The silence of the Liberal Indian Strategic Coterie on American Imperialism
An inexplicable trend even amongst the liberal Indian strategic affairs community, who have been (rightfully) vocal against the extreme anti-democratic politics at home, has been to ignore destructive American interventionism fuelling consistent chaos in the world. What is even more angering is that such American unilateralism, often directly aimed at India, slips by even the anti-right wing foreign affairs commentator, who has been leading the charge against China over its territorial assertiveness. Their criticism is on President Donald Trump personally, over his brazen white supremacy, but not of American unipolarism in general, whose notion of pre-eminence in global politics is uniform under Republicans and Democrats alike.
Ideally expected of the nationalist brigade to lash out at such slights, theoretically and historically they have known to collaborate with imperialist forces. Hedgewar’s RSS ( Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) colluded with the British, while Chiang Kai-shek’s Kuomintang (KMT) connived with marauding Imperial Japan in China. Nationalism is a misnomer. Thus the impassioned nationalist is not the target here, but his opponent, the liberal, and specifically the retired diplomat and military Veteran whose definition of “destabilising”, “bullish” and “thuggery” fly in the face of what those terms really mean.
While many of them call out the rabid xenophobia under the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), it is their takes on the current international issues that quite frankly betray their liberalism at home. The Chinese pattern of also similarly asserting its territorial disputes in the South China Sea (SCS) has now generated solidarity and galvanized the entire population into a virulent Sinophobia, puzzling observers as to why Xi Jinping would push India further into the US’s arms, killing his own goal of Eurasian unity.
Clearly, a part of the New Cold War with the US, its goal is to not to actually fight a war but bust PM Narendra Modi’s strongman image; militarily express its August 2019 objection over the creation of Ladakh into a union territory; signal its reservations on the growing Indo-US convergence on South Asian affairs and Coronavirus diplomacy that China sees as an exploitation of its vulnerabilities, and most importantly demonstrate to the US it can mobilise for a war on both its Western Pacific and South Western Himalayan fronts and has the economy to afford it even in these times.
A former Indian diplomat or a senior retired military man doesn’t find “bullish” and “destabilising” America’s 2003 invasion of Iraq, which eventually did not find any of the Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs) the George Bush administration said Saddam Hussein possessed, yet the motherless bombing killing at least 1 lakh innocent Iraqis in the first month. What spiralled the entire region into utter chaos, finally led to the birth of the Islamic State, when the US disbanded the Iraqi Army eleven years later, plunging the region into another crisis. Hapless civilians were also, quite literally, incinerated when the US dropped ‘Napalm’ (or firebombs) on Vietnamese villages in a bid to flush out the Viet Cong. Both Iraq and Vietnam also saw war crimes by the US soldiers, with the former recording the Abu Ghraib prison torture of prisoners by American troops, and the latter witnessing the My Lai massacre on March 16, 1968.
The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria ( ISIS) itself benefited when American air raids targeted the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) after the United States (US) intervened in the country’s civil war to oust President Bashar al-Assad. The US also armed the rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA), itself linked with Al Qaeda affiliates like the Al-Nusra Front (ANF) and the Jabat Al-Nusra. That the alleged Douma chemical attack of April 7, 2018, by the Assad regime on its people, which the US cited as a reason to begin bombing him, has now been claimed to have been staged by former Director-General of the Organization of Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) Jose Bustani, is another story.
A result of the anti-Shia and anti-Iran alliance between Israel, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates (UAE) and the US, the primacy of containing Assad and Iran also led to ANF fighters being medically treated by the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) in the Golan Heights and sent back into Syria, according to a Wall Street Journal (WSJ) report in 2015. The resulting quagmire was a three-way fight between the rebel FSA and the Syrian Army, the Syrian Army and the ISIS and the FSA and the ISIS itself. Naturally, US’s priorities in the region also reflected in the bulk of the fighting against the ISIS being done by the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) – which was being bombed by the US – and the Kurds, a US ally.
However, Donald Trump’s sudden withdrawal from Syria in October 2019 also left the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and the People’s Protection Units (YPG) – hailed by US officials for their determined push-back against the ISIS (Daesh) – to being attacked by Turkey in northern and northwestern Syria. Turkey considers the Kurds and YPG as terrorists, for their links to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) which has led a long-running insurgency in southern Turkey. This eventually led to the ISIS prisoners the Kurds were holding running free. The former commander of the Central Command, General Joseph Votel called the act “dishonourable (toward the) SDF who were absolutely essential to our success in Syria.”
As for Iran, its present iteration is again a result of American and British colonial meddling. The two countries first overthrew the secular, progressive Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh in August 1953 in a coup after he had nationalised British oil companies. Installing the monarch Mohammed Reza Shah Pahlavi, came even more costly as his lavish lifestyle over the widespread economic inequality and westernization of the deeply religious society led to the 1979 Iranian Revolution by the clergy-led democratic theocracy which has lasted till date. Present-day, President Donald Trump’s “maximum pressure” policy imposes debilitating economic sanctions on Iran even in these pandemic times.
This was after Trump unilaterally withdrew from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA or the Iran Nuclear Deal) of 2015 in May 2018, despite no evidence of Iran violating its nuclear enrichment conditions. On January 3, 2020, the US assassination of Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps’ (IRGC) Quds Force nearly triggered a war and was widely condemned by internationally. Presently, the US is trying to invite ‘snapback’ sanctions on Iran, which includes re-imposing the extreme and stringent United Nations (UN) restrictions that were in place before the 2015 deal was signed.
