March 24, 2011

Reeking of hypocrisy

March 25, 2011 2:56:42 AM


Having backed and armed the murderous Pol Pot regime and other tyrannical dictatorships in the past, the US has no right to ‘intervene' in Libya.

Wars of intervention, ostensibly to rescue innocent sufferers from brutal rulers, bristle with so many paradoxes and reek of such hypocrisy that I cannot help but hope that Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, dictator though he is, gives the Western allies a bloody nose.

Libya is very different from Cambodia which seemed like an open and shut case for the intervention that Mr Brajesh Mishra so stoutly defended at the United Nations. Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge killed an estimated two million people. It reduced the country to grinding poverty. Yet — and in sharp contrast to the Western response to Libya — the US and the Association of South-East Asian Nations preferred this murderous regime to the opposition United Front for National Salvation supported by Vietnam. That was because the Soviets backed Vietnam, as did India. Power politics triumphed over humanity.

The US and China were ranged on the other side with ASEAN. It was an open secret that they were routing funds and arms for Pol Pot through Singapore. Sino-American collusion was bizarre enough without the paradox being repeated in personal relations.

While Singapore’s Ambassador Tommy Koh led the diplomatic offensive against Vietnam for invading Cambodia and ousting the Khmer Rouge, the defence was led by his “guru”, Mr Mishra. Way back in 1968, when Mr Koh was a 30-year-old novice at the UN, Mr Mishra had been one of three seasoned Indian diplomats (the others being G. Parthasarathi and Alfred Gonsalves) who had “mentored” him.

The battle was no less fierce because of enduring ties of affection, and Singaporean diplomats comment to this day on the aggressiveness with which Mr Mishra pushed what they call the Soviet line. According to Mr Koh’s junior, Mr Kishore Mahbubani, who later headed the Singapore foreign office and was for many years permanent representative at the UN, no other Indian diplomat “was so very active on the Cambodian issue as Mishra, and after he left, the others just didn’t get involved.”

Mr Mahbubani claims to have been “stunned” when he visited India in the 1990’s to find Mr Mishra so important in the NDA Government. “It was astonishing”, he exclaimed when we were discussing my last book, Looking East to Look West: Lee Kuan Yew’s Mission India. “Then he seemed very pro-Soviet, the most pro-Soviet among the Indian diplomats. Very outspoken in defence of Soviet policies.” There was a further surprise in store for the Singaporean. Mr Mishra “had completely forgotten all about those hectic tussles in New York”!

That’s diplomacy for you. Individuals follow governments that fight for the oppressed in one situation and back the oppressor in another. Dividing lines are faint and constantly shifting. James Cameron, the veteran British journalist who covered the Korean War, described movingly in his memoirs how the atrocities committed by the North Korean baddies were indistinguishable from the atrocities committed by South Korea’s good guys. Japan and the US, yesterday’s enemies, are the best of today’s friends.

Changed roles are glaringly obvious in Vietnam where Vietcong tunnels and the museums and war remains evoke no bitter memories. On the contrary, China’s growth has prompted Vietnam to make special overtures to the US they battled for so many years. It is no different, perhaps, from Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s welcome in 1974 to Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and his own participation (with his foreign minister, Mr Kamal Hossain) in the Lahore summit of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference.

The Western allies are struggling to find a credible rationale for their strategy in Libya while India ponders on the difficulty of following an independent foreign policy that serves the national interest but not necessarily America’s cause. Meanwhile, the question that should be asked is whether gratuitous intervention is ever justified, no matter how detestable the regime. Perhaps it can’t be asked too loudly because everyone knows that no matter what the interventionist might plead, he goes in for himself and not for charity. I can still hear Admiral William J Crowe, former chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, chuckling that the US would not have bothered defending Kuwait against Iraq if the emirate exported bananas. I was interviewing him for my book, Waiting for America: India and the US in the New Millennium.

Military men like him can afford to be blunt for they are not accountable to voters or posterity. Thus, Lord West, the former British naval chief, had no compunction about denouncing Col Gaddafi as a “loathsome” individual even before the Allied action began. Mr David Cameron is more circumspect, as the senior President George Bush was in 1990. He cited democracy and freedom to assemble a coalition during Operation Desert Shield which preceded the full-scale hostilities of Operation Desert Storm, because Saddam Hussein had made himself master of seven per cent of the world’s fuel by annexing Kuwait.

Democracy and freedom can have played little part in an exercise that was directed by Prince Bandar bin Sultan, Saudi Arabia’s high-profile ambassador to the US whose royal master in Riyadh paid all the costs of that war. The Saudis and Kuwait’s al-Sabah dynasty are hereditary friends. Iraq is their traditional enemy. It suited Riyadh to claim that Saddam was targeting Saudi Arabia’s petroleum fields which would have brought more than 40 per cent of the world’s oil production under Baghdad’s control.

How the Western powers interpret UN Security Council’s Resolution 1973 which explicitly bars a full-scale occupation force depends on how badly they want to control Libyan oil. It seems increasingly clear to them that despite the damage inflicted on government forces, the rebels are unlikely to achieve a military victory. The British are, therefore, talking of partition which will give them a foothold over part of the country at least.

If that happens, Col Gaddafi will not cease trying to regain lost territory. The Allies will not cease trying to use it as a springboard to acquire the rest. It will mean endless friction. The inescapable conclusion is that nations should be left to themselves to work out their own destiny. Intervention — no matter what the excuse — makes mockery of national sovereignty. Iraq and Afghanistan also demonstrate that a third party can push a country from the frying pan into the fire.

Wars to end wars only prolong warfare because the protagonists are so seldom honest about their aims.

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