In western and predominantly Christian nations where a debate is currently raging on how to tackle Saddam, the diplomatic impasse has less to do with Iraq and more to do with each country’s "hidden agenda" in settling past scores among each other. Iraq has simply become a convenient excuse for the European nations to put brakes on American ascendancy to the status of the lone superpower.
Let us be clear on one thing. The French and German claims of insisting on the United Nations (UN) endorsement before declaring war on Iraq is hypocritical and inconsistent with their own past actions. Indeed, it was in a meeting in France only a few years back when the European nations decided to attack Serbia without seeking the UN mandate.
The then Serbian President Slobodan Milosovic had been elected through a democratic election and even though gross atrocities had been committed under his leadership in Kosovo, his brutality pales in comparison to the sadist Saddam who has killed millions of Kurds and Shias in his country and in neighboring Iran. He has used weapons of mass destruction on his own people and rules with a degree of ruthlessness unparalleled anywhere. He does not deserve the affection of a single demonstrator that was out on the streets on February 15. But then the French and German officials have done a good job of obfuscating their past shady dealings and suddenly found a new love for multilateralism.
The United States has not been clean either. During the Iran-Iraq war, Saddam received considerable military support from the U.S. And in the Gulf war when Saddam could have been easily thrown out, the President (senior Bush) heeded the request from his friends in Saudi Arabia (the epicenter of Islamic fundamentalism) and left Saddam in power. Saudis believed that Saddam’s departure would bring Shias to power and any future alliance between Iraqi and Iranian Shia leadership would be to the detriment of Saudi interests. So what has changed now?
As much as people believe that it is the oil, let me assure the readers that it anything but oil. The reality is that being a superpower, and a lone superpower, brings its own burdens. It is not easy to become number one and stay number one. Just ask the nations that have been "great powers" in the past. Even a cursory reading about the history of the Indian subcontinent in the early nineteenth century, when the term "the Great Game" was coined, indicates what can only be termed as British "obsession" with the security of its prized colony, India.
The Great Game was about the diplomatic and military rivalry between Britain and Russia (with French, Turks, Mongols and Persians continuously switching between the two camps as convenient) on who would rule India. The British were determined to hold on to India and went to great lengths to neutralize any threat - real or perceived - that would affect the security of India. In hindsight, most of the British fears turned out to be illusory, but you could not have convinced the great power then about its obsession with its security. This is one of the most important attributes that separates a great power from the rest.
Today, the United States has taken over from Britain as the great power. And the country whose security is of vital interest to the U.S. is Israel instead of the nineteenth century India. The new Great Game involves Islamic nations trying to obliterate the nation of Israel so that the entire Middle East sways, as in the past, under the benevolence of Allah from end to end without any discontinuities. Of course, the fervent believers would like the Ummah to stretch further east, but first it must solve the Israel problem.
The pain in the Muslim world for not having succeeded so far is manifested in many ways. Perhaps the most telling indication was when President Bill Clinton forced Israel to accede to almost all demands of Yasser Arafat in creating the new Palestinian state during the final year of his presidency. In fact, all Palestinian demands, except one (97% acceptance of Palestinian demands) were granted by Israel to Arafat under the American pressure. The remaining demand, which even Clinton agreed would lead to eventual destruction of the state of Israel and therefore did not meet his approval either, turned out to be the key Palestinian demand. That scuttled the entire agreement and exposed Arafat’s true intentions.
However, the United States continued to believe that so long as Saudi Arabia was in their camp (ignoring in the process the repressive and highly corrupt Saudi family ruling the country), the Muslim world would be "contained" to ensure the survival of Israel. In addition, the recent history had indicated that Muslim leaders in the Middle East were inept in running their own countries and in spite of waging numerous wars against Israel had failed miserably in all those misadventures. Furthermore, most Muslim countries have paid only a lip service to Palestinians. This is borne by the fact that majority of the United Nations development funds for Palestinian refugees in Gaza and elsewhere is contributed by America, Europe and Japan, with only a very minor contribution coming from various Muslim nations.
This is what differentiates Saddam from all other tyrants ruling in his neighborhood. He sees himself as the new "Salauddin" who will rescue Jerusalem from infidels much like his historical role model did in 1187 A.D. Saddam is not driven by religion (Baath party is pseudo-marxist in its leanings), but by a desire to rewrite the political history of the Middle East. Even though he invaded Iran and Kuwait (in the name of "Greater Iraq") in the past, his true objective is, and has been, the obliteration of the state of Israel. That is why he had initiated a vast military undertaking, and why he continues to develop the weapons of mass destruction even today.
Then came the September 11, 2001 attacks. Even today, most countries, including America’s European allies, fail to understand how greatly it has affected the outlook of the United States. It was not just that the United States mainland had been attacked the first time since 1814, it is much more than that. It affected the country’s standing as a great power and no where did it compromise American interests as acutely as it did in the Middle East.
