Did the Pentagon team in New Delhi return home red-faced' Its members did their job in pressing the case for the despatch of 20,000 Indian troops to Iraq for peacekeeping duties in the northern, largely Kurdish, part of the country and spelling out the conditions under which they would have to work. Yet, despite their chagrin at what they were told, the team members could not be so naïve as not to understand the Indian government’s dilemma. However keen it might be to oblige the United States of America in its bid to chase after the shadow of a strategic relationship with the only superpower, even knowing who would call all the shots in so unequal a partnership, it could not risk destabilizing itself while stabilizing a war-ravaged society in the throes of anarchy and feeling sore over the way the promise of liberation had turned into the harsh reality of foreign occupation for an indefinite period.
The conditions laid down by the Indian government for accepting the US proposition might seem impudent to the US which, as the only superpower, can no longer brook a “no” even from the most powerful of its allies in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Even so, if it looks at the issue more coolly, it will see that there is method in the Vajpayee government’s wariness. It was, after all, among those who were against the US going to war except under United Nations auspices. Is it unreasonable then for it to ask for a fresh security council resolution sanctioning the despatch of an international peace-keeping force to Iraq' It is indeed all the more essential now that events have rebutted the charge — the main reason for the US’s unilateral action — that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction.
In fact, the Bush administration had worked itself into so paranoid a state of mind as to cast doubt on the integrity of the leader of the UN inspection team and refuse to wait for it to finish its work. As it happens, six weeks after the US president announced the end of the war, there is no trace of any means in Iraq of waging a chemical or biological warfare unless the noxious stuff is buried deep under the beds of the Tigris and the Euphrates. Is there so much as a hint of regret on this score by George Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, Colin Powell and company' Apparently, the only superpower, because of the sheer scale of its military might, is accountable to no one.
The Vajpayee government has another good reason for refusing to be hustled into doing something which gets it into serious trouble at home. Tony Blair can stake his job in defending his role as the US’s most trusted ally. But can the head of a coalition government in India stake its existence on an issue on whose rights and wrongs his own party is sorely divided' That is why merely a UN sanction will not be enough to enable it to despatch 20,000 Indian troops to Iraq. The government also needs a national consensus on this highly contentious matter in the interests of internal peace as also prior consent of Iraq’s neighbours to make sure that its involvement in Iraq does not earn their hostility.
It is doubtful that all these arguments will be accepted as valid by the Bush administration in its present mood, vitiated by feelings of both frustration and desperation. It is apt to regard these as an outright rejection of its demand. The conditions prescribed by India will also be interpreted as a letdown by those who only recently —ironically enough, in the wake of the very meeting between L.K. Advani with Condoleezza Rice and the US president where the subject of despatching Indian troops to Iraq was first broached — spoke euphorically of a sea-change in the Indo-US relationship. Maybe their flight of fancy survives the many airpockets on the way to its destination.
With the best will in the world India can do little to pull the US out of the mess it has made of its Iraq venture. It has already as many as 150,000 troops of its own in the country, not to speak of a huge surplus of heavy armour and the means to beat the daylights out of any large formation of hostile forces in a direct confrontation. The trouble is that there is no large Iraqi force left to defeat. The Iraqi army is dispersed. The troops have thrown away their uniforms but kept their arms and gone home.
If the Anglo-American forces face a situation in which they have won the war and lost the peace, it is because the law and order machinery in the country has been put out of gear, the US civilian administration works in a political vacuum and the loss of jobs by hundreds of thousands of soldiers and civilians, together with the rising tide of popular discontent caused by lack of electricity and even potable water in numerous cities, have made the situation unmanageable.
Is it a surprise if even those who felt relieved to see the end of a most tyrannical regime flinch at the exorbitant price they have had to pay when they look at the wreckage of their cities, the destruction of civic facilities and the self-proclaimed liberators who came with the promise of setting up an interim regime comprising Iraqis, turned into a neo-colonial enterprise'
The occupation regime can sport a kindly or even a smiling mask. But how can it hide the dreadful truth about the continuing war in the form of snipers’ bullets and ambushes which have claimed many American lives in the last six weeks or the feeling of hostility every American soldier feels towards the population he is supposed to pacify since he is unable to tell friend from foe or a peaceful protest from an armed threat' It is disingenuous in this situation for the US to assure the Indian government that its troops would not be on combat duty. What are the soldiers supposed to do when they face an angry crowd' Do they open fire in self-defence or tell the suffering population that they are there only to stabilize the situation and have nothing to do with the occupation regime'
The root cause of the desperation of the American policy-makers is to be found in their loss of political nerve, not in the absence of a roadmap to normalcy. Their proclaimed aim of bringing the gift of democracy to Iraq does not quite mesh with regarding Iran as part of the “axis of evil”. A democratic regime in Iraq must reflect the wishes of the country’s Shia majority which will, left to itself, have every reason to befriend Iran, the only other Shia majority nation in the world which, as it happens, has also a long common border with Iraq. This prospect does not fit in with the American strategic goal of keeping Iran isolated from its neighbours as far as possible.
Thus all that the stabilization programme will mean in the current situation is an increase in the strength of the occupation force —some experts feel that pacification may require the presence of as many as 300,000 troops — increased alienation of the people from the occupation regime, more opportunities for foreign terrorist groups to sneak into Iraq now that it provides a far more congenial climate of opinion for their depredations and a slovenly and fitful pace of reconstruction if and when it starts.
Meanwhile sober and upright students of current affairs, particularly of American priorities in its war on global terrorism, will continue to wonder why Iraq, comparatively free of the fundamentalist menace, has come to occupy the top place on the US agenda while the main bases of jihadi groups as well as their breeding grounds are located elsewhere. The Iraqi scenario is another pertinent reminder to people everywhere that they live in a unipolar world which means that the final word on, though not the ultimate outcome of, every matter concerning war and peace, world trade and industry, and even what constitutes good and evil, lies with the only superpower.