People's Democracy(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
From "Infinite Justice" To "Infinite War"
S M Menon
CULTURAL sensitivity is as much a part of the new wars of imperialism as military strategy. "Infinite Justice" was the code-name conferred on the ongoing mobilisation in the war against "global terrorism." Islamic theologians, whose support the west is anxious to enlist, pointed out that justice --- especially in its infinite variant --- is an attribute of the singular and indivisible divine being, and not something that can be delivered by American B-52 bombers flying at altitudes of 30,000 feet or higher, dropping their deadly payloads on targets that remain out of range of human vision.
These objections were heeded and the codename "Enduring Freedom" devised, indicating a mandate for military action that is not quite infinite, yet sufficiently open-ended. There is still no indication of the range of targets and the timeframe for military operations. Belying the relative modesty of the new codename, ultra-hawkish strategists in the US defence department are believed to have submitted a blueprint for "infinite war," which would only begin with an attack on Afghanistan and the possible capture of Osama bin Laden. The author of this blueprint is Paul Wolfowitz, deputy secretary for defence in the US government. An ideologue of the extreme right-wing, Wolfowitz has maintained a relatively low profile since outlining the objectives of the new western wars in chilling detail just two days after the September 11 attacks: "It is not simply a matter of capturing people and holding them accountable, but removing the sanctuaries, removing the support systems, ending states which sponsor terrorism."
Wolfowitzs belligerence created unwelcome difficulties for US secretary of state Colin Powell, who was then engaged in the delicate task of building a coalition with various Arab and Islamic nations. Nevertheless, it was allowed to hold the field as an official declaration of US government policy for close to a week. When it came, the disclaimer from Powell was far from decisive: "We are after ending terrorism. And if there are states and regimes, nations, that support terrorism, we hope to persuade them that it is in their interest to stop doing that. But ending terrorism is where I would leave it and I would let Mr Wolfowitz speak for himself."
A sense of unease over US intentions is evident even among traditional allies. Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, embattled by a growing tide of dissent at home, addressed a plaintive appeal to his American patrons a week back, urging them not to launch the kind of mass reprisals that they have recently undertaken against Yugoslavia and Iraq. Such a strategy would kill many innocent people, said Mubarak, and only create the conditions for a "new generation of militants" to emerge, who "will call for revenge against the United States."
Saudi Arabia recently ruled out the use of US military bases in the desert kingdom for punitive raids on any Arab or Muslim country. This is an undoubted setback for the US and the UK, which have been seeking to put a positive spin on the matter by insisting that they still retain the option of using the state-of-the-art command and control centre at the Prince Sultan Air Base in Saudi Arabia. This, again, may prove wishful thinking.
Saudi Arabia took a whole fortnight after the September 11 attack to withdraw its diplomatic recognition of the Taliban regime. This followed the removal of Turki bin Faisal, son of the late monarch Faisal bin Abdul-Aziz, from his post as chief of Saudi military intelligence. Turki was known to have personal contacts with the USs most wanted terrorist, Osama bin Laden. In fact, till as late as last year, the Saudi monarchy had been in contact with bin Laden in an effort to induce him to give up his militant campaign, on the assurance that he would be handsomely rewarded financially and rehabilitated within the higher ranks of Saudi society.
There are fresh schisms within the ruling family, which has never been united at the best of times. And bin Ladens substantial constituency in the desert kingdom is unlikely to take very kindly to the US effort to "hunt him down," in the picturesque description of President George Bush.
Saudi and Egyptian anxieties are well founded. The "infinite war" blueprint, that is currently being assessed by the US government, proposes to open up a broad front of military offensives, comprising aerial assaults, special commando operations and targeted assassinations. Afghanistan would merely be the first phase of this offensive, which would rapidly take in Iraq, the Bekaa valley in southern Lebanon, Iran and Syria. Wolfowitz and his cronies, who are believed to enjoy the unqualified support of US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld, believe that the September 11 attacks have given the US an unmatched opportunity to crush terrorism once and for all.
The "infinite war" blueprint goes beyond the saturation aerial bombing concept that has been witnessed recently in Yugoslavia and Iraq. It requires the use of logistics and intelligence assets on the ground. In Afghanistan, the Northern Alliance, to the evident discomfiture of Pakistan, has been providing much needed logistical and intelligence support to the US endeavour to pinpoint the location of targeted individuals. How successful this exercise will be in locating the targets that can then be picked out for air strikes, remains to be seen. And when the focus of military action shifts from Afghanistan towards the Arab countries, the difficulties are only likely to multiply.
In Iraq, operation "infinite war" would involve a dramatic escalation of the regular air strikes that US and British warplanes currently carry out. Wolfowitz and his clique have for long held the view that the Gulf War of 1991 did not complete its mission, and that it is never too late to topple the Iraqi regime of President Saddam Hussein and instal a more pliable individual in his place. Other more cautious voices have counselled that any escalation of the military pressure on Iraq, particularly by funding and fomenting an internal rebellion, would have incalculable consequences, including the splintering of the country into a Kurdish north, a Shia south and a Sunni centre. A Kurdish north would be a strategic handicap for Turkey, a loyal ally of the US, while a Shia south would be a strategic asset for adversarial Iran. And the resentment unleashed in the Sunni centre could conceivably spill over into loyal Jordan, sharpening the challenge to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank that the Palestinian intifada poses.
