It is now more or less certain that the US and its few allies will attack Iraq in the very near future. It is now only a matter of when and not whether. It may be next week or next month but nothing, not the growing antiwar opinion in the United States, not the growing protests across the world, not the absence of any smoking gun discovery by the UN inspectors and certainly not the absence of a clear cut mandate by the United Nations is going to stop President Bush from his singular mission.
Many excuses, some official and some assumed, have been promulgated. The one reason repeatedly put forward by the US and its allies is that Saddam Hussein still harbours Weapons of Mass Destruction defying the UN resolutions of 1991 although the UN inspectors have been unable to unearth any.
Not many in the world are ready to buy this. Even the 'proof' provided by Colin Powell at the UN failed to convince many. The main argument against this theory is pure common sense. Why would Sadaam Hussein bring death and destruction on himself and his country just to possess a few WMDs?
There is the ingenuous argument about replacing Saddam Hussein, admittedly a despotic leader, with a democracy. But then the US has never been a particular lover of democracies in the past. Otherwise, India and the US should have been the greatest of friends all these years. And isn't this the same country which overthrew the democratically elected Allende in Chile and replaced him with the infamous Pinochet. And who pray has been actively propping up and supporting a galaxy of despotic rulers in the Gulf all these years not to talk of other military dictators including our neighbour General Pervez Musharraf.
Talk of America wanting to overthrow Saddam because he is not democratically elected is laughable.
The most plausible reason may be the need for US oil majors to lay their hands on Iraqi oil. But if that was the case why didn't Bush senior go the whole hog, occupy Iraq, get rid of Saddam and replace him with a more compliant leader in 1991? He could have easily done that when he had the support of most nations.
But as it is free season for finding reasons, let me add a few of my own. Up to 1974 the US always touted itself as a country which had never lost a war. Vietnam changed all that. After a war which lasted over 12 years and in which they lost nearly 70,000 men, the US finally had to withdraw ignominiously from Vietnam in 1974.
They have never been able to live down the trauma of that war.
Ever since then, to boost up the morale both the armed forces and the people the US has invariable picked small targets regularly, overpowering them with overwhelming force. Granada, Panama, Haiti, Iraq 1990 and Afghanistan. Iraq 2003 falls into this pattern. It is easy pickings. For over ten years Saddam Hussein has been portrayed as devil incarnate in the US. A victory over him will send approval ratings soaring and if Indira Gandhi in 1972 and Margaret Thatcher in 1983 (not Winston Churchill in 1945 mind you!) are any precedents, a victory in the presidential poll of 2004 after a victory in battle is guaranteed.
Another reason may appear even more far fetched. Countries are forever looking for real combat conditions to test out the new weapons they have developed. Hitler honed the Luftwaffe's bombing skills during the Spanish Civil War. The US Patriot missile's rather disappointing performance against Iraqi Scuds brought home many valuable lessons.
The United States has been developing and stockpiling all manner of weapons during the last 50 years. A lot of them were tested during the Vietnam war and in Afghanistan. Iraq provides a god given opportunity to try out the efficacy of those smart bombs, Cruise missiles and even tactical nuclear missiles. A better anti-missile missile may have been developed and what better way than to test it against Saddam's Scuds.
And who really cares if a lot of innocent Iraqis get killed in the bargain. The US command has already announced that 1,500 Cruise missiles will descend on Saddam's palaces within 48 hours of the start of action. That is surely mass destruction to destroy weapons of mass destruction. The US may also use tactical nuclear weapons to target Iraqi deep bunkers.
In general Indians are not particularly interested in what happens in Iraq. Iraq is so far away and of no great concern to most of them. There is not much love for Saddam Hussein, who is not a particularly lovable man. There are few public protests or anti-war rallies in the country. In any case if disasters on television were to be seen most Indians would rather watch the Indian team's performance in the World Cup.
At the political and diplomatic level our response to American high-handedness has been muted. We have registered the usual support for Iraq and expressed our opposition to any war against Saddam. That is as far as we are likely to go. In recent years we have been getting closer to the United States after years in the wilderness and are beginning to enjoy the fruits. Sanctions imposed against India have been lifted. Military cooperation is increasing and trade between the two is at an all time high.
Foreign investment in India is continuing. We are not going to throw all that away and go back to our pontificating past. Especially not if we are to enjoy the benefits of a post Saddam Iraq.
Secretly we must hope Saddam is overthrown quickly so that Iraqi oil starts flowing again, oil prices drop and our economy picks up. It is also possible once the Iraq business is finished that the United States will finally find time to concentrate on terrorism and take on its hub, Pakistan. Whichever scenario one forecasts, in the short term at least, there are both economic and political advantages for India. It is the long term fallout of an American action that should worry us.
By appeasing the US and acquiescing in any unilateral American action we will tacitly acknowledge the legitimacy of Bush's new doctrine of affirmative action against any country which is against US national interests. We would also be a silent party to increasing US hegemony in this part of the world.
In the seventies we used to protest frequently about foreign presence in the Indian Ocean. Today one of the culprits has left with all his ships and there is not a whimper about the overwhelming US presence. We have shown little concern when American attention is focused on a small country in the Gulf. But what if at a future date that same US third eye is opened against India on one pretext or another? Who will be there to protect us then?