times – especially for us.

  • Mister_Joe

    Well, as Seaan and I have discussed, the USAAF were initially totally resistant to the idea of targetting civilians, but, once the line has been crossed, it becomes too easy to say “Hey, they started it”.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    I, too, Mister_joe, can think of any number of conversations where I found someone from the U.S. carefully feeling their way (with intelligent questions) through the web of historical contradictions we’ve all experienced here. I’ve always found this a refreshing change!

  • delphindelphin

    Joe, Who was first to cross the line? The Germans – Guernica
    1937 or maybe London 1940 or ‘Bomber’ Harris. It has become fashionable to denigrate the role of Bomber Command in the defeat of Nazi Germany but I have yet to be convinced of the historical accuracy of these views.

  • mac tire

    London 1940. Terrible events. Just like Berlin 1940 which preceded it.
    It is not ‘fashionable’ to denigrate Bomber Command – it’s normal. It’s contribution to Nazi Germany’s defeat was negligible, it’s effects more or less useless militarily. There is no evidence that it shortened the war by one day. To begin with, it was merely a tactic to be used to hit back in some way – to show Britain was still in the war and to bide time.
    ‘Bomber’ Harris’ name was well earned. Compare the bombings before and after he took over. He turned it into a strategy. A failed one with enormous consequences for the German (and Dutch and French) populations.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    “Crossed the line”, delphindelphin, ho, hummm…..

    The German Gotha and Zepplin bombing campaign in WWI was the first forray at ariel bombardment on any scale, but the policy of the RAF not bombing private property (really!!!!) was dramatically overturned by Harris, and all pretence at sticking to military targets abandoned. All the German actions, Guernica included, (“The town also housed two Basque army battalions” —Wikipedia), could still produce an argument for legitimate attacks on military targets of some sort. It was Bomber Harris who, from 1942, decisively shifted policy to intentional bombing of civilian populations as a terror technique to produce a collapse in morale, employing the bombing theories of Giulio Douhet. Harris revelled in the role. Stopped during the height of the war by a policeman for speeding and told he might kill an innocent person, he replied “Every night, sonny, I kill tens of thousands of innocent people.”

    So, sorry, but it was the British who first crossed the line from military to civilian targets. The intentional terror bombing of civilian populations was an entirely British development, although I do not remember that Harris was required to explain himself at Nurenburg. The Luftwaffe had carefully crafted their bombing doctrines to conform to what was permissible within international law, the attack on vital war industries and on clear military targets such as military bases, and where these were sited in civilian areas international law accepted that civilian deaths would occur. Harris’s shift to terror bombing directed at civilian populations in themselves was entirely outside accepted military conventions and international law.

    “The bombings of Guernica, Rotterdam and Warsaw were tactical missions in support of military operations and were not intended as strategic terror attacks” — Wikipedia on Guernica.

    Of course, as Mac tire says, it was all pretty useless, something that even modern governments still seem to be slow to understand.

    I should mention perhaps that my views were formed by the discussions between my uncle, a supporter of Harris and a WWII airman, and my grandfather, an artillery officer from WWI involved in the ack ack defence of Belfast in the next war who regarded Harris’s campaign as terrible an atrocity as terrible as anything the Nazis did.

  • delphindelphin

    My views on this are to some extent formed by the experiences of my family and their friends during the blitz in north Belfast. It might not be technically terror bombing with hindsight – I must tell those who are still alive that the Germans didn’t really mean to terrify them.

    So I would say there was an element of revenge in the allied bombing of Germany, but also a military imperative. I have read differing accounts of the military effectiveness of this and as I said remain to be convinced that it had no military value at all. The terror bombing of Japan by the Americans brought a swift end to that conflict – and I do believe the Americans had Germany as the first target for their A bomb, but the tremendous sacrifice of the Russian Army made that unnecessary.

  • babyface finlayson


    And yet they did help us broker the peace process here, so while I agree about their endless military ‘interventions’ I think Clinton certainly did some good here. Things are rarely black and white.

    Are you disagreeing with Gerry Adams in his call for US involvement in talks, which is the topic of the post?

  • mac tire

    Would love to discuss this further but don’t want to derail the original thread.

  • BarrelOfPorter

    I see no particular reason why they should.
    Equally I see absolutely no reason why their politicians/bureaucrats should have anything whatever to do with our squabbles.

    But then I imagine that there are any number of people around the world who don’t see what business their domestic squabbles are of the Americans. The Americans let them know anyway. Frequently explosively.

  • USA

    Trust me, Main Street USA does not waste time following events in Belfast.

  • Mister_Joe

    And why would they? People have enough problems of their own, unemployment, house foreclosures, uncertain futures etc.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Mac Tire, I fully agree. But just one last point to delphindelphin. The targeted bombing of civilians (technically called “terror bombing”) was an offence against international law from the 1920s, and remains so. Harris’s policy, fully supported by Churchill, would have had both of them in the dock if Germany had won the war.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Important to remember that it is the American government (still a bit of a reification, alas) who would ” let them know anyway” not the ordinary man or woman in the street. The ordinary American tends to have very little real influence on what is done in his name.

  • delphindelphin

    Hmm, if Germany had won the war it wouldn’t have been good for Churchill and Harris- really! and I suppose not good for Jews, Gypsies, gays, etc, etc either.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Oh dear, Euro whataboutery!!!!!!!!!! I’m glad we have something to export.

    The point is both Britian and Germany were committing atrocitiies. As someone with enough Jewish blood (alongside my other admixtures) to have me gassed probably, I’m very far from an appologist for Hitler. But the gassing of “inferior races” does not even begin to excuse the terror bombing of German civilians. If you go along that road you may even end up telling us that concentration camps and extermination policies are acceptable “revenge ” actions. Historically, England has been something of a leader in both, with the Boer war example of the first and the Elizabethan conquest of Ireland setting a pattern for the second.

  • delphindelphin

    Oh dear historical whataboutery!!!! The
    question we need answered is what would James II (the only decent
    leader England ever had) have done?

  • SeaanUiNeill

    SoS, is that you……? Delighted that you have at last recognised the high political quality of the last king to reign in Dublin Castle in person.

    Interestingly, the small Jacobite army that scattered the rebel Protestant Associations at Dromore and Portglenone was notable for its strict military discipline. Oldmixon, the Whig apologist, had to strain to find even a few atrocity stories connected with the name of Lord Galmoy out in the west. But then the sainted James (yes, there was a canonisation attempt) was a stickler for the laws of war, unlike his frenemy John Churchill’s descendent.

  • $33309652

    What can you expect of Bomber Harris.
    Who used the tactic of “prescription bombing” in Iraq during 1922.
    Read that again “prescrip[tion Bombing” Has a nice ring to it. Don’t you think?
    He also used The tactic of dropping time delay fused bombs in built up areas and chemical weapons.
    The whole idea was to hold Iraq using airpower and few troops on the ground.
    I wonder did Donald Rumsfeld ever hear about bomber Harris.
    He tried the exact same trick and it was a similar disaster.
    There is a quote I am searching for written by a French guy, which basically states that nobody ever learns the lessons of history.

  • $33309652

    Read about Bomber Harris in Iraq 1922.

    He should have been thrown out of the RAF at that time.

  • $33309652

    Were the Iraqi’s due “revenge” in 1922 also,

    By Bomber Harris?

    What was their “crime”?


  • SeaanUiNeill

    Well, exactly, gunterprien!

    Can’t think of the French guy, but my own favorite quote is the Spanish American George Santyana’s, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” To which I usually add “and those who remember have to watch others repeat the mistakes for them.” The wee six is almost a lab demonstration of this eternal truth!