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Fighting Imperium

It?s not yet clear if Syria will go Iraq?s way in US planning, but America has already attacked two countries in the last 18 months.

india Updated: Apr 14, 2003 16:09 IST
Anand K Sahay
Anand K Sahay

It’s not yet clear if Syria will go Iraq’s way in US planning, but America has already attacked two countries in the last 18 months. Such a high frequency of military excursions has not been seen in modern times, or since the United Nations was established to prevent wars.

Let’s keep the Israelis out of this count. Their armed expeditions — which, incidentally, will be impossible without US military and diplomatic support — are a very separate category as they result from very special historical circumstances.

In their time, the Chinese have done a lot of military mobilising and flag-showing — against Tibet, India, Vietnam, Taiwan and virtually every other neighbour. But they are not a democracy, which means they were not expected to bother overmuch about the consequences for others, or show a sense of responsibility to the international community.

Nor are the Chinese a supra-regional power in the sense of the US. Therefore, their military exertions do not have worldwide effects. It is noteworthy, however, that for all their enthusiasm for displaying their armaments, the Chinese have not been as frequent as the US has been of late in launching military strikes. And, unlike America, they have not stepped outside their immediate neighbourhood.

Besides, in virtually every case, their object has been to underline their territorial claims, not to extend political hegemony or export ideology. That seems to be America’s speciality alone. And the urge has found repeated expression only after it has been left without a balancer with the collapse of its rival superpower.

Indeed, today the American bull is in a unique position to enter any china shop it likes. The benefits of these forays for the rest of the world are not so evident; for the US the gains are more than apparent. Take Afghanistan. The place is still volatile and the terrorists survive, abetted by America’s close friend, the Pakistani military dictatorship. But there is one crucial change: the American empire has extended physically, to Afghanistan and to Central Asia.

Iraq’s new circumstances point in the same direction. Though events are still unfolding, every sign suggests that the US alone will decide the extent of the role the UN should play in the new Iraq, and that does not appear to be a whole lot.

If democracy must arrive in Iraq on the nozzle of a cruise missile, the democrats that will be conjured up out of nothingness can hardly be people who the electors have actually voted even in a style of election that brought Bush Jr to power. It is more likely they’d be people who would be only too glad to be imbibing pink gin while America does the real work, whatever the cost to Iraq and the world.

They’ll be Iraqis, of course — but of the kind who will consider themselves blessed if they got the chance to turn over some of their countrymen to Washington to be tried for the war crime of defending their country against an American invasion.

We can’t yet be certain if Iraqi nationalism is cohesive enough to be reckoned as a factor in the current scenario; nor whether there exists such a thing as a wider Arab identity that American imperium may have to contend with. However, while the Arab Street may be an unknown quantity, a post-script can be appended to the US invasion, namely, that ‘shock and awe’ failed as a military strategy.

The idea presupposes that the enemy will be numbed into fear and won’t fight. But Iraq’s resistance in the very first week was so fierce as to raise political questions in Washington, though the country didn’t even have an operational air force. It is doubtful if many countries in Europe could have put up such a fight.

First Published: Apr 12, 2003 00:00 IST