As the singular pole around which US policy in West Asia revolves, Israel will be expected to fulfil a specified role in the "infinite war" blueprint. US perceptions here are of course derived from the self-serving prognoses of the powerful Zionist lobby within. A case in point is Martyn Indyk, who was an influential figure within the Clinton administration and is today associated with the Council on Foreign Relations in New York. Writing recently in his house journal, Indyk put out the confident prediction that the Palestinian intifada had run out of steam and was only being kept alive through the tacit connivance of Yasser Arafats Palestinian Authority. He was proved wrong within days, when the first anniversary of the Al Aqsa intifada --- dating from the thuggish Ariel Sharons provocative tour of Islams holiest shrine in Jerusalem --- witnessed a mass upsurge in popular demonstrations.
Sharon, who was rewarded for a consistent record of brutish behaviour with the prime ministership of Israel, has responded in the only way he knows. He also held out an ultimatum to Yasser Arafat to enforce a complete and absolute ceasefire within 48 hours, or risk a revival of Israeli reprisals in Palestinian controlled territory. Sections within the US administration, which are serious about building a broad coalition to fight the new wars, are nervous about this pattern of behaviour. But it fits in perfectly with the principles of "infinite war," which would not be complete without the extinction of the Palestinian resistance and a resumption of the Israeli occupation in southern Lebanon. If, in the bargain, Iran and Syria have to be dealt with, that is an unavoidable component of "infinite war."
A sidelight in these sinister war preparations, of course, is Indias own plaintive effort to attract western imperialist attention towards its own problem in Kashmir. After having resisted the effort to internationalise the Kashmir problem for a decade, India is now in tacit connivance with this project, having of its own volition placed Kashmir within the context of international Islamic militancy. And while the ugly face of religious extremism is increasingly evident --- notably in the suicide attack on the J&K legislative assembly that left a trail of death and destruction --- India is losing valuable negotiating space by refusing to deal with saner elements within Kashmir and identifying the problem solely as one of Islamic militancy fomented from across the border.
Indias concerns are unlikely to feature with any prominence as the US and the UK, in league with Israel, set about redrawing the map of the world. Meanwhile, as the US sets about formulating its military response, a nasty effort at thought control and media manipulation is also underway, reminiscent in many ways of the McCarthyite era. At the core of the most recent controversy in the media is a rather simple question: what amounts to cowardice and what constitutes bravery?
For the American philosopher and novelist Susan Sontag, no description was more inappropriate to the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington than "cowardice." Courage, she argued, is a morally neutral term. And "cowardice" is a term that is more suitably applied to those who fire missiles at undefended targets from a safe distance of thousands of miles, rather than to those who put themselves at mortal risk while carrying out a lethal mission.
The theme was taken up by the presenter of a talk show entitled "Politically Incorrect" on a major American TV channel. Not known to be given to the reading habit, Bill Maher merely took the title of his show, and its stated purpose of reflecting the unorthodox and unpopular view, rather too literally. Without the benefit of having read Susan Sontag, he went over the same ground. "Cowardice" as an epithet could be disputed in its application to the September 11 attacks in New York and Washington, he said. The term, in fact, was probably a more accurate description of military operations which targeted innocent civilians through cruise missiles fired from thousands of miles away. "We have been the cowards," said he, "lobbing cruise missiles from two thousand miles away. Thats cowardly. Staying in the airplane when it hits the building, say what you want about it, it is not cowardly."
Mahers reward was a prompt withdrawal of sponsorship and a temporary suspension from the airwaves. Following this, the broadcast company that hosted his programme, issued a public apology. And the presenter himself was obliged to don the robes of penitence when he next appeared on TV. Bill Maher is unlikely in future to seek an objective understanding of the terms "courage" and "cowardice," that is, not unless he is willing to give up his career as a TV personality in the US.
White House spokesman Ari Fleischer denounced the Maher program at a routine press briefing. Americans, he warned ominously, "had to watch what they say and watch what they do." This menacing line was excised from the official transcript of Fleischers briefing, on the rather feeble ground of "transcription error."
But having delivered the warning verbally, the White House clearly does not intend to commit it to writing immediately. It is introducing a broad-ranging anti-terrorism law that cuts deeply into the civil liberties of various sections of the population, especially new immigrants. And it clearly does not want to intimidate the media, whose support will be vital for ensuring the passage of the new legislation.
A country protected on two flanks by oceanic expanses, which has not suffered a direct assault on its territory for close to two centuries, tends to forget what courage really is and to misapply both the term and its opposite. Myths manufactured by the media and entertainment industries tend to ingrain the facile use of these words as a habit, posing a major impediment to understanding. Still secure in these myths and the delusion that it is "the indispensable nation," the US is perhaps embarking upon a course of global action that is only likely to shatter the foundations of its already shaky hegemony.