The autumn of the fig leaf

Ruchir Joshi
22 April 2003

Indian perspectives on the war in Iraq Aranyani Bhargava Hoping For Hope, Anuradha M. Chenoy Why Women oppose war, Tani Bhargava India’s new anti-Americanism, Ruchir Joshi Be very afraid

Imagine this:

Day 8 of the war. Coalition forces are making steady progress towards the city of Jaipur, 250 kilometres from New Delhi. The column, now stretching over 160 kilometres, is led by tanks from the crack 15th Cavalry of the US army, one of the most technologically advanced fighting units in the world. Meantime, commandos from the Forza Graziani, Italy’s elite Desert Special Forces, have managed to secure the oil fields in the desert region of Kutch.

Moving east, reports suggest that China has landed 3000 paratroops around the city of Patna. Chinese troops have met fierce armed resistance from local, irregular, Yadav militias dressed in civilian clothes. Despite the resistance, Patna airport is now said to be under Chinese control. Fighters flying from the USS Nixon, leading the 7th Fleet in the Bay of Bengal, are working in close co-operation with the Chinese ground forces.

Speaking at a briefing earlier today at CentCom in Muscat, Oman, Lieutenant General Roy Rogers of the USAF firmly denied that a Tomahawk Cruise missile had hit the shopping area of Khan Market in southern New Delhi. “Our reports indicate the damage was caused by an out of control ground-to-air missile from a battery placed by the enemy to defend their Intelligence Headquarters, not far from that market,” he told reporters.

Despite indications that mounting civilian fatalities might be tilting world opinion against the Coalition’s war against India, the noose is tightening around the regime in New Delhi.

Stay with us for round-the-clock coverage of Operation Indian Liberation.

Laughable and ridiculous? Not really. Not after the three-week Iraq war of March-April 2003. There would be differences, of course. For instance I have left the British out of the picture because I cannot imagine them overtly joining in a military operation against India – not unless the British government wanted a civil war at home. And my apologies to the Italians, if not the Berlusconians. But, with these exceptions, there is nothing fantastical about the scenario. Not any more.

The offensive in Iraq has driven home the fact that the United States will now launch wars as and when it wants.

It will not need any of the following alibis: an evil dictatorship with a history of torturing and butchering its own people (the ‘oiligarchy’ in Saudi Arabia); a murderous megalomaniac, lethally aggressive towards his neighbouring countries (Ariel Sharon in Israel); an unelected and unstable government controlling a stock of deadly weapons (Pakistan, and now, indeed, the US itself).

Nor will it require the target country to be Islamic, undemocratic, fundamentalist, racist, environmentally destructive, anti-women, anti-children, anti-animals, though any trace of these will obviously help the US in its propaganda when it chooses to go to war.

From now on we will see a diplo-military version of the ‘racial profiling’ currently going on in America. Henceforth, American administrations will codify countries by certain characteristics that are deemed threatening to US interests, and to corral these countries into political corners, ‘imprison’ them, and then ‘execute’ them.

Leaving Russia, China and western Europe out of this calculation – they are all too big – the trigger-matrix for the target country will be three: a substantial territory and army, because the US cannot too often be seen stamping on too tiny an opponent; a country getting too-big-for-its-regional/global-boots; and a wealth of natural and/or intellectual resources whose indirect control would help America better dominate Europe, China and Japan.

North Korea, Iran, Libya, Nigeria and Turkey all come into this category in some way. But if you happen to be Indian – whatever your political, pseudo-secular or pseudo-religious affiliations, or how many motels your extended family may own in Arizona or New Jersey – it is time to be afraid, very, very, afraid.

Iraqi resistance: the French connection

From now on, it will not matter whether the US administration is Republican or Democrat. It is also of limited importance who the US lassoes into future Coalitions of the Willing (COW). Equally, it is not necessary that US-led wars will always be military, though there will of course be regular compulsion to test-drive new military hardware. The future offensives could be variously economic, electronic, environmental or media-driven, but the template that ‘Operation Iraqi Freedom’ sets for all future US ‘campaigns’ is the nakedness of their all-out, self-serving, assaults – somewhat reminiscent of Nazi Germany in 1938.

It is revealing that in the bitter diplomatic exchanges accompanying the war, the major rhetorical attacks from the American establishment have been leveled at France rather than Germany. The problem comes partly from the fact that during its 1941-45 war, America actually understood the war that Germany fought much better than it understood the war the French fought. The grandchild of that American understanding now stalks the planet. Therefore, currently, the Cheese-Eating Surrender-Monkeys catch a lot more flak than do the Beer-Swilling Pacifist Circus Bears.

The difference comes out in two statements, one without attribution and one on the record. “If it wasn’t for us Americans, those French would be speaking German now”; and more recently, Donald Rumsfeld spitting out his opinion of Iraqi soldiers who have gone into civilian clothes to fight the US-British forces: “They’re nothing but terrorists

It is, I suppose, an indelicate moment to remind Rumsfeld that, when faced with the overwhelming firepower of ‘shock and awe’, these Iraqis – and their foreign allies – are only echoing the behaviour of thousands of Frenchmen in the second world war. They switch into civilian clothes, mingle with the locals, hide pistols and grenades under their jackets, and let the occupying enemy have it, however and whenever possible. Hitler and his Nazis had exactly the same reaction to these fighters now remembered as the heroic Maquis: ‘Irregulars! Running away from their uniforms! Won’t fight like men! Ambushing our soldiers while they sit drinking coffee in cafes! Hiding in bushes! Terrorists!’

And it is these underground cheese-eaters who laid the ground for the Allied forces to land in Normandy on D-Day in 1944, who actually helped make sure that not just London, but New York too, did not run the risk of becoming a regional outpost of Imperial Berlin.

All this is not to say that the Saddam fedayeen are to be equated with the French Resistance, but to point out that if Washington, London and Tel Aviv can take shamelessly from the Nazi blitzkrieg, there is no reason why the odd Iraqi cannot borrow from the French countering of it.

An escape from violence

Of course, the violence has not worked for the Iraqis and, should our time come, it won’t work for us either. Sure, if there ever is a US attack on India, there will suddenly be strange bedfellows all round, similar to what I suspect is now happening in Iraq – the Bajrang Dal fighting shoulder to shoulder with Naxalites, Jai Hind-wallahs passing ammunition to anti-statists, and even, I daresay, kattar Hindutva-types fighting right alongside kattar Jihad-ists. Whether this happens or not, the Tomcat flying in from the USS Nixon won’t differentiate between us – the Delhi Gymkhana and the new slums in Narela will be potential targets.

The US establishment has taken bloodshed to its illogical extreme. It has used money and technology in the service of a violence that can serve only its own perpetuation. And just as the fig leaf of the US establishment’s respect for the sovereignty of other nations has finally fallen off, our own Indian fig leaf – that of being an ‘independent’ state backed by one of the world's largest armies – is also quickly crumbling.

Perhaps, then, it might be not just principled but also pragmatic to escape from the violence game altogether. To achieve this, we would have to stop the complex violence within our own society, and simultaneously shift the old goalposts in dealing with our neighbours. Only then could we come together to fight the war being waged against us.

It’s a tough challenge, but if we do not face up to it now we are as doomed to be surrender-bandars as much as any Iraqi despot.

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