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Rasul Bakhsh Rais, Professor of Political Science, LUMS, Lahore (Presented in a Seminar under the auspices of Idara-Mutalia-Tareekh, Lahore in 2004) Introduction Never are modern wars fought with military hardware alone; they have a strong propaganda and psychological components. Side by side on the battle field another war is waged to demoralise forces of the adversary. Besides kicking up nationalistic frenzy, good stories are weaved to make people at home believe that things are moving in the right direction. In their war against Iraq, Americans have played up some of these classical themes. Looking at the stark imbalance between the invading forces and their overkill capacity in the air, on land and sea and the Iraqi defence forces with depleted weapons and starved of ammunition, it was not difficult to judge the outcome of the war. One was rather amazed how heroically the Iraqis defended their country for three weeks and now continue to do so by changing their strategy to urban guerrilla warfare. It seems the invaders might win the military battles in and around the battered cities. The question on the mind of many analysts around the world is, will they win the political battle? Efforts are already underway to give a right kind of political message to the people of Iraq. From President George W. Bush to lower functionaries of the US administration want the Iraqis believe that attack against their country has been launched to rid them of Saddam Hussein and his regime. They argue after Saddam, freedom and democracy will replace oppression and autocracy. The people in Iraq will join the rank of modern world with elected and responsible government that would be elected by the people and responsive to their needs. In short, three words explain the future agenda of the invading forces, territorial unity, freedom and peace. It is too early to judge what would be the political fallout of this war on Iraq and its neighbourhood. Even with the best of intentions, never are the consequences of conflicts like this, as they are intended. There are two opposite views about how the war. One is how the people in Iraq and elsewhere see it. The second is how the Americans and British governments want the Iraqis and the world to see it. The Americans are already portraying themselves as liberators committed to the territorial unity of the country and post-conflict reconstruction, of course with the petro-dollars and billions in the escrow accounts still utilised. That is however in distant future. At the moment, vast majority of Iraqis are besieged in towns and cities without drinking water, food, medicine or even few hours of good sleep under the unrelenting thunder of bombs, missiles and regular incursions by marines in hot pursuit of the insurgents. There is credible evidence to suggest that American calculations about number of things in Iraq were wrong. Much of the estimates rested on false assumptions: the people were fed up with the Iraqi regime; they would welcome invasion for changing the regime and overthrowing Saddam Hussein; the Iraqi armed forces wouldn’t put up any resistance because they would know that they were fighting a losing war. It is not difficult to know why any foreign power would make such assumptions either truly believing in their
veracity or touting them as good piece of war propaganda. Since Americans operate within different cultural mindset and their values about life and death are shaped by that culture, they like many other foreign powers, tend to overlook or underestimate the power, will, determination, and motivating ideals of those who resist them. It is not as simple as it appears in the Western philosophy of materialism that people would make rational calculations about war and peace. In my opinion, even the conception of rationality or irrationality is bounded by religious and cultural factors. It is too obvious in the case of growing resistance in Iraq against the American-led forces. Therefore, the question why the Iraqis did not respond favourably to the American thunder of guns, for the sake of argument, for a better future, must be answered with reference to Arab culture of honour, loyalty, patriotism and religious obligation. These cultural forces cannot and shouldn’t be dismissed as irrelevant to shaping Iraqi attitudes at present or in future. Many of the American analysts are drawing on the experience of Japan and Germany where the initial attitudes toward the occupation forces was ferocious but it began to change with post-conflict reconstruction. The Americans hope that tested tools of respect and sensitivity toward the local population would turn the emotional and political tide in their favour. The moot question is this: will the Iraqis after a new government is elected early next year, which looks doubtful given the spiral of violence, embrace the Americans as their benefactors? This question itself raises many puzzling questions. What will be the shape of post-war political arrangements? Who will really govern Iraq, Americans or the fractious Iraqi factions that are increasingly being redrawn along ethnic lines? Will the Iraqis continue to fight a guerrilla war or just go home and adapt to the new circumstances of their country? The underlying assumption of American war is that through fast reconstruction and rehabilitation, they would gain trust, sympathy and support of the Iraqis. It is being argued that as the Japanese and Germans became pacified through economic, political and security means, so will the Iraqis. The