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Isolating the aggressor

Published : Apr 25, 2003 00:00 IST

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President Bush leaving for his weekend retreat at Camp David on April 4. Thousands of Iraqis fled their homes in Baghdad that day when U.S. tanks rumbled into the city for the first time in the war.-KEVIN LAMARQUE/REUTERS

President Bush leaving for his weekend retreat at Camp David on April 4. Thousands of Iraqis fled their homes in Baghdad that day when U.S. tanks rumbled into the city for the first time in the war.-KEVIN LAMARQUE/REUTERS

The carnage that is being perpetrated by the U.S.-U.K. alliance in Iraq is attracting increasing criticism even from America's friends.

AS the war of aggression against Iraq continues, the United States and its principal ally, the United Kingdom, remain isolated in the international community. Even governments that had adopted a cautious approach in order to avoid annoying the world's sole superpower have found the courage to speak out.

Under pressure from his subjects, King Abdullah of Jordan said in the first week of April that it was not the job of outside powers to change governments. He was critical of the war and the suffering it brought on the Iraqi people. However, among Arab governments, only Syria has openly supported the Iraqi government, despite the soaring popularity of Saddam Hussein throughout the Arab world.

Meanwhile, huge demonstrations against the war are taking place across the world. In major west European capitals, demonstrations have become a daily occurrence. As the bombing on Iraqi civilians intensified, in Athens the police had a tough time controlling crowds, with at least two demonstrations taking place every day. In the Spanish capital of Madrid, thousands of demonstrators protest in the traditional way every night by banging pots and pans. As much as 91 per cent of the Spanish population is against the war. A former Cabinet Minister has resigned from the ruling party to protest against the government's support to the war. Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar continues to support Washington doggedly. However, the duplicity of the American administration is not lost on the Spaniards, who have lived under right-wing authoritarian rule for more than four decades. They remember that it was not to bring democracy to Spain that the Americans bombed Madrid and Barcelona.

Sensing its isolation on the global stage, the Bush administration sent its most acceptable face, Secretary of State Colin Powell, to the European Union (E.U.) headquarters in Brussels in an attempt to mend fences. A few sane elements in the Bush administration seem to have realised that it will be extremely difficult to handle post-war Iraq, even if the scenario that has been visualised for the region materialises. Recent events have shown that the Iraqi people are in no mood to accept imperial rule or rule by quislings.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair has indicated that he wants the United Nations to play a key role in the rebuilding and governance of post-war Iraq. France, Russia and Germany, which have been consistent in their anti-war position, want the U.N. to be deeply involved in reconstruction. They have made it clear that Washington will have to bear the costs of reconstruction.

But Powell tried to sell the idea of stationing a peace-keeping force led by the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) in post-war Iraq. Before the aggression started, senior officials of the Bush administration had grandiose plans of appointing an American military pro-consul to run Iraq.

Although Powell met with top E.U. officials and Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov in Brussels, it was evident that there were few takers for his proposals. France and Germany have been opposed to NATO's involvement in West Asia. After the tumultuous events of the past few months, French and German leaders have become pessimistic about the future of NATO as a military alliance. Speaking for the E.U., Greek Foreign Minister George Papandreou called for a stronger role for the U.N. in Iraq. Currently, Greece holds the E.U. presidency. "We want a strong U.N. role in all phases of the Iraqi crisis," Papandreou said.

The impression that the European leaders got after their talks with Powell was that the U.S. wanted to regain control of the oil sector in Iraq, while the U.N. shouldered the work of running the country. The neo-conservatives who run the Bush administration are of the opinion that the Iraqi people will be beholden to them for their eventual "liberation". Echoing the views of the international community, Igor Ivanov said recently that Iraq did not "need a democracy which is carried on the wings of a cruise missile".

Recent statements by German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and Russian President Vladimir Putin were highlighted selectively by the American media. In an address to the German Parliament, Schroeder said that he would not be unhappy if there was a regime change in Iraq. However, he reiterated that the Bush administration's recourse to conflict was unjustified. Putin expressed the hope that the U.S. would not be defeated, because a militarily and politically weakened America would send the global economy into a tailspin. The Russian economy's fate is intertwined with that of Wall Street's.

On the other hand, some political figures and intellectuals in Europe and elsewhere want the leading figures of the Bush administration to be indicted before the War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague. Many people feel that this is the first war fought after the formation of the U.N. with the goal of seizing oil wells. They point out that while signalling the start of the war Bush invoked U.N. Resolution 678 of November 1990, which was passed when Iraq occupied Kuwait. And today, they point out, Kuwait has been turned into an American military base. Colin Warbrick, a Professor of Law at Durham University in the U.K., believes that American bombings against Iraqi civilians can be considered "crimes against humanity". U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan had said that an unauthorised war against Iraq would be illegal. It is no wonder then that the far-sighted Bush administration had refused to sign the Rome Agreement setting up the International Criminal Court.

Before Powell undertook his visit to "old Europe" in early April, Washington had launched verbal broadsides at Syria, Iran and Russia. The beleaguered U.S. Defence Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, accused them of helping Baghdad militarily. All the three governments reacted strongly to the statements and dismissed them as baseless. Diplomats point out that most of the weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) that Iraq possessed had been supplied by Washington. Before the war started, Saddam Hussein admitted that Iraq had at one time possessed WMDs. The Bush administration knew about it because the U.S. had the "receipts" for the weapons supplied to Iraq before 1991.

