Targeting the Muslim world

By Shahid Javed Burki

IN THE article published in this space last week, I began to discuss the terrible economic toll terrorism has inflicted on the world of Islam. Today, I will discuss the terrorists’ objectives in carrying out two recent attacks, one in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, and the other in Casablanca, Morocco. The impact of these operations will be even more consequential for the Muslim world than those carried out on September 11, 2001.

This time the terrorists have chosen targets close to home. In Riyadh, they attacked three housing compounds in which foreigners live; in Casablanca, the targets were only loosely connected with foreign interests — a Spanish restaurant, a Jewish cemetery, a synagogue, a Kuwaiti-owned hotel.

Two different messages were sent out by these attacks. Let us look at each one of them because of their relevance for Pakistan. The attack in Riyadh was a sophisticated operation, carried out by a group in a well coordinated fashion. It was reminiscent of the operations launched against the United States on September 11, 2001. To quote from US Secretary of State Colin Powell, who arrived in the Saudi capital a day after the attack, the operation had the fingerprints of Al Qaeda.

Why did the terrorists hit Riyadh? To begin with, they were able to challenge the oft-repeated claim that Al Qaeda was on the run and that its capacity to do harm was now severely limited. The attack demonstrated in quite vivid fashion the organization’s ability to launch a concerted, superbly coordinated operation in well-guarded residential compounds. The second message was even more dangerous: that it was extremely hazardous for the Americans in particular and all westerners in general to do business in Saudi Arabia. The terrorists wanted not only the American troops to leave the kingdom.

This could no longer be the principal motive as was the case for the “nine-eleven” attacks, since the US government had already announced its intention to take out its troops from Saudi Arabia. Al Qaeda was now ratcheting up its campaign and wanted all foreigners to leave the country. They wanted Saudi Arabia to be left entirely to its Muslim population and to its brand of Islam, isolated and cleansed from the rest of the world.

The Al Qaeda operation in Riyadh took the Saudi government by surprise. Before terrorism became an international issue, the Saudi government had looked the other way while the exponents of radical Islam, some of whom were the products of the institutions the kingdom had supported, advocated violence in pursuit of their goals. Now not only the government but also the religious establishment was shaken. Even before the attacks Riyadh had begun to move against the more radical elements in the country’s religious establishment. There are about 100,000 imams in Saudi Arabia. The government dismissed several hundred of them for preaching radicalism. Some of the more influential religious leaders spoke out against the perpetrators of the Riyadh operation.

At the Grand Mosque in Makkah, Sheikh Saleb Ibn Humaid decried terrorists as deviants who commit the double sin of killing innocent people and killing themselves. Saudi Arabia, he said “will not accept that Islam is to be attacked and discredited due to some extremists”. A similar message was delivered by Mazin Rajin at the Abu Bakr Mosque in east Riyadh. He described terrorists as “mentally twisted and unstable people whose deeds are against human nature”.

The Saudis were seeing the Riyadh attack as an assault on the delicate balance between the country’s governing elite and its religious establishment. This contract formed the foundation of the country’s political order. But the truth of the matter is that the terrorists were attacking not the foundation of the Saudi state. They wanted to get the state to adopt their version of Islam and not move towards a political and economic system that, some day in the distant future, would acquire the shape and form of the structures that operated in the West.

The Casablanca attack of May 16 had different motives. It is said to have been carried out by a local group identified as Assiarat Al Moustaqim, or the Righteous Path. The group is based in one of Casablanca’s teeming slums. The choice of targets, according to some analysts in the country, suggested that the terrorists were trying to strike at the more visible symbols of Morocco’s reputation for religious tolerance and cosmopolitan modernity. According to Hassan Alaoni, editor-in-chief of the Le Matin daily newspaper, “everybody here mixes. It’s the strongest symbol of modernity. The attacks targeted this conviviality, the mix of ethnic groups, and all symbols that the Islamists reject. This is now a problem since Morocco is pro-American, close to the United States and Europe”.