Suddenly, countries like Saudi Arabia, which were counted among friends, turned out to be breeding ground for anti-Americanism. It became clear that Saudis and other Islamic allies in the Middle East could not be trusted to contain Saddam and in fact would likely support him in his moves to eradicate Israel. No U.S. government, and in fact the no U.S. citizen, will accept such a fate for the young Jewish nation. The U.S. government believes that not only should Saddam go, but also the Middle East must revitalize itself out of the tyranny of self-serving despots who perpetuate their grip on power through a volatile mix of Islamic fervor and misplaced priorities. Americans believe that a new democratic Iraq (which had a history of democratic governance in the past) would become the beacon for such a change. The American strategists are saying change Iraq and the rest will be a "piece of cake".
So why are the French and Germans not going for the ride? For starters, they like the political arrangement that exists in the Middle East today. Not only has Middle East been traditionally a good market for their goods and services, their trade with Muslim countries have gone up significantly since the September 11 tragedy. Furthermore, neither country is particularly obsessed with the security of Israel as is the U.S. In fact, these countries consider Israel to be an obstacle much like the Muslim countries do.
In the last couple of years, Sharon's leadership in Israel has created a political problem for the United States as well. Since the September 11 attacks, the United States has sought to put the Palestinian issue on the back burner (along with a number of burning international issues), much to the chagrin of the Europeans who see direct linkage between Israeli-Palestinian conflict and anti-Americanism in their own countries. On real issues of fighting Islamic fundamentalism and building contemporary civil society in the Middle East, the French and Germans, do not share the American enthusiasm.
Indeed, both countries (and particularly France) have recently seen a significant rise in anti-Semitism (burning of synagogues, etc.) within their borders which seem not to particularly bother local politicians who are sensitive to Islamic "vote banks" much like in other countries with minority Muslim populations and democratic dispensation. It is worthwhile to recall that there was a time when France expelled Jews in 1306, followed by Saxony in 1348. Plus ca change ...
Then there are deep philosophical differences between the "old Europe" and the U.S. that have come fore since the junior Bush took over the leadership. The unilateral withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, the refusal to join the International Criminal Court, the rejection of the Kyoto Treaty on Global Warming and the recent doctrine of pre-emptive strikes and preventive wars has raised serious concerns among America’s traditional allies.
There is a growing feeling that Americans are moving towards unilateralism - something that these nations can not support as it leaves them out of the decision loop, unlike what happened in Kosovo. So the falling out among the western allies has less to do with respect for the United Nations and more to do with preserving mutual interests and being in the power clique, rather than out.
It is interesting to note, however, that although France and Germany have objected to the U.S. policy towards Iraq, eight other European nations (joined later by Vilinius-10, making the list grow to eighteen nations) have publicly endorsed the U.S. position. Even within NATO, 16 of the 19 nations support the U.S. position. This indicates a clear case of "former great power syndrome" that is only second nature to countries whose best days have come and gone.
Of course, the Green Party, which has tasted power in France and is now part of the German government, knows only too well how to whip public passions. If September 11, 2001 was the high point for al-Qaeda, then surely February 15, 2003 was the high point for the Green parties and their compatriots world-wide. Regretfully, both have misjudged the U.S. determination in pursuing the current campaign to its logical conclusion.
What would be the next step in the political battle since Hans Blix’s "Saddam has not complied, but has not committed a material breach" report to the United Nations Security Council on February 14. Frankly, that conclusion in itself violates the spirit, if not the letter, of the Resolution 1441.
My guess is that the United States will try to seek a new resolution demanding that Iraq comply fully with 1441 by a certain date, perhaps by the middle or end of March. If France and Germany wish to give Saddam one more last chance, their endorsement of this resolution, followed by Saddam’s compliance (requirements for which have been explicitly stated by Blix and include full accounting for chemical and biological agents, destruction of unauthorized missiles, interviews with Iraqi scientists outside of Iraq, surveillance flights, etc.) would prevent the war. On the other hand, if France and Germany, buoyed by the weekend peace demonstrations, reject such a resolution or insist on an open ended inspection regime, then a war is inevitable.
No war can be rationalized, even if it is fully justified. It represents a failure of the political process. In case of Iraq, such a failure, if war takes place, will not be out of any lack of respect for world institutions that exist today, but simply because these institutions have become inadequate in addressing the new strategic global security concerns that have surfaced since September 11, 2001.
Whether or not the world will see a new global order which is bound to happen if a war is unleashed in the Middle East depends to a large extent on the decisions of the permanent members of the Security Council. The status quo would require all the members to speak with one voice as they did in passing the Resolution 1441. Failing that, the United States will proceed with its "obsessions" regarding its national security; much like its predecessor great powers did in the past. All indications are that either way India will play a decisive role in the new world order because of its emerging status as a powerhouse with inherent great strength to serve as an example in the new world which will be increasingly multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multi-lingual just as India is today.
Whether some nations realize it or not, the world geo-politics changed on September 11, 2001. Because the attacks affected the United States, this country in turn, is interacting differently with other nations around the world. This is not an ego trip for the lone superpower, but a burden borne out of tradition that has historical similarities with the era of all great powers in the past. The history simply is repeating itself.
This too shall pass.
(The writer, Vijay K. Sazawal, Ph.D., is National President, Indo-American Kashmir Forum (IAKF) Washington, DC, USA)