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Deep-fried relations

The US wants to shock and awe not only Iraq but the whole world

india Updated: Mar 31, 2003 21:31 IST

Two contradictory impulses about the war in Iraq will guide public opinion among large sections of people in the coming days. One is a desire for the deposition of the western world’s friend-turned-foe Saddam Hussein. The other is an uneasiness about a display of overwhelming American power lest it should create a new monster for the rest of the world to contend with.

For, make no mistake, a major reason why the US has gone to war in the Fertile Crescent is not dismay over the misery of the Iraqi people. Had this been so, the West wouldn’t have bolstered up Hussein from virtually his assumption of power and right through the Iran-Iraq conflict till he made the mistake of invading Kuwait. The reason behind the invasion is something else. It is to make the US shed its self-inflicted Vietnam syndrome, the malaise which, the Americans believe, has made the world regard the US as an ineffectual giant, unwilling to accept the costs of war, mainly in terms of body bags.

If the US has decided to ‘shock and awe’ Iraq into submission, the explanation is that it is ‘doable’, as Vice-President Dick Cheney has said. Doable in the sense that the war is winnable. No wonder, the CNBC talk show host, Jay Leno, described George W. Bush as the ‘smartest’ commander in history, for he first called upon Iraq to get rid of its weapons before attacking it. North Korea, in this context, is not doable. For it has nukes.

Washington’s other poodle — or, rather, pit bull — Israel played a crucial role in defanging Iraq by its pre-emptive strike against an Iraqi nuclear installation in 1981. Incidentally, one of the pilots who carried out that raid was Ilan Ramon, who died in the recent Challenger crash. Now, that pre-emption by the pit bull has been turned into the cornerstone of American foreign policy by Bush.

According to a report in the Israeli newspaper, Ha’aretz, US Undersecretary of State John Bolton has told Israelis that, after Iraq, the US will ‘deal with’ Iran, Syria and North Korea. The hawkish adviser to the Pentagon, Richard Perle, has also warned, according to The Economist, that the US will have to fight ‘many wars’ to reorder the world according to its preferences.

A major reason for the American fury against France is that it is the only country with what can perhaps be described as a high civilisational background which seems determined to oppose this new American enterprise. True, Germany and Russia are the other major European powers which are also against the US plans.

But neither carries the kind of inherent prestige which France does in world affairs. Germany is still hobbled by Hitler and Russia by Stalin. Their ‘entry’ into the modern world had been held up by their undemocratic regimes which lasted well into the 20th century. Besides, even today, Russian democracy cannot be considered fully mature.

France, on the other hand, is the home of ‘Liberté! Égalité! Fraternité!’, the centre of European culture and civilisation and the proud standard-bearer of lingua franca, the language of the European elite till English replaced it. Clearly, if any country can stand up to America, it is France. And, instinctively, it has done so ever since the end of World War II when it suspected American hegemonistic ambitions.

As a recent article in an American newspaper pointed out, France virtually did not exist in 1945. But Charles de Gaulle made both Roosevelt and Churchill recognise it as a major power and treat it as such. Hence, France’s permanent seat in the UN Security Council, now a sore point with the Americans. Throughout the Cold War, even though Europe was helplessly dependent on the US to save it from the Soviet bear, France made it clear that it followed its own counsel. Hence, its independent nuclear deterrent and distance from NATO. Now, France can well be said to represent the ‘other superpower’ — the people of the world, as described by The New York Times.

If France has had the courage all these years to defy, first, a superpower and now a hyperpower, why is Britain an American poodle? It’s not only a question of the unity of the English-speaking people, although, to quote The Economist again, Tony Blair speaks ‘fluent English’ and Bush ‘stumbling Texan’.

It is possible that the Tories and Tony want to relive the British imperial dreams via the US. After all, Iraq was entrusted to their care after the break-up of the Ottoman Empire. The last time the Brits wanted to play an imperial role was in the Suez in 1956. Falklands was too tiny to set imperial hearts aflame, although it did help Margaret Thatcher win an election. In 1956, the Americans had opposed Britain (and France). Now the Brits are tagging along in Iraq to derive vicarious pleasure from yet another ‘civilising’ mission in an oriental country — the longstanding ‘white man’s burden’.

The Americans, however, are not likely to engage in any such task.

All they will be interested in is in installing a friendly ogre in Baghdad. All of past American history confirms this — its propping up of dictators from Syngman Rhee in South Korea to Ngo Dinh Diem in South Vietnam to Ayub Khan and Yahya Khan in Pakistan to the Shah of Iran to Mobutu Sese Seke in Congo to Papa and Baby Doc in Haiti to Batista in Cuba to Pinochet in Chile.

The list is incomplete. Today, the US has no compunctions about supporting repressive regimes in the Muslim countries of West and Central Asia. It is absurd, therefore, to suggest that the US is driving itself to distraction by a desire to establish democracy in Iraq. Besides, it has nothing but contempt for the small countries.

One of the hawkish American columnists was aghast at the sight of the mighty US having to depend on the wishes of Guinea, Cameroon and Angola to secure a UN approval for the war in Iraq. “As soon as their votes are cast, they will sink again into obscurity,” he wrote. “The exercise is ridiculous.” It is like a lord of the manor looking on in angry bewilderment at obscure little chaps emerging from their hovels to cast their votes on great matters of the day and then sinking again into obscurity.

The UN, therefore, will be the next American target. Already, Richard Perle has wondered whether the UN is “better able to confer legitimacy than, say, a coalition of liberal democracies?” It is an echo of the ‘coalition of the willing’ which is assisting the US in the war. Americans, of course, have long been displeased with the UN and its ‘tyranny of the majority’. President Bush’s father, when he was the US ambassador to the UN, had noted such tyranny when China was admitted to the world body despite American objections.

The US may not press for shutting down the UN, but it will certainly want it reformed, with sweeping changes especially in the Security Council. The guillotine is ready for France.

First Published: Mar 23, 2003 22:32 IST