The Moroccan officials were also inclined to link the incident to Al Qaeda. Connections with Osama bin Laden’s organization have been discovered in the country since “nine-eleven.” Last year, the Moroccan authorities arrested three Saudi Al Qaeda operatives who came here from the mountains of eastern Afghanistan with plans to use bomb-packed speedboats of the type that was used in the attack on the USS Cole in 2000 that took the lives of 17 American sailors. The intention was to hit US ships as they passed through the narrow Strait of Gibraltar. Two Saudis were sentenced to 10-year prison terms in February 2003 for their involvement in this thwarted operation.

Also, the only person charged in the United States in connection with the September 11 attacks, Zacarias Moussaoui, is a Frenchman of Moroccan origin. Morocco, along with Egypt and Jordan, is one of the countries reported to be accepting Al Qaeda prisoners detained by the American troops and applying more forceful interrogations than permitted by the laws of the United States.

Ascribing the Casablanca attacks to the country’s quest for modernity or to Al Qaeda on the run as a result of the US’s unrelenting pressure on the terrorist organization deflects attention from the real problems the country faces. It has a political and economic system that has created two very distinct societies in the country. There is a highly westernized group educated in the schools where the medium of instruction is French and which, as a consequence, has strong economic and social links with France and other parts of Europe. And then there is the vast majority of society, poorly educated and increasingly alienated from the ruling class. There are few opportunities available to these people to advance in Moroccan society. Alienation of these groups has grown and the state, in response, has become more authoritarian and repressive. That in turn has created an environment in which the Islamists have found it easy to recruit and do their work.

If this reading of the developments in Morocco is correct then the Casablanca attack points to a clash not necessarily between two civilizations as Samuel P. Huntington would have us believe, but a clash between two parts of society within one country, one westernized and in control of the economy and the political system and the other increasingly pushed on to the margins of society. There are serious analysts in Morocco who believe that the latter is indeed the case.

What does all this imply for a country in Pakistan’s situation — a large Muslim country, struggling to revive its economy with some help from foreign finance and simultaneously engaged in an experiment to establish a political order that would work for all citizens? The answer to this question takes us into some troubling territory since Pakistan, not unlike Morocco, is also developing two classes of citizens, one highly westernized and the other deeply seeped in religion. Will these two also begin to clash? Such a clash, if it occurs, will be ruinous for the economy.

To begin with, Pakistan’s economic revival needs an environment in which the investing community feels that their lives and assets are well protected. If terrorism’s targets shift from assets in the western world to those in the world of Islam — as they did in recent weeks — there will be considerable dampening of enthusiasm on the part of all investors, foreigners as well as Pakistanis. These fears have been around in Pakistan for a while and were responsible for inhibiting domestic investment and the arrival of foreign capital in the country. They were exacerbated following “nine-eleven” and led to the departure of at least one IT firm which had established a large back-office operation in Lahore.

But with the demise of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan and some determined actions taken by the Musharraf government to apprehend the remnants of Al Qaeda that had penetrated Pakistani society, there was some easing of foreign fears about Pakistan. As discussed in this space two weeks ago, the reforms undertaken by the government of General Musharraf have begun to bear fruit. The country has reappeared on the foreign investors’ radar screens. There is a real danger that Pakistan may fall off once again from this screen if terrorist groups succeed in scaring away foreigners from all parts of the Muslim world.

Some Islamic groups stand to gain from disturbing the direction political change is taking in countries such as Morocco, Jordan and Pakistan. These countries are at the front of crafting a political order which would allow broad representation to all citizens. But such an order does not suit the exponents of radical Islam. These groups will never be able to gain political ascendancy based on one man (especially one woman) electoral systems. For them a political structure based on their interpretation of the sharia is more palatable. The one followed in Saudi Arabia — Wahabism — has begun to penetrate Pakistan largely as a result of the instructions and teachings in thousands of madrassahs that receive financial support from various sources in the kingdom.

The Wahabis have a record of intolerance towards all kinds of foreign influence — economic, political and social. The resistance to the political engineering undertaken by the Musharraf government on the part of some of the religious groups probably has this as the motive.

