The Ides of March
Time is a slippery customer. You turn away for a minute and whole swathes of years get consumed. Turning back, you find you are simultaneously not that far away from when you last looked and, yet, in a completely different place. In 2003, we watched helplessly as the American president, George W. Bush, and his ‘team’ managed to force together a ‘coalition’ of countries willing to launch an invasion on Iraq. Just over a year and a half had passed since the attack on the World Trade Center in New York; the retaliatory war in Afghanistan — aiming to cleanse the country of al Qaida and Taliban — was very far from ‘finished’; it did not take a degree in international relations to see that an attack on Saddam Hussein’s Iraq would be a deadly distraction from resolving the mess of Afghanistan and adjacent areas (very much affecting us in India) as well as a long-term disaster that would keep pumping toxic radiation into the political atmosphere of what the United States of America and Europe call the Middle East. As large masses of people protested against the impending invasion in Europe, America and the world over, many opinion columns (including this one) railed against the monumental misstep from which the world still continues to suffer.
The Bush administration’s chief arguments for attacking Iraq were specious and dishonest from the day they were trotted out: Saddam was a cruel dictator oppressing his people like no other in the world (no, there were others who were equally bad: in China, North Korea, Saudi Arabia); Saddam was a psychopath who possessed weapons of mass destruction which he was about to deploy at any moment against civilian populations in neighbouring countries (a complete lie — Iraq had no such weapons, and Saddam was far too logically fond of his own skin to launch such weapons and invite destruction, especially when everyone could see the firepower that had been unleashed upon nearby Afghanistan). Whether it was the lust for complete hegemony over a troublesome chunk of the world or the greed for Iraqi oil or both, George Bush and Tony Blair, the British prime minister, supported by Australia, Poland and Spain sent in their armies on March 20, 2003.
What followed was predictable. The ‘war’ was over within a few weeks, the Iraqi military overwhelmed and dismantled in rapid time, with a smugly grinning Bush unfurling a banner on one of his aircraft carriers proclaiming ‘Mission Accomplished’. As one saw the coverage of this crude triumphalism, a replying banner unfurled in the minds of many viewers: ‘Hey pal? You’re so tempting fate.’ Upon inspection of suspected sites, it was revealed that Iraq never did possess any chemical or biological weapons of mass destruction. Further revelations showed how various American and British intelligence agencies had knowingly participated in perpetrating fraudulent scare-mongering among their politicians and the general public. The Coalition forces proved completely unequal to containing the various Iraqi factions. A bloody tapestry of civil wars broke out and spilled over the Iraqi borders into Syria and Turkey. Local Islamo-fascist forces metastasized into Daesh aka ISIS, a terrorist outfit that made al Qaida look mild in comparison. Iran’s ruling establishment benefited hugely from this exploded cesspit and strengthened its position domestically and in the region.
Till date, a full 18 years after the launch of the so-called ‘shock and awe’ campaign, American troops are still mired in the quicksands of Afghanistan and Iraq. Among the roll call of the US generals who, one by one, took command of the failing operation in Iraq was one General Lloyd Austin who had won a Silver Star during the initial invasion. As to the name given to the invasion, ‘Operation Iraqi Freedom’, people are still arguing about how to define and put numbers to the body count of Iraqi civilians, with the contesting figures of death being in lakhs — hundreds of thousands — with one survey suggesting over one million violent deaths till the year 2007.
History is a card-sharp, constantly bamboozling you with concurrent card-shuffling in different places. One of the immediate fall-outs of 9/11 was that it unleashed hate against Muslim populations the world over, also helping cold-eyed operators to put into motion long-desired pogroms against their Muslim minorities. In that sense, the allegedly planned killings of Gujarati Muslims between the late February and May of 2002 can be seen as a direct gift from Osama bin Laden to Hindutva forces in India. By the time the war-hungry politicians in Washington and London were readying the massive ordinance that would kill lakhs of innocents in Iraq and its environs, the first anniversary of Godhra and the violence that began with the torching of the train carriage there had just passed. As with the Bush cabal’s Iraq agenda, you did not need a doctorate in political science from Harvard to see the writing on the wall in Gujarat. The cases against the perpetrators of the 2002 violence against Muslims were either caught up in interminable blockages, the first information reports missing or mis-recorded, or they had been sabotaged by various investigative authorities. The Muslims who had been fire-bombed out of their houses and businesses were still trapped in camps or newly burgeoning ghettos labelled ‘mini-Pakistan’ with no hope of any redressal or compensation. Police officers and civil service officials who produced testimony critical of the state government had been punitively sidelined and disabled. The local media in Gujarat were now operating under a huge pall of fear. Businesses and factories that continued to employ Muslims received threatening calls: ‘We are watching. Why is that Muslim worker still coming to your office?’ The Gujarat Model was by now firmly in place.
Looking back to that moment 18 years ago, the shock and awe come from remembering that there were actually apologists for the Iraq invasion among the liberal left commentariat. Conversely, there is no shock or doubt about this: after Gujarat, any political commentator outside the sanghi camp who had anything but deep dismay and trepidation about Narendra Modi becoming prime minister was either ludicrously naive or writing in some perverse bad faith, allowing the revulsion for the Congress to blind him/her to the much greater danger to the Republic and the Constitution.