TAMIL NADU

Doctrine of aggression

LEADERS OF NATIONS who failed to stand up and condemn the American war of aggression against a sovereign, independent Iraq must share the blame for the unfolding consequences of the superpower's unilateral action. Before the dust has settled over its first unprecedented invasion, the United States has begun to target a second nation, with dark hints of possible other victims being added to the list. The combined verbal assault on Iraq's neighbour, Syria, by the U. S. President, George W. Bush, and his Secretaries of Defense and State, with warnings to Damascus and threats of sanctions against providing sanctuary to fleeing leaders and officials of the defeated Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein and against developing its own chemical weapons capabilities, must alert the international community to the continuing dangers of American unilateralism born of arrogance and its pursuit of the doctrine of pre-emption. The unprecedented ease with which the regime in Baghdad has been driven out has apparently whetted the appetite of the hawks in the Pentagon. The warnings have now acquired an ominous ring. Their progression in the case of Iraq, beginning with the demand that it disarm voluntarily and ending with forcible regime change, must be a grim pointer. The stridency of the demands on Syria, ruled by the socialist Baath Party like Iraq till recently, is especially ominous. On Sunday, Mr. Bush charged that Syria had chemical weapons (of mass destruction) and wanted it "to just cooperate" by not providing refuge to Iraqi leaders. His Secretary of State, Colin Powell, was more to the point: "With respect to Syria, of course we will examine possible measures of a diplomatic, economic or other nature as we move forward." Donald Rumsfeld, Defense Secretary, repeated the allegation that Syria had tested chemical weapons in the past 12 to 15 months.

Britain's Prime Minister, allied to Mr. Bush in the war on Iraq, has denied that there is any plan to attack Syria. But Tony Blair's word lacks credibility or weight as shown up during the Iraq crisis when the U.S. remained undeflected and unpersuaded by British entreaties. He must convince his American ally that targeting Syria has even less logic than the arguments against Iraq since it is not a signatory to the chemical weapons convention and would therefore not be breaking international law if it seeks to possess these weapons. Washington's agenda appears to be to exert its extraordinary military muscle to reorder the geopolitical map of the region and tilt the balance in favour of Israel. The next few weeks will show whether targeting Syria means military action or is a less ambitious pre-emptive strategy to stop the young ruler, Bashir Assad, in Damascus from sponsoring terrorism or fuelling a guerilla movement in occupied Iraq. The latter is a potential threat as the U.S. consolidates its hold and increases its presence in Iraq. Occupation hazards can be impossible to foresee in the unfamiliar terrain, as the Americans have been recognising everyday. A guerilla movement led by the retreating supporters of Saddam Hussein can prove a formidable foe.

In many parts of Iraq, there was by the weekend some movement towards restoration of a semblance of law and order and an end to the looting and mayhem that erupted at every city when the regime of Saddam Hussein lost its hold and the invading forces were at the gate. It will take months of stupendous effort for a return to normal life for a people who had faced the most vicious bombing campaign in the past quarter century. The fall of Tikrit where rumours had it that the Iraqi dictator might make his last stand means that the country is at a turning point in its long history, heralding the decisive end of rule by the Baath Party. As the Iraqis pick up the pieces, they must continue to be puzzled by the sidelining and paralytic silence of the United Nations, which had for a decade sapped their energy through a sanctions regime.

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