Exercise of force by the state to curb religious bigotry and extremism will go some distance to contain terrorism. However, the ultimate solution to the problem lies in a series of developments that need to be promoted. Not the least of these is a just and equitable resolution of the Palestine-Israel problem. Also important is political and social improvement in the Muslim world which has lagged behind that in other parts of the globe. In this area educating the population — particularly the young — in a way that does not alienate them from modernization and modernity is critical. This is an issue I will pick up in this column in a few weeks time.

On the road to Caesarism

By Roedad Khan

RECENTLY, the world witnessed President Bush’s triumphant visit to the USS Abraham Lincoln off the California coast, dressed in full fighter pilot regalia, as the co-pilot of a navy war plane. The American constitution makes the president commander-in-chief of the armed forces to make it clear that civilians, not the military, hold the ultimate authority. That is why American presidents traditionally make a point of avoiding military affectations.

Eisenhower was a victorious general and John F Kennedy a genuine war hero, but while in office neither wore anything on any occasion even remotely resembling a military uniform. President Bush’s dramatic break with this tradition confirmed what Alexis de Tocqueville foresaw about 200 years ago.

Tocqueville wrote with an uncanny feeling for the grand currents of history. He alerted his own and future generations about the potential threats to the American democracy, the growing power of the military and to the risks that he feared would come with the promise of the new world. What is significant is that he sounded this note of warning at a time when America was militarily weak and economically poor. “The President of the United States, it is true, is the commander-in-chief of the army”, Tocqueville wrote, “but the army is composed of only 6,000 men, he commands the fleet, but the fleet reckons but few sail, he conducts the foreign relations of the Union, but the United States is a nation without neighbours. Separated from the rest of the world by the ocean, and too weak as yet to aim at the dominion of the sea, it has no enemies, and its interests rarely come into contact with those of any other nation of the globe. Hitherto, no citizen has cared to expose his honour and his life in order to become the president of the US, because the power of the office is temporary, limited and subordinate.

“The prize of fortune must be great to encourage adventurers in so desperate a game. No candidate has as yet been able to arouse the dangerous enthusiasm or the passionate sympathies of the people in his favour, for the simple reason that when he is at the head of the government, he has but little power, little wealth, and little glory to share among his friends, and his influence in the state is too small for the success or the ruin of a faction to depend upon his elevation to power!”

Tocqueville warned against the growth of despotism in America and identified the army as a potential threat to American democracy. “The surface of American society”, he wrote “ is covered with a layer of democratic paint, but from time to time one can see the old paint breaking through”. “I noticed during my stay in the United States that a democratic state of society found there could lay itself particularly open to the establishment of despotism... my greatest complaint against democratic government as organized in the United States is not, as many Europeans make out, its weakness, but rather its irresistible strength. What I find most repulsive in America is not the extreme freedom reigning there but the shortage of guarantees against tyranny”.

Tocqueville’s apprehensions were not unfounded. A fairly large number of citizens felt, at a time when America was still very young, that a Republican government was the source of all the evils of the time, and genuinely believed that only a monarchy or some form of military dictatorship could save the republic.

Andre Malraux once observed that the United States was the only nation in the world to have become a world power without intending or trying to do so. History thrusts certain powers at certain times on the centre stage. In this era, the spotlight shines on the United States. How long it stays on America — and how brightly it shines — would be determined by how America conducts itself in the world. Today the United States is enjoying a preeminence unrivalled by even the greatest empire of the past. From weaponry to entrepreneurship, from science to technology, from higher education to popular culture, America exercises an unparalleled ascendancy around the globe. US troops are scattered around the world — from North Europe to the lines of confrontation in East Asia. Today the United States finds itself in a world for which little in its historical experience has prepared it. Secure for a long time between two great oceans, it had convinced itself that it was either able to stand apart from the quarrels of other nations or that it could promote universal peace by insisting on the implementation of its own values of democracy and self-determination.

