Triumph of cynicism

Published : Nov 21, 2003 00:00 IST

America's plans in Iraq have come a cropper; its soldiers' casualties under occupation exceed the number killed during the war; yet, Washington pursues its cynical plans - regrettably, without much resistance from other major powers.

OCTOBER 29 marks something of a watershed in the United States' war on Iraq. On that day, the number of American troops killed during Iraq's occupation since May 1, when major combat operations were declared to be over, reached the figure 116 - higher than the number of U.S. soldiers killed during the war itself (115).

There are other remarkable dates in the Iraq calendar: August 7, which witnessed the first "terrorist"-style bombing in Baghdad, at the Jordanian Embassy; August 13, when the 25-member Governing Council was nominated by U.S. pro-consul L. Paul Bremer; August 19, when the United Nations headquarters was attacked; September 25, when Aquila-ul-Hashimi, a Governing Council member, was assassinated; October 9, when a Spanish diplomat was killed; and October 26, when the hotel in which U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defence Paul Wolfowitz was staying, was hit by a rocket; and not least, October 27, when a series of bomb explosions occurred, including one in the compound of the International Committee of the Red Cross, killing 40 people - that is how Ramzan began in Iraq.

Yet, October 29 is special. It highlights the negative "cost-benefit ratio" of America's military venture in Iraq, as Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld put it in an October 16 memo to his colleagues, leaked to the media. It suggests that Washington's further downslide into the West Asian quagmire may have begun. Indeed, some Western commentators are already saying: "Iraq is Arabic for Vietnam". This may be an exaggeration in the number of body-bags being sent home - which was as high as 600 a week during the bloodiest phase of the Vietnam war. But the expense on prosecuting war has certainly reached a comparable figure - about $5 billion a week. An almost identical Vietnam-level confusion prevails over the likely outcome of the occupation.

In any case, body-bags are worrying America's rulers to the point that they do not want the public to watch the remains of soldiers arriving in caskets draped in the national flag. They have imposed a blanket ban on all news coverage and photography of such events. A Pentagon directive crudely states: "There will be no arrival ceremonies for, or media coverage of, deceased military personnel... "

By all accounts, including some on-the-spot reports from Iraq by The Independent's Robert Fisk, the U.S. forces' morale has fallen abysmally low. This is confirmed by a report in Stars and Stripes, the U.S. military's own newspaper, which says one-third of its soldiers suffer from poor morale. Many, probably a majority, refuse to buy the official line trotted out by President Bush and Rumsfeld that those attacking them are Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda guerrillas, "pouring over Iraq's borders from Syria, Iran, Saudi Arabia (note how those close allies and neighbours of Iraq - Kuwait and Turkey - are always left out of the equation)... " The line is that the "war on terror" has been transferred from America to Iraq. The only Iraqis who might be culpable are described as "Baath party remnants", "diehards" or "dead-enders".

In reality, says Fisk, "ordinary Iraqis - many of them long-term enemies of Saddam Hussein - are attacking the American occupation army 35 times a day in the Baghdad area alone". Going by ground-level reports, there cannot be the least doubt that resistance to Iraq's occupation is widespread, increasingly well-coordinated and based on a large measure of popular support, Shia and Sunni.

The occupation troops, confused, and often clueless about the distinction between Iraqi civilians and guerillas, tend to overact and fire at random. "Human Rights Watch" (WRH) has accused U.S. troops of shooting dead 14 Iraqi civilians in Baghdad since May 1 "in questionable legal circumstances". Only five of the deaths were investigated by senior officers, and in four cases, the soldiers involved were judged to have acted within their "rules of engagement", which have not been made public. U.S. actions show "a pattern of overaggressive tactics, excessive shooting in residential areas and hasty reliance on lethal force", says HRW.

According to the website, more than 1,500 Iraqi civilians have died violent occupation-related deaths. The total civilian death toll is 7,784 (minimum) and 9,596 (maximum) - 60 times higher than the number of American soldiers killed.

There is a complete disconnect in the way the U.S. is conducting this war. Bush has no clue as to how this war for the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people is going. In his infamous Fox News interview, he said: "The best way to get the news is from objective sources... And the most objective sources I have are people on my staff who tell me what's happening in the world!"

This speaks not just of a grave situation prone to policy blunders, but of the low likelihood of course correction. The U.S. is proving a remarkably bad occupation power, and an even worse global leader. It has once again bulldozed the U.N. Security Council into passing a resolution favourable to itself (1511), which calls for a multilateral force under "unified command". But it has failed to persuade a single state to send troops to Iraq under its command, barring South Korea.

The U.S. strong-armed the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) summit in Malaysia into diluting its Iraq resolution. But it could not assuage the hostility or suspicion of a single member of the 57-member OIC. Similarly, the U.S. tried its best to raise $56 billion for Iraq's reconstruction, but managed commitments of only $33 billion, of which $20 billion is its own contribution. (If the World Bank's share is included, the U.S. component is even larger). The only substantial donor was Japan. The European Union offered a disdainful $230 million, and even Britain ($340 million) and Spain ($300 million) offered puny amounts, as did South Korea ($200 million). Germany donated only $100 million, half of which was its share in the E.U. contribution. Kuwait gave another $300 million.

