By the time this article is published the war against Iraq will be over and the occupation of that country will be in its early stages. Saddam, his family, and many of his loyalists could be killed, injured, and captured or they would be in hiding. Protest marches will continue, but their size and intensity will diminish over time. The media will shift to another crisis either in the domestic front or in the international arena—maybe North Korea. As the bombing in Iraq proceeds, at this very moment of my writing, there are activities by American troops in the Korean peninsula that are not being reported.
The United Nations, which has felt undermined by the U.S. and to a degree humiliated, will have to move on but will not forget. This is a difficult task to achieve. The modern world, bombarded with too much titillating information, has a short memory. Our feelings are quickly intensified and equally quickly cooled. Hence, real change is rarely achieved.
Propaganda and persuasion in public discourse have been fundamentally about construction and organization of words that manipulate perception, interpretation and meaning. The current government’s effort to convince Americans and the world that this war with Iraq was necessary to curb “evil,” protect “democracy,” and liberate the people of Iraq has met with skepticism but whether the argument won supporters or not, the war went on. Most of us did not expect it to be different, including the protestors who have to be admired for their persistence and optimism.
Without a doubt, a leader sometimes has to stand alone and separate. He or she will have to occasionally do what is unpopular keeping the future and the welfare of the majority, not the minority, in mind. A leader will have to face harsh and inappropriate criticisms without fear and self-doubt. A leader has to be ready to take the road less traveled with the knowledge that the public cannot always see or understand that road. Sometimes an unpopular and a misunderstood leader, over time and through re-examination, will become a hero in our history. This was true for Abraham Lincoln, Gandhi, and Mandela—once considered difficult, rebellious, odd and inappropriate, only to be later admired, applauded and even worshiped for their vision and courage against all odds.
George Bush, unfortunately, is not a leader walking alone bravely with a vision, amidst global criticisms, who will one day in hindsight be recognized as a man who stood against amazing odds with courage and fortitude to prove his principles right. George Bush has courage and determination, but he does not have vision. In much of history war has been the way mediocre leaders win support, keep divided communities united, appear heroic even when their achievements outside the war effort are insignificant. Aggression is the easiest way to win stardom.
It is the anti-war protestors who are walking alone, taking the road less- traveled and doing what is unpopular. They are accused of being “losers” and “trouble-makers.” They are caricatured as social drop-outs and romantic leftovers from the ’60s. But take a good look at them. Not through television images, photos on papers or the Internet. See them live as they walk by you chanting and holding each others hands with hope and determination, willing to face police force, even brutality, get arrested, and lose their jobs. Some have laid their lives down. Two protestors have already been killed by police shootings in Yemen and Paris. These protestors are not just kids with pink hair and nose rings being ridiculously idealistic and rebellious nor are they anti-Americans. Most of them are ordinary people like you and me with a sense of global fairness, justice, a vision for a more peaceful world, a desire to protect their children, and a knowledge that one can win a “battle” with brutal force in the short run but can lose the war in the long run.
This “War on Iraq” is really a battle and by initiating it and winning it, which is a certainty, America has lost the war on global trust, respect, and even future leadership. The question America will have to answer after the war is: Battle at what cost?
European allies, once loyal and supportive, are now divided and this disagreement will spill over into other global debates and transactions. The cost of this war will be huge as allied contribution will be miniscule. The expense of this battle and rebuilding effort will take away from essential services like education and health.
America has been a country of “Act first and then explain, cover-up or simply move on to another action.” Sometimes this action-oriented pragmatic approach to problem-solving works but when “action first and talk later” is substituted by “strike first and explain or justify later” it will just unleash a cycle of distrust, violence and retribution that will become never ending, much like what is going on between Israel and Palestine.
As the first bomb exploded I could not watch CNN, ABC, CBS or NBC anymore. I felt this deep sense of shame and sadness. I have lived in this country a long time and believed that my voice and opinions counted like so many. My objection to the war was not a singular voice in the wilderness and it was a moderate one. I believe that Saddam Hussein is a tyrant and a ruthless one at that. I believe that Iraqis want to see a more humane, democratic government. I believe that the Iraqi society is more open to connecting with the larger world than Iran was in the ’70s or Saudi Arabia currently is—something Saddam did not support. Yet, this war was unjustified.
