A dangerous collusion

Published : Aug 15, 2003 00:00 IST

India is again under pressure to get drawn into the Iraqi quicksand and become America's accomplice in its plans for a global Empire.

IT is a measure of the extreme frustration and desperation that the United States is experiencing in Iraq that it has reportedly invoked a blatantly militarist and outrageously ultra-nationalistic argument centred, of all things, on the Pokhran nuclear blasts of 1998 to urge India to send a division-plus-strength military contingent to Iraq. According to Indian Express (July 18), senior officials in Washington delivered a clear message to visiting Foreign Secretary Kanwal Sibal in mid-July. As the newspaper paraphrased it, its gist was: "Yours is a BJP government, you took the risk in 1998 (Pokhran-II), take the initiative now as well. We know you may ask for United Nations cover or cite domestic concerns. We can get a U.N. cover but if you send troops right now, that will strengthen our friendship." The message was laced with "incentives", including the posting of an Indian General as a liaison officer at the U.S. central command headquarters in Tampa, Florida, and up to 35 Indians at U.S. command and control centres in Iraq; lucrative reconstruction contracts; and "progress" on the nuclear, high-technology and space "cooperation" issues, especially a lenient approach in the Nuclear Suppliers' Group.

It is almost incredible that Washington - which has barely reconciled itself to India's de facto nuclear status and which formally adheres to the U.N. Security Council Resolution 1172 of 1998 condemning India and Pakistan's nuclear tests and demanding they do not weaponise - should cite Pokhran-II as a courageous act worthy of emulation and repetition. The rationale for Pokhran-II lies in the Sangh Parivar's thoroughly unwholesome obsession with nuclear weapons and the sectarian, not consensual, logic of conducting the tests as soon as the Bharatiya Janata Party got a chance to do so.

It bears recalling that the Jan Sangh/BJP is the sole current in Indian politics to have stridently demanded for half a century that India should make the Bomb - regardless of the country's priorities, its security environment, or its relations with other states at any point of time. It is not hard to understand why the Sangh Parivar has a nuclear weapons fixation. It is fascinated by strongly militarist notions of power and prestige, and has a special, privileged place for weapons of mass destruction within its jingoistic framework.

Ideologically, Hindutva's nuclear obsession precedes the rise of the Jan Sangh to prominence. Thus, as early as in 1953, Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, pioneer of the Two-Nation Theory, exhorted high school children in Pune to bring the "secret and science of the atom bomb to India and make it a mighty nation". For Savarkar, says his biographer Dhananjay Keer, "military power" is "the only criterion of greatness of a nation", and militarisation of society is inseparable from "defence" of Hindu interests. Nuclear weapons are an important component of militarisation.

Pokhran-II thus brought to fruition a long-standing Hindutva agenda, rooted in obscurantism, religious sectarianism and exclusivism, Darwinian biological theory, a cult of action and physical fitness, and blind faith in the noble character of the soldier's calling. American praise for the BJP's audacity in taking "the initiative" to conduct nuclear tests in the teeth of global opposition only shows how close and comfortably collusive the neo-conservatives who rule the U.S. can get with the traditional religious ultra-conservatives of the BJP, just as they nurture a special relationship with Israel's Likudnik Zionist conservatives. It also shows the shallowness and flimsiness of Washington's professed commitment to universal values such as democracy, secularism, pluralism and liberalism.

This Hindutva-U.S. neo-conservative collusion will repel many Indians of secular persuasion who expect higher standards from the U.S. But it does not seem to have affected those elements in the Indian "strategic community" who root for the despatch of Indian troops to Iraq under U.S. command. Remarkably, the "strategic community" is the only group of opinion-shapers and opinion-makers where there is significant support for such Indo-U.S. "cooperation" although its advocates perhaps constitute a minority within that group too.

The troops-for-Iraq advocates' emphasis has shifted from highlighting the likely commercial gains for India and the value of intimacy with the U.S., to seemingly lofty arguments about "helping" the "Iraqi people" (with whom Indians have had close relations), facilitating Iraq's transition to pluralist democracy, doing good while furthering the national interest, and generally expanding India's influence and power in West Asia-North Africa.

The new arguments are as flawed as the old ones. India should certainly help the Iraqi people in keeping with its past role in busting sanctions and delivering food and medicine to Iraq. But sending troops to support the occupation forces is hardly the way to do that. India can surely help create structures to promote pluralist democracy and constitutional rule once an internationally monitored process of transition to Iraqi self-rule begins under U.N. auspices. But putting a nominally democratic or pseudo-consensual gloss on U.S.-controlled structures like the Interim Governing Council can only serve to legitimise the Anglo-American occupation. At the time of writing, the Council has failed even to elect a president. Its bid for representing Iraq in the U.N. has failed.

Some troops-for-Iraq arguments are based on non sequiturs or vague notions of India having its own "piece of action" in order to remain globally "relevant" - as if relevance only came through spilling blood, your soldiers' or your enemies'. Others, like the argument about projecting Indian "power" in the Arab world, are unworthy of consideration. They beg the question: power projection to what end? At what cost? At whose cost?

Some commentators posit a straightforward continuum between sending Indian troops to Iraq today under U.S. command, and the British Indian Army's invasion of Mesopotamia (then a part of the Ottoman Empire) during the First World War. This created modern-day Iraq under colonial domination, which was ruled for decades from Bombay via Basra. Thousands of Indian soldiers were killed in that war for the expansion of the British Empire. Those who invent continuity obviously assume that Independence never happened and sovereignty never came to India!

