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Mainstream, Vol. XLIX, No 14, March 26, 2011

Mad Dog on Rampage

Monday 28 March 2011, by Nikhil Chakravartty

FROM N.C.’S WRITINGS

[In the wake of the airstrikes by the US, UK and France on Gaddafi’s Libya, one is reminded of the bombing of Libya, led by the same leader, that the US under Ronald Reagan carried out in April 1986, that is, twentyfive years ago. That is precisely why we are reproducing here one of N.C.’s editorials written at that time. Even though the conditions under which that bombing took place are vastly different from the situation prevailing today, the contents of the editorial retain their validity on the whole.]

The position that the President of the United States of America holds in the affairs of the world carries with it a modicum of dignity and a certain degree of responsibility. It is amazing that the present occupant of that high office has recently demonstrated that he possesses neither. Leaders of nations sometimes indulge in bitter polemics and hurl harsh words at each other, but none of them has called another head of a state a mad dog. Not, at least since Adolf Hitler. But that’s what President Reagan has called President Gaddafi of Libya—an ostentatious display of vulgarity which shocked the world.

But this indecency—diplomatic indecency—on the part of the vaunted leader of the “Free World” was surpassed by his deeds a few days later, on April 15, when the US bombed a number of places in Libya in total defiance of all codes of civilised society, not to speak of international law. President Reagan did not care to put on a fig-leaf in committing this aggression, for he could trot out no justification in defence of his misdeed. In the eyes of the world, this barbaric action has earned for President Reagan himself the epithet of a mad dog.

The US Administration was making feverish preparations for this blitz attack under cover of a so-called campaign against international terrorism, in which it tried to single out President Gaddafi as the evil organiser of the recent acts of terrorism. The bomb blast in a West Berlin night club in which one American lost his life along with others as also the bomb outrage in an aircraft flying between Rome and Athens were held up by Reagan’s special emisery, Gen Walters, as proof of a Gaddafi conspiracy. But Walters could convince none of the governments in West Europe about Libyan complicity in these bomb incidents—not even the governments in whose territory these two violent incidents had taken place.

This however did not deter Reagan from ordering the bombing or claiming, as he did after the attack, about his having evidence which is “direct”, “precise” and “irrefutable,” regarding Gaddafi’s complicity. Unfortunately for Reagan, this so-called “evidence” left Reagan’s European allies cold and embarrassed. So much so that barring his lapdog, the Thatcher Government in Britain, none of the West European powers stood by him, and two of his NATO allies—France and Spain—did not permit overflight by US war-planes, showing up a rift without precedent in the Western Alliance.

This blatant show of force by the US Adminis-tration has demonstrated its weakness more than its strength. Never has the USA been so isolated in the comity of nations. The Arab nations, the Nonaligned Movement, China—not to speak of the Soviet Union and its allies—have come out denouncing Reagan’s banditry in Libya, while his NATO allies have refused to rally behind him. No US President has left his country in such shivering cold—bereft of support excepting Britain and Canada and of course Israel and may be South Africa. By his Hitlerite arrogance (“If necessary, we will do it again”), Reagan has invested Gaddafi with a measure of respectability which the Libyan leader did not enjoy before.

It is doubtful if President Reagan personally has any comprehension of the consequences of his Big Bully politics. One is tempted to quote what his former Budget Director, David Stockman, had to say about him: “Reagan’s body of knowledge is primarily impressionistic. He registers anecdotes rather than concepts. Reagan has a mind like a trench—narrow but deep. The President might be getting a little senile.” This senility is good neither for the well-being of the United States nor for the peace of the world.

India’s response to Reagan’s primitive troglodyte approach to international politics has been along expected lines. At the time of the previous US attack on Libya (March 24-25), New Delhi’s initial reaction was rather muffled, but at New York, as the Chairman of the Nonaligned Bureau, India fell in line with the sentiments of the Nonaligned member-states when they denounced the US action as an act of aggression. This time, the very first statement by India’s External Affairs Minister in Parliament (April 15) “unequivocally condemned” the US action as being “in total disregard of international law and constitutes nothing less than a clear act of aggression” and found it “reprehensible that a Permanent Member of the Security Council having a primary responsibility for the mainte-nance of international peace and security has taken law into its own hands and resorted to measures contrary to all norms of international conduct and the principles of the UN Charter.” Perhaps no other incident since World War II has evoked such strong condemnation from the government of this country. In contrast, Rajiv Gandhi’s statement on the same day was surprisingly milder—“profoundly shocked and strongly deplore”—while extending “firm support and solidarity to Libya in this critical hour”. The same evening, India took the initiative in calling an emergency meeting of the Ministers and heads of delegations gathered for the Nonaligned Coordinating Bureau, where the US was denounced for “this dastardly, blatant and unprovoked act of aggression against a fellow Nonaligned country”. Next day, inaugurating the meeting of the Coordinating Bureau itself, Rajiv Gandhi condemned the US attack and extended “full support and sympathy” to Libya.

