You Know Nothing, Angela Merkel

As last week, I looked at the similarities between Daenerys and George Bush, this week I have some thoughts on another unlikely comparison between a Game of Thrones character and a contemporary political figure. No season six spoilers here, by the way, but if you’re not up to date with season five, stop reading now!

When the men of the Night’s Watch stabbed Jon Snow, and left him to bleed to death in the snow in the court yard of Castle Black, it broke many a heart, typically a female viewer’s heart. But the traitors had their reasons. To them he had broken the most sacred of his duties when he let the Wildlings cross the wall and settle in land to the south. They believed their duty was to protect the realms of civilised men from the barbarians to the north. He saw his mission as more universal: to protect mankind itself from a more sinister threat still – the daemonic white walkers and their army of dead.

To Snow, who has experience of that evil force, not to mention a certain sympathy with the Wildlings, the Night’s Watchmen’s hostility to the Wildlings is narrow and self-defeating, born of their ignorance and irrational fears.

On the other hand, the Wildlings have a history of aggression towards the southrons, and a nasty habit of raiding and pillaging. Many will have lost friends fighting the Wildlings. Snow’s steward, Olly, watched his family being killed by them. It’s no wonder he’s the one who lays the trap for his would-be mentor. To the men of the Night’s Watch, Snow’s decision to let the old enemy through the walls, and grant them territory is simply an incomprehensible betrayal.

Back in the real world, there are many who find equally incomprehensible Angela Merkel’s broad welcome to the hundreds of thousands of migrants flowing over Europe’s borders over the last few months. The unspoken code that she has broken is this: that the primary duty of any leader is towards their own countrymen, the defence of a nation’s borders and the survival of its people and culture. By letting in a huge number of migrants, she has put the safety and survival of strangers ahead of her own people’s (and, as her country is the leading country in the EU, that of the continent as a whole.)

But to Merkel and her sympathisers that is the whole point. Her duty – our duty – is to the whole of humanity, not to one section of it. The people crossing the borders of Europe, so this argument goes, are not ‘strangers’ at all, but our fellow human beings, whom we have a moral duty to house and feed – and to let settle in our lands. This kind of universalist thinking is very popular these days, in theory, but only a few Western European nations seem to actually be putting it into practice enthusiastically, notably Germany and Sweden, although not all the people in those countries are quite so blithe about the wisdom of the open borders policy.

In Game of Thrones, whatever sympathy one might have for Olly, even for Alliser Thorne, and co, the principals for which Jon Snow was martyred will most likely be proved right. The Wildlings, after all, will come in useful when it comes to the expected apocalyptic showdown with the White Walkers from the icy wastes of the far north.

Alas, in the real world, things are more complicated. A great number of the migrants pouring into Europe are not, as was previously assumed, refugees from Syria, and a large proportion are fit young males, some of whom have been involved in sexual assaults of the kind made infamous in Cologne on New Years Eve. Among the migrants too, ISIS terrorist cells have slipped into Europe, including some individuals involved in the terror attacks in Paris late last year. We expect more attacks to come, though hope they don’t. Then there are the great long term challenges of assimilating huge numbers of migrants into European societies – and unlike the Wildlings, the real migrants just keep on coming. Against all that, whatever the strength of the humanitarian arguments, it is hard to see Merkel being vindicated the way Snow will be.

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Daenerys, Bush and Missions Unaccomplished

George W Bush, the 43rd president of the United States, and Daenerys Targaryen, the dragon-taming heroine of George R.R. Martin’s immensely popular Game of Thrones series are not, on the face of it, very similar. But in the roles that they inherited and the tangles they found themselves in there are some uncanny similarities: they are both inheritors of grand dynasties – Daenerys of the mad king Targaryen, Bush of his namesake and father, George ‘no W’ Bush…

But I was thinking more in  terms of their politics and, depending on how things turn out in Martin’s series, the legacies they leave on their respective planets .

Bush is well known for his foreign policy adventurism in the Islamic world – his removal of the Taliban and Al-Qaida in Afghanistan and the toppling of Saddam Hussein in Iraq. Both actions were a response to the atrocity of 9/11, the first directly and the second more obliquely and controversially. But they were underpinned by the ideology of neo-conservatism. Neo-conservatives thought (and still think) that American military power should be used proactively to effect good in the world. They also thought that, once the bad guys were dispatched, the people of the Middle East would embrace democracy and human rights. Unfortunately, once the regimes fell, the countries fell into Islamic extremism and sectarian strife, with the US and her allies left unpopular policemen in the area fighting bitter guerrilla insurgencies, whose fighters could easily melt back into the civilian population and wait for the media to document US ‘atrocities.’ The administration’s single biggest mistake in Iraq sprung from their idealism: with the ideologue Donald Rumsfeld as US Secretary of Defence, the decision was made to disband the Iraqi police force and army, who, tainted though they were by association with Saddam, were the one force who could have quelled the disorder during the transition into the new era.

So much for Bush. Onto Daenerys. Having secured an impressive army in Qarth, the mother of dragons, makes her way through Slavers’ Bay. Somewhere along the way she decides that the immense power that she has won should be used to effect good in the world. Against the advice of some of her advisers, pragmatic types more worried about events in Westeros (the West, that is) than the lifves and liberties of those in the East, she decides to free the slaves of those cities. After the initial euphoria, things are not as easy as expected. Slavery, though evil, had given structure to those societies, and with nothing to take its place, people are lost and vulnerable. The fanatical ‘Sons of the Harpy’ fight a murderous insurgency and then melt into the civilian population, endlessly provoking Daenerys into making brutal reprisals. In the book, though not (yet?) in the series, a brutish former slave becomes a tin pot tyrant and leads an army to conquer Daenerys’ power base in Mereen – it seems many of the people she freed decide they quite like violence and servitude after all.

I don’t think Martin set out to comment on US policy; he just seems to have a grasp of the way that reality has a way of undermining idealism. To go by Bush’s experience, Daenerys will not have an easy time, though she seems at least to have a more pragmatic set of advisers.