October 16, 2007 — drsubrotoroy
Iran, America, Iraq: Bush’s post-Saddam Saddamism — one flip-flop too many?
by Subroto Roy
First published in The Statesman, Editorial Page, October 16 2007
All cultures generally, and Eastern cultures invariably, require utmost politeness towards an invited guest.The behaviour of the President of New York’s ColumbiaUniversity on 24 September was thus inexplicable when he gratuitously insulted his guest Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, President of Iran, even before allowing him to deliver the speech he had been invited to give at the university.Iran’s President has become the new hate-figure of choice in the popular American media ever since 2005 when he was mistranslated as having said he wished Israel “wiped off the map”.He has chosen to contribute to his own predicament by seeming to associate with and encourage those known as “Holocaust-deniers” – people who stretch from those who deny any systematic mass-murder took place of Jews by Nazi Europe to those who want evidence for the number of six million such victims that has passed into school textbooks.
Modern Iran’s foreign policy should not have come to depend on the precise history of the atrocities against Jews by Christendom over the centuries. But that is what President Ahmadinejad has now, rather ineptly, made it depend on, jeopardising the lives of tens of thousands of his fellow-citizens from destruction caused by a massive and unlawful American, British, Israeli and possibly French attack. He has been quite needlessly provocative enough to allow himself to be painted by the American popular media, unscrupulous and unthinking as that can be, as some kind of Hitler-figure who plans some day to use nuclear bombs on Israel. Iran has been plaintively pleading in official circles that it wishes to use nuclear-power generated electricity at home while exporting its petroleum, that it has a right to do so as a member in good standing of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, and that it has neither wish nor capacity to develop nuclear bombs. But no matter the merits of its position with the IAEA, Iran has succeeded in isolating itself and seems to have almost no official allies on the world’s stage (though China, Russia, Royal Dutch Shell etc all have large investments there!).
The US has detailed contingency plans to attack Iran though no American official or military officer has admitted or stated that any such intention exists. The outlines are an open secret. There would be sudden massive bombing of Iran’s military and general infrastructure, including its assumed nuclear installations. US Marines would make seaborne assaults on Iranian islands to prevent Iran from mining or closing the Straits of Hormuz or from attacking American bases or interests in the Gulf. US Army forces based in Iraq would launch massive long-range artillery and rocket attacks preventing Iranian ground forces attempting to manoeuvre or approach them. There may be an amphibious Anglo-American attack from the Caspian Sea towards Tehran. “Special Forces” by way of spies, saboteurs and agents provocateur would have already been placed within Iran to help targeting and other war-aims.
One aim would be to permanently cripple Iran’s nuclear industry.A second aim would be “regime change” though without any attempt at a large-scale ground occupation of Iran which is recognised as impossible to achieve.The more extreme members of the Bush Administration led by Vice President Cheney aim to see Iran becoming a “failed state”, reversing whatever has taken place by way of nation-building, leaving an emasculated Iran, like an emasculated Iraq, that poses no threat to Israel for the next century and more.
The traditional Christian ethics of a just war are planned to be practically ignored by the United States, and there would not be any formal declaration of war. America’s people either have barely heard of Iran as a place on the map and will mostly continue with their usual lives, or have no idea of the intricacies of the US-Iran relationship in the last 80 years, or have no wish to support their Government machinery’s intent to go to war but have no control over its behaviour.
Three factors have held back an American attack though forces apparently can be made ready within days if not hours of a Presidential order. One has been top military officers, including Admiral Fallon, the head of US Central Command, who have said that Iran’s attempted retaliation on the ground could jeopardize 160,000 US troops now in more than a dozen bases spread across Iraq (besides Israel being threatened by Iran’s Hezbollah ally in Lebanon). A second factor has been the American Jewish community, who have apparently warned that a large bloody counterproductive war against Iran may have negative repercussions on their standing in American society. A third factor has been America’s foreign ministry which knows enough international law, politics and history to realise such aggression would be wholly unlawful, widely condemned by the world, and return the international system to the pre-1914 days of an imperialist free-for-all or destroy it altogether. The UN system would permanently end, and all methods and precedents of international cooperation, law and diplomacy would have been rendered irrelevant and deserving only to be flushed away and forgotten. The UN today seems to be led by an incompetent unknown who will produce even less of a squeak in protest than did his predecessor. Imperialism and Colonialism would return formally except in an age of advanced technology in which some nations have a right and ability to use nuclear weapons in pursuing dominance. The Geneva Conventions and even a medieval right like habeas corpus have already seen breaches; the Vienna Convention and other similar treaties and norms would all be effectively over.The international retrogression may be not merely back to 1914 or 1907 but to the tumult and savagery of Napoleon’s wars which ended with the Congress of Vienna in 1815.