second view is that not any two situations are the same. Germany and Japan were at war with the US and against it allies. Changing a sitting regime is a new ball game. Middle East is a complex and difficult region of the world where every step, every move and every initiative is seen with suspicion and distrust. The Iraqis with bloodstained families and neighbours, their buildings and houses in smoke and their lives torn apart see the Americans as occupiers, not liberators. Will it change? We have to see. It will not be easy to win the Iraqi hearts and minds by throwing sacks of floors and bottles of water at hungry, thirsty and scared mobs. Perhaps quicker end to the war with quicker transfer of power and resources to the Iraqi people may mark the beginning of new relationship. On the other hand, humiliation, uncontrolled collateral damage, sights of women and children being indiscriminately killed by edgy American soldiers and unwanted destruction of Iraq’s national infrastructure would move the American goalpost of reconciliation with the people of this unfortunate country farther away. National interest, war and liberalism In modern times, war cannot and shouldn’t be considered an instrument of national policy, a way of extending or pursing national interests. War being an old habit of European politicians was rejected by later generations of statesmen, thinkers, ideologues and humanists as wasteful, redundant and counterproductive to general
interest in human and material development. The popular sentiment against war however didn’t last very long. As ancient impulse for territory, resources and control over weak peoples translated into second wave of colonial wars, Europe and Japan plunged into destructive conflict. Later, Americans jumped in to save freedom, statehood and national security of allies and of their own. The two great wars visited the world twice during the past century in which millions lost lives and the use of nuclear bombs against Japan opened a new chapter in world history. The sheer destructive power of the new weapon raised the hope that it wouldn’t be used in future and that the nations would consider resolving disputes through peaceful means. The last Great War was not the last one to end future wars as it was boldly pronounced by the victors. At lesser scale wars have been recurring phenomena. Unfortunately, those who wanted to end the future wars and advocated establishment of peace through collective security arrangements have resorted to old fashioned wars against the weak and vulnerable. With the stability of central strategic balance, the superpowers didn’t go to war, but fought proxy wars almost in every corner of the world and took the issue of balance to the point of driving each other bankrupt. The Soviet Union did; the US survived the economic drain of the arms race. The wars of interventions to save client regimes and ideological camp followers never ended. We had Vietnam, several Arab-Israeli bouts, India and Pakistan fighting each other three times, Afghanistan, Iran-Iraq, and the American led war against Iraq to roll back its aggression against Kuwait just to mention the most salient of them. In between hundreds of civil war erupted some of which continue to rage in different parts of the world. What appears at the dawn of new century is that we are going back to the dark days of settling scores through international violence. The founding fathers of the American republic, its statesmen and philosophers had rejected what Europe had been doing for centuries---war for territories, resources, markets, national self-esteem, control and hegemony. They preferred to stay aloof from Europe until the World War I. But that intervention was justified and rightly so to restore peace and balance in Europe. The prognosis of conflict its great president Woodrow Wilson made was that wars occurred due to denial of right of self-determination of peoples and nations. Therefore, Wilson and his America advocated democracy and independence of nations subjugated by the strong powers as a solution to future wars. Other principles of peace strategy were reflected in the Covenant of the League of Nations and later found place in the Charter of the UN. Judging from American conduct in recent years, it seems the conservatives in power in the US at the moment have pushed those principles up in the attic and preferred to take the old European road to address the modern day issues of peace and security. In their view the interests of security are too compelling to be subjected to the principles of dialogue and diplomacy. The Bush security team staffed by arch conservatives appears unwilling to heed to any rational argument on how to settle Palestinian question or deal with the rising Iraqi resistance. Views of political liberals opposed to war as national strategy and in the present situation against Iraq are being trashed as ignorant of the great democracy agenda that a successful war against Iraq would unveil in the autocratic Middle East It an is ironical contrast of histories that the United States is trying to do what colonial Europe did to control and shape the world according to its own interests and vision. There is a cacophony of verbiage like oil, security, war against terrorism,
