Most Indians hate George Bush’s militarism in Iraq, and rooted for John Kerry in the US Presidential debates. Yet, despite major differences on whether the Iraq war was justified, the two have much in common on future action in Iraq.
You can excuse the exaggeration of wags who say that Bush vs Kerry can be called Kush vs Berry.
In the TV debate, they offered two rival delusions (with many common features) on Iraq. Bush’s delusion was that if only the US stood firm in Iraq, the war on terror would be won.
How fatuous to think that an occupation will succeed if only it is long and strong enough! Greater wisdom comes from Ehud Barak, former Israeli Prime Minister: “You cannot win an occupation. You can only decide how much humiliation to accept before leaving.”
Kerry’s rival plan for Iraq was just as delusional. He claimed he would persuade Europeans to join the occupation and so end terrorism in Iraq. How comic! Why should France and Germany pull America’s chestnuts out of the fire?
They are gleefully watching America get its come-uppance after its ill-considered invasion of Iraq, and its demonisation of France and Germany for not joining the fiasco.
Nor will a few more European battalions in Iraq make much difference to what has become a murderous civil war.
Kerry says the Iraq invasion was a pointless diversion from the real war on terror, which was in Afghanistan against Al Qaida. He says Bush fought the wrong war at the wrong place and wrong time.
Really? And he expects France and Germany to belatedly join this pointless diversionary war, at the wrong time and wrong place? And win it?
The remaining differences between Bush and Kerry on Iraq’s future are slim. Both play the patriotism card, promising all-out support to US soldiers in Iraq. Neither dares admit that American lives as well as Iraqi ones are being squandered in a fiasco.
Both say that the war needs a tough military stance. Neither has any plan to win over hearts and minds in the Middle East.
Neither dares explain to the American public why their country has become so hated. Both are fervent supporters of Israel, and equate Palestinian suicide bombers with Al Qaida.
Both back the Iraq plan of Paul Bremer, the effective US viceroy till June. Bremer planned to follow the path that succeeded in Germany after World War II.
There, a long US occupation succeeded in creating a peacenik democracy in what was earlier seen as an inherently militaristic country.
For Iraq, as in Germany, Bremer planned to first have a new constitution, then elections, and then hand over power while retaining troops.
Neither Bremer, Bush nor Kerry are willing to admit that the analogy with Germany fails on one critical count. In Germany, the USA could credibly pose as an ally and protector against the Soviet Union.
But in the Middle East, the USA is an ally of Israel, the greatest enemy of Arab states. Israel is viewed in the region as the biggest security threat, and a colonial usurper.
The USA cannot win hearts and minds in the Middle East without changing its support to Israel. But neither Kerry nor Bush indicate any such change.
Some people think Bush will continue to be impossibly militaristic if re-elected, while Kerry will be circumspect. I disagree. I predict that Bush, if re-elected, will distance himself from neo-conservatives (Wolfowitz, Perle) who want to export democracy at gun-point.
Bush now realises how difficult this is, and (like Kerry) is cautious about further military adventures in the so-called Axis of Evil states. His waffling on how to tackle North Korea, a country that actually has weapons of mass destruction, sounds so Kerry-like.
I once considered making the contrarian case that the outcome in Iraq is actually pretty good. A brutal dictator, Saddam Hussein, has been ousted.
At the same time the USA has been given a bloody nose, which should discourage unwarranted imperial adventures. So, despite current mayhem, is this not, on balance, a useful outcome?
No, for one big reason: It has given a huge boost to Islamic militancy. Osama bin Laden must be laughing with glee.
On his own, he could never have achieved what Bush has: Bleed the US government of $100 billion, kill over 2,000 American soldiers, spark the kidnapping and beheading of dozens of Americans and their allies, and make the USA more hated in the Middle East than ever before.
Iraq is in danger of becoming a failed state, an excellent breeding ground for Islamic militancy. This will not affect the USA alone. India will also suffer: It remains a target of global Islamic terrorists. We will pay for US mistakes in Iraq, whether Bush or Kerry wins.