Birth of a catastrophe

Footprint's skeleton-
Orphaned, waits.
For the future history.
With glazed eyes.

– Homraj Acharya, Pailaharu Bhitrabaat

George W Bush is everything that he claims to be. He is a reformed alcoholic, a born-again believer in the power of Christianity, a devoted defender of US business interests worldwide, a single-minded Texan, an American Republican, a neophyte in international politics, and a faltering successor and son trying to measure up to his father's expectations.

In addition to all that, President Bush knows that he does not really deserve his job. When he was 'elected' by the supreme court of his country on the basis of a crucial difference between a pregnant and a hanging chad, he knew that he had been chosen by the American right to attend to papa Bush's unfinished agenda in West Asian oil fields. Given his compulsions, there is no surprise in what Bush II has just done — gone out and waged war in Iraq almost all on his own

An accident of history — a wrong person in the right place at the wrong time — seems to have set the world up for a series of conflicts. Long after the inferno in Baghdad has been extinguished, embers of hatred rekindled by an unfortunate crusade shall keep fuelling the fire of revenge in many parts of the globe.

Bush did not succeed in "smoking out" Osama bin Laden despite pounding much of Afghanistan back to the stone ages, but he seems to have had his revenge in the Iraq war. Oh, how bin Laden must envy Hussein for taking a substantial chunk of the pie that is marked 'hero', and how he must hate his unworthy pursuer!

The right regime

What the neo-conservatives of the United States want in Iraq is not just the ouster of Saddam Hussein or his Ba'ath Party, but nothing less than a "regime change" itself. Thus, the openly stated objective of US aggression has nothing to do with the "liberation of the Iraqi people". Just as President Vladimir Putin of Russia has caustically remarked (and the now famous Iraqi online diarist Salam Pax has earnestly reminded his readers), democracy is not delivered parcelled in Tomahawk cruise missiles costing one million dollars a piece. But then the aim of any regime change is seldom to establish universal values.

No, "regime change" in this case implies the creation of values that further the interests of empire. Once the regime change is complete, meanings of commonly understood terms are altered; the new regime decides what is right or wrong. Orwell's 'Principles of Newspeak' in 1984 allude as much to the capitalist control of the US as to the totalitarian state socialism of the USSR. It was Hollywood that transformed 1984 into propaganda material for the Cold War — suitably exaggerated, and completely one-sided.

If the rightists of America are successful in forcing their model of regime change on Iraq, West Asia will become the site of a Hobbesian war of every state against every other state in the region and render the USA as the great leviathan capable of enforcing law and order. The seemingly perpetual instability – moderated only by the US Marines — will push the price of petroleum products through the roof and increase the power of the seven sisters, who will virtually wrest control of oil production from the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries. No wonder, there are no buyers of the American plan in the international community save its 52nd state across the Atlantic.

The genesis of the looming crisis can be traced back to the collapse of the top-heavy Soviet Union. Instead of charting an independent course, howsoever halting, Boris Yeltsin bowed to the West in abject surrender. The American right thought it had won the long-drawn Cold War. And now, American enterprise will be consumed by its hubris that it can reshape the world to suit its preferences. Others — from the right and the left — have tried this before. The consequences have invariably been ultimately tragic.

The danger now is that there are no pillars to support a falling giant. When Hitler's Germany collapsed, the US took on the responsibility of Europe with the Marshall Plan. To pick up the debris of Cambodia after Pol Pot, the international community stepped in, led by the United Nations. But if America were to fall today, it would crush the world under its weight. It is too big — militarily, economically and culturally — to be allowed to fall. That is the irony of our times, even the sworn enemies of the Bush cabal stop short of wishing a defeat for US forces in Iraq.

All alone

One way to prevent the fall of a mighty structure is to widen its base. However, this option has never been popular with the Republicans. That would entail reaching out to the world – tightening the belt at home through higher taxes, and loosening purse strings abroad. But the constituency to which President Bush owes his chair will not let him do so. He must keep giving out huge tax-concessions to the giant corporations that catapulted him to the White House in the first place.

A tall tree does not fall to the ground when there are smaller ones around to support it during a storm. Embedded journalists do not stress it, but the "coalition forces" are composed of all of three nations: the United States, Great Britain and Australia. A third of those in the so-called "coalition of the willing" have requested Colin Powell that they remain unnamed. If democracy is the overriding principle of these times, and the US never tires of telling us that it is, then the moral support of the governments of most of these countries is in fact immoral, because they have offered it against the wishes of a large number of their people.

Most worrisome of all, the United States has ignored the collective will of the United Nations and humiliated its Security Council. There is a saying, ironically popularised by old-style Westerns: no matter how big you are, the law is always bigger than you. In ridiculing the Kyoto Protocol and refusing the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court, and now, Bush has thumbed his nose at the law. Those cheering him on are not his real friends.

The US dollar is the currency of international trade, its language dominates the real as well as the virtual world, its military is unrivalled, its intelligentsia sets the norms that become universal values, and its society determines desirable attributes of 'attitude'. These make it the first hyper power in human history. All the more reason that it watches its step. It is extremely lonely at the top, and there is nowhere to go but down.

George Bush does not even laugh. He boasts that God saved him from the bottle. The problem is that he does not seem to realise that faith in God is one thing, but allegiance to a creed, howsoever noble, is the most powerful intoxicant in the world. It gives birth to crusades. Or that jihad that seeks to indiscriminately destroy 'the other'. This world of ours can do with a little less of both; the resurgence of the religious right in the New World is truly alarming.


When a giant walks, the earth trembles; one can sense the reverberations in South Asia. With prices spiralling up and remittances diminishing, economies face stagnation this year if the war in West Asia stretches further. In the last week of March, Indian children in Kuwait took crucial school-leaving exams in the shadow of Tomahawks and Patriots. They face the prospect of being evacuated again as in 1991, only this time their return may not be as swift. The battle for Baghdad threatens to be the beginning of a long war rather than its end.

The resident power elite, obedient nephews of Uncle Sam, may swear that Saddam Hussein had it coming for some time. But for the people in the streets of Kabul and Colombo, American Marines have no business being on the sovereign territory of Iraq. It is this harsh reality that has forced even Pakistan to temper its support for the US cause.

Like Bush, Vajpayee too has an election to face pretty soon. That is perhaps why George Fernandes rushed to refuse a favour Yaswant Sinha insisted was not asked for by the Americans in the first place. But hardening of Hindutva in South Asia could be one of the unintended consequences of the Bush crusade in the Arab heartland. After all, this region is home for the largest number of Muslims in the world.

The other bad news is the fallout of the 'pre-emptive strike' doctrine. Close on the heels of the fireworks over Baghdad, India tested its nuclear-capable short range Prithvi. Immediately, Pakistan replied by test-firing its own dangerous toy.

Sadly, this storm in Arabia will consume South Asia much before it travels anywhere else. It should have prompted Musharraf and Vajpayee to shelve their differences for the moment and devise a common strategy. But for eyes blazing with rage, the future is merely an extension of the past.

Vajpayee must not hide his chota pegs. Musharraf should make more frequent visits to the Army Officers' Club. Apparently, Nietzsche was onto something when he thundered: "I would prefer to see men remain wild and shameless than through the eyes of their shame and devotion".

All wars are obscene, and most are profane to boot. This USD 200 billion mass annihilation show on display in the backyard of South Asia is much worse. It threatens to consume the world in an orgy of violence and counter-violence. South Asian leaders must work together to save this region from the fast spreading inferno of faith-inspired bigotry.

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