Today the president of the United States is endowed with powers of truly Caesarian magnitude. Today one single, solitary, individual American is directly in command of more than half the globe’s economic and technological power. Along the militarized borders of Europe, Middle East and Asia, he is in full control, as Augustus and the Roman Emperors after him were in full control of the times. Today he is in control of a de facto empire encompassing the entire world. Everywhere, on the European continent, in the western hemisphere, and in the Far East, he can make the weight of his incalculable power felt with astonishing speed. To him, anyone who is not with him or who stands in the way of American supremacy is an adversary and must be destroyed.

Like small boys with their hands on a great machine, Bush takes pleasure in threatening and intimidating the world and casting aside the wisdom of the ages. “Oderint dum meutant”, translated roughly as “let them hate as long they fear”, was a favourite saying of the Roman Emperor Caligula and is a perfect description of President Bush’s attitude toward the world today.

Today, though it disowns any imperial pretensions, America is perceived in the world as peremptory, domineering and imperial. Treaties are not considered binding. The war on terror is used to topple weak regimes. The United Nations is an afterthought and has been sidelined. History will hold America and its president responsible for undoing one of its noblest dreams. Americans seem to have forgotten America as an idea, as a source of optimism and a beacon of liberty. They have stopped talking about who they are and are only talking now about who they are going to invade, oust or sanction. What many friends of America find hard to understand is how America, an upholder of the Rights of Man and the beacon of liberty, could be transformed so quickly into an imperial power and a semi-police state. Today, whether Americans realize it or not, the fact is that their country is on the wrong side of history. Like the classic definition of fox hunting as “the unspeakable in pursuit of the uneatable”, the world sees America as an aggressive power in support of the oppressive.

The lesson of history is that preponderant power can do a nation much more harm than good. When unchecked, primacy often invites enemies, and provokes the formation of hostile, countervailing coalitions. The Roman Empire, Pax Britannica — it was not just the strength of Rome and Great Britain that gave rise to these epochs, but also the innovative and far-sighted grand strategies that each devised to manage and preserve its primacy. The road to empire-building ultimately leads to domestic decay because, in time, the claims of omnipotence erode domestic restraints. Eventually, the vices of those who govern and the weaknesses of the governed soon bring an empire to ruin. No empire in history has avoided the road to Caesarism because the outer world no longer provides a counterweight.

A deliberate quest for mastery of the world is, therefore, the surest way to destroying the values that made the Unites States great. The Bush administration’s post-September 11 assault on civil liberties conjures up scenes from a Kafka novel. Is Tocqueville’s grim forecast coming true? He was prescient, given the emerging realities. “I have tried to see not differently”, he wrote in conclusion, “but further than any party; while they are busy with tomorrow, I have tried to consider the whole future”.

The 20th century saw three waves of collapsing empires. First came the great dynasties of the Habsburgs, Ottomans, and Romanovs destroying each other in the calamity of World war I followed by the British, French, Dutch and Japanese empires at the end of World War II and the disintegration of the Soviet Empire more than a decade ago. The growing American empire, built on the ashes of weak Islamic countries, will meet the same fate and will not last. Why? Because as Churchill told General Charles De Gaulle in November 1944, “After the meal comes the digestion period”.

Friends become enemies

By Omar Kureishi

MILLIONS died in the famine in Ethiopia in 1984 and but for Bob Geldof who organized Live Aid and stirred the conscience of an unconcerned world these deaths would have gone unnoticed. Live Aid made us feel good though we knew that charity is a balm, it is not a cure. Ethiopia now faces a worse famine and it is compounded by a pandemic of HIV/AIDS.

It is estimated that 14 million people may die and that’s a lot of people, almost the entire population of Karachi. Imagine that. There is not even a passing reference to this catastrophe in the making in the news channels and print media and there is good reason for this. Like the illegal combatants in Guantanamo, these Ethiopians are not real people, they are merely inhabitants of this planet.

President Bush asked Congress for $80 billion for the war in Iraq. For AIDS in Africa, that spectre of death that haunts the Continent of Africa, he has announced a $ 15 billion contribution. Britain, France, Belgium, Holland and Portugal had systematically plundered and looted Africa for over a century, a criminal record that is unique for its cruelty and unparalleled for it greed. These countries will no doubt make token contributions and Tony Blair is already calling Africa “a scar on the human conscience” — all this while his government issues a travel advisory on Kenya and British Airways cancels its flights, effectively ruining Kenya’s tourist industry and depriving thousands of their livelihood.