eliminating weapons of mass destruction that were allegedly hidden by the Iraqi regime and a progressive spread of democracy in the region are some of the reason that that have been given to the ordinary Americans and the world citizens for waging war against Iraq. The two most important European powers, Germany and France have admirably taken a bold position, arguing that war against Iraq was neither necessary nor inevitable. They have revived faith in the old principles of international liberalism, dialogue, diplomacy and working through the Security Council of the United Nations. In doing this, they have echoed the sentiment of majority of the mankind that war against Iraq could be averted and that it must end now. Almost every country wanted to allow the UN inspectors to complete their work and reach a final conclusion about the status of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. By the time US declared a war, the inspectors had dug and examined hundreds of sites but had found no evidence. Americans have reached the same conclusion now after more than one hundred thousand Iraqis and one thousand of the Americans dead. The question of evidence was politically loaded from the very beginning. In the American parlance, Iraq was already guilty and it had to prove its innocence by showing that it had cleared itself off of all such weapons. Baghdad claimed it had none of those. The final judgement on the issue should have been left to the UN inspectors. The Europeans and others right in suggesting that more time was needed to settle the conflicting claims. Americans opposed the move tooth and nail. Second any action against Iraq, if deemed necessary, should have been taken under the umbrella of the UN Security Council on the basis of uncontroversial evidence that Iraq had breached its obligations and had been lying to the world community on the weapons of mass destruction. Judging by the preparation for war and mobilisation of troops by the US and two of its closest allies, Britain and Australia, perhaps a decision to wage a war had been taken well before any conclusive evidence against Iraq still in possession of weapons. President and Bush and his team member never minced any words that they would go to war without authorisation from the Security Council or support from key allies in Europe. Will dislodging of Saddam Hussein and his regime help the US rewrite the political and security script for new Middle East? I am not sure, if it will. I can say with some confidence that war would add only to Muslim rage in the region from Malaysia in the East to Morocco in the West. Most of the analyses of September 11 are missing the central questions about what made young Saudis and other Arabs to take their lives and enact that ghastly inhuman tragedy. Besides so many factors relating to state and society in the Arab world, in part it was an expression of how the young generation views the American approach to the Arab-Israeli and other Middle Eastern issues. The war against Iraq has confirmed their suspicions and old theories about the imperial role of the US in the region. In this atmosphere, the US will not be able to sow the seeds of rationalism, modernity and popular representation: the conflict will deepen the divide between the Muslim world and the West, which is already happening. Unilateralism in an hegemonic system After ousting the Saddam regime Washington didn't expect much resistance to its occupation from the Iraqi people who it thought would be eternally grateful for that act. In a glow of victory it thought that the Iraqis would celebrate the coming of the AngloAmerican troops as deliverers from the curse and abuses of what it called the most brutal
regime in the region. Many Iraqis did want the Saddam regime go, but never wanted their country become occupied by the American forces, nor did they invite them to invade their country. Americans did read the resentment against the Saddam regime right but failed to understand why the Iraqis rise up against their presence. Even today, Americans don't wish to acknowledge publicly that there is deep resentment against them, which is growing popular by the day. The situation may get out of control if they remain visible in the streets the way they have been. The public face of diplomacy and the hard realities of occupation and resistance are two different things. We know even in worst possible situations, the diplomats and political leaders handling situations of conflict keep very optimistic and upbeat tone. For years, the Americans kept telling their people that they were winning the war in Vietnam, and so did the Soviets in Afghanistan. Therefore, one has to be sceptical about the claims that Anglo-American occupation is popular with the Iraqis. It is a usual propaganda line that only a handful people who are diehard loyalists of the previous regime are creating troubles. The daily attacks against the American forces and regular casualties among them tells a different story, and that is, Americans are no less unwanted than the regime they changed. As the mist of propaganda about Iraq possessing weapons of mass destruction is clearing off it is now evident that this charge was cooked up. The intelligence reports, as revealed in the hearing of case of death of Dr. David Kelley, were deliberately exaggerated, and those informing London and Washington that Iraq had in fact destroyed its weapons long time back and had no active programme of reproducing them were ignored. The purpose of doing all this in the face of strong public opinion against the war both home and abroad was to sell the idea of war in the name of world peace and stability. Iraq was depicted as the most dangerous place in the world, its leaders the most brutal possessing chemical and biological weapons that they were ready to use against anyone. Bush and Blair started with the demanding the