Vietnam A Blot, Iraq A Scar

Updated: Apr 13 2003, 05:30am hrs
There was nothing surprising about Day 21. When the drama began on Day 1, the question was not how will it end, but when will it end As it turned out, the beginning of the end came on Day 21. Saddam Husseins regime crumbled in the same way that regimes of other dictators had crumbled before. Even the symbolism was more or less the same: huge, cheering crowds bringing down a larger-than-life statue of the dictator and stamping it with their shoes and feet. If Saddam Hussein had been captured by his people, he would have been publicly hanged, in the same manner that Mussolini was hanged in 1945 or Nicolai Ceaucescu was hanged in 1991.

Saddam Hussein was a dictator; of that there can be no doubt. The Kurds and the Shiites were suppressed by his regime. There is evidence that his regime committed acts of genocide against the Kurds. Saddam Hussein also violated the sovereignty of Kuwait, and deservedly paid a heavy price for his misadventure. For 24 years, he ruled over Iraq, without a shred of legitimacy. He deserved to go, but the people of Iraq alone had the right to throw off the dictator and his oppressive regime. The sole basis on which the US claimed a right to wage a war against Iraq and bring about a regime change was its assertion that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction. The US ridiculed the efforts of Hans Blix and his team of weapons inspectors. It refused to give them more time to complete their work. On the eve of Blixs last report to the UN Security Council, one inspector put it this way: We need more time to find something or report there is nothing. President Bush, I suspect, feared that the inspection team might report that they found nothing and, hence, there is nothing. That would have stripped the US of its moral justification to start a war against Iraq.

As I write this, I have before me a statement made by the US Defence Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld. According to Rumsfeld, We still need to find and secure Iraqs weapons of mass destruction facilities. The world is entitled to ask him: What happened to the large quantities of chemical gas and biological agents such as anthrax which Iraq was supposed to possess And where are the facilities which Iraq was using to develop nuclear weapons

During the progress of the war, there were inspired reports of US and British forces unearthing gas masks. One day, CNN reported that the US forces had seized several boxes containing a white powder. On another day, CNN reported that the coalition soldiers had uncovered some chemicals, but they had not yet been weaponised. Each story survived for a few hours, and then was quickly buried. The US and British troops now control virtually the whole of Iraq and can go wherever they please. Yet, there is still no evidence of any weapons of mass destruction. The US emperor stands naked before world opinion.

More than the rich legacy of the British Parliament, and more than the clarion call of the French revolution for liberty, equality and fraternity, it was the inspiring story of Americas war of independence that emboldened colonised people to throw off the yoke of colonialism. The US was never a coloniser. Its record in the immediate post-Second World War period was a proud one that exemplified the core values of America. Over the years, that record has been tarnished. Vietnam was a huge blot, now Iraq will remain an indelible scar. The people of countries that admired the US or even envied the US will, in the future, fear the US and the increasing arrogance of the worlds sole superpower. Indias response to the 23-day war (so far) was pathetic and laughable. Countries like France and Germany, which are more closely tied to the US, particularly through NATO, did not hesitate to warn the US against starting a war without UN approval. The Pope did not flinch from condemning the US, a Christian nation, for waging a war against Iraq, an Islamic country. The Indian Government maintained strong silence for many days and finally, when its conscience was stirred, it was to debate the wisdom of using the word condemn or the word deplore, only to settle for the Hindi word ninda, which could mean either! Every other nation put principle before self-interest or self-interest before principle. True to our self-belief in our uniqueness, the Indian government cared neither for principle nor self-interest. The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) governments sole concern was how to overcome the minor (and fake) rebellion among its own ranks and how to score a point over the Opposition. The Congress, for its part, played into the Bharatiya Janata Partys hands by passing its own wishy-washy resolution, and then having no choice but to subscribe to the governments meaningless and belated resolution on Iraq.

The height of stupidity was foreign minister Yashwant Sinhas doctrine of pre-emption. He justified pre-emption in the case of Pakistan. President Musharraf is not a patch on Saddam Hussein and, therefore, if a pre-emptive strike would be justified in the case of Pakistan, was it not doubly justified in the case of Iraq It is a pity that this elementary truth was lost on the foreign minister (and now on the finance minister).

The US lost no time in snubbing the foreign minister. If brave words were enough to put an end to cross-border terrorism, the NDA Governments numerous final warnings should have settled the Kashmir question once and for all. More brave words and poor analogies only bring more humiliation.

India and Pakistan possess nuclear weapons. Nuclear weapons are mankinds most dreaded weapons of mass destruction. Suppose President Bush (or a future President of the US) were to announce one day that the leaders of India and Pakistan cannot be trusted with possession of nuclear weapons, what will India do Suppose the US calls upon India and Pakistan to cede control over their nuclear weapons to a US-appointed General, will India take the case to the UN The US has already turned its attention to Syria, Iran and North Korea. The case of India and Pakistan cannot remain off the radar far too long. The price of Indias ambivalence will only be known in the future.

Saddam Hussein is not my hero, he deserved to fall, but not through the hand of a self-appointed global policeman. The tragedy of Iraq will haunt mankind for many years.

(The author is former Union finance minister)