Home > News > Columnists > Praful Bidwai
Don't sanctify US Empire!
June 24, 2003
It's a sign of its deviousness that the National Democratic Alliance government is talking to various political parties in order to evolve a 'consensus' on despatching Indian troops to Iraq without giving an inkling of where it itself stands on this subject.
It's allowing the United States to determine the content and pace of its own deliberations on the issue. As early as May 6, it permitted US embassy officials to meet Indian military personnel. It is President Bush, not an Indian leader, who decided that a team of Pentagon officials would visit New Delhi on June 16.
There are other indications too of growing pressure on India to send a division-plus or about 20,000 soldiers to Iraq. The US keenness to get India involved in Iraq's 'stabilisation' is understandable, though not justifiable.
The Anglo-American coalition is caught in what is rapidly turning into a quagmire. Every single political plan it devised for Iraq has come a cropper. Its first pro-consul, Lt Gen Jay Garner, had to quit within a month -- in disgrace. His civilian successor Paul Bremer hasn't had an iota of success in establishing a nominally viable government.
A new regime with a strong representation of Iraqis chosen by a broad-based conference remains a mirage. There's a near-total breakdown of public services in Iraq and growing resistance to the Anglo-American occupation. The occupying troops are forced to prolong their stay and undertake responsibilities beyond their capacity.
Most important, the US is losing one soldier every other day to sniper and grenade attacks. Casualties are likely to rise as the aggressive 'Operation Desert Scorpion' gets going and armed resistance mounts, as in Balad.
The US desperately wants other countries to put their troops in the firing line. India is being asked to do this because the US' own close pro-war Western allies (barring Britain) have refused to collectively commit more than 15,000 troops. The maximum for any country is 3,000 -- Italy.
Their public opinion doesn't countenance high military casualties in support of Iraq's occupation. With 20,000 troops, India is being asked to demonstrate greater loyalty than the US's own military partners, including even Britain (which sent 15,000 soldiers). The US will use Indian troops as cheap cannon fodder. Even if it 'compensates' each of them (eventually and indirectly) at the same rate as United Nations peacekeepers (about $1,000 per month), that'll only cost America five percent of what it spends on every US soldier posted abroad. The US will make billions of dollars by withdrawing its own soldiers and making Indians die.
India is politically useful too. It enjoys a fair amount of goodwill in the Arab world because of its past as a Non-Aligned Movement leader and supporter of Arab nationalism. India's military presence in Iraq as America's junior partner will to an extent help legitimise an occupation loathed by the Iraqi people.
The US is anxious to obfuscate and obliterate the circumstances in which the Iraq war was waged: without a casus belli or rationale. The best way to do this is to stress 'stability' and 'reconstruction', including lucrative contracts. There is no reason why a single Indian soldier should go to Iraq and shed blood for the US. Indian troops aren't meant to 'keep' or 'enforce' peace in Iraq. They are being asked to impose law and (a despotic) order on behalf of the occupation powers -- not in some neutral or autonomous manner, but in ways that suit those powers' interests.
This will bring Indian soldiers into hostile confrontation with Iraqi civilians as they resist what they regard as their country's unjust occupation. The troops will also be exposed to highly toxic materials like depleted uranium, which has caused the 'Gulf War syndrome' among US troops since 1991.The critical point is, a military occupation, which is the result of an unwarranted, unjust and illegal war, cannot be just and legal.
India rightly criticised the war through a unanimous Parliament resolution. The criticism's rationale was that no conclusive evidence existed that Iraq had operational, deliverable, weapons of mass destruction. Its WMD programme didn't pose a credible threat. Further UN inspections could have detected and dismantled it, as chief inspector Hans Blix pleaded. The US and the UK bypassed the Security Council and violated the UN Charter by invading Iraq. The invasion breached every criterion of 'just war', including military necessity, non-combatant immunity, proportionality in the use of force, etc.
This rationale cannot be negated even if the UN Security Council passes a resolution specifically requesting UN member-states to deploy troops in Iraq along the lines of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan. Recent India-UN discussions suggest this is unlikely to happen.
