Wars always have unintended consequences. When the United States of America declared war against Mr Saddam Hussein, nobody quite anticipated the mess that now prevails in Iraq after what looked liked a remarkable US military victory. The shock and awe of the US bombardment of Iraq has not meant the end of resistance in Iraq. The US and the British troops in Baghdad and elsewhere in Iraq are always under the threat of sudden attacks by individuals and groups. The US army, it is quite obvious, has failed to completely disarm the Iraqi people and the number of British and American soldiers dying is increasing. Moreover, there is the lack of any kind of administration capable of providing food, water, shelter and medical help. This condition has added to the resentment against the US and British military presence. The US is thus caught in an unenviable situation which shows ominous signs of spinning out of control and becoming another Vietnam. It cannot extricate itself from Iraq nor can it restore order and eradicate violence. This is the context in which the US has repeated its request to the government of India to deploy troops in Iraq to establish and maintain peace.
When such a request had been made in the summer, India had turned down the request. That refusal had been made not on the basis of realistic foreign policy considerations but as a concession to internal compulsions. There was the fear that Indian troops would suffer casualties in Iraq and that this would alienate the common people and would thus provide a leverage for the opposition. These considerations, in the official mind, outweighed the substantial gains that could accrue from helping out the US in Iraq. Sending troops to Iraq at that point of time would have cemented the relationship between India and the US. The government did not even make an attempt to build a domestic consensus on the issue. It just took the easiest way out. It was proof, if proof was needed, that Indian foreign policy has not come of age because it was still driven by emotion rather than on calculated self-interest.
The request to send Indian troops to Iraq has come again from Washington. The Indian response has been muted and understandably so. The internal situation has worsened and the anti-US vehemence of the Iraqi people grown beyond measure since the summer months. The domestic compulsions that determined the original refusal hold now with greater force today than they did in the month of July. There are assembly elections around the corner in five states, and bodies of dead jawans from Iraq will be very poor vote catchers. Thus if the government is keen to be consistent with its previous stance, it should stand its ground. But a bad decision, even when repeated over and over again, does not change in character.