Tuesday, February 20, 2007


USA’s white elephant

From The Statesman

In 2002, the US Congress authorised President George W Bush to go to war in Iraq based on Intelligence about weapons of mass destruction that later turned out to be inaccurate. It was expected that with the removal of the tyrannical rule of Saddam Hussein, a genuine regime change would occur with new hopes for democracy in the region. Instead of regime change, there was an implosion and the society collapsed.
The USA is no longer waging war in Iraq; it is now trying to stamp out sectarian civil war with the help of a sectarian government, though there seems to be no easy way out. Americans were not ready for a future of this kind, a bloody mess that has killed 3,100 US troops; you might say, not a large number as wars go but if you consider hundreds of thousands of the Iraqi dead and the ceaseless daily carnage of civilians being blown off in streets and the marketplace, you wonder why no one ever imagined the probability of this kind of scenario of hell. Or why would anyone in his right mind think of imposing a regime change on any other country?

Having been complicit in the war, with the news media, the US Congress cannot end the raging sectarian violence, insurgency or civil war, by whatever name you call it, and bring peace to the region if it forces the President to bring troops back home. Comparisons with Vietnam are misplaced and silly. In 1975, when South Vietnam fell to the North, the war ended. Vietnam was united under the Communist government of the North and the country began to settle down and rebuild itself. Nothing of the kind would happen in Iraq if US troops were to withdraw today. If Congress were to cut funding for the Iraq war, consequently forcing the troops back home, Iraq ~ unlike Vietnam ~ would never return to itself. Last week’s non-binding resolution in the House opposing the administration plan for deployment of 21,500 more troops in Iraq was not such a thundering bipartisan move as it was supposed to be.

The resolution dutifully supporting the US combat forces in Iraq, while opposing the additional deployment was representative of the raging but impotent rhetoric in the country.The Senate in spite of Democratic majority, on the other hand, could not muster enough votes to debate a similar non-binding resolution rebuking the President.The non-binding resolution is more like a strongly written opinion piece, which the President does not have to veto but at the same time he cannot ignore.

Congress like most Americans want troops back home but it does not want to abandon Iraq, leaving people to chaos or the mercy of their neighbour Iran or other surrounding Sunni Arab countries. Hence the political schizophrenia and confusion worse confounding. Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the first woman ever to become leader of the House, said the non-binding resolution “will signal a change in direction in Iraq that will end the fighting and bring our troops home safely soon.” Her words drew thundering cheers but did not carry any conviction. She did not explain how this sudden change from the present sectarian violence between Shias and Sunnis, with the continuous insurgency, would end if the administration were stopped from carrying out the surge in deployment or even if there were effective reduction in the existing troop strength. In any case, even before Congress began to debate the issue of the surge in deployment of extra troops, the President had made up his mind to send 21,500 extra troops to Baghdad. And they are already on their way.

In the case of Vietnam, there was an alternative, a well-organised North ready to take over the whole country. That choice does not exist in Iraq because the country is splintered on ethnic lines and there is no well-organised force to transcend sectarianism and impose order on the country.Yet there has to be an alternative and Iraq must be put together again. The next few weeks would show which way the wind blows when President Bush asks Congress for $93 billion for the military for Iraq and Afghanistan. Democrats would launch another attack on the President’s failure to end the conflict in Iraq; and Congress would dilly-dally but would be unwilling to block the spending request to the President.

The Americans, though overwhelmingly opposed to the President’s Iraq policy, do not want troops to be denied of necessary funds. Increasing confrontation with Democratic-controlled Congress might, however, compel the President to explore some other ways of mitigating the situation; for example, recognising Iran and Syria as parties to the conflict and bringing them to the negotiating table. A diplomatic breakthrough the kind recently achieved with North Korea, based on negotiations with regional powers, might be a way out. But the search for diplomatic solution would require that the Bush administration must abandon any plan to invade Iran to forestall its nuclear weapon plans.

Democratic-controlled Congress can be effective in using its power of the purse by suggesting diplomatic means of negotiating peace in Iraq. It must urge the Bush administration to shed its inhibition in talking with Iranian authorities and develop common grounds with Iran in ending ethnic conflict in Iraq.

(ND Batra, the author of a forthcoming book Digital Freedom, being published by Rowman & Littlefield, teaches communications and diplomacy at Norwich University)

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