Power without wisdom

Print edition : March 14, 2003

THE late Barbara Tuchman, in her best selling book, The March of Folly wrote:

A phenomenon noticeable throughout history regardless of place or period is the pursuit by governments of policies contrary to their own interests. Mankind, it seems, makes a poorer performance of government than almost any other human activity. In this sphere, wisdom, which may be defined as the exercise of judgement acting on experience, common sense and available information, is less operative or more frustrated than it should be. Why do holders of high office so often act contrary to the way reason points and enlightened self-interest suggests?

It is more than doubtful that President George W. Bush, would have read or heard of Barbara Tuchman. So much the worse for him and so much the worse for us. Democracies are supposed to respect public opinion. Tony Blair, an almost flawlessly engaging individual, has put his political reputation and future on the line, ignoring unprecedented public uproar against a war with Iraq. President Bush, uses language which often defies syntax and grammar. And he gets away with it because he is the elected (is he, ask Al Gore) head of the most powerful country in world history.

What is ominous is the mindset of people around the U.S. President. His Defence Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, is not happy in the use of language. Condoleeza Rice, who ought to know better, is equally abrasive. M/s. Chenney and Wolfowitz are not so subtle proponents of war against President Saddam Hussein. The inspectors have found no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. I do not blame them. They cannot invent them to please Mr. Bush. How about Mr. Bush getting Mr. Osama bin Laden - dead or alive. If you cannot get Osama, get Saddam. The most despicable sophistries are being invented to prove the Iraqi President guilty. Mr. Bush is judge, jury and executioner. He is not qualified for any of these roles. Which country possesses the largest number of weapons of mass destruction? The U.S.A. Who invented them? The U.S.A. Human rights! Well. Well. The Red Indians were... what should I say - victims of mass murder. The blacks were lynched right up to the 1950s.

America has all the muscle, all the money, all the modern technology, all the information, all the knowledge, all the intelligence (CIA, FBI) but do they have the wisdom, the restraint or the sense of responsibility to digest all they have. What an enviable record America has for doing good. What an unenviable record America has for doing evil. Pax Romana disappeared. So did Pax Britannica. So will Pax Americana. What we need is Pax Planetica. Only America can make that happen.

Parts of Europe have for the first time in 58 years challenged American hegemony. The present American establishment is unlikely to forget or forgive. Germany can now give up the idea of becoming a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council. The Americans will not allow it to happen. France cannot be unseated but a boycott of French wines and Champagne would devastate the French economy. Nevertheless, hats off to Jacques Chirac!

What about India? The Vajpayee government will follow dual diplomacy. Criticise in public. Go along in private. Worldly wise, yes, morally right, no.

A word about the decent Colin Powell. A good man fallen among - how should I put it - Raging Republicans.

The Islamic world is sullen and silent. That is more than worrisome. Muslim pride is being hurt. Islam means peace, but Dar-ul-Harb is also a part of Islam. The world is not a safe place. 1.2 billion Muslims cannot be ignored for any length of time. For most of them Saddam Hussein is not a villain but a hero. He has much to answer for. Answer he must. But he also has nerves of steel.

When Saddam goes he will take with him almost all the Muslim monarchies and sheikhdoms.

Will terrorism disappear if America "succeeds" against Iraq? Not likely. The suicide bomber will reappear with a vengeance in unexpected places. This is not a pleasing prospect.

THIS column will appear around Budget Day. The present Finance Minister knows as much about finance as I do about nuclear physics. No political party has produced an outstanding Finance Minister. The two exceptional ones, C.D. Deshmukh and Manmohan Singh came to politics via the Civil Service.

The most important economic challenge before the country is finding jobs for our youth. The agenda of the National Democratic Alliance states that one crore jobs will be created each year. This worthy promise remains a promise. The economy is not doing well - economic growth is stagnant. Employment is the casualty. "Up to the early part of the 1990s the average growth rate of employment generation was 2 per cent per annum. Now it is 1.1 per cent." Unless something is done to improve this state of affairs, our frustrated youth could expend their time and energies in ways that would not do them or the nation any good. Before the disintegration of the Soviet Union many young men and women the world over joined the Communist parties. That door is now closed. So, they tend to look to fundamentalist outfits of one sort or another.

TWO senior IFS colleagues of mine passed away earlier in the month. Tinu Sen (1914-2003) and P.K. Banerjee (1917-2003). The former died in London. The latter in Geneva. Tinu Sen was a non-pompous member of the ICS. He was bright, straight-forward and friendly. He was our Permanent Representative at the U.N. at a difficult period and performed spectacularly well. He was highly regarded by the entire service.

P.K. Banerjee was Indian Charge d'affaires in Beijing during the India-China border conflict. He wrote a short book on his encounters with the formidable Zhou En Lai (1898-1976) and did not come out bruised or battered. He held his own. He was sophisticated and sharp. He too earned our admiration and affection.

My sincere condolences to their families.

A letter from the Editor


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