Friday Discourse (174)
Between Stupidity and Wisdom
It is not the tradition of God, as He said in the Qur’an, to abandon the world to the perpetual dominance of a single superpower. Doing so, He said, will foment the destruction of the earth. If we find a period in History where a single power seemed to dominate the scene, it will always be for a brief spell; its overbearing influence tarries for a while, before another powerful nation rise to brave its monopoly, or before it declines and its fate is permanently consigned to the pages of History, like other nations before it.
The influence of the Romans was mitigated to the North by the Barbarians and to the East by the Persians. During the period of colonization, Britain, undoubtedly the greatest power then, had to contend with the Portuguese, French, Spanish and other European nations interested in raping, or, as they claimed, ‘civilising’ the “barbaric world.” During our time, in the last century, we have seen the Cold War that lasted four and a half decades with the Soviet Union in the East and America in the West, each counteracting the influence of the other in the struggle for control over the resources of the South.
Now the Cold War is over, and the balance of terror tilts greatly in favour of America. That nation today enjoys the liberty of unrestrained exercise of terror that is animated by the arrogance which its might would command. In its wild craving to subjugate other nations and impound their fortunes, it hastens, without any respect for the consequences or tribute to conscience, to contravene international law and stamp over the modesty that civilization would dictate. Humanity for sometime must endure the weight of its haughty behaviour, the pain of the injury it afflicts and the acrimony which its self-importance breeds.
Scholars of civilization who are sympathetic to its cause, like Samuel Huntington, have through backward extrapolation attempted to qualify America as the most recent station in the continuum of the most tenacious military conglomerate known in written history – the Roman Empire. But unlike the Romans who yielded to restraint at the peak of their success, America, for what will result in the circumcision of it tenure, characterized by servitude to the instincts of lowly conducts and disrespect for humanity. When it conquers, it plunders the resources, rape the women and destroy the legacies of the enemy who might himself, like Iraq, be a victim of a vicious dictator fostered by American tutelage. While the Romans were eager to assert their difference from the barbarians, America is always a ready accomplice in the spread of decadence and poverty among nations.
The intellect of its founding fathers could not have estimated such a mean position to the country they founded, or acclaimed to found, on the ethical doctrines of the Bible, away and distinct from the oppressive monarchies of continental Europe and England. Today, it has squandered that proposed virginity to its intercourse with an oppressive avarice. It can hardly resist the temptation to wound the weak by calculated hunger and disease, subdue the strong, even at the statement of his allegiance, by words of threats and acts of unadulterated aggression.
Iraq is bleeding in compliance to the indiscretion of present American administration. Families are daily wiped out there under the pretext of flushing out supporters of al-Zarqawi. The pain is not lesser for families of over a thousand American soldiers killed so far in spite of the declaration of the end of hostilities. It does not bother anyone among the political class to muster the courage and tell the pure truth that these souls are sacrificed not to safeguard the American nation living thousands of miles away but to usher into the hands of American oil merchants and engineering contractors, who constitute the administration, the revenues that will accrue from the cheapest source of oil in the world.
With mercantile haste, America, in defiance of the International community and law, substituted the caution of reason with haste of greed; it commanded the collusion of Britain, now a tributary of its hegemony and a surrogate of its interest in Europe, and the two, playing Goliath, invaded Iraq while lying to liberate it and the world from its dictator, Saddam Hussein. For a job that a single precision missile could accomplish with a pain limited to only to the dictator and his guards, as we are seeing in the assassination of Palestinian leaders in Israel and beyond, the entire machinery of the West was rolled out in rapidity, thousands of armies were deployed and the land of Nebuchadnezzar and Harun al-Rashid once again became victim of an invader who is as inclined to mass destruction of civilization as was Hulagu, who “stormed, looted and burnt” Baghdad on 20 February 1258.
But if contemporary historians could forgive Hulagu for killing over 800,000 residents of Baghdad in the 13th Century when genocide was a source of respect, Bush will not be forgiven, in the age of the United Nations, International law, freedom and democracy, for the mass destruction of Iraqi lives and property or the abuses to humanity such as those reported from Abu Ghraib prison. The son, Saddam, was so scared of the enormity of his father, America, that he vanished for a while, before the father who once brought him to power discovered him hiding in a hole. Then, in a triumphant voice, the father had enough moral locus to look at the world and declare: “Ladies and Gentlemen, we got him.”
Now the war is won, undoubtedly, but in the manner of its prosecution, peace is lost. When every consultant, except insatiability, was expelled on the eve of the decision to wage the war in order to enable a total control over resources of the nation, the counsel to destroy every institution of governance was embraced. Consequently, the entire civil service, army, police, intelligence service and other institutions of control, whose number is not less than two million, disappeared into the land equipped with their weapons and training. Lawlessness took over not only the streets but also the minds of these millions together with other Iraqis whose torch of subsistence on the previous regime was extinguished by the invasion. Had the allegiance of this large army of trained personnel and their dependants, who are only interested in self-preservation, been handsomely bargained for, it would have been won in its entirety without reserving any trace of sympathy for their former benefactor.
However, avarice, on the side of mercantile America and the Iraqis in exile, who were anxious to wear the surrogate shoe of Saddam, could not permit a room for the contemplation that neither rule nor profit is possible without peace. To simultaneously handle the two – war and peace – is an art which American political establishment, unlike the British before them, failed to master. In their vain, they thought people, in spite of their pride and taste in modern concepts of freedom and independence, will submit to the whims of an invader with whom they share nothing other than biology. More reckless was to forget that members of the old regime, who are in millions, well trained in various aspects of warfare, sciences and administration, will return to their houses and survive as long as hunger would permit them without fighting back and preoccupying the invader in every little chance of resistance. Now, the Iraqis, without any security wall, have denied the invader his freedom of movement: the American soldier spends most of his time detained in his garrison or in the tight enclosure of his armour, while his contractor civilian counterpart is arrested in his hotel room or the cell of his ‘terrorist’ captor.
