| Demented rhetoric
Mercifully, George W. Bush’s war-mongering tirade at the United Nations stopped short of a declaration of hostilities. But standing at an angle to the great nation on which he was foisted by accident, he sounded like a demented Nero.
To adapt his words, the world has no quarrel with the great American people who have done so much for the global community and can do so much more. It is America’s current leader who is a menace to international, especially Asian, peace and stability. It is not Iraq that poses a “grave and gathering danger”. It is Bush’s United States of America.
Bush’s frantic and futile attempts to brand Saddam Hussein a terrorist only exposed his own obsessiveness. His rhetoric of the previous day, ranging from tear-jerking emotionalism to bravado, did not even acknowledge that US bombing killed nearly 4,000 innocent Afghan civilians, about a thousand more than in the twin towers. Thousands more will die if Americans allow their megalomaniac president to achieve his ambition of defying international opinion and legality to overthrow the legitimately constituted government of a small distant country that poses no threat to the US.
Among world leaders, only Tony Blair swallows hook, line and sinker the single-(and simple)-minded Condoleeza Rice’s passionate faith that only devastating Iraq today will save America’s devastation tomorrow. It makes no difference to him that, as with gospel-thumping evangelists, her fervour is rooted in religion, not reason.
Newspapers have noted that Blair carries his little-boy’s crush on the prefect to the extent of sticking his thumbs into his trouser belt in the swaggering manner of Texas cowboys. Soon, perhaps, he will start parroting his hero’s linguistic inventions to say that Saddam “crawfished out of UN agreements” and is “stiffing the world”. A British prime minister’s mindless grovelling is almost as great a tragedy as the bombardment that threatens Iraq.
American estimates say that a war would cost nearly $80 billion. If oil prices rise to nearly $40 a barrel, as experts predict, the suffering will be worldwide, as during Operation Desert Storm when India and other developing countries had to pay dearly. War would “open the gates of hell”, according to Amr Moussa, the Arab League’s secretary general.
Salman Rushdie’s warning that “the result may well be a united Islamic force that was Osama bin Laden’s dream” repeats what Muslims have been saying from Morocco to the Moluccas. If the US gets away with overthrowing Saddam, there will be nothing to stop Israel from militarily replacing Yasser Arafat with a puppet Palestinian authority.
Desperate Palestinians would then be driven to further excesses with unimaginable consequences for the entire region. The pro-Western princes and potentates who rule Saudi Arabia, the Persian Gulf states, Egypt and Jordan are likely to be swept away in a maelstrom of popular Arab rage.
As for Iraq, it is not fashionable to suggest that millions of Iraqis are also entitled to natural justice, to the rule of law and to UN protection. Iraq’s oil production has plummeted during 12 years of sanctions. Its economy has been crippled, and responsible international agencies blame the deaths from malnutrition and disease of thousands of Iraqi children not on Saddam’s militaristic machinations, as Bush would have it, but on the restriction on imports.
It can be no one’s case that Saddam is a paragon of democratic propriety and consensual politics. But however authoritarian he might be, he has no truck with the fanatical terrorists who attacked New York and wage war in Kashmir. He is the least bigoted of west Asian rulers. Unlike his peers in Riyadh or Islamabad, he does not succour religious fundamentalists.
If anyone created the monstrous taliban, it is Pakistan, with America’s moral and material assistance. If anyone financed bin Laden’s murderous regime, it is the Saudi and Gulf elite which expected a twofold dividend — to keep the fundamentalists occupied elsewhere so that they did not turn their attention to repressive dictatorships in their own region, and the prospect of an easy entrée into paradise. If anyone helped to facilitate al Qaida’s operations, it was Sudan and the Yemen whose governments looked the other way while terror campaigns were planned.
But why blame them alone' It is clear now that Islamic fundamentalists were able to set up cells in every Muslim country, and even in neutral capitals like Singapore and London. Should they all be attacked' Or should Iraq be singled out because its destruction would serve Bush’s other agenda'
It is now recognized that the seeds of World War II were sown in the harsh conditions of the Peace of Versailles. The terms imposed on Iraq in 1991 were infinitely more stringent. A repetition would only hasten the day of reckoning.
Bush has been harping on the need to preserve and protect democracy. That sounds very odd indeed as the world watches him playing footsy with corrupt and authoritarian central Asian leaders with appalling human rights records who have suddenly been elevated into valuable allies. The state department’s euphemism for opportunistic and immoral alliances that give the lie to everything Bush has been preaching and professing this week is “enhanced engagement”.
Uzbekistan’s unyielding Islam Karimov, who was an honoured guest in Washington earlier this year, boasts of his new “strategic partnership with the US”. Another sudden American protégé, Turkmenistan’s Saparmurat Niyazov, has anointed himself president for life, or at least for until some rival overthrows him. These are the Synghman Rhees and Ferdinand Marcoses of the new millennium. They provide military bases; in return, the US gives money and promises protection.
Pakistan’s military ruler is in the same category. To return to Rushdie, “Many observers of the region will be wondering how long Pakistani-backed terrorism in Kashmir will be winked at by America because of Pakistan’s support for the ‘war against terror’ on its other frontier. And as Pakistani dictator Pervez Musharraf does more damage to his country’s constitution, the US government’s decision to go on hailing him as a champion of democracy does more harm to America’s already shredded regional credibility.”
Already, the Afghans mutter about the US “army of occupation”. Zalmay Khalzad, the White House’s special envoy, is referred to as “the viceroy”. The June 30 killing of about 120 wedding celebrants appears to have been the last straw.
Why does the lone superpower with its imperial reach and matchless military and economic might squander its huge assets in this reckless fashion' Is it oil, is it revenge, is it to finish the president’s father’s unfinished business' Is pressure from the shadowy but sinister entity that Dwight Eisenhower called “the military-industrial complex” which must sell its weapons driving Bush'
With congressional elections looming ahead, the president without an electoral mandate who nevertheless once enjoyed the highest ever opinion poll ratings possibly hopes to regain his domestic political advantage through foreign adventurism. His plight is fraught. Millions of Americans have seen their pension funds melt away in financial scandals. No one knows what happened to the anthrax investigation. No one knows what happened to bin Laden. But though his presidency is smirched by corporate fraud, Bush has brilliantly replaced talking points like Enron and Worldcom with Iraq.
A powerful Iraq might not threaten the US, but it could jeopardize US interests in the Gulf if the House of Saud, America’s main prop in the region and principal oil supplier, is toppled. Hence Bush’s recent consultations at his Texas ranch with Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the Saudi envoy who was said to forge US policy in 1991. But as history repeats itself, Bush should also remember that victory over Iraq did not win his father’s re-election.
Voters in the world’s oldest democracy are nothing if not discerning. They may well be aware that the world cannot sleep safe unless there is a regime change in Washington.