YET, the question arises: Why did these states, especially those in the E.U. which were critical of the war all along, offer anything at all? Why did Resolution 1511 go through with a unanimous 15-0 vote, when its predecessor, Resolution 1483 (of May this year) at least had one dissident (Syria)? Why did countries like Russia and China not abstain, rather than vote for 1511 which has overtly pro-U.S. formulations, such as welcoming "the positive response of the international community... to the establishment of the broadly representative Governing Council as an important step towards an internationally recognised representative government", and supporting "the Governing Council's efforts to mobilise the people of Iraq, including by the appointment of a Cabinet of Ministers".

Article 13 of the Resolution says the Security Council "Determines that the provision of security and stability is essential to the successful completion of the political process... and to the ability of the United Nations to contribute effectively to that process... and authorizes a multinational force under unified command to take all necessary measures to contribute to the maintenance of security and stability in Iraq, including for the purpose of ensuring necessary conditions for the implementation of the timetable and programme as well as to contribute to the security of the U.N. Assistance Mission for Iraq, the Governing Council... and key humanitarian and economic infrastructure". Article 14 "Urges Member States to contribute assistance under this U.N. mandate, including military forces".

The only "concession" in 1511 to international concerns about handing over power to the Iraqi people is that it "invites the Governing Council to provide to the Security Council, no later than 15 December 2003... a timetable and a programme for the drafting of a new constitution... and for the holding of democratic elections under that constitution". The return of "governing responsibilities" to the Iraqis should happen "as soon as practicable". This is not a categorical formulation.

There seem to be two proximate reasons why Russia, France and Germany (in that order) decided to cave in to U.S. pressure regarding 1511. They first tried to move a number of amendments, but once they found that Washington was unwilling to accommodate them, they gave up. According to French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin, there was another reason: "We all see a spiral of violence and terror that is growing in Iraq... " Given the deteriorating situation "in West Asia as a whole," it was "important to send a message to the Iraqi people that we also want the best conditions for the reconstruction of Iraq".

The second, more important, reason is that the Big Three wanted to improve their badly damaged relations with the U.S., themselves attributable to differences on Iraq. Russia broke the ranks probably because it wanted to do a deal with America over the Central Asian republics' natural resources, and also gain support for its brutal Chechnya campaign. After Russia's decision to vote for the resolution, France and Germany threw in the towel.

Whatever the short-term calculations (and even compulsions), no major power is as yet willing to take on the U.S., or at minimum, counsel restrain upon Washington. China, preoccupied with domestic issues, especially economic ones, has fought shy of most large global agendas. Russia feels hemmed in by an expanded North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and the erosion of its traditional spheres of influence. Having opted for a "market fundamentalist" model of capitalism, it cannot muster courage to challenge the U.S. On the contrary, it sees America's friendship as a shield against criticism of its Chechnya policy, on which it is highly vulnerable. America, after all, is as willing to do business with Putin's regime, as it collaborates with the New Oligarchs (Russia's business tycoons thriving on property transferred on the cheap from public holdings).

That leaves the E.U., or the bulk of it. This pulls in a somewhat different direction from the U.S. in international affairs, military matters and multilateral institutions. The E.U. follows a different principle (organisational federalism) from America's conventional nation-state model. Domestically, most E.U. states have not surrendered to the Anglo-American model of capitalism.

The critical question is: Can the E.U. mount effective resistance to the U.S.? Apart from pressure from below (the public), the answer to this depends on what alternatives the E.U. can formulate on a range of issues: from global trade and environmental issues to terrorism, security, and the architecture of a more responsive, democratic international order. This in part depends upon how far the E.U. goes in evolving a broad global consensus, involving the peoples and countries of the Global South, and how strongly it supports universal principles like equality, justice and peace. To do this, the E.U. will have to abandon old, imperial and arrogant ways. Only then can it generate the necessary moral force.

Secondly, it will have to formulate alternatives to the U.S. model of society, economy and culture - and ultimately, power. It cannot both embrace U.S.-style neoliberalism and hope to reform the global economic order. It cannot both preach restraint, negotiation and non-use of military force to settle disputes, and rearm itself.

Yet, this is what some E.U. states like France are about to do. According to the daily Liberation, President Jacques Chirac is planning to announce a new "doctrine" for using nuclear weapons against "rogue states". Chirac has spoken clearly of the possible use of nuclear weapons against "regional powers possessing weapons of mass destruction" who could be threatening France's "vital interests" - in other word's "rogue states". As Liberation put it: "the Gaullist doctrine of the deterrence by the weak against the strong seems to have ended its life... For the first time, France's nuclear forces do not only target states possessing atomic weapons, but also powers potentially able to launch chemical or biological weapons against France".

Clearly, France is falling in the same trap as the U.S. It can at best become America's ally or camp-follower, never an alternative. Yet, an alternative was never more sorely needed.

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