return of the UN weapons inspector back to Iraq, threatening war if the regime didn't cooperate. They in fact wanted the regime not to cooperate so that they could have a valid excuse and use the agency of the UN to attack Iraq. Contrary to their expectations, the regime cooperated and the UN inspectors found no evidence of weapons. But that didn't deter the two leaders from going into war. The real objective was to change a regime in Iraq and by doing this get a foothold in a littoral state of the Persian Gulf. That is not an objective itself but a means to a complex strategy of influencing events in the Middle East, encircling Iran and getting closer to the hydro-carbon resources of the Caspian Sea and Central Asia. There is a reason why Iraq was a better candidate than Iran or any other state in the neighbourhood. Saddam had alienated large sections of population inside the country by pursing ruthless policies of repression, control and revenge. The country under him was distrusted by the neighbours for two costly wars, first against Iran and then against Kuwait. International sanctions had crippled Iraq’s economy and had decapitated it from rebuilding itself from the devastating first Gulf war. Now they have Iraq under their control, but the question is will they succeed in building new Iraq with new political arrangements by tying it up with the new security arrangements in the region? What is going on in Iraq is along the old pattern of foreign occupation and national resistance. In our part of the world, foreign invaders have come under different
excuses and local people have resisted them according to their capacities. In the age of European colonialism they lost out to them because the balance of forces was against them. Anti-colonial movements besides two costly world wars drove the European powers out. In some cases, anti-colonial movements were violent and in others, like in the subcontinent, democratic. We know the world is not the same as it was half a century back. Momentous changes have taken place during the past ten years. What we now have is a uni-polar American-dominated world system. No other power can match its capabilities or global reach. But having said this, the historical process between exercise of its power, the way it has done in Iraq, and resistance will take its own course. Modern force structure and its use can help a country defeat the forces of another country but it is a poor tool of controlling peoples. I don't thing it is just the ragtag of the remnant forces of the defunct regime that are attacking the Anglo-American forces but an emerging broad-based resistance. The Americans are of course not happy about this situation, as no country would like to see its young soldiers wasted in a distant land. However, even in the face growing troubles, the Americans might not be willing to give away their new strategic prize. There are more subtle and indirect means of control than directly running affairs of the occupied countries. Washington would be doing in Iraq what it has done in Afghanistan-a broad based civilian regime composed of ethnic elements opposed to the ousted regime, writing of a new constitution and elections within a shortest possible period of time. This is the political aspect of national-building project. A slogan of building a democratic, progressive, moderate and liberal state in the Middle East attracts lot of attention and some support even among the liberal sections of the Western societies. Economic revival and security are two other important aspects of reconstruction project. Iraq unlike poor Afghanistan has resources to fund its rehabilitation that would mostly go to the pockets of American and British companies with links with the political establishment. As for the security aspect, the Americans are not sure if they would be able to tolerate the rate of casualties that they have been suffering on daily basis. The American public is very sensitive to the body bag syndrome. Though late, it is now pursuing the UN course for providing security in Iraq. It wants a multilateral force wearing blue hats to patrol the streets, while its forces could be called in to do some fighting when it is required. Will it let its forces go under the UN command? I don't think it will, rather Washington will like to use the blue caps for the dirty work and stay put over the horizon. But if the UN looses credibility as an independent international organization, as it is increasing being seen as a tool of US policy, both may face greater troubles than they are at the moment. What this war is about? There are many questions about the American war against Iraq. Is it about oil? Is it to disarm Iraq of weapons of mass destruction? Is there a grand strategic design behind this war to reshape the geopolitical map of the Middle East and beyond into Eurasia? Are the Americans and their British allies shooting all the arsenals that they have and marching toward Baghdad for transforming Iraq into a liberal democracy? Is this war the beginning of clash of civilisations? Is it the Christians’ war against Islam? There are many theories in circulation the world over that try to answer these questions. There is enough room and flexibility to choose and pick an explanation that would suit the
