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A World Without Deterrence

The Power of Arrogance

by NIRANJAN RAMAKRISHNAN

For all the cries of outrage and shock over what is happening in the Middle East, is there really much difference between the US invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq and the Israeli attacks on Lebanon? A familiar parody of the Cartesian mindset is on display 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 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. And, along with the usual toll of infrastructure, deliberate American negligence caused priceless museum artifacts to be destroyed, a piece of its history forever lost to mankind.

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

Hezbollah guerrillas have kidnapped Israeli soldiers, and Hezbollah is lobbing missiles on Israeli border towns. The stated Israeli 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.

But, 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, was not the Pentagon undoubtedly a military target?

Something to ponder, surely, but all 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 Albanian drug runners, today make the all-purpose claim that "Israel has a right to defend itself", a mindless phrase that must rank right up there on the inanity scale with that other one, "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 have dutifully thronged the microphones since, 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: "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 asserted that 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.

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 possibly the most spineless UN Secretary General in the organization’s life. That line about the age producing the man takes on a whole new meaning.

Much has been made of how the Israeli public is solidly behind Ehud Olmert. It bears reminding oneself 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 narrowest lane, forgetting to consider the rest of his vehicle. 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 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 at 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 nation in the world tacitly encourages the destruction of a small and powerless country by another nation, whose defense budget too 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 his 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.

Lebanon’s prime minister this week said Israel had set his country decades back in time. An Israeli general concurred, stating on the record that that was the intention. The consequence of silent acquiescence in state 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. His blog is at http://njn-blogogram.blogspot.com.