Oh! what a lovely war

Published : Apr 11, 2003 00:00 IST

The inability of the international community to stand up against the United States' war on Iraq can be traced to two major considerations: the green card and the prosperity brought by trade with the superpower.

ONCE again, to the great excitement of the advisers and officials around President George W. Bush, cruise missiles are crashing into the city of Baghdad. Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Vice-President Dick Cheney must be giggling insanely, rubbing their hands together gleefully, having pushed that credulous poseur from Texas into doing just what they wanted him to do. As former British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook said in the House of Commons when he resigned from the government, one cannot help feeling that a few hanging chads in Florida could have meant that all this would never have been.

But it has, and it would be simplistic to think of it merely in terms of the war-mongers getting their own way. They love it, obviously, but there is little more to it than just the fascination for watching Ben Hur or Gladiator. Every time the United States has fought a war - always conveniently far from its own terrain - its economy has prospered. Historian Paul Kennedy has pointed out in his book The Rise and Fall Of The Great Powers that of all the combatant nations in the Second World War only the U.S. actually became richer - "much richer" as he says - because of the war.

At the end of the War, when other combatant countries were close to economic collapse - "Washington possessed gold reserves of $20 billion, almost two-thirds of the world's total of $33 billion." He quotes the economist W. Ashworth, who wrote in his book A Short History of the International Economy Since 1850: "More than half the total manufacturing production of the world took place within the USA, which, in fact, turned out a third of the world production of goods of all types." Kennedy points out that this also made the U.S. by far the greatest exporter of goods at the war's end, and even a few years later it supplied one-third of the world's exports. "Economically," he says wryly, "the world was its oyster."

So Saddam Hussein really had no chance from the very beginning. Not that he is the embodiment of all virtues; he is a brutal, cruel dictator, who rules his country through a combination of terror and force, but precisely because of Bush he has the support of Iraqis, who see him as a sort of a symbol. If you can decide to kill him with such impunity, then what about us lesser people, they seem to be asking. What they obviously have not realised is that this war is, like all other wars before it, an act which has self-aggrandisement as its motive. Alexander conquered other countries because, very simply, he wanted their riches; so did Genghis Khan. So did the British, when they established their empire. "War," as Karl von Clausewitz famously said, "is nothing but the continuation of politics by other means."

But the real issue is the manner in which the rest of the world has just stood by, and done nothing. Russian President Valdimir Putin has made some indignant noises, true, and so have French President Jacques Chirac and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder. India has, as usual been equivocal - the U.S. action has been "regretted" but Iraq is advised at the same time to abide by the United Nations' decisions. (Abide by the U.N.'s decisions? And what about the U.S.? What about Bush saying that the Security Council has "failed to act responsibly", or some such nonsense, and then proceeding brazenly, shamelessly, to act on his own? What respect, what deference has he shown to the U.N.? Have they forgotten the intensity of U.S. diplomatic activity when India moved its Army to the border last year, its repeated reference to the U.N. and the need to keep the peace?)

What has the rest of the world actually done? Consider for a moment what the U.S. would have done if some other country had attacked another. Would it not have imposed sanctions of all kinds, would it not have declared that country a "rogue" state? By its own definition, is the U.S. not a rogue state, acting in flagrant violation of the U.N., refusing to abide by its decisions? And what is the U.N. and what are all the other countries of the world doing about a brazen act of war and the contemptuous dismissal of the U.N. as a meaningless institution, only to serve the interests of the present U.S. administration? Nothing.

Nor will anything be done, by the looks of things. And this U.S. administration knows it. Not because there are not countries that have, let us say for argument's sake, nuclear weapons. Or because the world cannot muster up enough forces to cause the U.S. considerable damage. It is because of one little thing called a green card. There is hardly a country in the world that has not got a large number of its people in the U.S. earning fat amounts of money in different jobs and professions. Even though the U.S. does not talk about it, we know that a very large number of those who perished on 9/11 were from countries other than the U.S.

And, of course, trade. All those millions of dollars worth of goods being exported to the U.S., all those garments, wines, silks, leather, electronic equipment, cars... The list is long, and the U.S. knows it. It knows that far from the world imposing sanctions on it, it can impose sanctions on the world and bring the whole world to its knees.

But at some time, the nations around the planet must take a stand. There must come a time when they have to review the temptations of the green card, the prosperity brought by trade. This is not about the American people, millions of whom are decent, generous and warm-hearted, but about the leaders they inexplicably elect. The President of the U.S., any President of the U.S., is no doubt the most powerful man in the world but he must realise that he can exercise that power over the world only on the basis of the consensus of the nations of the world, as expressed through the U.N. Most of them have done so, and led by example. "I sit here all day," President Harry S. Truman once said, "trying to persuade people to do the things they ought to have the sense enough to do without my persuading them. That's all the powers of the President amounts to." And his predecessor, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, said most movingly, that the world was founded on four essential freedoms, "the first is the freedom of speech and expression - everywhere in the world. The second is the freedom of every person to worship God in his own way - everywhere in the world. The third is freedom from want - everywhere in the world. The fourth is freedom from fear - everywhere in the world." (Emphasis added.) These were statesmen, and the whole world looks to the U.S. to elect such statesmen to the high office of President.

But if, as is clear on this occasion, someone is elected, as Robin Cook said, by some hanging chads, as this President has been, and then proceeds to flout all canons of statesman-like behaviour, surrounding himself with a bunch of rednecks clamouring harshly for war against weak nations for their own self interest, then the nations of the world will have to choose whether they will live compliant lives full of ease, amidst plenty, and close their eyes to unfeeling, unjust cruelty perpetrated for selfish, greedy ends by this power-crazed U.S. leadership, or live less prosperous, more Spartan lives, and deny themselves the bliss of American riches, but live with honour.

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