The decision to invade Iraq has, in a way that was never contemplated by America, provided a convenient scene for al-Qaeda to retaliate and linger. It exported al-Zarqawi who was quick to conscript the lawlessness that perverted the land, the grudge that preoccupied the minds of the Iraqis and the prejudice the world has for America, and jointly march them in the cause of abductions and killings of hundreds of Americans. Consequently, with that little ventilation created by the distraction to Iraq, al-Qaeda and the Taliban are returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan, fighting back, while America has failed to make true its promise of rebuilding the country it routed three years ago.
After finding peace illusive, America strenuously attempted to globalize the invasion. Other nations must participate, it commanded, in rebuilding Iraq, impliedly, after it has destroyed it. The world community, whose counsel was defied at the eve of the invasion, snubbed America. First, in desperation, it desired to exploit the fraternity of Muslims by requesting Saudi Arabia to constitute a combined force of Muslim nations to police Iraq and restore peace. The Saudis, who are conscious of the ignominy of their master, announced their suggestion, but before they could even convene a meeting, they were rebuffed instantly and accused of shamelessly helping an adversary under whose supervision the forces of Zionism are destroying Palestine. The Saudis quietly receded from the castigations before the microphone to the leisure of their palaces.
Then recently Bush was snubbed at the United Nations to where he carried the gospel of globalizing the Iraq conflict. Leaders of the world listened, but at the end of the day their decision was conveyed by the UN Secretary General who accused America of violating the same rules that it wants other nations to obey. America is on its own. Even in the last meeting of British Labour Party, America won the stay of British troops beyond December this year only by a terrible margin. As shown in a recent poll, among the over 200 nations of the world, America, over Iraq, enjoys the support of the majority of citizens of only five countries!
The elections are getting dangerously near and the polls are suggesting that more Americans are rising to challenge the fortunes of a vendor who has done more to alienate their nation from the rest of the world; they are speaking in favour of his opponent who pledges the readiness to respect International law, return sovereignty to the Iraqis, and make America a leader, not the bully, of the world.
The clock of History ticks very slowly, perhaps once every year, and an hour may last centuries in our estimation. That means we can hardly be seduced by a hope kindled by the prospects of an election. This monster may not disappear in the near future. In the past, despite the restraint portrayed by many Roman emperors, like Augustus, Justinian and Hadrian, the empire nevertheless succumbed to the laws of History. Equally, our hope will be accommodated only by the spacious room of the solace that in the end American hegemony in the world will fetter and fade away until it finally rests in the chronicles of History. Not even by the most ambitious estimates of its leaders will America endure the seven centuries that the Romans took to decline and fall, for unprovoked imprudence like that of George Bush is helping to attenuate the period of American decline and accelerate its fall.
I think America should learn from the moderation adopted by Augustus at the peak of the Roman Empire. “The seven first centuries were filled with a rapid succession of triumphs,” wrote Edward Gibbon in The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, “but it was reserved for Augustus, to relinquish the ambitious design of subduing the whole earth, and to introduce a spirit of moderation into the public councils. Incline to peace by his temper and situation, it was easy for him to discover, that Rome, in her present exalted situation, had much less to hope than to fear from the chance of arms; and that, in the prosecution of remote wars, the undertaking became every day more difficult, the vent more doubtful, and the possession more precarious, and less beneficial.
“The experience of Augustus,” Gibbon continued, “added weight to these salutary reflections, and effectually convinced him, that, by the prudent vigour of his councils, it would be easy to secure every concession, which the safety or dignity of Rome might require from the most formidable barbarians. Instead of exposing his person and his legions to the arrows of the Parthians, he obtained, by an honourable treaty, the restitution of the standards and prisoners which had been taken in the defeat of Crassus…
“Happily for the repose of mankind, the moderate system recommended by the wisdom of Augustus, was adopted by the fears and vices of his immediate successors. Engaged in the pursuit of pleasure, or in the exercise of tyranny, the first Caesars seldom shewed themselves to the armies, or to the provinces; nor were they disposed to suffer, that those triumphs which their indolence neglected, should be usurped by the conduct and valour of their lieutenants. The military fame of a subject was considered as an insolent invasion of the Imperial prerogative; and it became the duty, as well as interest, of every Roman general, to guard the frontiers intrusted to his care, without aspiring to conquests which might have proved no less fatal to himself than to the vanquished barbarians.”
To the contrary, Iraqi oil and construction opportunities have attracted the avarice of America as the pearls of Britain attracted that of Claudius. In the end, the British pearls, as noted by David Womersley in his annotation to The Decline and Fall, “proved of little value, on account of their dark and livid colour.” The oil of Iraq may be the cheapest to drill, at the rate of a dollar per barrel – compared to seven dollars of the Saudi, however, its possession, in the words of Gibbon, is proving more precarious, and less beneficial.
Fortunately, it is neither our choice nor that of George Bush what course America takes after next month election. Its people are confronted with the historical opportunity to do that. We, the rest of the inhabitants of the planet can only hope that in their choice they will not hesitate to substitute the stupidity of Claudius with the wisdom of Augustus.