As an Indian living in Bombay, I can perhaps take a less emotional look at what is probably the most controversial political issue in the USA today – Iraq. This was probably the most important and divisive issue in the 2006 United Stated Congressional election. The Democrats portrayed it as a political and military misadventure of gigantic proportions. For the Republicans, it’s a moral crusade ordained by God’s representative on earth – who sometimes goes by the name of George W Bush. Oh yeah, it’s also about democracy and all that jazz. Both are wrong. The war in Iraq is about what wars have always been about since the dawn of history – conquest of territory and its wealth.
Or it should have been. Before and just after the invasion of Iraq, cynics declared that it was all about Iraq’s oil. Well, if it had been, maybe US would not have found itself in the mess it is in today. The Bush administration did not heed the lessons of history. It had to go back just two centuries to the heyday of the British Empire. The imperial British conquered a good portion of the world in the 19th Century – and they made so bones about it. They invaded – or connived their way into- an “uncivilized” country, in Asia, Africa or the Middle East, with the sole purpose of exploiting that country’s wealth – and cheap labour – and repatriating the profits back to their homeland. Everything else was incidental. Take the current situation in Iraq. The so-called civil war would not have bothered the British too much. They would probably have been content to let the “natives” fight amongst themselves, while they stood on the sidelines and just made sure things didn’t get out of hand. Less bother for them in the long run. It’s probably what Cheney and Rumsfeld would do too.
Unfortunately, for them and for the American public, George Bush got “religion” – and lost the script. “Occupying” another country was plain wrong, according to his way of thinking. America went into Iraq, not for itself, but for the long-suffering Iraqi people. America wanted to shower them with the fruits of democracy and freedom (not to mention 300 billion dollars). America’s motives had to be pure and virtuous. Maybe Bush genuinely believed that – and still does. But it does not work that way in the real world. You cannot post 150,000 of your country’s troops in a foreign land and expect them to be hailed as liberators and benefactors by the local population. And if you are going to be perceived as the “bad guys” anyway, you may as well act like them. Get tough and show them who’s boss.
So what have been the real “fruits” of democracy and freedom in Iraq? 60,000 Iraqi dead – and counting. Over 3000 US soldiers dead and dying in a meaningless war they no longer have any control over. See how they had to roll over recently, when the Iraqi Prime Minister “ordered” them to stop manning checkpoints to find their kidnapped colleague. And who are they fighting for anyway? For the Iraqi’s who didn’t want hem there in the first place and continue to resent them? Or for America, that no longer knows quite what it wants. It is just letting itself get overwhelmed by events on the ground. Sure, the US cannot pull out now. The loss of face alone would hand the Islamists a propaganda victory beyond their wildest dreams. But it will have to eventually – maybe after sacrificing 5000 American lives. And what will it leave behind: a free and democratic Iraq? Forget it. Probably a country split into three among the Kurds, the Sunnis and The Shias. Shia Iraq will be a client state of Iran – one of the countries on Bush’s axis-of-evil list.
And speaking of Iran, it is likely to emerge as the biggest beneficiary out of this unholy mess. Things couldn’t have worked out better for the Iranians if they had planned it themselves. Consider the facts. For the last three decades of the previous century, Saddam Hussein’s Iraq had been a constant thorn in Iran’s side. Iraq had dragged their country into an eight year war that cost them over a million lives. Moreover, Saddam had prevented the ruling clerics from spreading their Islamic Revolution to their majority Shias in Iraq. Now, in one fortuitous masterstroke, Bush had removed all those obstacles from their path. That Ahmedinejad guy and his handlers might act like kooks, but they are pretty shrewd operators. Look how cleverly they have diverted American attention to their non-existent nuclear weapons. I doubt if Iran has any intention of developing them anyway. It would not bring that nation any great dividend. Iran’s real ambition is to extend its theocratic empire to Iraq – and beyond – and it is getting there. Make no mistake: whatever shape Iraq finally takes, it – and its vast oil reserves – will be controlled by Iran. One does not need to be a soothsayer to predict what damage a hostile Iran, flush with funds, can do to American interests around the world.
The whole Iraq fiasco has thrown up one reality in sharp focus. The USA may be the world’s sole superpower, but it is not cut out to be a “conqueror.” It does not have the stomach for it. America has historically been comfortable inside its isolationist cocoon. Maybe that’s not such a bad thing.