Thursday, February 08, 2007

What the Winter has wrought
-- Rajeev Srinivasan

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, George Dubya Bush has just made a rather subdued State of the Union address. He has reason to be restrained, as the new Democratic majority in Congress is in no mood to give him an inch, especially now that several of their own have stepped into the ring for the 2008 elections.

Many Indians have a knee-jerk preference for the Democrats, but I can guarantee that Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Hussein Obama aren't exactly lying awake nights figuring out how to work with India.

Bush has more immediate problems, however. The blunder in Iraq has presented him with a miserable Hobson's Choice: He's damned if he pulls out, and damned if he doesn't. Bush really doesn't have any good strategic options, but it is clear the tactical option he has chosen, the 'surge' of adding new troops to those already in Iraq, is pretty much the only thing he could possibly pursue.

The Iraq invasion wasn't a brilliant idea in the first place, but I thought it was on balance a good thing because it opened up another front against Mohammedan fanaticism. But I admit I did not expect the Americans to get bogged down so comprehensively: Iraq is a tar baby, a Himalayan blunder.

The reason why Bush cannot afford to pull out is that it would give an immense psychological boost to the Mohammedan fundamentalist: he can claim, with truth, that he defeated both the Soviets and the Americans. Thus having dispatched both superpowers, triumphalist fundamentalists will believe that world domination (promised to them) is in sight. They will get bolder in their terrorism and other acts to bring about the Millennium, as it were. This is bad news for America, and everyone else.

Having badly miscalculated the magnitude of opposition to their occupation, the Americans now have to go to Plan B. The original Plan A, I suppose, was to quickly subdue the stray elements of the Ba'ath party, put in place a government of national reconciliation with due representation for Kurds, Shias and Sunnis, and move out gracefully to wild applause from all bystanders.

The reality, as we know, is different: sectarian violence, an ungovernable population, increasing American casualties, complete chaos. And an Iran that seems to be going from strength to strength via its Shiite allies in Iraq and the region (Hezbollah in Lebanon).

Therefore Plan B may well be as follows: do a balancing act by getting the Shiites and Sunnis to checkmate each other. There is some evidence that this is working. The two sects have begun indulging in mass reprisals against each other, and each has out-of-control militias running around. Intriguingly, a new fatwa by a top Saudi scholar declares Shiites to be infidels, worse than Jews and Christians, link thanks to reader Shahryar.

Thus, if the Arab Street can be manipulated into all-out Sunni-Shia fratricide, America would escape being Number One on the hit list of the most violent Mohammedan fundamentalists. This may well be the best Americans can hope for. It would achieve several things at once: reduce Iran's (Shiite) growing influence over Arab (mostly Sunni) populations, cause extensive bloodletting (Shiites are numerical minorities in most Mohammedan nations, and vulnerable), and help Saudis to retain their primacy over Iran.

The other aspects of Bush's speech were overshadowed by Iraq, but there is a welcome proposal to accelerate the search for alternative energy technologies, to reduce dependence on foreign (read Arab) oil, and to reduce emissions. He called for an attempt to reduce oil consumption by 20 per cent in 10 years. There is a rising tide of support for alternative fuels -- as seen in the spirited debate over Proposition 87 in California and in the increased investment by venture capitals in these areas (including by India's own, rock-star VC Vinod Khosla) -- which in the long run will help India's interests as well.

A chastened Bush, alternative energy on the horizon, some attempts to control sky-rocketing health-care costs in the US; and a semi-successful effort to rein in rampaging Marxists in India: not bad for a Winter's tale.

Interestingly, in contrast to the Marxist's travails, the much-reviled Narendra Modi has succeeded in getting industrialists to commit enormous amounts to developing ports and SEZs (no farmers involved, as the coastal land is mostly marginal and saline) through the Vibrant Gujarat initiative. See the excellent article in The Pioneer by Ashok Malik, India's China, link thanks to readers Kapidhwaja, Abhiha and habc.

It is worth remembering that Bharuch in Gujarat and Muziris in Kerala were the greatest ports on the west coast in classical times. Alas, in Kerala these days, it is Marxist rule again, and their friends the Mohammedans are running amok. Hindus are being killed, and hate posters are being put up all over Mohammedan-dominated Malappuram district, (5 injured in fresh attacks in Malappuram and NDF seeks ban on Modi). Why? Because Narendra Modi has been invited by a Hindu organisation to give a speech in Trivandrum.

This is a stark reminder, along with endemic abuse of Hindu rights all over the world (riots in Bangalore, the silence by the government over temple demolition and religious persecution in Malaysia and Central Asia, the astonishing fatwas by UPA bigwigs to give preferential claims on national resources to non-Hindus, the move to outlaw the swastika in Europe) that there is still a long way to go towards fairness and equity. That promised Spring is indeed far off.

The Aravindan film Uttarayanam ends with the protagonist consigning his mask to the flames: India too needs to stop pretending it's something other than what it really is. 'This above all, to thine own self be true.' Only then will its native genius allow it to reach for the stars, once again.

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