political interests of an individual or party, or reflect their world view. We understand these are pertinent but difficult questions to answer when the public explanations of why Americans have gone to war appear to be fuzzy at best and fictitious at worst. The public posturing of all states on political and security issues is often deceptive; therefore their pronouncements on any issue cannot be taken on their face value. Any discerning person would subject them to close scrutiny. Let me offer my own explanation of what this war is about. But before I do this, let me challenge one of the most popular explanation of war in some sectors of our society: that it is between the Christian West and Islam. It is not. Neither Saddam Hussein represent Islam not are Tony Blair and George W. Bust the true representatives of Christianity. I hate to use religious prefix for the Western countries, but just for the sake of argument, how do we explain millions of Christians pouring out in the streets in American, British, Australian, French, German and other European cities to protest against this war. They were the first to raise their voices, loud and clear against the war, well before it started. And the processions, protests and demonstrations haven’t ended as yet. There is no popular support for this war anywhere in the Western societies. Let us not blind ourselves to the modern day realities of the West. The people there don’t define themselves or others in religious terms and differentiate on that basis, let alone fight wars in the name of religion. Is the war about capturing Iraq’s oil wells? I am not so sure about it either. But centrality of oil to American strategy in the Middle East and the role this source of energy plays in its economy offer a plausible but not a definite explanation. Both the destruction of Iraq’s infrastructure that is underway and later, if it ever takes place, reconstruction would bring in massive contracts for American and allied companies. Iraq under new regime will pump more oil after rehabilitation of its oil industry and pay for rebuilding. Having said this, we are not in the classical colonial game of winner takes all. Iraq cannot and will not be shut out to other competitors or flow of its oil restricted to a few selective destinations. Reconstruction of Iraq will offer a big business opportunity, and if it is taken as one of the spoils of war, it may not be evenly distributed. But is it the driving force behind this war? I seriously doubt it. In my opinion, we need to look at the world view, ideology and mindset of those who have influenced American decision to take unilateral military action against Iraq. There is a group of neoconservative ideologues with economic and political stakes behind this war. Richard Pearle and Paul Wolfowitz are just two prominent members of large group that was sent in hibernation in the conservative policy think tanks during the Clinton Administration. They are now in positions of influence and have the ear of President Bush and Dick Cheney. They have succeeded in converting them from isolationism to embracing the ideas of regime change, nation-building and pre-emptive military actions against adversaries with the potential to develop weapons of mass destruction. Nine-eleven played a significant role in accepting the outline of Wolfowitz’s review of American strategy that he had prepared in 1992 while an under secretary for foreign policy in the Pentagon. How the neo-conservatives view the world and what is their strategic vision would be important starting points to explain the war against Iraq. They take an ultra realist position on the world system. Not only is it anarchic in classical sense, but a dangerous place with a number of countries hostile to the US possessing or trying to
acquire weapons of mass destruction. Some countries and world leaders like Saddam Hussein, they believe, hate America for its power, success, prosperity and liberal ideology. They argue that the US must use its military power to protect its interests whosoever threatens them. The neo-conservatives have long supported do it alone strategy. It is better to have as many countries on your side, and have the legitimacy of the UN if you can, but be prepared to act alone. This is exactly what they have done in going to war against Iraq. Middle East is a special area of strategic interest for the US. Security of Israel and oil are traditional concerns. Fighting Islamic militancy is new interest, but now on the top of American agenda. What was sentiment behind nine-eleven is a fundamental question that the American strategic thinkers have been grappling with. To many of them, it is decay of the Arab world, failure of nation state in walking along the West on the path of democracy. The local critique is no different from this. But how can one change the Middle East into modern liberal democracies? Will it be possible to do so through wars of aggression or by carefully cultivating civil society and building democracy from below? It looks too fictitious an argument that removing a sitting regime in Iraq would usher that country into democracy. If democracy is the ideal to enforce under the thunder of B-52s and cruise missiles and tons of their payloads, then where will it stop? Not only is war inhuman and unjust, but a wrong means of social or political change anywhere but specifically in the Middle East where every move of the US is suspected. It is already being perceived as imperialistic war by the Arab populations. Any change, even if it has democratic content, will be seen as an outfit implanted from outside, troubling its legitimacy. The grand strategic vision of the neo-conservatives faulty, as it is, will draw new fault-lines in an already troubled region. Wrong war for wrong reasons Never have in modern history peoples from so many different countries, nationality, religions