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On Iraq, be pro-Indian
April 03, 2003
The Administration's war reports eroded its credibility at home, for which much of the blame rested with the military. Indoctrinated in deception for purposes of misleading the enemy, the military misleads from habit.'
Thus wrote Barbara Tuchman in an essay on Vietnam in her book The March of Folly. She was writing in 1983, just eight years after the Americans fled South Vietnam, but her words strike a chord with us today. How else can you explain the utter idiocy with which the United States and Britain are conducting the public relations aspect of the war in Iraq?
However, grabbing the headlines is no substitute for losing the war. Saddam Hussein has asked his compatriots to prepare for 'martyrdom,' and that seems set to be his own fate given the utter imbalance of forces between Iraq and the coalition. Disengagement is simply not an option when the world's sole superpower puts its power and prestige in the fray -- short of victory or absolute defeat. The Iraqi dictator's fate is sealed, especially so since no other nation is willing to actually come to his aid, no matter what its rhetoric or how much it fears American 'hegemony.'
So why have these facts escaped the attention of the anti-war lobby in India? No, that is wrong, it isn't so much an anti-war lobby as an anti-American lobby. The same battery of charges is fired time and again: that the United States is fighting for oil rather than for democracy and/or security, that the United Nations has been fatally diminished by American unilateralism, and so on. What do any of these have to do with India's national interests?
To take up the first charge, there is probably more than a kernel of truth when everyone accuses the United States of seeking to control Iraq's petroleum reserves. But how does India suffer from that?
India and the United States are both net consumers of oil. (Both of them have oil wells, but scarcely enough for their needs.) It is in India's economic interests as much as in those of the United States to keep oil prices as low and as stable as possible. What was Saddam Hussein's attitude on this matter? Well, consider this: he has often accused Kuwait and the other Arab states of causing prices to fall by overproduction. So, make no mistake about it: if the United States suffers a major setback in Iraq, Indian wallets will feel the pinch.
How about the charge of diminishing the United Nations by ignoring it? This is to make two assumptions: first that the United Nations is a parliament of nations, and second that India has always been a beneficiary of the United Nations. Neither is warranted.
The United Nations is little more than a collection of governments, many of which are themselves far from democratic. Look no farther than the composition of the Security Council, the 'Cabinet' of this would-be global legislature. Is China a democracy? Or Cameroon (reputedly even lower on the corruption chart than South Asia)? Or Ivory Coast? Or Pakistan?
One might argue that individual affiliates of the United Nations -- UNICEF, WHO, or the World Food Programme have done a decent job on the whole. But they can, and should, be spun off to become independent bodies (like the International Red Cross). Because the United Nations on the whole is nothing but a collection of lazy, unimaginative bureaucrats, selected without any regard for merit. As for the General Assembly, it deserves nothing but our contempt.
Let me take you back to December 7, 1971, when the General Assembly voted on the infamous 'Uniting for Peace' resolution. Pakistan had attacked India three days earlier, and India had recognised Bangladesh as an independent nation on December 6. But while Islamabad's treatment of the Bengalis had long been a global scandal, it was India that was at the receiving end in the General Assembly. We lost that vote by 104 to 11, with only the Soviet bloc standing by us.
I have had little respect for the United Nations' moral posturing ever since. That body celebrates its 58th birthday later this year, the age when Indian bureaucrats retire. Perhaps a similar fate is indicated for the United Nations...
Let us be honest, when the world body elects Libya to the body looking after human rights, and Iraq (of all nations!) is set to chair the Disarmament Conference, you know that the United Nations has become a joke -- and not a very funny one. (Mercifully, common sense has prevailed and it appears that Iraq shall not after all succeed Iran to preside over disarmament in May, but that still does not explain how the Gaddafi regime was actually voted into the human rights body.)
Finally, there is the issue of Islamic fundamentalism, which is now the principal external threat to the Indian state. (Even Pakistan's attitude flows from this, and so, come to that did Partition itself.) Saddam Hussein is now the poster-boy of the fundamentalist, and his latest speeches draw liberally from the rhetoric of the jihadis. This alone, if nothing else, should make his regime anathema to any Indian.
I don't recommend open support for the United States. There are too many areas of disagreement, not least when it comes to tackling the sources of terrorism. But self interest states that we shouldn't indulge in firing empty cannons of rhetoric either. That isn't being pro-Bush or anti-Saddam, but of being pro-Indian.
Government, John Kenneth Galbraith once said, is often reduced to little more than a choice between the distasteful and the disastrous. Maintaining an attitude of 'masterly inactivity' may be distasteful to a foreign policy establishment marinated in the milk of Nehruvian rhetoric, but the costs of a victory for Saddam Hussein -- in every aspect of national security, including the economic -- can only spell disaster for India.
T V R Shenoy