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Iraq: Collateral damage
March 25, 2003
An appropriate blend of cynicism and hauteur is all that is needed. A jingle once popular with American kids ran as follows: 'Lost my partner, what shall I do? I'll get another one prettier than you.'
The jingle conceals an immense philosophical truth, and can currently provide enlightenment to the strutting-about of the likes of George W Bush and Tony Blair.
The United States of America and the United Kingdom have been deserted by France and Germany. And, of course, the US president is aghast at the United Nations. It no longer represents the international community, which, as defined by Washington, now consists of just four countries. New partners were available on tap for the great Anglo-American alliance; they have been commissioned with immediate effect. The precious new partners -- yes, continue rubbing your eyes -- are Spain and Portugal, no less.
The majority of European nations might have spurned the war-mongers, but their replacement is the Iberian peninsula, the whole of it. After all, Spain and Portugal have impeccable credentials. Spain was the land from where ejection of the Muslim interlopers was completed in 1492 through the conquest of Granada by Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile. This was followed by the trans-oceanic expeditions in the sixteenth century, empire-building in the Americas and ceaseless flow of wealth into Spain.
Portugal's history has the same proud lineage. From the fifteenth century onwards, Portuguese explorers such as Vasco da Gama were instrumental in opening up new trade routes; an overseas empire, equally impressive, also got established. They also serve who stand and wait. These two erstwhile great imperial nations, leftovers from past epochs, have responded to the call of a new destiny. Friends in need are friends indeed. It does not matter whether the rest of Europe has betrayed the Great Cause, it does not matter if the UN issues a formal warning and disapproves of the launching of hostilities against Iraq without the sanction of the international body. It does not matter if, even in their own countries, Bush and Tony Blair encounter upheaval and near insurrection.
They have chosen to take on the entire world. The White House press person has summed it up aptly: were the UN not to obey the dictates of President Bush, an alternative international structure would be arranged. This has been done at the summit held in Ponta Delgado. Saddam might have described that gathering as the summit of outlaws. So what, is he not being liquidated?
We are thus witnessing the full-fledged resuscitation of the Age of Imperialism. The symptoms, fairly overt during the past two decades, have now reached the climacteric. Way back in 1991, the UN was inveigled into clamping sanctions against Iraq, which continue till today, because of its unilateral move to annex Kuwait. To ask whether the UN should not proceed to decree similar sanctions against the US and the UK would be altogether puerile. Might, who does not know, is right, which is the other name of imperialism. The likely prospect is the disintegration of the UN itself. It is heavily dependent on the US for its upkeep. Any day federal agents could move in and lock up that magnificent building on the Manhattan waterfront.
Have the president of the US and his underlings thought things through though? Even assuming that they are able to get Saddam and reduce Iraq to dust, are they at all sure what the chain of subsequent events is going to be? Apart from mounting revulsion against them across the rest of the world, the life-is-not-worth-living-without-a-lovely-war-every-now-and-then-crowd -- the war-mongers -- are bound to be at the receiving end of continuous hostility and disaffection. The rest of the world may not, in the existing circumstances, have the military prowess to counter the Bush-Blair megalomania. But we know the obvious alternative designs and devices a wronged population is capable of driving itself to. Those who perceive themselves to be wronged will not be confined in limited geographical locations either. International terrorism will become respectable. It will also be widespread.
Despite the victory, Iraqi oil, the Americans would soon discover, will in no time slip away from their control; refineries will be blown up, so too pipelines. Murders and sabotage will be the order of the day here, there, everywhere. And that will be only the beginning.
The Anglo-American alliance will be confronted by a phenomenon increasingly assuming the form of a permanent insurrection. Initially, it may be somewhat inchoate and chaotic, a collage of individual passions and sporadic emotions. But over the longer run, it could be transformed into a ferocious surge of anti-Americanism. Europe in any event will draw apart from the US, affecting trade and other economic relations, with unforeseen political spin-offs. Those inclined to fish in troubled waters will multiply.
Both in the US and Britain, domestic turmoil will be of no less intensity; revolt at the grassroots will disequilibrate society. Such developments could prove to be an irony of history. Mikhail Gorbachev's initiative in the eighties sought to kill the concept of the international brotherhood of the toiling masses. The boss man of Perestroika walked away from fraternisation between working class parties in different parts of the world. Perhaps taking a cue from the Russian example, even the People's Republic of China has turned inwards; as of this hour, the affairs of the world are seemingly of little interest to it.
The malignant influence of globalisation too has been at work, preaching the supposed majesty of self-seeking and narrow-mindedness. The Iraq holocaust could mark a qualitative shift in the processes of the mind amongst ordinary people in the six continents. Because of the enormity of what the US administration primly calls 'collateral damage' inflicted on the hapless Iraqi population, the world as a whole will perhaps rediscover the grandeur of the moral code embedded in human civilisation.
When an American woman senator joins a night-long sit-in along the ramparts of the White House, of course she is keenly aware of the strong anti-war mood in her constituency; she is however simultaneously overwhelmed by empathy for women, children and old people about to be slaughtered in Iraq. An electricity is at work and a common current of resolve is binding together the protesters in Melbourne and Manitoba, in Papua New Guinea and Pennsylvania, in Tokyo and Tallahassee, in Cape Town and Terra del Fuego.
Humanitarian ethos is a funny chemistry; it negates, at least it seeks to negate, imperialist ambitions. The more you obliterate fellow human beings by massive deployment of weapons of mass destruction, the greater is the possibility of flowers of peace blooming amidst the rubble and ashes. This may not exactly be of the genre of international proletarian solidarity Marxists dream of, but should the Bush-Blair pogrom lead to a great collective moral regeneration, call it by any name, it would still be bliss and benediction for the world.
Eric Hobsbawm has a tract which describes the twentieth century as the Age of Extremes. As the century closed, while the extreme tendencies subsided, many open-ended questions remained. Maybe the twenty-first century will see resolution of some of these debates. Whether a return to imperialism is a viable proposition was one outstanding question at the fin de siècle. Things have necessarily to get worse before they can turn better, so says the adage. Once humanity survives this last hurrah of the savages, who knows, humanism will stage a comeback, imperialism will be finally dead and the kingdom of justice will come to bless the entire human race.
Meanwhile, we can only crouch in our corners and speculate on the dimensions of the collateral damage.