Friday, September 24, 2004

Navhind Times: Escalating US Hostility towards Iran

Navhind Times on the Web: Opinions: "Escalating US Hostility towards Iran
by Inder Malhotra

STRANGE are life’s ironies and paradoxes. Nothing underscores this maxim more vividly than the plight of the United States, unquestionably the world’s mightiest nation in terms of military, economic and technological power. So great is the magnetic attraction of that country’s gargantuan market that all other major powers — the European Union, Russia, China, India and Japan — want to make the most of it by constantly improving their relations with the US.

Of course, each of the countries mentioned above has differences with the sole superpower that are at times serious. But this in no way detracts from their recognition of America’s primacy. And yet the US, under the administration of bumbling George W Bush, has made such a mess that the mightiest power on the globe has become a laughing stock. Never since the end of the Second World War in 1945 has America’s prestige been so low as it is today.

At the root of American discomfiture, nay misery, is the cardinal folly it committed in Iraq under intoxication of power and in the foolish belief that, like ancient Rome, present-day imperial Washington, could act unilaterally when it liked and where it liked. If this meant treating both the United Nations and its allies not in agreement with American policy on Iraq under Saddam Hussain with contempt then so be it.

However, the end result of the Iraq misadventure has been manifestly frustrating and humiliating for Bush and his ‘neo-conservative’ advisers who had been strutting about as lords and masters of the globe. In fact, the American plight in Iraq is even worse than it was in Vietnam in the late sixties and early seventies. There the US had an escape hatch that it used in 1973. From the mounting misery in Iraq there is no escape. Stephen Cohen of the premier American think tank, Brookings, sums up the situation succinctly when says, “we have no way to stay in Iraq and no way to get out. All options there are bad”.

It is no surprise, therefore, that Bush’s Democratic challenger, John Kerry, has embarked on the strongest attack on the President’s Iraq policy. He has called it a ‘colossal failure’ and a ‘profound mistake’ of diverting attention from Al Qaeda. But one does not have to rely on Kerry’s word or that of foreign observers. Those high in the ruling establishment of the US have themselves exposed the utter stupidity of rushing into war with Saddam Hussain’s Iraq.

For instance, a National Security Estimate prepared by the CIA and ‘cleared’ by all appropriate authorities confesses blandly that the Iraqi venture has been a disaster. The prospect staring America in the face in Iraq is that of ‘civil war’ and ‘chaos’ during which the US can neither quit nor influence the gory events on the ground. The number of highly destructive suicide bombings or grenade attacks on American supply routes have gone up from an average of 60 a day to more than 80. No American dignitary, military or civilian from a 1,000-strong embassy, has ever visited the site of carnage. The story of the kidnappings of foreigners suspected of helping the Americans is equally dismal and depressing. To its shame, the American army has lost control of several pockets of insurgency, including some within Baghdad itself.

Even staunch supporters of the war on Saddam are now admitting ruefully that all the assumptions and assertions of the Bush administration have been smashed to smithereens. Far from being welcomed as ‘liberators’ the American troops are hated and hunted everywhere. According to one of the leading British experts on West Asia, the US faces a ‘series of virulent insurgent groups in Iraq’. All of them are at odds with one another, he adds, but all of them are “totally united in their hatred of the American occupiers”.

More strikingly, the American claim that Saddam possessed weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) — Britain’s Tony Blair had even said that the Iraqi dictator could make these weapons operational ‘within 45 minutes’ — has been exposed to be a blatant lie. The illusion that Saddam’s overthrow would touch off a wave of ‘democratisation in the Greater Middle East’ has turned out to be a delusion. Furthermore, only the Americans and the hand-picked interim Iraqi government of Prime Minister, Mr Allawi believe that elections can be held in January next. In final quirk of irony, the UN Secretary-General, Mr Kofi Anan, usually a habitual supporter of the United States, has belatedly discovered that the US invasion of Iraq was ‘illegal’!

As if this was not enough, the issue of the Kurd minority in northern Iraq is proving to be another albatross round America’s neck. There are those in the US that wouldn’t mind if the Kurds declared independence and unleashed the disintegration of Iraq. But this could create huge problems with Turkey, a ‘valued’ ally, which also has a substantial population of Kurds. Ankara has already made it clear to Washington rather gruffly that it would tolerate no encouragement to Kurdish independence.

In spite of all this, one has to take note of two contrary developments. First, while more than 1,000 US soldiers have been killed in Iraq, the arrival of their body bags back home hasn’t created the kind of angry upsurge that was expected. Secondly, the belief that the Arab Street would explode in protest against the American occupation of Iraq and Israeli excesses in Palestine has not been translated into reality. Should Bush get re-elected, he would use these facts as a justification for ‘staying the course in Iraq’. But it is equally possible that Iraq would reduce him to a one-term President, rather like his father.

If Iraq has filled America’s cup of misery up to the brim, Afghanistan has caused it to start overflowing. Unlike Iraq where chances of holding elections next January are remote to the point of being non-existent, presidential elections or sorts might be held in Afghanistan for the first time in its history next month. In Hamid Karzai, the head of the interim government, the US and its allies have a credible candidate. But his writ hardly runs outside Kabul and his life is permanently in danger.

The country, always a hotbed of ceaseless conflict among tribal chiefs and warlords, is ravaged by ceaseless violence. The Taliban have not only survived but also have become brazen in their threats to and attacks on the Karzai government. The rift between Karzai and the Northern Alliance that had really defeated the Taliban is now complete.

Meanwhile, the Americans have not only reduced their military presence in Afghanistan, leaving it to an international force under NATO’s command to cope with the challenge. Pakistan, knowing that Bush desperately wants Osama bin Laden, ‘dead or alive’, before the November 2 US presidential election, is able to extract its pound of flesh. This is evidently detrimental to India’s vital stakes in Afghanistan. But the US does not care and sometimes joins Pakistan in complaining about Indian ‘presence’ in the land of Afghans.

Unlike India, Iran has greater leverage in Afghanistan which it uses skillfully and subtly whenever necessary. It is also in a position to influence events in the Shia-majority Iraq. That, combined with the American objections to the Iranian nuclear programme, should explain the escalating American hostility towards Iran. But the question is whether, in view of the catastrophe in Iraq, even Mr Bush would dare open a second front by attacking Iran although the ‘neocons’ would be happy to do so. Most people think probably not. However, that does not rule out the possibility of US bombing of Iranian nuclear installations. Should that happen, it would be an altogether different ballgame in a region that is already troubled and turbulent beyond measure."

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