War-planning aside, what is most interesting is that in recent months the USA has apparently gone back to developing, as an alternative, something like Saddam Hussein’s own strategy for containing Iranian influence! Iraq’s Anbar province sits on vast oil reserves which are not going to be pumped as that would lower the price of oil from its current high near $83 a barrel. It is a Sunni-majority area which has now made its Shias refugees, just as Shia-dominated areas of Baghdad have seen forced evictions of Sunnis. The Sunni tribal chiefs of Anbar are now having their loyalty purchased by the Americans just as Saddam had once done, especially by playing an anti-Iran card as Iran is a common enemy. At the same time, the Bush Administration is hard-pressed to try to persuade Iraq’s Shia majority to resist what might seem the inevitability of Iranian hegemony — which can only be done by reminding them of their Arab anti-Persian roots again just as Saddam had tried to do. Anglo-American policy once was to build up the Arabs against the Turks, then the Pehlavis against the Arabs, then Saddam against the Ayatollahs who had toppled the Pehlavis. Saddam himself was then toppled and killed and now post-Saddam Iraq is being built up against an Islamic Iran that may be struggling in its own way to enter the modern world. Perhaps the 2003 invasion of Iraq has been one flip-flop too many for the USA and UK to cope with over the last century.
May 7, 2006 — drsubrotoroy
MODERN WORLD HISTORY
by Subroto Roy
First published in The Sunday Statesman, Editorial Page Special Article May 7 2006
MUCH as we in India might like to think we were the central focus of Britain’s national life in the 19th and 20th Centuries, we were not. India’s matters were handled mostly by a senior cabinet minister to whom the governor-general or viceroy reported. Though possession and control of India gave the British a sense of mission, self-importance and grandeur, and events in India (mostly bad ones) could hog the newspapers for a few days, it was never the case that India dominated Britain’s political consciousness or national agenda for any length of time. British prime ministers and diplomatists, from Pitt through Canning, Palmerston, Peel, Gladstone, Granville, Disraeli and Salisbury, mostly had other concerns of foreign policy, mostly in Europe and also in the Americas, Africa, and the Near and Far East. India was peripheral to their vision except as a place to be held against any encroachment.
A French historian used to begin lectures on British history saying “Messieurs, l’Angleterre est une ile.” (“Gentlemen, Britain is an island.”) The period of unambiguous British dominance of world diplomacy began with Pitt’s response to the French Revolution, and unambiguously ended in 1917 when Britain and France could have lost the war to Germany if America had not intervened. Since then, America has taken over Britain’s role in world diplomacy, though Lloyd George and Churchill, to a smaller extent Harold Wilson, and finally Thatcher, were respected British voices in world circles. Thatcher’s successor Major failed by seeming immature, while his successor Blair has failed by being immature to the point of being branded America’s “poodle”, making Britain’s loss of prestige complete.
Between Pitt and Flanders though, Britain’s dominance of world affairs and the process of defining the parameters of international conduct was clear. It was an era in which nations fought using ships, cannon, cavalry and infantry. The machine-gun, airpower and automobile had been hardly invented. Yet it is amazing how many technological inventions and innovations occurred during that era, many in Britain and the new America, vastly improving the welfare of masses of people: the steam-engine, the cotton gin, railways, electricity, telecommunications, systems of public hygiene etc. The age of American dominance has been one of petroleum, airpower, guided missiles and nuclear energy, as well as of penicillin and modern medicine.
