Wednesday, July 01, 2015

War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength

As I get older, I am forgetting the details.  As a good chunk of life fades in the rear-view mirror--I know, I shouldn't be looking there--I am glad that I am able to recall whatever it is that I am able to.

The principal of the wonderful school--where I always longed to look at that girl--had plenty of laudable goals that were always badly executed.  We students had many mean jokes about him, and continue to do that even now whenever we get together.  One of his goals was that students ought to be interested in local and global current affairs.  Thus, during the weekly assembly under the morning hot sun, we students stood there as one of his hand-picked favorites read a few news stories for a couple of minutes.  (No, I have never been any teacher's favorite..Not anybody's.  Not even my parents' favorite. The story of my life!!!)

One day, the guy who read it out uttered "Mr. Ayatollah" while referring to the then-new leader of Iran, Ayatollah Khomeini.  The news junkie that I was even back then, I thought it was bizarre that he said "Mr. Ayatollah."  Those were beginnings of the Iran-Iraq war and not a day passed without the The Hindu providing reports on the war, and that war was a big reason why "Mr. Ayatollah" was often mentioned at the news reports during the weekly assembly.

The war, coming on the heels of the revolution that forced the Shah of Iran to flee the country, continues to haunt the world's affairs, especially the ongoing negotiations over the nuclear deal, writes Robin Wright:
Iran suffered more than a hundred and fifty thousand dead between 1980 and 1988. In Tehran, it’s called the Sacred Defense. In the final stages, U.S. aid to Iraq contributed to Iran’s decision to pursue nuclear capability—the very program that six world powers are now negotiating to contain.
Keep in mind that this was not a war that Iran launched.  It was Saddam Hussein's war.  And, in the realpolitik of American "diplomacy," Saddam was "our son of a bitch."  Ah, yes, the twisted and tangled webs that we have woven and into which we are now trapped!
Back in the eighties, Western intelligence agencies questioned whether Iran’s eighteen-month-old revolution could survive for even a few weeks after Saddam Hussein’s surprise invasion. Tehran scrambled to mobilize remnants of the Shah’s army, the new Revolutionary Guards, and almost anyone, of any age, for a volunteer paramilitary. Tehran’s Holy Defense Museum has pictures of thirteen-year-old kids and eighty-year-old men who signed up. (Three per cent of the dead were fourteen or younger.)
Instead, the war dragged on for eight years.
 The CIA got rid of a democratically elected government in Iran so that the US and its allies could install in power the Shah of Iran who would serve as "our son of a bitch."  When the Shah was thrown out two decades later, we looked across the border and encouraged the madman Saddam.  Robin Wright narrates how that messed up things:
In 1988, for the final big Iraqi offensive, the Reagan Administration spent months advising Baghdad on how to retake the strategic Faw Peninsula, where the Shatt al Arab waterway flows into the Persian Gulf.
I was curious about the location of the Faw Peninsula.  Unlike the final year of my high school, I now have Google at my disposal, which easily informs me where this peninsula is:

Wright says this battle got worse, thanks to the madman Saddam.
Iraq also used U.S. intelligence to unleash chemical weapons against the Iranians in Faw. U.N. weapons inspectors documented Iraq’s repeated use of both mustard gas and nerve agents between 1983 and 1988. Washington opted to ignore it. At Faw, thousands of Iranians died. Syringes were littered next to bodies, a U.S. intelligence source told me; Iranian forces had tried to inject themselves with antidotes. The battle lasted only thirty-six hours; it was Iraq’s biggest gain in more than seven years. The war ended four months later, when Iran agreed to a cease-fire.
The apologies that the US owes to people all around the world! :(
Iranian officials told me that the theocracy debated countering Iraq with chemical weapons, but opted against it. However, aware that Baghdad had a nuclear-weapons program, Iran decided to resume the nuclear research-and-development program initiated by the Shah. After the war, Tehran decided to keep it.
I think it is remarkable that Iran didn't unleash its chemical weapons against the Iraqi forces.  
The Iraq war still haunts Iran—and shapes the theocracy’s positions at the negotiating table—partly because tens of thousands are still dying from chemical weapons, according to the Society for Chemical Weapons Victims Support. Years after the war ended, Iranian doctors noticed a pattern of patients reporting chronic pulmonary, skin, and corneal conditions associated with mustard gas. They were diagnosed with what is now known as low-dose exposure.
Wright notes this:
During my recent visit, Iran was gripped by news that the bodies of a hundred and seventy-five military divers had been recovered in Iraq—three decades after their capture by Saddam Hussein’s forces. The men had reportedly been buried alive after their wrists were tied together with wire. Tehran released gruesome pictures of the recovery, and of the decayed and bound corpses still dressed in diving gear.
The country was consumed with mourning yet again—even young people, born after the war ended, were deeply moved.
 To think that the US encouraged Saddam all those years that he was in power!  For what?
 As the country’s diplomats prepared to return to Vienna for the nuclear talks, [Mohsen Rezai, who commanded the Revolutionary Guards during the war] declared, “Iran’s enemies stood by Saddam for the whole eight years of the Sacred Defense.” It was clear that he included the United States among them.
Soon after the war ended, Saddam was no longer "our son of a bitch." 

