Militant Islam and Washington neo-conservatives: Best friends of each other

Secretary Powell was remarkably convincing at the Security Council about the gravity of threat posed by Saddam, but questions remained as to the imminence of the danger and whether war was the best or the only response to overcome it.Indeed these very questions are defining the current fierce and acrimonious debate,both at home and abroad,about the wisdom of going to war.

The international community shares,to varying degree, the US concern about Iraq's intent and capacity to develop weapons of mass destruction now presenting a magnified and ever more deadly and real threat with their likely nexus with terrorism.The United States may, therefore, be right in incorporating the battle against Saddam in the war on terrorism. But why has it failed to make a case? History guides us to an answer.

Yet again the world seems to have been divided in two armed camps--one led by the militant Islam and the other by Washington neo- conservatists .One is peddling a dangerously false and half-forgotten version of a great religion to dominate the Islamic world. And the other using its post Cold War monopoly of power to guarantee unchallenged assertion of its will on what is being seen as a menacing,unpredictable and disorderly new world,to ensure its economic and military strength as well as to widen the margin of safety of its genuinely frightened and angered citizens.

Ironically, the tragedy of September 11 has played into the hands of both the camps,one using it as a provocation and opportunity to seek public support for the conservative agenda ,a work already in progress,and the other exploiting the perceived excesses of the war on terrorism to similarly arouse an indignant Muslim world.An America initially wary of Washington's resurgent neo-conservativism and moral absolutism has been frightened by terrorism to cosy up to the Administration to seek protection and security.And the mainstream Islamic world that had found militant Islam an anethma is now terribly frightened and offended by this war on terrorism , and is edging closer to the extremists.

The war on terrorism is also bringing pro-West regimes in Islamic countries under severe internal strains,and particularly hurting the credibility of moderate and reformist intelligentsia there who had long waged a silent struggle to isolate militant forces.Now they themselves feel isolated and betrayed by Washington whose policies seem to be raising ,if not vindicating, the stature of radical Islamists as the only true nationalistic and patriotic force.

The policies of Washington hard liners have thus made them and the militant Islam each other's best friends.Each has given the other a good campaign issue in the name of which it can pursue its larger agenda,visible as well as invisible.But what is concealed is perhaps more revealing.

Washington hard liners are confident that the war against Iraq is winnable.The feeling is that victory will have silenced the critics and sceptics as the success will provide its own rationale and the end will justify the means.But what is the "end" going to be?If it is to defeat Saddam,he will probably be defeated without coming to battle.But there will still be military operations as US occupies Iraq, with as yet unspecified war aims that transcend or belie the stated objectives. Its uncertain,and possibly dangerous , consequences in Iraq and beyond in the Islamic world ,in the short and long term, should also count towards the "end"that has to justify the means.

The end would also include the undermining of confidence in international organizations specially institutions such as IAEA inspections and the UN Security Council even though France,China and Russia may acquiese at the end of the day to give a fig leaf support to the United States in the interest of saving the credibility of the UN system and their relations with Washington.

Also damaged in the process will be the established and acceptable principles governing the use of force tempting or prompting many regional powers in the future to go for pre-emptive strikes making for fresh instability in the world.One is already beginning to see its impact on the India -Pakistan tensions.

One may ridicule the Arab countries as failed societies,but let it be clear they are far from being clones of Taliban led Afghanistan or re-incarnation of post World War shattered Europe and Japan ,where a saviour can easily impose its will and fashion them in its own image.In their post colonial history many of these traditional societies have been in conflict within, in their search for national identities, political stability and way to successfully absorb modern liberal values,not an easy task in an environment where religion remains central to culture.Historically, the Islamic world has perceived,fairly or unfairly,the United States as having become a party to their internal conflict in the interest of advancing its oil interests and geo-strategic objectives, thus complicating the above search.And now comes the war on terrorism,that is being increasingly seen across the Islamic world as a war on Islam,fueling further anti-West sentiments.

America's anticipation ,therefore, of being received with open arms and confidence in reforming the Arab countries may be misplaced,because it is seen as part of the problem not the solution.Washington will be surprised to know that the liberal and moderate elements it may be banking on for support remain as wary of America,if not anti-American, as the traditional and the conservative.

War is a not a gamble.You do not play for so many vague, unintended and unforeseen cosequences,including another horrible incident like nine eleven, with a single irrevocable move.