The reason? There is a perceived threat and there have been Al Qaeda sightings. One hopes that the intelligence available is less cock-eyed or more reliable than was the so-called hard evidence in Iraq’s case, the unassailable truth of its weapons of mass destruction of which there is no trace. Even Donald Rumsfeld, that indefatigable warrior of pre- emptive strikes against countries that are uncomfortable with America’s roadmap for democracy, now says the Iraq may have destroyed its weapons of mass destruction or sent them to Syria or Iran or buried them deep.

But the war in Iraq has been won and it will soon have a model democracy. As will Afghanistan. Iran now finds itself in the cross-hairs and it has not yet been decided whether there should be another round of ‘shock and awe’ or an uprising should be fermented or manufactured and a regime-change effected. The Americans have an awesome record in this art.

Indeed, they successfully did so in the early fifties of the last century when Mossadaq had nationalized the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company and the Shah of Iran had fled to Italy. The CIA then arranged ‘a popular uprising’ and overthrew Mossadaq and the Shah returned to be among his loyal and loving subjects, a benign ruler whose secret police, the Savak, pioneered some novel methods of torture that even the Gestapo had not thought of.

The Shah became more than an emperor. He became a corporation. We all know what ultimately became of him and he had to be buried in Egypt. No tears were shed in Washington DC as none had been shed for Marcos, another good friend and stout ally. Since there is, as yet, no credit card that is valid for the hereafter, the Shah’s wealth and indeed that of Marcos remains in the vaults of Swiss banks though Imelda continues to strike deals, unsuccessfully, with successive Philippine governments.

But what about Saddam Hussain? It would be interesting to trace the exact date when he ceased to become a trusted friend and became “a homicidal dictator,” in the words of George Bush Jr. Why this sudden transformation. In a lecture delivered by Arundhati Roy at the Riverside Church in Harlem, New York, the Booker Prize winner and activist touched on many subjects. She reminded her audience: “Forty years ago, the CIA, under President John F. Kennedy, orchestrated a regime change in Baghdad.

In 1963, after a successful coup, the Ba’ath party came to power in Iraq. Using lists provided by the CIA, the new Ba’ath regime systematically eliminated hundreds of doctors, teachers, lawyers and political figures known to be leftists. An entire intellectual community was slaughtered. The young Saddam Hussain was said to have had a hand in supervising the bloodbath.

“In 1979, after factional infighting within the Ba’ath Party, Saddam Hussain became the President of Iraq. In April 1980, while he was massacring Shias, the US National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brezinksi declared; ‘We see no fundamental incompatibility of interest between the United States and Iraq.’ Washington and London overtly and covertly supported Saddam Hussain. They financed him, equipped him, armed him and provided him with dual-use materials to manufacture weapons of mass destruction. They supported his worst excesses financially, materially and morally. They supported the eight-year war against Iran and the 1988 gassing of Kurdish people in Halabja, crimes which 14 years later were re-heated and served as reasons to justify invading Iraq. “This is a damning indictment. It is not disputed. It is fobbed of as ‘so what?’”

This is a reversal of roles, a Somerset Maugham twist to the ending of Julius Caesar. It is not Brutus who administers the ‘unkindest cut of all’ but Caesar who stabs Brutus and it is about Caesar that Mark Anthony

says, that he was an honourable man.

Tony Blair says that the war in Iraq is the defining moment of this century. Considering that there are still 97 years to go in this century, does this mean that there is no hurry to find the weapons of mass destruction? He had solemnly affirmed on the floor of the House of Commons that that was the reason for going to war against Iraq. He still maintains that these weapons exist. Clearly he is a man whose mind is made up and does not want his faith weakened with facts.

Meanwhile Paul Wolfowitz in a rare moment of absent- mindedness has let slip that “for bureaucratic reasons, we settled on one issue, weapons of mass destruction, because it was the one reason everyone could agree on”. That’s telling it the way it was and up your face. Pristine arrogance. At least, it’s honourable in a dishonourable way.

Dark roads after Iraq

By Huck Gutman

THE war in Iraq is over. The administration of President George W. Bush has proclaimed victory. Currently, it is attempting to govern and reconstruct a post-war Iraq, with sorry results. Crime is rampant in Baghdad, electricity and water unreliable at best, and former Baath Party functionaries — despite Saddam Hussein’s defeat — often appear to have US support in the ‘reconstruction’ effort.

The war has not been without its costs. A month ago I attended the funeral of an American Marine who was born and raised in the small city of Burlington, Vermont. He was one of a small number of American casualties among the 20,000 who died, most of them Iraqis. He died bravely, fighting for his country, answering his nation’s call. The funeral service was moving. His grandfather, a rabbi, confessed in his grief: “I cannot tell you what God says of this. I cannot hear Him.”

My own thoughts were of how great had been the promise of a life suddenly ended. It has always been thus: in every military conflict, the majority of those who die in uniform are young. The writer Herman Melville noted this almost a hundred and fifty years ago, in the midst of the American Civil War, “Whence should come the trust and cheer?/ Youth must its ignorant impulse lend/ Age finds place in the rear./ All wars are boyish, and are fought by boys,/ The champions and enthusiasts of the state.”

As speakers at the funeral came forward to share their memories of the young man, it became clear how much still lay ahead of him, how much life seemingly had in store, when his life was tragically cut short.

As I thought of his death, it was but a short mental step to reflecting on the Iraqi lives similarly ended, of young soldiers who like the American I was mourning would now never find wives or watch their children grow, who would never encounter the joys — and sorrows — of experiencing their own lives unfold. Like those mourning around me, Iraqi cousins and friends were plunged into grief. And like the American parents whom I beheld in their mourning, Iraqi mothers and fathers too faced a loss truly inconsolable, feeling life close around them so tightly that it would never fully open again.

No one has a monopoly on loss and grief. Tragedy multiplies geometrically among friends and relations on both sides. The sorrows of those who mourn the fallen on the victorious side are not greater — nor any less — than the sorrows of those who mourn those fallen in a losing cause. Flag waving, either as fervid preparation for war or as a concluding sign of victory, does not erase in the slightest the terrible void left in the hearts of those whose family or friends perished on the fields of battle.

Yet loss and bereavement are consequences of every war. What, in particular, has marked this recent war ‘to liberate Iraq and free the world of a source of weapons of mass destruction’?

Despite the young man whose funeral I attended, there were few American casualties. Despite great fears that the war would lead to a devastating number of civilian deaths in Iraq, this was not the case.

Since the latter statement is so contrary to what many expected, let me repeat it, even at the risk of redundancy. Despite great fears that the war would lead to a devastating number of civilian deaths, this was not the case. Still, there is no question that every mother, every friend, of the twenty thousand who died has been grievously affected by the war, and no one should minimize their grief and loss.

But while this war was going on, another war was continuing. The civil war in the Democratic Republic of Congo began in 1998 with a Rwandan invasion of that nation. In the four and a half years since then, as the International Rescue Committee (IRC) recently reported, “at least 3.3 million people died in excess of what would normally be expected in this time.” Casualties have been greater than in any conflict since the Second World War. Nor are the Lendu and the Hema finished with their attempt to wipe each other out. They have displaced half a million people in the small eastern Ituri region alone — a situation fuelled, one imagines, not merely by ethnic rivalry, but by the fact that this region is home to the world’s richest gold field, the Kilo Motu, and is already the locus of significant oil exploration. (The imperial drive for economic wealth — Iraq has the world’s second largest oil reserves — cannot be underestimated as a cause of the conflict in the Congo, or in Iraq.)

While the number of casualties in the Congo may dwarf those of the Iraq war, there is almost no outcry. After all, the world’s superpower is not directly involved, nor are the economic giants of the G-8. The skin colour of the combatants on both sides is very dark, not a insignificant fact when attempting to understand the vagaries of press coverage or, for that matter, international concern. So it is that while the IRC found in the Congo that “in three of the 10 health zones visited in the east, more than half the children were dead before the age of two,” newspapers and television stations are silent, the nations on the Security Council find other things to put on their agenda, and the world’s leaders address crises which, curiously, never seem to be related to what is taking place in the Congo.

