| Yards of guts
It was a virtuoso performance. She had poise, she was unflappable and, while under the strain of merciless cross-examination, she exhibited, every now and then, sparks of dry humour. George W. Bush had every reason to telephone immediately from his Texas ranch and congratulate his national security adviser, Condoleeza Rice. For her presentation before the 9/11 Commission was, from his point of view, impeccable. The Democratic Party bigwigs tried hard to catch her napping on this point or that, and to expose the chinks in the official version why 9/11 could not be prevented. Condi Rice had an almost indefensible case to defend: she provided a dazzling demonstration of how, given competence, even a hopeless case could be made to look at least half-convincing.
Leave aside the secular emotion of admiring an Afro-American, and a woman at that, who combines such intellectual prowess with yards and yards of guts. At the end of her testimony though, the overall feeling that lingered was still one of deep dissatisfaction. Rice spent an inordinate length of time pooh-poohing the significance of the report filed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation on August 6, 2001 — more than a month ahead of 9/11 — which suggested the high possibility of al Qaida elements attempting to take over planes on domestic flights. She had dozens of complaints to register concerning administrative roadblocks standing in the way of the Central Intelligence Agency and the FBI exchanging information amongst themselves and sharing such information with other official bodies like the Federal Aviation Administration. She quoted profuse precedents, including Pearl Harbour, to prove the point of Americans always growing wise only after the event, as if this was one of the indelible laws of nature. She gave as good as she received. And yet, at the end of that long session she had with the Commission, assessment of its usefulness by a significant number of outside observers moved away from a subjective plane and hinted at the inevitability of an excruciating American fate; it is too late in the day, the Americans as a nation are beyond salvation.
Neither Rice herself nor her interrogators had, during those long hours, a single occasion to refer to the roots of what Americans have come to describe as terrorism. Not one of them felt it necessary to raise the issue of the Arab or the Iraqi psyche. None displayed the sensitivity which could empower them to analyse with cold logic the ethos of patriotism a-stir in the minds of the 9/11 hijackers even as they were proceeding to their certain deaths. The participants at the eerie session to dissect 9/11 did not bother to ask themselves why what they call terrorism is a badge of honour for some other groups of humanity. Once this realization sinks in, one very nearly reaches the decision to throw in the sponge. Half a century ago, E.H. Carr, the Cambridge don, chose to write a tract on “What is History'”. He perhaps stumbled upon a situation where he felt impelled to ask himself the inner significance of the craft he practised. He took time off from his study of the history of Soviet Russia and turned to unravel the rationale for the search of a historical truth. The outcome was almost an exercise in morality. To no avail. Very few seemingly worry over the teachings of history any more. As far as the US administration is concerned, Vietnam did not happen at all. The annals of the messy American involvement in Vietnam have left no lessons behind. The present US administration behaves in exactly the same vein as the administration then in charge forty years ago did. The Bush presidency too is determined to force a foreign people to undergo a crash course in democracy and freedom, and will brook no resistance. As if democracy is what the American establishment defines it to be, as if democracy is something which can be brought about by killings and wholesale devastation. The Vietnamese went to their deaths in thousands, their huts were set to flames, their crops were burned, all because the US mandarins wanted to set them free and force them to enjoy the sweet benediction of democracy. The American desire remained unfulfilled. They only succeeded in alienating the Vietnamese population, and had to escape from Vietnam with their tails between the legs.
It was a costly experience and its wounds, one thought, had benumbed the American nation for ever. That was a horridly wrong assumption to make. Not even four decades elapsed, and the US establishment was back at the old murderous parlour games, first in Iraq, then in Afghanistan, then again in Iraq, and now it has been sucked in in both Iraq and Afghanistan. A repeat of Vietnam, what Bush assured his countrymen in March 2003 would be akin to a one-hour television Western, has turned out to be an unending nightmare. It is an outrageous theatre of the absurd. The US defence secretary has the gumption to explain: yes, by June, Iraq’s political control will be passed on to the Iraqis, but of course “security” will remain the responsibility of the US.
The denouement, one suspects, has been so because, for the Americans, the ultimate guru is not E.H. Carr, but crusty old Henry Ford. Ford was not a man of letters, he had however educated himself in the battlefield of life. Because something has not happened in the past is no reason for it not to take place in the future, was his dictum. He proceeded to fit a combustion engine inside his contraption to innovate the automobile. That proved to his satisfaction that history was bunk. The American nation have concurred. Because Vietnam was Vietnam, they are unable to accept the proposition that Iraq and Afghanistan too would be Vietnam. After all, are they not a forward-looking people pledged to transform yesterday’s impossibles into the certainties of today and tomorrow'
They are bound to be disappointed. The disappointment will be causally related to the official American inability to fathom the datum that patriotic pride is evenly distributed amongst all nations. The Americans, even following their crushing defeat, refused to accept the proposition that the Vietnamese could have a point of view, one which, to them, was as legitimate as the Yankee point of view is to the Yankees. They are betraying an identical innocence today apropos the Arab people. Terror the Americans consider to be what they define as “terror” — that is, Osama bin Laden-type of atrocities — it is beyond their comprehension that, to an Afghan or an Iraqi, terror is what the Americans themselves are currently indulging in. The US administration is equally unable to understand why other nations such as France and Germany and Russia and China and India and Bechuanaland and Brazil and Venezuela do not accept the American definition of terror, not even if they are offered money and other allurements in exchange.
In these vexing circumstances, there is however some consolation for the United States of America. The ever-reliable Tony Blair has once again flexed his righteous muscles. The Iraq war, he has not the least doubt, is a watershed in history; he, along with his flock, will, at this momentous hour, embrace the American cause and together rescue humanity from the satanic clutches of the terrorists.
A friend in need is a friend indeed. At the same time, a danger lurks in the manner Tony Blair has defined historicity. There is an echo of the old Samuel Huntington thesis in the Blair peroration: the assumed confrontation is between two civilizations, or to be honest, a civilization and the “non-civilization” the Arabs and their rabble represent. The prim, civilized ones call this rabble terrorists, who are much like Kipling’s “half-devils”.
Suppose these “half-devils” have no intention of going through the education programme recommended for them by Bush-Blair, suppose they gather themselves together and rise in ferocious revolt' Were such an eventuality to take place, the prospect Huntington chuckled about could well unfold. Bush and Blair would be the nursemaids of that grisly future history.
But, given their hypothesis and the pace which the US president and the British prime minister have set for themselves, the turmoil they have plotted might soon expand into a mammoth racial war. Or it could be otherwise: their pace might slacken, and the global ethnic clash get postponed for some while. It is, nonetheless, likely to be a polluted world. Whether today, tomorrow or the day after, each member of humanity is bound to feel the compulsion to stand up and be counted: which side he or she is going to select in the about-to-be-launched holy war.
It is to be a no-holds-barred ethnic conflict of global proportions, with the issue of colour predominating. The brightest and most beautiful Afro-American, Condoleeza Rice, George W. Bush’s pet, will not be allowed not to exercise her choice in this war. Who knows, her Afro-American roots might prove to be the ultimate curse, and she could, in due course, grow into an old, shrivelled Auntie Thomasina.