Home > News > Columnists > Admiral J G Nadkarni (retd)
The American World Order
March 22, 2003
The questions uppermost in people's minds are how long will the war in Iraq last and what will be the aftermath. Although on the face of it the action this time may appear to be similar to that of 1991, there are a number of differences. Twelve years ago a majority of the world was behind the United States and the allies. The cause appeared just. Saddam had swallowed Kuwait, a defenceless neighbour, and not a single country sympathised with him. It was pure aggression and it could not be supported. The war was given legitimacy by an UN resolution.
This time around, a majority of people, not only within the US and the UK, but all over the world are against the war. The UN does not support the war. The nations opposing the US include such heavyweights as Russia, China, France and Germany. The opposition will increase as the war continues and the body bags start coming in.
In 1991, although the preparations leading up to the war took nearly six months, the action itself took more than a month. Iraq was far more powerful militarily and exactly what type of defence it would put up was unknown. So the allies went in with all caution and took more than a month to soften up Baghdad before ground action started. Not so now. The ground action has commenced simultaneously with the attack from the skies. With world opposition growing Bush and his allies will want swift action leading to the fall of Baghdad and the overthrow of Saddam Hussein.
Furthermore, despite all the rhetoric from Baghdad, the allies face an emasculated Iraq, suffering the after-effects of 10 years of sanctions. It will not be a surprise if the Iraqis put up little resistance. But if American troops expect Iraqis to welcome them as liberators they are sadly mistaken. Despite the propaganda image of Saddam created by the US, by all accounts he is a popular leader who has transformed Iraq into a modern state. He may be ruthless but he is also highly respected. Furthermore, there is general hatred for the West, especially the US, in the Middle East.
It is a little difficult to remember, but just 15 years ago Saddam was hailed as the last bastion against the westward spread of fundamentalism. His war against Iran then was supported by the oil rich Gulf states of Saudi Arabia and Kuwait as well as the US.
The fall of Iraq and Saddam Hussein is imminent. The more important question is what happens next. Many years ago George Bush the elder talked of a New World Order. He was quite vague about it and no one quite knew what that order would be. Well, now we know.
Just 15 years ago this was a bipolar world. The Cold War had many faults. But it led on each occasion to a predictable scenario. The world had split into two camps and nations had lined up behind the US or the USSR. The so-called Third Force consisting of nonaligned nations was a harmless collection of nations who met but hardly were able to influence the two major superpowers, who balanced each other militarily. No side was able to try any adventurism without meeting stiff opposition from the other. In the battle of the giants many minnows benefited by playing one side against the other, India and Pakistan being amongst them.
After the demise of the Soviet Union, the US remained the unchallenged power in the world. With the rise of the European powers and China, many debated whether the world had become multipolar. Events during the past year have now unequivocally proved that the world has today only one pole, the United States.
After the breakup of the USSR, for a time the US took on the mantle of the world's policeman. It took the job seriously. It received admiration and respect from the world. Unfortunately, in September 2001 terrorists struck the policeman's home, more or less at the same time when a new policeman arrived on the beat. There was an immediate transformation. The policeman became the neighbourhood bully. Respect was transformed to fear. As is usual with any dada, the bully will always have his collection of yes men and sycophants around him.
The US economy is still the world's strongest and there are many benefits to be gained from by being on her right side. It is ironic that thanks to Iraq the US has alienated old friends like France and Germany. On the other hand, old enemies like Poland and Czechoslovakia now support the US, mainly because their well being is so dependent on trade with Washington.
That is indeed one reason why the Indian protest is so muted. The US is India's largest trading partner. Our burgeoning IT exports are dependent on orders from US multinationals. We do not want to spoil all that by vociferously supporting Saddam. We also nurture a fond wish that after finishing Iraq the US will turn its attention to Pakistan and take on the large number of Al Qaeda who have burrowed themselves in Pakistan's northwest.
What about Saddam? Saddam is far too clever and far too powerful to be caught by US forces. He will disappear like Osama bin Laden. It is perfectly possible for all anti-US militant forces to join hands. With the guile of Osama and with Saddam's leadership and the stashed away millions they can be a major terrorist force capable of causing widespread mischief in the US and other parts of the world.
As for Iraq, the US and the allies are there for a long period of occupation until they make doubly sure that a puppet regime friendly to the West is established and does the bidding of the US. Of course, there will be elections a la Afghanistan and the regime will be called 'democratic.' As democratic as Pakistan, no doubt.
The question is, will the rest of the world resign itself to living under the shadow of the street bully or will they try to develop or raise a counter force? There has been talk of India, China and Russia joining hands to create a third force in the world. With large parts of Europe now aware of the new New World Order, it may be well worth considering forming a global alliance to take on the superpower.
As for the US having tasted victory in Iraq it is unlikely it will return to the role of the neighbourhood friendly policeman. It may continue to ignore the United Nations and continue its aggressive and unpopular policies to mould the world into an American World Order.
Admiral J G Nadkarni (retd)