and cultures protested in so many numbers in so many cities around the world as they did against the American invasion of Iraq. Millions of demonstrates from one corner of the world to another rejected the reasoning that American policymakers and supportive spin-doctors on the American television networks persistently gave for going to war against Iraq. It is not only ordinary peoples in the streets but also prominent world leaders of France, Germany, China, Russia and most of the rest of the world that questioned the American rationale for war. To many of them, the US leaders committed an act of aggression in violation of international norms and Charter of the United Nations. They have raised pertinent questions that challenge the moral as well legal basis of American war that the US and UK decided to launch. Did Iraq pose a threat to the United States? Was Iraq the only country that had one party rule or a dictator ruling a country? If the United States was so sure about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, then why didn’t it lead the UN inspectors to their discovery? Let us take American argument on its face value that the Iraq defied international obligations to disarm for the past twelve years, then why war after so many years of defiance? The world at large finds American answers to these and many other questions about war totally unconvincing. The rest of the world reads American motives behind the war very different from what
the American media has been selling to their audiences back home. They argue and rightly so that war was not about liberating Iraq from tyranny of a dictator who was portrayed as the last living evil man on earth; it is about oil, reconstruction contracts for American companies, and for wider strategic goals in the Middle East. It is sad and tragic that Americans like the imperial powers of old Europe and the East have used war as an instrument of national policy, a prescription rejected by the founders of American republic. In case of Iraq, peaceful remedies existed and a UN sanctioned process was underway when the United States and Britain decided to cut it short and push for military action. They didn’t listen to voices of reason from old friends in Europe and regional leaders from the Middle East who understand the social and cultural complexity of the area better than the best American experts. They acted in the belief that they had power to remove Saddam Hussein and change the Iraqi regime without support of their traditional allies. Never was there any disagreement over the American capability to do so. It has the most sophisticated war machine ever employed against such a weak and vulnerable country and peoples fatigued by sanctions and international isolation. But modern war particularly in distant and troubled lands are more complex affairs that the simple equation of balance of power and cowboy mentality that President George W. Bush has constantly failed to mask. There is no disputing the hard fact that Americans will probably win the military battles though with lot of loss of their men and women, but the question is will they ever win the hearts and minds of the peoples in the Arab-Islamic world? The mistrust and gulf of misperceptions has widened between the US and the Middle Eastern societies during the past ten years. The Israeli atrocities against the Palestinians on daily basis have been fuelling anger well beyond the region. Never have we witnessed so much antiAmericanism in Europe, Middle East and Asia as we are seeing today. American commentators and official spokespersons are dismissive of what the rest of the world thinks about their country. It is partly arrogance of power and partly ignorance about other cultures and peoples that feeds into American follies about the use of force. It is not just the tragedy of nine-eleven but the growing feeling that America has the power to act alone and has moral responsibility to shape the world according to its sense of justice and good purpose. Unfortunately, American idealism for democracy, right of selfdetermination, peace and justice has been expropriated by new breed of neoconservatives who show no qualms about using it for quite opposite purposes. President George W. Bush wants his people and the rest of the world believe that the purpose of war was to liberate Iraq from an oppressive regime and remove a grave threat to American and regional security. Wasn’t this oppressive regime extended support through its regional allies when it committed aggression against Iran? Neither the character of the regime nor its aggressive policies against a neighbour in revolutionary turmoil were issues for the successive US administrations. By invading Iraq, the United States has acted against a global consensus that rests on the understanding that Iraq could be disarmed through peaceful diplomatic means. Contrary to the American suspicions and misgivings, the major world leaders thought that the UN inspection process in Iraq could help everyone at the end to determine if Iraq had or hadn’t weapons of mass destruction. Not too many countries shared the American point of view on the Iraqi weapons. This is why the US found itself isolated from rest of
