America alonenews
Prem Shankar Jha
25 September 2004

The tepid response to President Bush's address to the UN General Assembly underlines America's isolation in the comity of nations


Prem Shankar JhaTwo years ago, George W Bush addressed the United Nations and unveiled a doctrine that chilled the blood of all those who heard him and understood its implications. This was the doctrine of preemptive — in reality preventive — attack. America was at war, he told the delegates. It was not at war with another state, but with an ideology. It intended to defeat that ideology by using military force.

Since ideologies do not necessarily nest in nation states, but find homes in the minds and hearts of people spread across the globe, America would use military force wherever it found its adherents.

If this meant invading nations whose governments had not done anything to endanger US lives or interests, that was just too bad. By not exerting themselves to destroy these 'nests' those governments had made themselves culpable. If they were incapable of doing so they were 'failed states'. If they turned a blind eye to what these ideologues were doing and planning, then they were rogue states. If they possessed, or had the capacity to build weapons of mass destruction, they were doubly dangerous. The US reserved the right to force 'regime change' upon them.

The UN was invited to join in the war. If it did not, Bush warned the assembled heads of state and government, it would be relegated to the dustbin of history.

Thus did the United States announce that the Westphalian state system, which had governed international relations pretty much since 1648, had come to an end. The twin doctrines on which it was based, national sovereignty and the duty of countries not to intervene in the internal affairs of others, were now obsolete. Its place was being taken by a new order based upon the principle of Empire — an American Empire.

In this new order the US would have the right to intervene militarily in other countries, in defence of universal goals such as freedom, democracy and peace and non-proliferation. This right, it was later clarified, would belong to the US alone. Support from other nations was desirable, even welcome, but not necessary. Thus did Bush fulfill the prediction of two perceptive authors, Antonio Neri and Michael Hardart that is a world ruled as an empire, nationalism would become a crime and stamping it out would increasingly be portrayed as a police action.

On Tuesday this week, Bush again addressed the United Nations. But it was apparent even before he began his address that his bid for empire was in dire jeopardy. Many European heads of state did not attend the meeting, and sent their foreign ministers in their place. Minutes before he spoke, UN secretary general Kofi Annan reiterated his view, first stated last week, that the invasion of Iraq without the sanction of the UN Security Council was illegal and emphasised that the rule of law — i.e international law — had to prevail.

When queried about their reactions to Bush's statement, most assembled heads of state and government refused to be drawn out. When asked pointedly about the session, the German foreign minister chose instead to endorse Annan's statement and added, "I don't want to go more into the details because this would be very impolite."

America stood isolated at the UN, but that isolation only underscored the isolation that had developed after the invasion of Iraq. Not a single country responded to Bush's appeal to send peacekeepers to Iraq to help the infant government of Iyad Allawi. What is equally significant, none of the US' allies has agreed to increase its troop deployment in Iraq to lighten the burden on the Americans.

Bush is facing outright condemnation of his invasion of Iraq in the US too. The most telling attack has come, although belatedly, from John Kerry, who has finally shed months of pussy-footing on Iraq to come out with a no-holds-barred attack on Bush's policies. Kerry has warned the country that the US faced "a crisis of historic proportions " that could lead to a "war without end".

The significance of Kerry's blistering attacks of recent days lies in their timing. For months his campaign was bogged down as he tried in every way possible to duck the issue of Iraq for fear of sounding unpatriotic. The fact that he has shed these inhibitions shows that a new mood of critical assessment is on the rise in the American people. The fact that more than a thousand soldiers have been killed and upto four times as many disabled since the Iraq war officially ended, may have something to do with this.

But the coup de grace to Bush's dream of Empire was delivered eight days before Kerry's attack by the New York Times. In a scathing editorial on September 12, it condemned the Bush doctrine of preventive war without qualification. "If facts mattered in American politics" it wrote," the Bush-Cheney ticket would not be basing its re-election campaign on the fear-mongering contention that the surest defense against future terrorist attacks lies in the badly discredited doctrine of preventive war."

"Before the Iraq fiasco, American leaders rightly viewed war as a last resort, appropriate only when the nation's vital interests were actively threatened and reasonable diplomatic efforts had been exhausted. That view always left room for pre-emptive attacks….But it correctly drew the line at preventive wars against potential foes who might, or might not, be thinking about doing something dangerous. As the administration's disastrous experience in Iraq amply demonstrates, that is still the wisest course and the one that keeps America most secure in an increasingly dangerous era".

Incredible as it may seem none of this has dampened Bush's ardour for the Empire. In his speech to the UN there was not one word of acknowledgement that every single assumption on which he committed his nation to a manifestly unjust war, turned out to be nonsense. There was not one word of regret for the more than 1,000 American families that had lost a loved one. There was not even a casual mention of the 40,000 to 60,000 Iraqis — soldiers and civilians — who have been killed since March 19, 2003.

There was not a word about the growing chaos in Iraq. In fact Bush later dismissed bleak assessments of Iraq's future by his own government's National Intelligence Estimate, as well as similar findings by three US Senators who visited Iraq. Instead, according to him, the Iraqi people have regained their sovereignty and are advancing on the path to democracy and freedom.

Behind this is a truly terrifying world view. According to Bush the US has "expand(ed) the circle of liberty and security and development… that brought 'unity to Europe, self-government to Latin America and Asia, and new hope to Africa". According to him what the US has been doing in Iraq as it kills hundreds, sometimes thousands of Iraqi civilians every month, is to "reaffirm the equal value and dignity of every human life".

There was a new and chilling expansion of the 'axis of evil'." We know that oppressive governments support terror while free governments fight terror in their midst. We know that free peoples embrace progress and life instead of becoming the recruits for murderous ideologies". In short every authoritarian regime is now automatically a supporter of terrorism!

Bush gently admonished the world that it had a duty to join the US in the fight against terror. Every world leader who did not was either a coward or was deluding himself and his people. " Every nation that seeks peace has an obligation to help build that world. Eventually there is no safe isolation from terror networks or failed states that shelter them or outlaw regimes or weapons of mass destruction."

Bush's ideological armour is so completely impervious to empirical arrows that there can be no reasoning with him. That is why Timothy Garton Ash, writing in the International Herald Tribune warned that if Bush won the transatlantic schism would be irreversible. It is also why the French magazine Le Nouvel Observateur, devoted its cover page and an entire issue to "Why it is necessary to defeat Bush". "The majority of Americans in one camp or the other", it concludes, "know that this confrontation is not like the others. It is, more than ever, a choice between societies." For the rest of the world ot os a choice between worlds.

* The author, a noted analyst and commentator, is a former editor of the Hindustan Times, The Economic Times and The Financial Express, and a former information adviser to the prime minister of India. He is the author of several books including, The Perilous Road to the Market: The Political Economy of Reform in Russia, India and China, and Kashmir 1947: The Origins of a Dispute, and a regular columnist with several leading publications.

also see : Other articles by Prem Shankar Jha

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America alone