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THE IDES OF MARCH
- To have any meaning, the UN must limit the absolutism of the US

The author is professor of political science and director, Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Calcutta

There is a gnawing sense of inevitability in the way things are moving. The flood is rising inch by inch; the only question is when the dike will burst. Except, this is not a natural disaster waiting to happen. These are events fully under the control of world leaders playing for high stakes. Why is the world being pushed to the precipice'

To begin with, let us set aside the high-sounding moral reasons for going to war with Iraq. Not even their proponents believe in them, except as linguistic instruments for pushing a diplomatic point. Not only are these moral reasons applied selectively — Iraq, not North Korea; Iraq, not Saudi Arabia or Pakistan; Iraq, not Israel –— thus confirming the charge of double standards; they are also changed to suit the requirements of the diplomatic game. We were first told that the real goal of military action would be to change the regime and liberate Iraq. Then when it became necessary to seek support in the United Nations, the objective was changed to the disarmament of Iraq. Now, when UN support looks unlikely, the moral case is once more the removal of Saddam Hussein and the liberation of Iraq. Who will believe that these moral arguments are anything more than instrumental devices — dressed-up language designed to secure other ends'

What then are the real objectives' There is little doubt that the current chain of events was suddenly set in motion by President Bush in August 2002. We have heard a lot in recent days of the world having waited for twelve long years to see Iraq disarmed. If the UN did indeed fail to act during this time, then surely the United States of America must share the responsibility for it along with the other key members of the UN. The fact is that there was a general consensus among the world powers that Iraq was being effectively contained. The only dispute was whether the sanctions that the UN had imposed should be lifted. The sudden clamour raised by Bush over Iraq in August last year took the world diplomatic community by complete surprise.

Why did the US administration decide to turn its sights on Iraq' It is known that sometime last year, the most influential group within the administration, consisting of associates of the senior George Bush such as Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Pearle and others, floated the idea that the situation after the September 11 events had created not so much a crisis as a new opportunity for the US. The global war against terrorism and the worldwide sympathy for the US could be turned into a moment for recasting the entire world order and inaugurating “the American century”. Instead of containment and deterrence, the US should assert overwhelming military superiority and the right of pre-emptive strike against any perceived threat. Instead of letting the world’s rogue regimes and trouble spots fester under the cloak of national sovereignty, the US should intervene forcefully to change the political map of the globe and fulfil America’s true destiny as benevolent master of a new world empire.

West Asia was the theatre where this imperial vision could be most dramatically revealed. Get rid of Saddam Hussein and establish a permanent American military presence in Iraq. Try and set up a pliant Iraqi administration, with Iraqi oil revenues paying for the costs. This would put immediate pressure on Saudi Arabia and Syria. The impact would be so huge that the back of the Palestinian intifada would be broken. That would be the time to impose a lasting two-state solution on Israel and Palestine. Islamic militancy would lose its most potent rallying cry. Imperial America, driven by a new zeal and purpose, would bring peace to the world.

Moral bigots often acquire a chilling self-confidence that persuades them that all means, no matter how questionable or unpopular, are justified in reaching their ends. The US administration today is led by a right-wing clique whose attitudes and ambitions make it the most reactionary force to have hijacked a Western democracy in recent years. It is known that this group was not in favour of seeking the approval of the UN before going to war in Iraq. President Bush was apparently persuaded by Tony Blair and Colin Powell to take the UN route in order to secure greater international legitimacy for military action. Now that the attempt has ended in diplomatic disaster, the UN has become the target of American vilification. Unrestrained abuse is being heaped in the American media, not only on France, but on an international body that allows countries like Guinea and Angola, full of impoverished and illiterate people, to sit in judgment over American foreign policy. What this reveals about the arrogance and barely concealed racism of American commentators is unsurprising. What is new is the significance of such views for the future of the world order as we have known it.

That is what makes March 2003 such a defining moment. The reason why France, Russia, China, Germany and so many other members of the security council have resisted the so-called second resolution is not because they stand to gain by supporting Saddam Hussein. If anything, they will probably lose a lot by flouting the will of the US. For one, they will certainly not be invited to the feast of the vultures after the slaughter is over in Iraq. The reason for their resistance is their unwillingness to dismantle the multilateral and democratic world body that was built in the era after decolonization and to put in its place a new structure of imperial hegemony.

What the US is really demanding is that in the new American century, no country should have the right of veto over the US. In other words, if the UN is to function as a world body, the US should be effectively the only country with a veto. The debate over Iraq has thrown the challenge to all nations to decide whether they are prepared to approve that scheme of things. As of now, most have refused. They were in large part emboldened to do so by the unprecedented popular mobilization against the war all round the globe. The UN, the world’s highest representative body, refused to be coerced into approving a timetable for war unilaterally decided several months ago by American military planners.

The war will now be launched in Iraq without UN approval. Saddam Hussein will be removed and the country will be ravaged. But history will not end there. The American quest for unchallenged hegemony may be consistent with the current distribution of military and economic power in the world. But it is wholly contrary to the democratic spirit of the age. The principles represented by the UN belong to democratic institutions everywhere: they are meant to put a check on absolute power. If the UN is to have any meaning, it must be to limit the absolutism of the US. That battle has not yet been lost. It will be resumed when the costs are tallied of the war and its aftermath.

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