The U.S. and the U.K. are hard put to "normalise" and legalise their occupation of Iraq despite help from Security Council Resolution 1483 which recognises the interim authority constituted by the Anglo-American "unified command". Their occupation of Iraq is widely seen as being as unjust, illegal and illegitimate as Iraq's invasion without a genuine casus belli or rationale. Each week brings new disclosures about how evidence about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction (WMD) was concocted, plagiarised, distorted, "sexed up", or wildly exaggerated to fabricate a case for a military attack on Iraq - planned in the minutest conceivable detail for one whole year to the point of identifying windows in the targeted buildings!

Each new revelation about how "dodgy dossiers" were collated in the teeth of opposition from intelligence professionals and WMD experts brings more discredit to the Bush and Blair governments. Each new statement by their officials, calculated to cover past lapses, only ends up magnifying the blunders, thus widening the credibility gap, but victimising more and more individuals.

The worst instance of this last is the tragic suicide of microbiologist David Kelly, who became the BBC's principal source for a story exposing the gross manipulation of intelligence about Iraq's WMD capabilities. This earnest public-spirited scientist was mentally shattered at the Ministry of Defence's (MoD) disclosure that he was the "mole" who met BBC reporter Andrew Gilligan a week before the relevant broadcast. Financial Times has named Defence Secretary Geoffrey Hoon as being "personally responsible" for the MoD strategy of naming Dr. Kelly.

Tony Blair will find it hard to live down the Kelly episode. His moral authority has taken a severe beating. Blair came to power promising peace, harmony, equality, modernisation and progress. He will go down in history as a War Prime Minister who betrayed the confidence of his people and squandered a historic opportunity to do the right thing by Iraq, the U.N. and world peace. Today, 54 per cent of Britons are unhappy with Blair, and only 37 per cent happy. Bush's approval ratings too have fallen to their lowest since the Iraq war - to 59 per cent.

This credibility crisis partly explains the Anglo-American desperation to get military support for the occupation, especially from Third World countries like India which have professional armies and friendly relations with the Iraqis. India is being asked to expend the goodwill it enjoys in Iraq by virtue of its past leadership of the Non-Aligned Movement and its support for Arab nationalism and the decolonisation process.

THERE are two other important factors too, besides the high costs of the occupation ($3.9 billion a month) and the mounting casualties, now in excess of 150 U.S. soldiers dead. The first is low morale and sense of betrayal among U.S. troops. The New York Times reports that troops of the U.S.' 3rd Infantry Division are utterly demoralised. "We feel betrayed," the paper quotes Sergeant Jeffrey Lujan at the cancellation of the division's scheduled return home in June. "It was like a big, big slap in the face when we found out we were staying." Relatives of soldiers have been circulating an e-mail message complaining about conditions in Falluja, along with a letter from an unnamed soldier. "Our morale is not high or even low," the letter says. "Our morale is non-existent."

The troops, says The New York Times, are "tired of patrolling hostile Iraqi towns in the punishing heat. They are tired of fighting an invisible enemy, knowing that a rocket-propelled grenade or mortar attack could come at any moment. Many are sceptical about the peace-keeping work they have been asked to do here... "

The U.S. has deployed as many as 16 of its 33 combat brigades in Iraq, in excess of the prudent rule-of-thumb number, 11. It is extremely keen to relieve its overstretched soldiers.

The second factor driving the American search for other countries' troops is political confusion of a structural, strategic nature. Put simply, the U.S. does not have a remotely coherent political road map for Iraq. All its calculations so far have been based on best-case scenarios, wishful thinking, or wilful neglect of intelligence warnings about Iraq's ungovernability. (For details, see the "From Victory to Success" report of the Carnegie Endowment of International Peace, at {lt}www.ceip.org{gt} and Robert Dreyfuss in The Nation, New York, July 7.)

This political confusion is part of a long-established pattern in the making of American foreign policy. The standard U.S. approach to international relations has been wooden headedly militaristic and relies on massive force. The U.S. has intervened militarily on more than 200 occasions in other countries. Between 1890 and 2002, it started 134 wars around the world.

Typically, it wins the wars, but loses the peace. This is the story of its overt and covert interventions in West Asia right since 1953, when it toppled Iran's Mossadeq and destabilised state after sensitive state - ultimately creating the conditions which precipitated first the ruinous Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s (which cost Iran alone $340 billion) and then the Gulf War of 1991. The same pattern holds for Afghanistan where the U.S. thought it had trapped the Soviet Union in an unwinnable war against the mujahideen - only to be itself victimised on 9/11 by the consequences of the entrapment it had initiated.

Gabriel Kolko, that distinguished historian of modern war and of American diplomacy, argues in his Century of War and his latest Another Century of War? (The New Press, New York, 2002), that American foreign policy-making remains extraordinarily immature, confused, cynical and totally obsessed with military force. Nothing sums up the epochal failure of U.S. foreign policy better than Kolko's observation: "The break-up of the Soviet Union only intensified the official U.S. confusion, since no one could any longer explain why problems arise by referring to some nefarious forces in Moscow. Indeed, as the Soviets no longer played their inhibiting and essentially conservative role, the world became less safe and more unstable than ever... "

Yet, says Kolko, "America's leaders have ignored whatever lessons their lost wars should have taught them, for defeat is not an option for them... The men who have run the United States and the Pentagon are confused, and even some of its own senior officers have openly detailed its various malaises."

The result is that the U.S. "has more determined and probably more numerous enemies today than ever, and many of those who hate it are ready and able to inflict death and destruction on its shores... America has power without wisdom, and cannot recognise the limits of arms despite its repeated experiences. The result has been folly, and hatred, which is a recipe for disasters. September 11 confirmed that. The war has come home."

Kolko wrote this before the latest war on Iraq. The blowback from this could be even worse - regrettably, not just for America, but for the whole world. The search for Empire could land the U.S. in a terrible quagmire. Surely, India should not want to be America's companion and accomplice there.

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