Apres-war, The Flush Of Victory

Written by Subhash Agrawal | Updated: Apr 10 2003, 05:30am hrs
Nothing succeeds like success, and even the most die-hard peaceniks in Berkeley and Nob Hill have now come around. In a recent opinion poll, 76 per cent of Californians supported the Iraq war, a dramatic jump from pre-war levels and a measure of support which now puts this most quirky of all American states firmly in the countrys mainstream. Pollsters and other pundits are quick to remind us that this might be due more to a rallying effect than to real conviction, but the fact is that a large part of moral ambivalence within the American public debate is now masked by the relief of victory and overtaken by a desire to get on with normal life.

But like all major events, the true meaning and impact of the war will slowly unfold with time. Even in the US, it took years for historians to fully grasp the importance of seminal speeches, such as President Lincolns Gettysburg address or Martin Luther Kings I-Have-A-Dream speech. Both 9/11 and Iraq really have no precedent, not so much in terms of the death and destruction there have been far worse human tragedies but in the sense of intense and immediate media coverage, debate, angst, heat and public involvement. There are few world events that were so immediately mediafied. In that sense, what we are witnessing is perhaps WWI, as in Word War.

But through it all, two actors stand out: Canada and Germany. Unlike France and Russia, both of who have an unpredictable streak and a complex history of competition with America, these two have remained steadfast American allies, even during the worst periods of doubt about the Vietnam War, never criticising even while disagreeing. Neither of them have any real reason to be afraid of US power, and in fact their geopolitical interests are almost entirely coincident with that of America. That is why their current positions and warnings about the perils of international lawlessness carry a far greater moral force than of France. There is far too much at stake for them to jettison friendship with the US, but the cozy relationship is over.

Take Germany, where for the first time in 58 years the country is debating a return to the global stage and its own position in any global power struggle. A recent commentary in Der Spiegel notes that preparatory work has already begun on formulating a new German foreign and security policy, which may include developing a professional military force to be deployed in global interventions. There are serious discussions and official briefs about whether to discontinue the countrys compulsory military service, since what is really required is a professional army that could be deployed worldwide or integrated into a strong European Defence Force. These are still early days, but what is being comprehended and discussed is a competitor to the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation.

The dilemma and dependency for Canada is far worse than it is for Germany. No less than 86 per cent of its exports are US-bound, and almost $2 billion worth of trade passes through the US-Canadian border each day. Directly or indirectly, one in three Canadian jobs depends on this trade and the larger US economy. If the US retaliated by closing its borders, the Canadian economy might just crash overnight. On the other hand, Canada is not just needy but needed; it represents almost 30 per cent of American exports and 36 per cent of energy imports.

Once the flush of victory in Iraq is over, American policymakers will sooner or later have to deal with the consequences of pushing these two allies into a more distant orbit, and forcing them to draw security and economic policies independently of America.

(The author is an analyst of Indian political and business trends and the editor of India Focus, a political risk report for international investors)