Saturday, October 14, 2006

Mushroom Rice

Byline by M J Akbar: Mushroom Rice

Curiosity may be as injurious to the health of columnists as it is to cats, but there is much to be curious about these days.

Kim Jong Il, the not-so-mad dictator of North Korea, tests a nuclear device, his officials immediately begin threatening to use it, and President George W. Bush, the famed seeker of weapons of mass destruction, says that America’s "commander in chief must try all diplomatic measures before we commit our military". Is this the same man who refused to give the United Nations time for more diplomacy, the weapons inspectors time for more probing and started a catastrophic war that has taken more than half a million lives in search of weapons of mass destruction that Saddam Hussein never had?

Secretary of state Condoleezza Rice, who foresaw mushroom clouds in Iraq, grits her teeth in her best schoolmistress manner and threatens severe sanctions against North Iraq. Is this the same administration that spat on sanctions as a pathetic UN-type wobbly-knee answer to dictators and demons?

Is this the Bush-Rice partnership that keeps threatening to go to war against Iran for enriching uranium — and urging multilateral talks when North Korea becomes a nuclear military power? Or shall we put it another way: in Bush’s mind, nuclear North Korea can be trusted because it is not a Muslim country and Iraq and Iran could not be and cannot be trusted because they are Muslim nations?

Just asking, friends, just asking. I told you curiosity could be injurious to a columnist’s health.

It is clearly fine to be fascist in George Bush’s worldview, even a nuclear fascist. What you cannot afford to be, as long as Bush is on fire, is an "Islamic fascist".

Bush had a chance to act militarily against North Korea, in 2003, when Kim Jong Il withdrew from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and announced that it would go ahead with its weapons programme. A strike might have been successful because it was believed that all of North Korea’s nuclear arsenal was in one known location. What did George Bush do?

He invaded Iraq instead.

There is a simple explanation for what North Korea has done. It has called George Bush’s bluff. Three years ago Bush was not bluffing at the nuclear poker game. He had the strongest hand in the world, by all rules of this game an almost invincible hand. The United States had unquestioned military supremacy, in addition to the most powerful economy. One mistake, wrought by hubris, the stamp of one defect, has shackled American military ability and released competing powers to pursue paths that are alternative, if not hostile, to America’s.

It is foolish to think that North Korea was acting, or could have acted, alone. North Korea is a helpless non-entity without China’s support. China has been brilliant in the pursuit of its geopolitical interests while Bush rushed into Mission Self-Destruct. Look at the map of Asia. The two nations that can challenge China’s hegemony in Asia are Japan and India. China’s formal relations with both are worth of a place in the United Nations statute book. It talks trade and peace with India, raising border problems only when it seems that a problem-free relationship is too artificial a construct. Similarly, it talks trade and peace with Japan, dusting out memories of World War II only when it seems that a problem-free relationship is ahistorical.

China has simply outsourced the military confrontation with India and Japan to Pakistan and North Korea. Both are low-cost operations for China, with huge collateral benefits in terms of tying down India and Japan. Pakistan’s nuclear programme in any case had to mirror India, for reasons that China did not instigate. Neither Pakistan’s nuclear capability nor North Korea’s is a threat to anyone but China’s competitors, or past and potential adversaries. With North Korea aiming nuclear weapons at Japan’s head, the pieces on China’s chess set are in superb place.

The shadow of Iraq has travelled a long way while America is helplessly immobile.

Who has done the most recent expose of the Blair-Bush fiasco in Iraq? Step forward, General Sir Richard Dannatt, serving chief of the British Army. He does not pretend to give advice to his allies, the Americans, but he is clear that British troops, now down to around 7,000, should leave "sometime soon" because "our presence exacerbates the security problems". In other words, British and American troops are part of the problem, not part of the solution. Sir Richard has provided an honest explanation of their dilemma, and one that should be read in every nook and corner of Washington. He says: "We are in a Muslim country and Muslims’ views of foreigners in their country are quite clear. As a foreigner, you can be welcomed by being invited into a country, but we weren’t invited, certainly by those in Iraq at the time. Let’s face it. The military campaign we fought in 2003 effectively kicked the door in."

No Iraqi could have put it better.

Another question, out of that itchy curiosity. Why hasn’t Sir Richard been court-martialled? He is a serving officer. He has been put in charge of a virulent war by an elected government. His views on the war are totally different from his Prime Minister, Tony Blair. Why doesn’t Blair stop him or sack him? Or is it that General Dannatt has been told to prepare the ground for an imminent decision by seeding the public discourse with thought of departure? Just asking.

The price of departure will be much, much higher than the cost of arrival. What the Iraqis have suffered because of Bush-and-Blair’s malign war is already in the realms of the unbelievable.

Johns Hopkins is not a madrasa. It is one of the most respected universities in America, based in Washington. Bloomberg is not an "Islamic fascist"; he is the billionaire mayor of New York who is thinking of using his billions to attempt a run at the White House in 2008. A study by researchers from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health estimates that over 600,000 Iraqis have died of violence between March 2003 and July 2006. That makes it 15,000 a month, or 500 a day. There is no media covering this horrendous tragedy. Those rabid dogs of war extend far beyond soldiers in uniform. Chaos has become the playground of violent passions escalating in a poisonous spiral. Hundreds of thousands of refugees are living in neighbouring countries. Iraq is emptying out of people, as despair overwhelms people who had no control over the decisions that have destroyed their existence.

One is often asked: what will happen if the Anglo-American occupation forces leave Iraq? I can imagine many scenarios, none of them pleasant in the immediate aftermath. But what could be worse than what is happening now?

When the British left India, between two and three million Indians died in a frenzy of unparalleled ferocity for this subcontinent. This did not mean that either Hindu, Muslim or Sikh wanted the British back. We picked up our lives from the desolation of that moment, and slowly moved on. To withdraw from Iraq does not mean that America needs to withdraw from the world; in fact, quite the opposite. It is Iraq that has isolated America from the world.

Alarm clocks are normally harmless, except for the nerves. The North Korean nuclear alarm clock is radioactive. If this does not serve as a wake-up call for George Bush, what will? The old order is dead; disorder is rife. Maybe Iraq has deleted the super from superpower, but there is still power and it needs to be used with discretion to create a shared world, ruled by values and law, not shock and awe.

No comments: