After nearly six decades, the United Nations experiment is coming to an inglorious end. Not that it had functioned altogether effectively through the years. The veto-wielding governments often treated the general UN rules with contempt. Crisis after crisis often disturbed the texture of genteel tranquillity that was supposed to be the raison d’être of the idealized international system. But at least it had worked as a speed-breaker whenever some irrational forces had tended to run amok.
All that seems to be over, and we are on the verge of returning to the age of imperialism; we have, some would say, already returned to that state. The American administration is to all accounts in deadliest earnest to launch an attack on Iraq. Widespread protests and demonstrations, both at home and abroad, are apparently having no effect. Right-is-might has all but made a comeback as the international code of behaviour. The United States of America is the superpower, the only superpower; whatever it does must be accepted without questioning by the rest of the world.
The American fixation over Iraq and Saddam Hussein appears to be intriguing in the first place. The government of that somewhat remote country, the People’s Republic of Korea, has been much more vocal than Iraq in asserting its prerogative to develop thermo-nuclear weaponry. It has walked out of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty and dared the US to do its worst. The response of the Oval Office to this gesture of defiance has been extraordinarily restrained: US officials have invited the North Koreans for further talks; politeness has oozed from American pores.
This non-belligerence toward North Korea is not just because of the unpredictability of the reaction of the People’s Republic of China leadership in case the Americans sounded too cheeky; the Fifties are not a totally faded memory. While that is perhaps not the entire story, Iraq, it has been made absolutely clear, is strategically several times more important to the US than North Korea is. Why this is so is actually no puzzle: Iraq is a crucial energy resource base, the Asian country is not.
Way back in the early Nineties, when Bush père was the US president, he had set up a commission to formulate a long-term energy development plan for the nation. The outcome of the commission’s deliberations was a report submitted in 1999, entitled “Strat- egic Energy Policy Challenges for the 21st Century”. A no-nonsense assertiveness runs through the report. It makes no bones about stating that the nation’s oil policy, foreign policy and defence policy are convergent categories.
The following excerpt from the document more or less sums up the official American perspective with regard to Iraq: “Iraq remains a destabilizing influence to…the flow of oil to international markets from the Middle East. Saddam Hussein has also demonstrated a willingness to threaten to use the oil weapon and to use his own export programme to manipulate oil markets... This would display his personal power, enhance his image as a pan-Arab leader…and pressure others for a lifting of economic sanctions against his regime. The United States should conduct an immediate policy review toward Iraq including military, energy, economic and political/diplomatic assessments... The United States should then develop an integrated strategy with key allies in Europe and Asia, and with key countries in the Middle East to restate goals with respect to Iraqi policy and to restore a cohesive coalition of key allies.”
The document draws attention to past mismanagement in domestic energy policy, exemplified by the mess in California leading to persistent power shortage over the years. The US, the report concludes, happens to be a prisoner of its energy dilemma; one consequence is the need for “military intervention”, in Iraq and elsewhere.
The alleged threat emanating from Iraqi efforts to develop thermo-nuclear, chemical and biological weapons of mass-destruction is transparently a smokescreen. The real American intention is to assume full control over Iraqi oil-supply. The UN and its legal framework can go to hell; the superpower must ensure the means whereby it could protect its global energy pipeline.
Even at this late hour, there is conceivably just one way to deter the US administration from unleashing a war of total annihilation against Iraq. That possible option is not linked to developments in west Asia though, but in Latin America. The recent months have been double-trouble for the US. Along with Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Iran and Azerbaijan, Venezuela has the world’s largest oil reserves. Everything was hunky-dory for Washington as long as military dictators, basically clones reared by the American military establishment, were in charge of that country. But things have changed fast. Aghast with North American hegemony, Latin America has been in turmoil. A couple of years ago, Hugo Chavez, a former army sergeant who went over to left extremism, was voted president in Venezuela with a huge majority. His triumph was a trend-setter in the South American continent; Brazil and Ecuador too have elected presidents wedded to leftist philosophy and praxis; and are equally determined to resist Yankee overbearingness.
Hugo Chavez is proving to be a menace. Private oil companies operating in Venezuela, most of their equity held by US citizens, used to hand over only 20 per cent of their net earnings to the country-government and claimed for themselves 80 per cent. Chavez has now decided that the proportions be reversed and the companies surrender 80 per cent of their receipts to the government. The irate oil corporations and the Central Intelligence Agency have put their heads together and organized since last April four successive coups and semi-coups in Venezuela. Each of them has failed. But hope lies eternal in the human breast. The latest endeavour is to organize a so-called general strike, led by lumpen elements and financed by the oil bosses, which could bring down Chavez and his regime.
The quintessentially democratic constitution of Venezuela has a provision for recall of an elected president via a referendum. The disgruntled elements could have, if they had so chosen, taken the constitutional path for removing Chavez. They decided not do so, and for obvious reasons. A referendum to be allowed must be on the basis of a petition signed by at least 20 per cent of the electorate. That apart, for Chavez to be ejected, a higher proportion of the electorate than the proportion which voted for him in the presidential election — 57 per cent — must now vote for his removal. Both conditions constitute much too great a hurdle to be crossed successfully by the Chavez adversaries — and their American masters.
Since toppling the Venezuelan president does not appear to be a feasible proposition, the US has set its sights for the present on Iraq. Have a heart, the world’s mightiest power cannot permit to slip away from its grip at the same time both great oil reservoirs, Venezuela and Iraq. If Venezuela is out, Iraq has to be in. If, to remove Saddam Hussein, the entire Iraqi population needs to be liquidated, and if so be the god’s will, god’s will will be done. The rest of the world should only say Amen.
Not quite. Donald Rumsfeld, the US defence secretary, has a disposition replete with the milk of human kindness. Should Saddam quit on his own, Rumsfeld has promised the Iraqi leader safe transit to the country he might choose as asylum. Another allurement has also been offered: should Saddam behave, he would not be tried for war crimes.
Millions of people in other parts of the world, and even within the US, will however have a different kind of agenda to mull over: whether George W. Bush and his entire cabinet should not be sent up for trial before an international tribunal for committing crimes against humanity, including massacre of men, women and children in Iraq’s schools, hospitals, old-age homes and orphanages through insensate, unprovoked bombing from air.