international community. Except Britain, the traditional allies that stood fast with US through the most difficult period of the cold war have parted its company on the Iraq war. The US has miscalculated the political effects that the war might generate in the region. It looks nonsensical to think of post-war Iraq as liberal, democratic and progressive Arab country and becoming a model for rest of the region to emulate. The rosy picture that the Americans are drawing may turn out to be very ugly: It is already too bad. Internal ethnic, sectarian and political confrontations in Iraq may sharpen and even threaten territorial integrity of the country and trouble all its neighbours. War would definitely radicalize societies in Arab, Islamic countries: a phenomenon that is gripping many countries in the troubled Islamic crescent. The way American Administration has acted against Iraq by disregarding international public opinion, allies in Europe and overruling authority of the United Nations, it is going to undermine the legitimacy of the order that the United States has been trying to create. Whatever little trust was there in the UN system is now gone. Like inaction of the League of Nations in early 1930s against Japanese occupation of Manchuria, we find the United Nations helpless against the most powerful country in the world. War against Iraq may set a dangerous precedent in international relations. It will be destabilising if powerful states start acting as accusers, judges and executioners against their weaker adversaries. The ongoing war has thrown international system and its moral basis into an uncontrollable spin. It would be extremely difficult to restore back trust in the international institutions, and even more difficult for the US to rehabilitate itself as a responsible world power. The opposite battle cries Democracy and nation building are new projects that the neo-conservatives in the US have apparently assigned to themselves. Liberation against tyranny, democracy, freedom and progress are some of themes that the American leaders and intellectuals supporting them have been emphasising in their writings, speeches and op-ed comments for the past one year. There is no disagreement on democracy being a universal system that can be adapted to different social ecologies. Iraq can and should be a democratic country, so must others in the neighbourhood and far off places. Democracy and freedom are not in dispute. Bringing democracy and freedom, if and when it happens, through wars of aggression is not acceptable way. These are old issues in American foreign policy and their roots go deep in its history, idealism and national character. But often the critique of American foreign policy at home and abroad has been that it has not encouraged democracy and has often sacrificed this goal for political expediency. Now, it uses them as a pretext along with the boggy of weapons of mass destruction to destroy the entire defence and civilian infrastructure of an independent state and with that the regime that refused to tow its line on number of regional issues. Majority of the Iraqis and peoples in other countries would continue to question the American motives behind invasion of Iraq. Formation of all Iraqi-looking coalition government is not going remove many doubts and fears about American strategy in the region. The question that will continue to vibrate for years to come would be: is really for freedom and democracy that Anglo-American forces have invaded Iraq? The regime that will now be reconstructed out of diverse Iraqi elements, ethnic, religious and sectarian and secular will find difficult to answer this question. They may face yet another troubling question: who do you represent, the occupying forces or the peoples of
Iraq? The legitimacy of those who take new places on the pedestal of power will always be questioned. I don’t think the Americans or their puppets in Iraq will be really bothered by the question of legitimacy. Realistically, it would be seen emerging out of the barrels of guns and smoke of the heaviest of bombs. That impression would linger on, but victors have always the advantage of resources, the power and influence. And in case of Iraq, oil is in abundance to finance rapid reconstruction. After having won the military battle, the more difficult and complex struggle the United States has faced is how to win the support of the Iraqi people and how to keep them united under one Iraqi state. Knowing that Saddam and his structure of governance are gone, the common man in Iraq would by necessity look toward the new government for protection, economic sustenance and for rebuilding his life. In winning his genuine support, it would be prudent that Americans stay out of sight, over the horizon and act only when it is necessary. Building local capacity to rule both in terms of institutional infrastructure and political support would be necessary to calm the fears about American imperialism. But that is yet to happen. The resistance forces in different cities of Iraq have inflicted heavy damage on the new police and other security forces. That continues to bring the American and British forces in direct combat with the insurgents; this is what the Iraqi resistance wants. Iraqi insurgency that has been growing and is more organised attracting anti-American elements from throughout the regions believes that the AngloAmerican forces have pushed another knife into the heart of the Middle East. For them it is a matter of Arab pride and liberation of an Islamic land, and they would like to fight for Iraq no matter what it takes. Conclusion: empire, allies and resistance In Western democracy, and theoretically in every democracy, public has right to know why their government took certain actions, particularly those that put the lives of their citizens at risk. War against Iraq and the rationale for it have been under lot of media and public scrutiny during