Tuesday, April 24, 2007

A fiasco celebrates its fourth anniversary

The Iraq chapter of George Bush’s war on terror has recently marked its fourth anniversary. What began as a spectacular success - within three weeks of the invasion, Baghdad was captured - is now widely acknowledged to be a disaster. The story is far from a conclusion. Yet, it is already a fascinating tale with valuable lessons not just for the US, but also for all countries with inclinations and pretensions to being a superpower, including India. Because Iraq, at a fundamental level, is a lesson in humility where arrogance and hubris have been seen biting dust. Somewhere along the way, in the course of its journey to the status of sole superpower, America had acquired notions of invincibility, made worse by a conviction among sections of its ruling clique that it possessed a monopoly over truth and wisdom as well.

Had it gone to script, this war would have wiped out the memories of Vietnam. Instead, in its fifth year now and with no end in sight, it has resurrected those very same ghosts. Every day, for the past three years, the US has been losing two or more of its soldiers. The steady drip of casualties has now badly eroded the initially euphoric support for the war. It has brought home to the people of America the harsh truth about the war, that contrary to what their government had been telling them all this while, it is not going well at all. And in these four years, America has learnt that there are limits to what even a “sole” superpower can do.

But, for all its troubles, Iraq might well turn out to be a salutary lesson for America. After all, the reason we do not poke our fingers into fire is the memory of what had happened the last time we had done that. The lessons and memories of Vietnam are now four decades old and faded. If only Iraq can serve as example that Americans would remember for the next four decades or so, not just America but the world as a whole would be a gainer. And that is a perverse vindication of an uncalled for war of choice that has already cost the lives of tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of Iraqi civilians.