It is unfortunate that we have never truly given peace a chance.  Oceania will always be at war, ably helped by its Ministry of Peace, wrote George Orwell in that memorable 1984

Perhaps it is time to start another war. Maybe against Eurasia; after all, Putin is not "our son of a bitch."


Ramesh said...

Yeah - any form of meddling, good intentioned or otherwise, produces all sorts of results. Some good, but mostly bad. In the past, the British performed this role. Now the Americans.

There is something to be said for the foreign policy of China. For the most part, they do not interfere, or make judgements on the regimes of any country. The fall out of this is that they may do business with rogues and look the other way when atrocities are committed. But as you so eloquently point out, how do you determine who is the "son of a bitch". If for neutralising the more virulent son of a bitch, you have to deal with a lesser son of a bitch, is that better than simply not interfering at all ? Questions to ponder over.

The dominant power of the day tends to appoint itself as some sort of a global policeman. There are two flaws with this reasoning. One is that there is no common set of rules or laws in the world to police. Secondly, such policing is always resented by a fair number of the parties involved. Since everything is always shades of grey,you are joining some unsavoury characters in pushing back some other unsavoury characters. Is that a good thing or a bad thing ?

Perhaps you may post on the merits and demerits of non interference too.

Sriram Khé said...

Being a policeman and settling disputes between countries is par for the course, I think. In the global village, the rich have that obligation. But, settling disputes is not what the US did with respect to Iran. From overthrowing Mossadegh to patronizing the Shah and then working to undermine the theocracy and aligning with the savage Saddam ... uncalled for ...

China aligns itself with anybody who will do dirty deals. The Burmese junta, the N. Korean maniacs, dictators in African countries. Those dirty deals contribute a lot to strengthen those governments--which is interference in a different way.

There is no saintly country here. Nobody has any higher moral ground on everything. Given all the rogues that make up the United Nations, I make my home here in the US--recognizing its warts and all ... no blind love this is ;)

One of the principles of the Non-Aligned Movement was not interfering in a country's internal affairs. But that allowed the rogues to do whatever they did within their countries ...

Anne in Salem said...

Clearly a few politicians need a primer on the Prime Directive.

Generally speaking, I prefer non-interference, but, as with all situations, it is complicated. Surely there are cases when interference is almost demanded, such as racial genocide.

But how to choose when interference is required? A country should be consistent in applying its policy, but that very consistency is challenging. We fought against Gadaffi for killing his own citizens but did nothing against Assad. Hard to explain, and no one held the president accountable for this inconsistency.

Sriram Khé said...

I had to do a Google search for "Prime Directive" ... and now I know ;)

Consistent political policies. That is not something we can expect from any principled politician. In fact, "principled politician" is an oxymoron ;)

Anne doesn't want to harshly criticize the presidents from HER party who created all the mess that I refer to in the post: Ike, Reagan, Bush, Bush. And she wants to distract us by directing us to look at the current president from that other party ... she is always clear about where her loyalty is ... hehehe ...
In the contemporary scene, yes, it has been disaster after disaster. Obama made that big fancy speech in Cairo soon after the elections. And when the people all over started rebelling against the dictators, he chose to (multiple choice here): stay silent; look the other way; back the wrong people; ditch things half way ...
At the end of it all, it doessn't matter if it is the GOP or the Democrats. They use, to employ one of the metaphors that George Carlin often used, it is like condoms--the presidents do their part to f*k up the Middle East and then discard the "son of bitches" as if they were all used condoms :(

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