Iraqis did not call for American intervention like many Afghanis did after Taliban take over of their country. Saddam Hussein is not the only dictator in the world. There were many dictators in the world, including Pinochet of Chile and Noriega of Panama, who were actually supported by the U.S. There are many dictators around the world today, including one in Pakistan, who are either being ignored or indirectly supported to protect American interests. And the last question—why now? Saddam has been around since the ’70s and his ambition to claim power was manipulated by the CIA to monitor and control affairs in Iran during anti-American revolution there. His tyranny and dictatorial rule is not new knowledge. Saddam has learned the hard way, “You live by a borrowed sword from America, you will die by another sword from America.”
The sad part is that a major cost of this war will be borne by people and countries that did not initiate or support the war. Fleeing Iraqis do not get on a plane and come to America as refugees. The refugee problem will be experienced by Iran, Afghanistan, India, and Turkey. India and Turkey are poor but have decent infrastructure and secular governments that can offer refugees some hope. Many Iranians and Afghanis came to India after the war in their respective countries and settled in India. Iran and Pakistan currently have many refugees that will make it easier for more to enter. This will place immense burden on their already stretched economy.
Pakistani sympathizers of Al Quaida and Taliban holding strong anti-American views will incite violence against moderate Muslims and leaders who don’t support Saddam, even if they oppose American action in Iraq. Civic unrest and street violence in Pakistan could spread to India. Pakistan, in spite of being a Muslim country has many fundamentalists who feel the current leadership is not Muslim enough.
Any conspiracy to retaliate, from the Muslim world that sees this as a form of Christian imperialism or from Arab countries that see this as U.S. attempts at regional domination, will not occur immediately. Just as the 9/11 attacks on WTC were planned and orchestrated over many years and across several countries, it is countries like India, Bangladesh, Indonesia, the Philippines, Singapore, France, and the U.K., that have a diverse ethnic and religious population that will suffer from terrorism and civic unrest for decades to come.
America has always fought wars outside its territories. First and Second World wars, the Vietnam and Korean wars occurred miles away and it was the soldiers who risked their lives. The people, other than the occasional worry, emergency preparedness and loss of civil rights, went on with their lives. No planes flew overhead, no sirens blared throughout the night, no buildings collapsed, nobody screamed on the streets, nobody lay on the road in a pile of blood, nobody begged a foreigner for food and water, and no American children were found crying on the streets while looking for their parents. Sept. 11 is the closest America has ever come to war. Thus there is a tendency among certain American leaders to see war romantically and optimistically like a Hollywood movie than the horror it actually creates in reality.
This lack of reality is compounded by the sophistication of American military technology. These new weapons kill quietly and with precision. Dueling on the battlefields with swords and knives, as used to be, is messy. But today’s war, initiated by technologically superior countries, is like a celebration of fireworks in the night sky that does not show the systematic disruption of human lives.
We can now control people’s water, electricity supply, and food that will kill their means of survival slowly but surely. It is a war that involves psychological coercion and manipulation so sophisticated that even human rights violations are difficult to prove. America has mastered the most dangerous form of combat—one that can control every aspect of your life from thousands of miles away.
Anti-American activities are not going to occur necessarily in Iraq. These activities will occur in neighboring countries that have a porous border and an unstable infrastructure that makes hiding and covert operations easy. It will be the government and innocent civilians of these countries who will pay a big price. Just as the American inner-city anger, legitimately created by racism, is directed at the wrong people, legitimate anger of Iraqis, Arabs, Muslims and anti-war advocates will be taken out on the innocent people of India, Singapore, the U.K., France, Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, the Philippines, Indonesia and many more countries around the world that have nothing to do with the war.
I guess I have gotten Americanized when I say, “Why should I pay for a war that I do not support” and retain my Indianness when I say, “Maybe this is all part of Kali Yuga and who will be the Kalki on a white horse to end all this violence.”