The play of belligerence

Print edition : October 11, 2002

ENGLAND and France made the League of Nations a toothless body when they looked the other way when Japan attacked China. The League did nothing. Mussolini conquered Abyssinia. The League did nothing. Hitler violated the Treaty of Versailles with impunity, the League did nothing.

America is now in the process of repeating history both as farce and tragedy. Poor Kofi Annan, the United Nations Secretary-General cuts a sorry figure. His opening speech at the inaugural of the 57th session of the U.N. General Assembly was a dispiriting example of a gross form of self-abasement. He is no Dag Hammerskjold (1905-1961). Kofi Annan missed a historic opportunity to stand up to America and tell its President that the U.N. Charter was a document devoted to peace, not war, to cooperation, not conflict, to narrowing down differences, not widening them. Annan did himself and the (once) great organisation he heads no good.

The U.N. now has a Bush present and a Bush past and a ``president emeritus'' William Safire, the columnist for The New York Times, who wants to teach President Saddam Hussein more than a lethal lesson. I heard the speech of President Bush (present) with disbelief. It reminded me of an ill-tempered schoolmaster hectoring his students and threatening them of dire consequences even when they have done nothing to invite his wrath. Here was the head of the most powerful, the wealthiest, technologically the most advanced country the world has ever known, using language that was an assault on the senses, an insult to the U.N., disdainful of diplomacy and dialogue.

The U.S. is the greatest success story in history. Pax Romana and Pax Britannica pale into insignificance in the presence of Pax Americana. America has done so much for Europe and Japan after the Second World War, helped so many nations, including India, but time and again it loses its sense of proportion and displays an unseemly arrogance of power, about which Senator Fulbright and Guru George Kennan have written at length. The Bush vision at the moment leaves much to be desired. And the less said about the violent Vulcans (Cheney, Rice, Rumsfeld, Wolowitz) the better. These high-powered individuals want war against Iraq, come what may. A regime change in Iraq. Who will be next? What a talent America has for violating the first principle of diplomacy increase the number of your friends and reduce the number of your adversaries. Bush did exactly the opposite at the U.N. on September 12, 2002. The powerful must be an example in restraint, not in belligerence.

The demarcation between right and wrong has been obliterated. Of course the U.S. will have its way in the Security Council. Arm-twisting will succeed. There may be an abstention but 14 out of 15 will fall in line to destroy a non-aligned secular country. It is obvious the meek shall not inherit the earth. What we are witnessing is the slow erosion of the quality of diplomacy.

President Bush addressing the U.N. General Assembly on September 12.-DOUG MILLS/AP

PRIME MINISTER Vajpayee did not excel himself in New York. Musharraf, in his crude, rude way caught the attention of the U.S. media. The Pakistan President is a uni-dimensional individual with vicious and simplistic views, not ideas. If I were advising Vajpayeeji, I would have requested him to treat the vacuous and shrill outpourings of General Pervez Musharraf with the disdain they deserved. Having said that, it must also be noted that Musharraf did win American hearts by going all-out on a media blitz. He had to, because compared to India, Pakistan is a small country living on international dole. Atalji did not touch on Iraq. That was prudent. I trust he did convey India's disquiet to Bush in his private meeting.

From Atalji, let me shift to Advaniji. As far as the Congress is concerned, he is a godsend with limited appeal, lacking self-confidence, otherwise he would not encourage the myth about his being a second Sardar Patel. We in the Congress are happy that Advaniji could find no one in the Sangh Parivar to admire and that he had to fall back on a very great Congress leader. Sardar Patel was a Congressman from 1916 to the day he died, December 15, 1950. He was never a Swayamsevak. He actually banned the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh soon after Gandhiji's assassination.

No Congressman has ever expressed a desire to be called the first, second, third or fourth Advani. It is our hope and prayer that Lal Krishanji for whom I have considerable personal regard be projected as Prime Minister in the next general elections. He will then discover that his current boss is a much bigger man.

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