Though strongly opposed to American intervention in Iraq, I am prepared to acknowledge that the war was not the total disaster I had anticipated. Casualties were light, especially considering that the military forces of the United States dropped a staggering tonnage of bombs on Iraqi cities, while a huge array of missiles hit military targets close to, or in the middle of, civilian districts. Reports from Iraq make clear that the predicted accuracy of these weapons turned out to be valid. Modern engineering, sophisticated computers and computerized circuitry, advanced videography and telemetry, all allowed an explosive payload of almost incomprehensible size to be dropped with minimal civilian casualties.

War was mechanized to a degree never before seen in human history — and the mechanization worked, at least in military terms. It achieved ‘victory’ by wiping out enemy positions and enemy personnel, while leaving not just civilian populations, but a remarkable amount of urban infrastructure, unharmed and intact.

There are, nonetheless, two dark roads into the future that have been opened by the events of the recent war. The first is that the conflict arose as an extension of modern imperialism: when the velvet glove fails, the iron fist is always a final resort. The war was an imperialist venture: at stake were control of oil Iraq’s reserves, the assigning of contracts to develop those oilfields and pump the oil, the lucrative contracts to reconstruct Iraq’s infrastructure with monies provided by petrodollars, and, lastly, control of an entire region which provides most of the world’s oil.

It was not President Bush’s narrow-minded view of the world — that there are the good guys, all allied with and subservient to the United States; and that there are the adherents of evil, who can all be recognized by their opposition to American interests and their tendency to speak languages other than English and worship in buildings other than churches — which motivated the drive to make war on Saddam Hussein. It was a desire for economic gain. Imperialism in the post-modern age ends up looking like a system which, in the end, rests on armaments and armies — and a willingness to use them.

The second dark road is related to the first. The technology of the war was so advanced that the war was rapid (a country subdued and overwhelmed in three weeks) and victory was achieved with minimal loss of American life. The war was an announcement to the world that those who do not serve American interests risk finding themselves at the mercy of American power. The war served to define that power: sudden, overwhelming, and technologically advanced. The technology was frightening, to any nation (or its inhabitants) which might one day be the object of America’s immense destructive power.

The mechanization of warfare — from cannons to guns to machine guns to aeroplanes to missiles to laser-guided weaponry — has proceeded at an increasing rate since the invention of gunpowder. In this war, machines guided by other machines delivered the destructive payloads at targets selected by still other machines. Soldiers served, primarily, to back up the machines; the primary ‘combatants’ on the American side were people sitting in front of video consoles a thousand or five thousand kilometres away from the place where destruction was to be wrought. This was a war fought by technology, a war guided by remote control. With the emphasis on ‘remote’.

American Secretary of Defence Rumsfeld wanted to deliver a message: The United States will no longer shrink from using its military power because it fears getting mired in a war of attrition, as was the case in Vietnam. There will be minimal American casualties in future wars, because there will be minimal American soldiers. The battlefield of the future will be automated — a situation where the United States has the advantage, as it has the most advanced machines.

Mr. Rumsfeld may yet be profoundly wrong in foreseeing an American dominance enforced by technological superiority. Iraq was an easy enemy, an unloved and corrupt dictatorship guarded by troops who fought not for independence or survival but for money and perks. Still, it is clear that the Bush administration has sent out a terrifying message: Watch out, or you may be next.

The war in the Congo is an on-going catastrophe, regardless. Meanwhile, the nations of the world are urged to march to the drumbeat of a new military order, shaped by the remaining superpower and enforced by a technology that threatens mechanized destruction to that superpower’s opponents. We can each say, as Bertholt Brecht wrote in another period when imperial ambitions were on the rise, “Truly, I live in dark times.”

The writer teaches at the University of Vermont in the US and is a columnist for The Statesman in Kolkata


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