Although the unprecedented worldwide protests in mid-February against the impending US-led war on Iraq have unleashed the ghost of public dissent to haunt the White House, the Capitol Hill, the Security Council and several capitals of the world, the war looks, nevertheless, imminent and inevitable.
No doubt, there appears little enthusiasm for the war even among the common people of America. There is, likewise, no war-psychosis that usually precedes and permeates a society before it picks up arms and heads towards the battlefield.
President Bush and his aides, however, stand firm on their decision to invade Iraq and give no public indication of having been impressed or impacted by the protest rallies of millions of people in some 350 cities of the world organized under the umbrella of United for Peace and Justice, a coalition of 120 organizations.
It is relevant to recall that Washington had decided on the war long ago. The Congress had already authorized the President to declare war on Iraq in his discretion. And, once the war starts, the American people are more than likely to shed their skepticism and stand by their leader. They realize that the war will serve their national interests even if it lacks a moral underpinning.
It is now commonly understood that the war is about the oil. Iraq being a threat to the US, its leader a tyrant, its alleged links with Al-Qaeda, its stock of weapons of mass destruction, etc. rank far below in significance to its possession of the second largest reservoirs of oil. Control over Iraqi oil supplies would satisfy the energy demands of the US for a long time and lessen its dependence on an increasingly unstable Saudi Arabia.
Extremists among the opponents of the war make a fetish of the fact that President Bush and a large part of his administration have their roots in the oil industry, underscoring the critical role of oil as a factor in the US war drive.
The US is actually working towards consolidating its world hegemony. While minor powers of Europe have accepted the US supremacy, the major powers – France, Germany and Russia – have challenged the bid. The conquest of Iraq would enable the US to dominate the entire Middle East in concert with Israel. Control over the world’s main energy resources would provide the US with a powerful lever against its competitors in Europe, Japan and China.
That explains the split in the ranks of what is known as the Western world. That also explains the fallacy, many times pointed out in these very columns, of the thesis of the Clash of Civilizations of Prof. Samuel Huntington. His theory was played up by the pro-Israel media to promote a distaste for the Muslim world and to provide a justification for the atrocities of Israel and its expansion into Palestinian territory.
The massive protests were participated in by people of all religions, races and colors. The common thread binding them together was perhaps a reaction to the American arrogance, its language of power, and its courting of an unjust war with a hidden agenda.
The frequent anti-Saddam rhetoric of President Bush, the evidence presented by Tony Blair, the arguments of Donald Rumsfeld, the documentation and casuistry of Colin Powell were not found much convincing. Obviously, the case for an attack on Iraq that they made out did not appeal to the common sense of the common man. Hence he took to the streets.
The sole super power has been challenged by the street power. The latter, however, counts mainly in the time of peace. Yet, the pressure built up by the protesters has brought home to the ruling elite of Europe the emergence of a threat to their existing institutions and the harm that the cleavage in the ranks of the West on both sides of the Atlantic may cause to their post-WWII prosperity.
No wonder, the European Union’s declaration in the wake of the protests was closer to the stance of the US. It said: “Baghdad should have no illusion, it must disarm and cooperate immediately. It has a final opportunity to solve the crisis peacefully.”
German Chancellor, Gerhard Schroeder, remarked, “We have never ruled out that war can be a last resort”.
Europe’s progress over the past half a century is to some extent, at least, indebted to the economic help of the US. The European Union is expanding, consolidating and trying to emerge as an entity independent of the US. It is, however, intertwined politically, socially and economically with America. Bulk of American population originated in Europe. The European Union is by far the largest foreign investor in the US with a current share of 65%. The contribution of European enterprises to American economic growth is, according to a French study, six times the amount of Europe’s exports. The flow of European capital into the US economy has played a major role in the creation of jobs, trade balances favorable to the US and a high standard of living.
Given this situation, the Europeans ought to feel more secure if the US occupies Iraq thereby ensuring uninterrupted flow of oil to their industrial complexes.
The Europeans have already started mending the cracks. Their objection to providing defense facilities to Turkey under the NATO treaty has been withdrawn. They had argued earlier that extension of such cooperation would amount to a tacit endorsement of the war on Iraq.
The Europeans are, however, at a loss to comprehend the heightened perception of threat in the US. The tragedy of 9/11 occurred on the American soil. This was the first attack on a society wallowing in a sense of security provided by its geography. It gave them an intense sense of vulnerability. Their irrational reactions included the killing of some persons just because they sported beards and turbans. A society which prided itself on the high value it attached to human freedom and dignity passed laws abridging even the fundamental freedoms. Its berserk reaction was behind the arrest of hundreds of Middle Eastern persons when they went of their own accord to the INS for registration.
Europeans, on the other hand, feel securer after the end of the cold war. They are enjoying the most secure period of their history, thanks mainly to the military protection of America.
At the time of writing, the US efforts to secure the European support and the UN support to their stance had not been successful. President Bush reiterated his resolve to go ahead with disarming Saddam by force with or with the UN support. That is exactly what is likely to happen. And, once the action starts, many who have been questioning the wisdom of war might accept the development as a fait accompli. Some futurists see cataclysmic changes in the existing structure of the community of nations. I, for one, find it difficult to endorse such alarmist predictions.