SOME of the biggest demonstrations so far have taken place in Asia. There have been daily demonstrations in Indonesia and Malaysia. Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammad is perhaps the only head of government to have demanded that the U.N. Secretary-General put in his papers for having allowed the world body to be undermined by Washington. Diplomats from many countries suggest privately that it would have been the honourable thing for Annan to do. Mahathir described the Bush administration as being a "cowardly and imperialist" bully. He said that the U.N. and international law had been rendered meaningless. Addressing the Malaysian Parliament in the last week of March, Mahathir said: "We have now returned to the Stone Age where might determines right."

In Jakarta, there have been daily protests in front of the American embassy and the diplomatic missions of Arab countries such as Saudi Arabia. Pramoedya Ananta Toer, the acclaimed Indonesian writer who was incarcerated for many years during the U.S.-backed dictator Suharto's rule, said that U.S. foreign policy was similar to the one practised by white settlers against American Indians in the 19th century. "They think they can do with impunity what they like," he said. The actions of the Bush administration have evoked memories of the halcyon days of Indonesia under Sukarno. Toer said that the American government had played an important role in the overthrow of Sukarno. Since then, Indonesia had never found a "true leader", he said.

Vietnam has been steadfast in its stand and has condemned the Anglo-American aggression. Despite the thaw in relations with Washington, the war imposed on them by the U.S. has not been forgotten by the Vietnamese. Japan and South Korea, the two close allies of Washington in East Asia, have been cautiously supportive of the Bush administration despite the anti-war sentiments among their people.

The decision of Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi not only to support America's military adventure in West Asia but also to pledge Japanese funding for post-war reconstruction efforts in Iraq has infuriated many Japanese, who feel that the Bush administration may turn its attention to North Korea after it is through with Iraq. Taking advantage of America's preoccupation with the war, Tokyo launched two spy satellites. Washington had earlier objected to plans for their launch. Citing the missile and nuclear threat from Pyongyang, many Japanese right-wing elements have demanded that Japan go nuclear.

The new President of South Korea, Roh Moo Hyun, who won the elections on an anti-war campaign plank, surprised many of his supporters by pledging his government's support for the war. This has led to violent protests in Seoul and other cities of the country. The protests have not prevented Roh from securing Parliament's approval to send non-combat troops to Iraq. This has led to a split within the ruling Democratic Millennium Party. An overwhelming majority of South Koreans feel that American intransigence is a threat to peace not only in the Korean peninsula, but all over the world. Roh's popularity has taken a beating.

Governments in South Asia are treading cautiously. Islamabad, Dhaka or New Delhi has not shown the courage to "condemn" the aggression. Islamabad seems to have scored some tangible gains for itself after the war started. There are reports that it would get a token amount from the $75 billion that President Bush has requested from Congress.

Colin Powell stated that "more attention" would be paid to the Kashmir issue after the war in Iraq. In a statement following the massacre of Kashmiri Pandits in the Valley in the last week of March, a White House spokesman urged India and Pakistan to resume their dialogue. External Affairs Minister Yashwant Sinha was critical of the timing and tenor of the statements. This seems to be yet another indication that Washington needs Islamabad more than New Delhi, to achieve its immediate strategic objectives in West Asia and Central Asia.

THIS realisation seems to be finally dawning on the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government in New Delhi. Since the first week of April, the BJP has been issuing stronger statements against the U.S. action in Iraq. At its national executive meeting in Indore, the party adopted a resolution that termed the war against Iraq an "unjustified military action". However, BJP chief M. Venkaiah Naidu is said to have complained about its ally the Samata Party's criticism of the government's stand on Iraq. Samata Party general secretary Shambhu Srivastava had attacked the "middle path" approach of the government. He remarked that the country's foreign policy establishment thought that "the U.S. national interest and the Indian national interest are one and the same".

The Samata Party has demanded that Parliament condemn the American aggression, a demand the Opposition parties made unanimously. Defence Minister and Samata Party leader George Fernandes is unhappy with the government's stance.

The government's stand has intrigued the diplomatic community as well. Even Western diplomats feel that New Delhi will only be taken seriously on the world stage if it has the courage to take principled positions. They say that if the U.N. Security Council is expanded in the near future, countries such as Brazil and South Africa have a better chance of getting a permanent membership. These two countries have not hesitated to take firm positions on contentious issues involving the U.S.

Even Canada and Mexico, the U.S.' immediate neighbours, have begged to differ on Iraq, leaving America isolated in its own backyard. A senior Canadian Cabinet Minister said that President Bush had "let down not only Americans but the world, by not being a statesman".

Recently, Scott Ritter, former United Nations Special Commission (Unscom) inspector in Iraq, said that America was involved in a "bad war" in Iraq. He reiterated that Iraq did not have WMDs and accused the Bush administration of lying to the international community and the American people. Ritter predicted that Iraq will be a quagmire for the Americans and that the American military "will leave Iraq like a dog with its tail between its legs".

(This story was published in the print edition of Frontline magazine dated Apr 25, 2003.)

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