the past one year. Two things have ignited what it now appears to be an unending political controversy over the accuracy of intelligence, and its political uses or misuses by Prime Minister Tony Blair and President George W. Bush. First is the failure of the occupation forces in Iraq in finding weapons of mass destruction even after more than one year of taking control of the country. Second are the intelligence leaks that the two leaders either knowingly or unknowingly acted on incomplete, unsubstantiated or even false reports about Iraq’s weapons programme. Blair and Bush built their case for war against Iraq before their public, Parliament and the Congress, and the world at large on weapons of mass destruction that in their view Saddam Hussein possessed. It was vehemently argued that Saddam not only had them but would use these weapons against the Western allies, and perhaps also against the Western nations through terrorist agents. A large section of the Western media working hand in glove with these leaders further projected the Iraqi threat as imminent. I remember some of American channels showing little school children in Israel doing drills on how to move quickly to the safe underground bunkers when Saddam Hussein lobbed his long-range missile tipped with biological, chemical and nuclear weapons. Stories after stories, day after day interestingly by very “credible” and “independent” columnists in the most influential dailies in Britain and the United States kept circulating the same material that Blair, Bush and the conservative hawks behind them presented. The Anglo-
American media was literally captured by the war hawks. It was one of those rarely perfect alliances between politician and the media similar to the one they had against the Nazi Germany. Millions of ordinary people around the world and in Britain and the United States protested against the war, but that had no effect on the two leaders spearheading the movement for war. Tony Blair argued the case for war before the British Parliament on the grounds of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction and the threat these weapons posed to the world peace and security. A British Government report circulated in September 2002 claimed that Saddam Hussein had the capability to launch chemical and biological weapons in 45 minutes. Bush in one his major speeches before the United Nations asserted that Iraq was acquiring uranium for its nuclear weapons from Niger. Where are Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction? Will they ever be found there? I doubt it seriously because it appears there were none in the first place. It is what the former United Nations chief weapons inspector Hans Blix has publicly admitted. Public in the United States and Britain and people around the world are increasingly becoming suspicious about the real reason behind the war. Tony Blair is in trouble and I don’t think he will be able to get out of the mess he has created by over exaggerating the Iraqi threat and over blowing the issue of weapons of mass destruction. Although the foreign affairs committee investigating the decision for war has cleared him of the charges that he concocted the intelligence, it continues to insist that the Blair government presented unsubstantiated information to the Parliament. This problem is not going to go away and it is likely to harm Blair’s credibility and political standing more in the coming months. Already the numbers of people who think going to war was wrong has jumped up from 24 percent at the end of the war to 45 percent in the public opinion surveys. Feeling the heat, Blair and Bush have changed the track of their argument for the war. They are paddling on one familiar and the one new track. The familiar one is that Baath regime was bad and it had to go. But then the question is, what the Iraqis have now? And the Iraqis don’t see the new situation as a liberation, but naked occupation of their country. There is no doubt in my mind that the United States wanted a war and a victory in the aftermath of tragic events of September 11. The most powerful country in the world felt badly wounded, as its shroud of security was torn apart by its invisible enemies. Its pride, prestige and sense of invulnerability went into the rubble and dust of World Trade Centre towers. Image, prestige and power to influence events around the world had to be rehabilitated. What we know with the benefit of the hindsight is that preparations for war against Iraq had started well before the controversy over the return of UN inspectors in Iraq. It is equally tragic how Bush and Blair used the public anger against foreign enemies to build up a false case Iraq. In doing so, they have committed three big wrongs. First is not giving their own citizens complete and accurate information. They knew that they had questionable intelligence reports but they presented to the public as if they were based on solid evidence. Second, changing a regime no matter what its sources of legitimacy are is a fundamental violation of the norms of international law. Third, occupation of Iraq has added a new dimension to the troubles of the Middle Eastern region. Many around the world and specifically in the region are increasingly looking at the US as a new imperial
power with an eye on the oil resources of the region. This impression that is already deep is going to define the new contestation between occupation and resistance. What will be the outcome? More trouble, more violence, and more insecurity.
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