In Afghanistan, Washington roped in Pakistan to support the Mujahideen to topple the secular Afghan, and then repurpose them against the Soviet intervention in 1979. The Central Intelligence Agency’s CIA’s lionizing the ‘Jihad’ against the Soviets by the CIA laid the foundations for the extremist groups like the Taliban and the Al Qaeda, and a space for the radical Wahhabi sect of Sunni Islam that the groups followed.
The creations turned on their masters with the 9/11 World Trade Center attacks, with the US entering Afghanistan to kill their own Frankenstein. The 18-year-long war did anything but fracturing the Taliban who had stepped up violence in the run-up to the deal with the US in February 2020 and is now unleashing attacks before the Ashraf Ghani government as a bargaining tool in the ongoing Intra-Afghan Talks.
That the talks with the US, led by its Special Envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, did not include the elected Afghan government, showed how the desperate Trump administration was to deliver his electoral promise of bringing back American troops. A retired Indian Lieutenant General, who has held four tenures in Kashmir, says the US “merely acted in its national interest” and that its decisions that caused the resultant instability in the Af-Pak region were not “aimed at India” with the onus of securing our interests being “on us.”
Any political upheaval in Af-Pak has a direct consequence for India. Thus, if General Zia Ul-Haq, who institutionalised the extremist theology in Pakistan was propped up by the US for the Afghan Jihad, laying the foundation of the anti-India terror groups, its hard not to blame the US for harming India’s interests. America’s “entitled imperialism” in “creating new realities” is resented by Davood Moradian, Director of the Afghan Institute of Strategic Studies (AISS) in an article in the Indian Express on June 27, as he quotes a brazen justification of American actions by Republican strategist Karl Rove. “We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality, we’ll act again, creating other new realities, and that’s how things will sort out,” Rove says.
Its tirade against non-state extremist terror emanating from Pakistan was also short-lived as it softened its anti-terror stance in the run-up to the negotiations with the Taliban. Sales of F-16s that had been suspended by the Congress and a training programme for Pakistan Army officers were promptly resumed as it needed Pakistan to deliver the Taliban to the negotiating table.
If actions directed and aimed at India is the metric, then the American support to Pakistan in the 1971 Indo-Pak war whose murderous army had unleashed a pogrom on the protesting Bangladeshis in East Pakistan, makes the cut. President Richard Nixon and his Secretary of State Henry Kissinger also sent the Seventh Fleet led by the USS Enterprise aircraft carrier to attack India on its eastern coast. England too sent its Carrier Battle Group led by the HMS Eagle to this end. It was the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) that came to our rescue when its navy stood before the American and British flotilla before they entered the Bay of Bengal.
That the two of the world’s oldest democracies ventured to attack the world’s biggest democracy to back a country (Pakistan) that had committed the second biggest genocide after the Holocaust in a war considered India’s pivotal moment, is lost on India’s strategic leadership. The silence of the American leadership on the horrendous atrocities on the Bangladeshis led to the now-famous ‘Blood Telegram’, a dissent memo sent by the US Consul General in Dhaka to his government.
The Chabahar fiasco is a classic example of the Indian strategic community’s quixotic blindness towards Western imperial machinations. If officially aimed at accessing Central Asia, the importance of the region for influence through trade for the Indian leadership is implicit. But that it was western powers who are invested in a divided South and Central Asia is lost. It was self-styled US sanctions on Iran that prevented India from proceeding with the work in Chabahar port and led to Iran finally dropping India from the project in mid-July. The complete acquiescence to US sensitivities was seen in India’s careful reaction to Soleimani’s assassination, where it avoided naming the aggressor (the US) and did not condemn the act. It merely calling for preventing escalation, while most countries were unambiguously critical of the US.
And seventy-three years ago, an elaborate plan to integrate with Iran and Afghanistan would not have been required as they were India’s bordering neighbours before the British Empire divided the subcontinent. Tacitly supporting communal groups that advocated the Two-Nation Theory and effecting the Partition, England achieved its goal of keeping the communist Soviet Union away from India’s borders, according to the book ‘Kashmir’s Untold Story – Declassified’ by Iqbal Chand Malhotra and Maroof Raza. “It examines the role of Major Onkar Singh Kalkat posted at the Bannu Brigade and also looks at Operation Datta Khel, the coupled by British Army officers Captain William Brown and Colonel Roger Bacon against the then Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir that led to the delivery of Gilgit to Pakistan,” said a review of the book in the Hindustan Times.
Present-day, the Trump administration continues slighting while simultaneously scaling up the military-strategic alliance against China. On April 7 this year, he threatened India with “retaliation” if the latter refused to sell the anti-viral hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) drug, even after the rousing welcome at ‘Namaste Trump’ in February. Before the two-day visit on February 24-25, the US Trade Representative had classified India as a ‘developed country’ from a ‘developing country’, to disallow preferential treatment of Indian products in American tariffs and duties. Prior to that in June 2019, the US Department of Commerce had struck India off the Generalised System of Preferences (GSP) list that allows duty-free entry of Indian exports into the US.
Even at the height of the pandemic, the US State Department approved the sale of AGM-84 Harpoon Block II Anti-Ship Missiles to India, consistent with its perennial war-like state that will certainly not be without the influence of its private arms makers. The Indian strategic community does not find it “destabilising” when the US has been pulling out of multiple alliances (North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), Trans-Atlantic Partnership) and agreements meant to control arms races and nuclear build-ups (Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), New START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty), Iran Nuclear Deal, Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF Treaty), Open Skies Treaty) in an increasingly isolationist avatar.
It is not that the Indian strategic community is unaware of this history. The failure to actively lambast with the eagerness shown towards China, despite overwhelming evidence of the global devastation by America means only one thing – that before the Middle Kingdom, even the most strident liberal turns a nationalist.
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