The Bush administration has got away with its invasion of Iraq in defiance of the United Nations. It is the permanent members of the security council, who denied a UN cover to what was essentially an Anglo-American operation, who have to make amends for their offence of lese-majesty. Having lost their nerve in the face of American wrath they did not mind losing face as well.
That explains the abject manner in which France, Russia and China have accepted the fait accompli of the American victory in the war they opposed, reconciled themselves to the savaging of a country for a guilt, with no evidence to support it, and joined hands with the two main war allies in giving the security council’s approval to a spell of direct rule of the occupied country during an interim period whose duration is left to the discretion of the victors.
Thus, for the Iraqis the beginning of liberation will come in the guise of alien rule. What can Kofi Annan do but swallow the bitter pill of having to provide a UN cover to the post-war scenario in the war-ravaged country which was in the throes of anarchy for weeks on end because of a power vacuum created by the ousting of a regime without anything to replace it and the consequent breakdown of the law and order machinery'
Are the war allies afflicted by a bad conscience for having misjudged the situation' Not at all. If anything, the air in Washington reeks of self-righteousness as seldom before. The arrogance of power has paid off. The United States of America has got a new leverage in a strategic area with its control over the second largest oil reserves in the world. The war as well as the post-war scenario have confirmed its credentials as the chief executive of the emerging world order. And the North Atlantic Treaty Organization powers have been duly chastened, having learnt the hard way how imprudent it is to take a confrontational stance against the Big Brother.
All this does not, however, mean that everything is going according to US plans. Even billions of dollars invested in selling the global order as the acme of human progress cannot wish away the mass discontents built into its iniquitous structure. No evangelist of market theology can conjure away the disorienting experience of some of the east European countries which were naïve enough to implement all the measures prescribed by the International Monetary Fund at one go. Nor can the high-heeled academics in the US think-tanks, who fritter away their talents in finding justifications for whatever decisions their employers take, forget the dismal fact that many of the nurseries for a new breed of religious bigots and jihadi terrorists were funded by the US in a fit of Cold-War paranoia and by some of its client states in west Asia.
Even in the case of Iraq it is the unintended consequences of action which have confronted the US with a new dilemma. Why has the promised plan to hand over control to an interim government — composed of Iraqi opposition leaders in exile and dissidents at home — gone awry' The answer is that in its hurry to have done with the Saddam Hussein regime, the Bush administration did not fully take into account the demographic realities of the country they had decided to “liberate” and occupy. When it came to the nitty-gritty of the government-formation exercise, it realized that any credible arrangement had to reflect the Shia majority in the country.
The very idea of an Iraq dominated by the Shias with a common border with a Shiite Iran looked like a nightmare to US policy-planners. Such a scenario could not be risked. In addition, the prospect of leaders who spent their years of exile in comfort abroad, returning home only to assume power with the backing of the US, was not very palatable to the people. The Kurds, who helped the Americans in occupying the northern part of Iraq, on their part, expected to be rewarded with control of the Mosul area, which has the richest oilfields and from which they were driven out by the Arabs. Could the US afford to earn their hostility at the very start of the career of post-war Iraq'
That is why the promise of liberation has quickly turned into the reality of direct rule by the occupation forces. That the Bush administration should have been in such haste to warn Iran, which figures prominently on its “axis of evil”, that it might be the next country on its hit-list, and declare its intention to destabilize the present regime in Teheran, is no caprice. It is in fact a message to the Khatami government saying, “Keep off Iraq despite its Shia majority and its common border with your country or be prepared to face our wrath.”
It is pertinent to remember that though the war in Afghanistan was won in a few weeks, winning the peace there is proving to be a more daunting business than what Bush, Powell, Rumsfeld and company bargained for. The US and British occupation forces in Iraq will fare no better. They may have displaced the Saddam Hussein regime but to sell foreign occupation as liberation even to those who detested the Baathist rule will be a much tougher job than they imagine. And if the US administration comes to view democracy itself as a threat to its strategic goals in the region, its military victory can turn into a political defeat.
Indeed, the sense of the Iraqis’ political frustration can acquire a new edge if it goes hand in hand with increasing economic discontent. The Americans have already come to the conclusion that oil revenues alone will not suffice to finance the reconstruction programme which is expected to cost $60 billion. So they have started a reconstruction fund with an initial token contribution of $2 billion and will, in due course, pressure France and Germany to contribute their mite to it. It will take some time to bring the oilfields, damaged by fire, back to their full production capacity. Thus, as things are, the reconstruction is likely to be a slow process, adding to popular discontents. And the country’s journey along the road to democracy, after the initial letdown, will be slower still.
Even with regard to the war on global terrorism, it declared in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks on New York and Washington, the Bush administration has not got its priorities right so far. The war on Afghanistan was perhaps a good start because it had become the major base in the world for a larger number of terrorist networks. Yet the job there remains unfinished. After having been in power for over a year, the Karzai government still needs the protection of foreign troops. The taliban survive as a force to reckon with. Local warlords continue to run many provinces and ethnic hatreds which simmer beneath the surface make the setting up of an elected government whose writ runs throughout the country a distant dream.
As far as Iraq is concerned, even something like a Karzai government, which means a prior though temporary consensus of a sort between the Sunnis, the Shia majority and the long-suppressed Kurds, will be highly problematic. Thus, for the time being, Iraq is likely to be stuck with the rule of a civil American administration, with a council including a UN representative to advise it. In the background will be the commander of the allied forces who will have a much larger say in crucial decision-making than the toothless advisory council. It will be no wonder if, to the Iraqi people themselves, the whole plan looks more like a roadmap to recolonization.
The Indian government needs to keep all this in mind as it considers the US request for a contingent of Indian troops for policing work in Iraq and ask itself whether it will be appropriate to get into a messy situation created by others who alone reserve the right to decide how to sort it out. It has enough troubles of its own to strain its capacity to manage change to the very limit.