Tuesday, July 18, 2006

The Power of Arrogance

The Power of Arrogance
Niranjan Ramakrishnan

Despite all the cries of outrage and shock over what is happening in the Middle East, is there really any difference between the US invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq and the Israeli attacks on Lebanon? A parody of the Cartesian mindset of recent vintage is in play once more -- I can get away with it, therefore I do.

The United States destroyed huge parts of Afghanistan after 9-11. Thousands were rendered homeless, large numbers were killed and maimed. In the end, Bin Laden, the purported quarry, was never found.

Then came Iraq, where there was not even the fig leaf of hot pursuit. A warmed over dish of fear, concocted from the embers of 9-11, old UN resolutions (proving in the process that some UN resolutions are more important than others), fake intelligence reports and journalistic fabrications, was enough to get a nod from a craven and petrified Congress. Thousands perished as a result. And along with the usual toll of infrastructure, a deliberate American negligence caused priceless museum artifacts belonging to all mankind to be lost forever.

The engagements in Afghanistan or Iraq are far from over. Already, here comes the third volume in the series: Lebanon. Watch out, JK Rowling.

Hezbollah is holed up in Southern Lebanon, lobbing missiles on Israeli border towns. Hezbollah guerrillas have kidnapped Israeli soldiers. The stated objective is to remove the threat of missiles and recover the captives. Fair enough. But why bomb Beirut, 100 miles to the north, and Tripoli, another hundred miles farther? Why destroy dozens of bridges, airports and seaports, oil depots and power plants? Why punish the people of all Lebanon? Because the terrorists are hiding everywhere, comes the answer. The United States is on record supporting this logic. Quite naturally, too, for it applies an identical reasoning to justify its own actions.

If this rationale is accepted, an impartial observer might wonder, could one justify the bombing of the World Trade Center? Did not the CIA have offices in one of the collapsed buildings, and was it not well known that the CIA had orchestrated coups, assassinations, riots, military takeovers, etc. in several parts of the world? If the Israelis could bomb Lebanese army bases without any provocation from the Lebanese army, and the US could defend such an act, on what basis could they oppose someone crashing a plane into the Pentagon, undoubtedly a military target?
Something to think about, perhaps, but even such introspection is persona non grata in our times. We like to keep it simple: I can get away with it, therefore I do. The same powers that chided Russia for its actions in Chechnya, and bombed Serbia into submission for its moves against Kosovar drug runners, today make the all-purpose claim that "Israel has a right to defend itself", ranking right up there on the inanity scale with such gems as, "We are a nation of immigrants". Of course every country has a right to defend itself. But by bombing power plants and bridges all across a non-combatant state? By demolishing residences and roads? All for the actions of one group? Israel, of all countries, should know that that mass punishment of populations is a war crime.

Both Democratic and Republican worthies dutifully thronged the microphones this weekend, many to aver that bombing civilian targets is justified; for the terrorists are holed up among civilians. An even more amusing (if sad) variant of their plaint was "But Hezbollah does it". Is the standard for a modern, democratic, state the same as it is for terrorists and warlords? But who would ask that question? They never raised it when Bush rammed through the Patriot Act, not when it became known that their government was spying on its citizens and prying into their financial transactions, not when Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo surfaced. Why should they raise it now?

Clearly, Israel's actions were not spur-of-the-moment, far from it. Several commentators have said the Israelis had planned for precisely such an opportunity for years. That's merely a tactical element. As a strategic backdrop, it was America that provided the enabling logic with its two singular examples of attacking non-combatant countries with not a whimper from the world. Lebanon's prime minister this week called Israel a major perpetrator of terror, saying Israel had set his country decades back in time.

Now another country has employed the same logic to justify the same tactic. More world silence. Wasn't the UN created for just such occasions? Deconstructionists may ponder the significance of the term "United Nations" sounding so much like "Eunuch Nations". It is further a hallmark of our times that the worst presidency of US history coincides with the tenure of the most spineless UN Secretary General in the organization's life. That line about the age bringing forth the man takes on a whole new meaning.

Much has been made of how the Israeli public is solidly behind Ehud Olmert. It might help to recall how solid American public support once was for going into Iraq, and how high Bush's approval was as he first bombed Afghanistan. It was said of the intrepid scooter wallah of New Delhi that if the front wheel could make it, he would proceed boldly into the narrow lane, forgetting the rest of the vehicle was wider. That's public opinion in a nutshell.

If the US has demonstrated anything during the past three years, it is that today, after spending a half-trillion dollars (eleven million dollars an hour, to quote Rep. John Murtha), it is unable to prevail in a contest with a ragtag band of insurgents with no overt support from any major power (unlike its opponents in the Vietnam or Korean wars, who were backed by China and the USSR). An honest reflection might have led to a sober view of the current crisis. Instead, Bush is busy rattling his sabers against Syria and Iran, trying to widen the conflict. Rather than calling for an immediate cease fire (a reasonable step even while condemning Hezbollah), he has justified the destruction of Lebanon, a friendly country whose government was installed at his own behest.

It is tempting to hang the well-worn phrase, "The Arrogance of Power" on Israel's attitude and on America's. But realistically, it is rather more a case of the Power of Arrogance. Consider this spectacle: The biggest debtor in the world tacitly encourages the destruction of an entire nation, by another nation whose defense budget is largely underwritten by itself. Guess who is going to pay for the reconstruction aid to Lebanon that must inevitably ensue? The American Taxpayer, it would seem, is the world's perennial dupe. In an article (How Time Flies), Michael Neumann captured this paradox well, "America's weakness is not a problem; the problem is that it acts as if it were strong..." Arrogance has the power to sideline reality and embark on ever more ambitious projects. Let's not forget the words of a White House official quoted in Ron Susskind's book, boasting that the White House created its own reality.

The consequence of silent acquiescence in aggression three times in five years will take the whole world, not just Lebanon, back into the dark ages. The clearest lesson of all this is that the collective deterrent of world opinion exists no longer. A very real proliferation has resulted -- that of the idea that powerful nations can attack others without fear of consequence -- unless...

Welcome to the New (clear) World Order.

Niranjan Ramakrishnan is a writer living in the USA. He can be reached at njn_2003@yahoo.com.


mona said...

It's Bart Simpson mentality.

Anonymous said...

well the agenda is agains the same
in name of israle the british want to get inside the lebanon-therefore that mad blair talk about uno( read nato and british forces) to go in lebanon. that was the excuse for british and americns to get inside lebanon athen pressurize syria and iran
itis never about israle
israle like jews have layws beeen used bu=y the british for their end and israle goes along with it because it suits its agengda too.but main evuil doers and plaooterts are blair and then comes bush
both thse evils must be sorted out

Anonymous said...

US tax payer shouldn't have to pay for this.....

There is a simple solution for how we pay for Israel’s misadventure into Lebanon:
We should deduct the cost of rebuilding Lebanon from the annual aid we give to Israel. That seems fare as the oft-quoted ‘Pottery Barn’ rule- you break it you pay for it- would suggest. The only obstacle to this financing is that all our legislators, both blue and red, who get ‘kick-backs’ from the state of Israel in the form of campaign contributions and the Jewish (and their sympathizer) votes, have to be persuaded. That should be easy to do in our model of ‘democracy’ that we are so zealously exporting – wouldn’t you agree?

Patrick said...

I enjoyed reading your essay. I agree with most of what you say and I am mad as hell about what the Bush Administration is doing not only to the US, but also to the world.

I think your assessment of the Lebanon situation is spot on, even carried out to the conclusions that you carry them out to (WTC, Pentagon, etc.) Nothing good will come of this and the US's behavior has been shameful.

I have a couple of issues, though, with things that you wrote.

Firstly, I think that the US invaded Afghanistan primairly in order to overhrow the Taliban and root out Al Kaida. The fact that they were unable to capture bin Laden is not so catastrophic, in my opinion. If anything, demonstrates that there are limits to US power, something the people in the Bush government have arrogantly refused to accept.

I am editorializing here a bit, but I promise to keep it brief.

This arrogance is evident in Bush's Iraq and Afghanistan policy. Those fools really think they can create a multiparty democracies in these countries, with respect for human rights, liberty, justice and cheap oil for all. That is naive and dangerous. We are paying for this arrogance now, and will continue to pay for years to come.

Other areas of disagreement:
-Serbia cannot be defended and the US actions there were noble, if shamefully belated.
-The UN is and always was totally powerless. That is nothing new. I find it actually quite positive that Kofi Annan actually criticises Israel and the Bush regime. I am not sure that Boutrous-Boutrous Ghali, for example, would have been so outspoken. These are, after all, usually professional diplomats.