It was during the period 1791-1991, between the French Revolution and the collapse of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, that world diplomacy created the system of “Western” nation-states, from Canning’s recognition of Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, Colombia etc to the emergence of the European Union. There is today peace in Europe and it has become unthinkable there will be war between e.g. France and Germany except on a soccer pitch. Even the unstable Balkans have stabilised. The transition from British to American dominance occurred during and because of the 1914-1918 World War, yet that war’s causes had nothing to do with America and hence America’s rise has been somewhat fortuitous. The War superficially had to do with those unstable Balkans in the summer of 1914 and the system of alliances developed over the previous 100 years; beneath was the economic rise of the new Germany.
Austro-Hungary went to war against Serbia, causing Germany its ally into war with Russia, Serbia’s ally. Belgium’s neutrality was guaranteed through British diplomacy by the Treaty of London in 1839 signed by Austria, France, Britain, Russia and Prussia. This “scrap of paper” Germany tore up to invade Belgium on 4 August 1914, because it was easier to attack France through Belgium than directly as most French generals had expected. Though Germany had no dispute with France, France was Russia’s ally, and the Germans had long-feared fighting on two fronts against larger but more slowly mobilising forces. Violation of Belgian neutrality caused Britain into war with Germany. So all Europe was at war from which it would fail to extricate itself without American intervention. This arrived in 1917 though it too had been provoked by German submarines sinking American ships in the Atlantic. The actual impact of American forces entering the battlefields was small, and it was after the Armistice, when the issue arose of reparations by Germany to everyone and repayments by Britain and France to America, that America’s role became dominant. New York took over from London as the world’s financial capital.
Woodrow Wilson longed to impose a system of transparent international relations on the Europeans who had been used to secret deals and intrigues. He failed, especially when America’s Senate vetoed America’s own entry into the League of Nations. America became isolationist, wishing to have nothing more to do with European wars ~ and remains to this day indifferent towards the League’s successor. But the War also saw Lenin’s Bolsheviks grab power after Russia extricated itself from fighting Germany by the peace of Brest-Litovsk. And the Armistice saw the French desire to humiliate and destroy German power for ever, which in turn sowed the seeds for Hitler’s rise. And the War also had led to the British making the Balfour Declaration that a Jewish “National Home” would arise in Palestine in amity and cooperation with the Arabs. The evolution of these three events dominated the remainder of the 20th Century ~along with the rise and defeat of an imperialist Japan, the rise of communist China, and later, the defeat of both France and America in Vietnam.
Hitler invaded Poland on 1 September 1939, and Britain and France declared war on Germany on 3 September. The next day in faraway India, the British in a panic started to place Jinnah on an equal footing as Gandhi ~ astounding Jinnah himself as much as anyone since his few supporters had lost the 1937 elections badly, especially in the provinces that today constitute the country he wished for. After the defeat and occupation of Germany and Japan, America’s economic supremacy was unquestionable. Utterly exhausted from war, the British had no choice but to leave India’s angry peoples to their own fates, and retreated to their fortified island again ~ though as brown and black immigration increased with the end of Empire, many pale-skinned natives boarded ships for Canada, Australia and New Zealand. America came to have much respect for its junior British ally during the fight against Hitler and later in the political battle against the USSR. It was Thatcher who (after battling Argentina in the South Atlantic) led Reagan to make peace with Gorbachov. With the end of Soviet communism, Germany would be unified again. All across Christendom there was peace for the first time ever, and a militarily powerful nuclear-armed Israel had been created too in the old Palestine. In this new period of world history, the Security Council’s permanent members are the modern version of the “Great Powers” of the 19th Century. The American-led and British-supported destruction of Baathist Iraq, and threatened destruction of Khomeinist Iran mark the final end of the League of Nations’ ethos which had arisen from the condemnation of aggression. In Osama bin Laden’s quaint idiom, there seems a battle of “Crusaders” and “Zionists” against Muslim believers. Certainly Muslim believers (which means most Muslims as there are relatively few agnostics and atheists among them) think that it is obvious that the Universe was created, and that its Creator finally and definitively spoke through one human being in 7th Century Arabia. Many people from North Africa to the Philippines are not often able to conceive how things might have been otherwise. The new era of history will undoubtedly see all kinds of conversations take place about this rather subtle question.