Financial Daily from THE HINDU group of publications
Wednesday, Feb 19, 2003
Woe to the warmongers
LAST weekend's Security Council meeting at the United Nations headquarters in New York had all the elements of a Hollywood thriller. Millions of people across the world were glued to their TV sets to know if, in a matter of days or weeks, they would be pushed into a war most of them did not want.
A lot depended on the presentation of the UN Chief Weapons Inspector, Mr Hans Blix, on the progress he and his team of inspectors had made in the last round of inspections in Iraq. In the week leading up to that Friday, global markets had been jittery and while equity prices headed south, crude and gold moved determinedly northward.
It was an occasion when hardcore diplomats, whose professional brief is not to allow their expressions or body language to give away a whit more than their words, threw all diplomatic norms to the winds.
That day, there were emotional speeches, frequent clapping and cheering, frowns and curt nods. The prize for the `curt nod of the evening' would have gone to the US Secretary of State, Gen Colin Powell, for the one he gave the Iraqi representative as he was given special permission to sit at the Security Council table (Iraq is not a member of the Council).
Mr Blix had his say, the essence of which was that the Saddam Hussein regime was co-operating with his team and that its members did not get the feeling that the facilities they visited had any prior knowledge of their arrival. Of course, there were concerns about the tonnes of missing chemicals but there was hope that, given more time, the Iraq imbroglio could still be solved through diplomatic pressure.
Then came the turn of the Security Council members to have their say. The divide on the methodology to be used for disarming Saddam Hussein was along expected lines. The US and the UK continued to be downright sceptical about disarming Saddam Hussein without military attacks.
The "old Europe", as the French representative kept saying, in an acid response to the US Defence Secretary, Mr David Rumsfield's earlier taunt, rallied with the Islamic countries to insist that diplomacy be given a further chance, the weapons inspectors more time, and last-ditch efforts be made to avert a war.
In plain words, the US President, Mr George W. Bush, who has been spoiling for war, with cheerleader-in-chief Tony Blair echoing his rhetoric, was given the snub. The US could not possibly have had a more dignified a person, and one with better credentials, than Gen Powell to present it case. But that evening, he had no chance. The overwhelming feeling in the UN during the debate was that, at the moment, there was no ground for military strikes against Iraq.
While the American media, including print and electronic stalwarts, such as The New York Times and CNN, continued to toe the government line on military intervention being necessary in Iraq sooner than later, the British media struck a more circumspect chord. In some cases, it had no hesitation in proclaiming the deep divide between the British people and its government on the standoff with Iraq.
"Blixed", exclaimed the banner headline in The Daily Mirror, the next day, while editorials in other newspapers commented on how serious the political implications would be for the British Prime Minister's career if he made a wrong move on Iraq.
The weekend saw the largest ever anti-war rally in Britain at London's Hyde Park. The organisers claimed that one to two million people coming from across the UK participated in the rally.
Attacking the US President without mincing words, London's Mayor, Mr Ken Livingstone, said: "I have never seen anything like this in my political career. This is Britain standing together regardless of age, race or sex. This war is solely about oil. Bush has never given a damn about human rights."
Popular writer and broadcaster Tariq Ali, one of the most vehement anti-war proponents, participating in a debate on the BBC, referred to a sticker he had seen somewhere which made no pretensions about the real motive behind military action in Iraq. "The sticker said: Kick his ass, get the gas". Attacking the British Prime Minister, he said that a change of regime was necessary in the UK too.
And proving that Mr Blair has really put his political future at stake in taking sides with Mr Bush is the result of the latest Guardian/ICM poll, which shows that at least one person from each of 1.25 million households in Britain went on Saturday's anti-war march in London.
This, says The Guardian, confirms the "estimates that between one and two million people went on the march. The poll shows it is the prime minister's personal standing rather than the Labour Party that has suffered the wrath of anti-war voters."
This poll establishes, for the first time, that a clear majority of British voters now oppose a military attack. "It reveals that Mr Blair has sustained significant political damage from the debate over Iraq.
His personal rating has dropped through the floor to minus 20 points, the lowest level since the petrol crisis two-and-a-half years ago," adds the report.
It is interesting to note that only Mr Blair's personal ratings have plummeted, not so much that of the Labour Party. Thus, a slightly subdued British Foreign Secretary, Mr Jack Straw, admitted on BBC on Monday that the anti-war demonstration in London was "unquestionably the largest we've seen in my lifetime in the UK". Asked how sensitive the government would be to the British public's anti-war sentiment, he said that if public opinion was so strongly against military action, "it would be very difficult indeed in those circumstances."
Meanwhile, in Paris, a new poll has shown that French public opinion has only hardened against the war. At present, 87 per cent of those polled are against military action, up from 77 per cent six weeks ago, found the Ipsos agency in a poll for France 2 television conducted on Saturday.
Predictably, the Islamic world, as well as most of the developing countries, are against military action in Iraq, as the brunt of it will have to be borne by innocent people, who have already been victims of Saddam Hussein's atrocities for long years. Mr. Bush may pompously claim that he is going to liberate them. If the motive is indeed to protect the American people from the terrors Saddam Hussein might unleash against them, one has not seen too much evidence of the Bush regime having made any serious attempt to buy him off and send him packing from Baghdad.
The cost of war, estimate Western experts, would be $50-100 billion. A BBC report says that the "US will finance any war against Iraq by borrowing the money, adding to the $300 billion (£200 billion) budget deficit".
A US Congressional office report of October 2002 estimates: "Prosecuting a war would cost between $6 billion and $9 billion a month, though how long such a war might last could not be estimated. After hostilities ended, the costs to return US forces to their home bases would range between $5 billion and $7 billion."
A figure of $80 billion is being mentioned in many estimates. Would it not be much cheaper, both in terms of the economic cost as well as the huge saving in human lives, to buy off Saddam?
With Mr Blair's debating skills much better than Mr Bush's rhetoric, which is getting increasingly irritating, perhaps he can play a much more useful role in convincing the hated Iraqi despot to pack his bags and head for some remote island. If he succeeds, he gets to retain his chair and the world can go on as usual. Already, the looming war fears have spoilt the party for our stock market, which is expecting a market-friendly Budget!
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