At any rate, India's political parties shouldn't dilute their categorical opposition to the occupation by invoking the UN Security Council. The council isn't sacrosanct. It can be manipulated by the US. If Iraq's invasion was unjust and illegal in the first place, the UN won't make it just.
The government is equally wrong to substitute secondary issues -- who would command Indian troops, how long they would stay, what arrangements the US has for administering Iraq and transferring power to Iraqis, etc -- for the primary question: should troops at all be sent to legitimise and assist an unjust occupation?
Recent disclosures and events have greatly reinforced the anti-war, anti-occupation argument. No WMD have been found in Iraq -- more than two months after Baghdad fell. We now know the US and British governments greatly 'sexed up' and distorted intelligence reports on Iraq's WMD. This has embarrassed even the Defence Intelligence Agency, the CIA and MI-6. Even former UN weapons inspector Richard Butler, an unabashed war supporter, says: 'Clearly, a decision had been taken to pump up the case against Iraq.'
Apart from plagiarising a 13-year-old academic paper, the Blair government ran a covert 'dirty tricks' operation 'designed specifically to produce misleading intelligence' so as 'to give the UK a justifiable excuse to wage war', according to Britain's Sunday Herald. 'Operation Rockingham' was created to 'cherry-pick' intelligence and 'ignore and quash' information which pointed to different conclusions.
This crisis of credibility is affecting political equations. US-Europe differences have sharpened -- handshakes at Evian notwithstanding. Tony Blair has survived the war. But he is unlikely to be able to lend British support to another US-led invasion elsewhere. US Deputy Defence Secretary Paul Wolfowitz -- a neoconservative ideologue who wanted to invade Iraq even before 9/11 -- now admits that the hyped-up WMD claim was a bureaucratic 'excuse'.
US official jargon on Iraq has shifted from 'WMD' to the far more ambivalent term, 'WMD programmes'. This should further discredit the idea of legitimising Iraq's occupation. Yet, many within the NDA government, backed by America's apologists in the media and the foreign policy establishment, are determined to put India on this disastrous course. They fall into three groups.
The first holds that in today's unipolar world, Indian and US interests largely coincide. Both have an equal stake in putting down 'Axis of Evil' states; close collaboration including sharing of military bases is necessary. Sending troops to Iraq is a 'test': rather than whine about hegemonism and an unequal world, can India 'dare' to show the world that it is a major US ally and a Great Power?
The second group is obsessed with business. It believes that sending troops to Iraq is fine so long as the US doles out generous reconstruction contracts to India. It bandies about spectacular figures for reconstruction like $200 billion, even $500 billion, with big individual deals in the tens of billions. This is pure hype. The highest contract awarded so far is $680 million (Bechtel). Huge contracts won't materialise unless American can pump much more oil out of Iraq. This seems near-impossible for a couple of years -- and dicey even later.
In any case, big contracts will be first given to US giants like Halliburton and Bechtel, and then to British firms, leaving small crumbs for bit players like India. The third group advocates what may be called the Advani Line: troops despatch in exchange for a US promise to pressure Pakistan to end 'cross border' terrorism. This ignores US priorities. To smash the Al Qaeda network, America needs Pakistan as an ally. This limits the pressure it can put on Islamabad. Besides, it poses ticklish issues of inspection and verification. And what if Pakistan too offers to send troops to Iraq -- as Musharraf declared he'd do, on June 12? This will completely neutralise India's diplomatic 'advantage'.
Despite its seeming 'toughness', the Advani Line involves trading policy independence for US favours -- an idea repugnant to any self-respecting democracy. This means India won't play an independent future role vis-ą-vis an imperial US. Such disingenuous and specious arguments must be given no quarter. All Opposition parties must take a categorical, unconditional stand against troops despatch -- with or without a Security Council request, and no matter what 'concessions' the US offers on issues like the chain of command. Our citizens mobilised themselves strongly against Iraq's invasion in some 500 cities and towns. They must oppose Iraq's occupation too. We need some serious street-level action and national-level mobilisation for Iraq's liberation.