While this forthright stand against the US aggression correctly reflects the feelings in the country as also throughout the Nonaligned world, what seems to be still lacking is an effort at understanding the totality of the US policy. The draft before the Nonaligned Bureau meeting had to demarcate between the Soviet stand for nuclear disarmament as also its readiness to stop nuclear weapons test, and the US stand disagreeing with this objective. The Non-aligned draft has also had to criticise the US ‘Star Wars’ programme. The US refusal to join a UN-sponsored Conference on Disarmament and Development, scheduled for July in Paris, brings out the same bellicose outlook on the part of Washington. Along with Britain, it has also opposed the convening of a world disarmament conference under the aegis of the UN General Assembly.

In fact, the mood of the Reagan Administration is patently hostile to the entire United Nations system. Its walk-out of the UNESCO, faithfully followed last year by Britain; its attempt at undermining the UNCTAD; its growing objections to meet its financial obligations to the UN—to which Foreign Minister Bhagat made a reference in his inaugural speech at the NAM Bureau meeting here—all these bring out the imprimatur of the Heritage Foundation on the Reagan Administration. This Foundation has now come to be widely known as the guiding force behind Reagan’s White House; it can be regarded as the ideological store-house with plenty of operational outlet for America’s unalloyed Extreme Right. One of its crusading targets is the United Nations and its campaign material blatantly talks about the good things that would come when the world would be without the UN.

It is the same motivation that stands in the way of the US authorities selling a super-computer to India. President Reagan’s science Adviser, Dr John P. McTague, visiting New Delhi this week has held out the receding prospect of India getting the super-computer, so lavishly talked about last year. Ironically, Dr McTague is on an inspection tour to review the progress of Indo-US cooperation in the field of science and technology. He was, however, good enough to candidly volunteer Washington’s opposition to reserve a portion of the seabed resources for the developing countries, the basic reason behind the US refusal to sign the Law of the Sea Treaty.

While New Delhi certainly reacts to the fast-changing events in which the grotesque face of the Reagan Administration is dificult to miss, a perspective approach to foreign policy is yet to come, and without such an approach, ad-hocism replaces any policy planning. This could be seen very clearly in New Delhi’s recent dealing with two countries.

Red carpet was laid out for the Turkish Prime Minister, Turgut Ozal, who was in India earlier in the month, and in the excitement of the visit, the Congress’ support for Turkish independence was recalled, though actually Kemal Ataturk’s stand was just the contrary of the NATO allegiance of the post-war rulers of Turkey. In our enthusiasm at getting Premier Ozal to advise us on privatisation of the economy, we almost seemed to forget that the present regime in Turkey has been the recipient of an extra dose of US aid for obvious strategic reasons, in contrast to the growing strain of the US’ relations with Greece under Papandreou, one of the leaders of the Six-Nation-Five Continent peace initiative. Was there any exercise at our end how far this tilt towards Turkey would have its repercussions on friendly Greece? The theory was sought to be made out that by winning over Turkey, it would be possible to neutralise Turkish support for Islamabad in any contingency of Indo-Pak tension. This illusion is not difficult to remove as Premier Ozal himself has disclosed that General Zia himself commended him to cultivate Rajiv Gandhi’s friendship, an approach which Washington has all the reason to back as a means to draw Rajiv’s India under Reaganite overlordship of the region. One has to weigh carefully how far this Turkish Delight is going to be wholesome for India’s independence and commitment to self-reliance.

A little earlier, New Delhi entertained British Foreign Secretary Sir Geoffrey Howe, the gentleman who has with aggressive loyalty provided all the facilities to US fighter aircraft to take off from British bases to combat international terrorism by the terror-bombing of Libya. But the same Howe was not prepared in New Delhi to give tangible assurances not to harbour Khalistani terrorism in Britain. On our part, there was no dearth of generosity as we have readily purchased the Westland helicopters, by no means a super product, and the semi-junk World War II vintage aircraft-carrier, Hermes, as part of our very special relationship with Britain. Somehow, our establishment is not reconciled to the fact that to be the brightest jewel in the British Crown ceased to be an item of national pride fifty years ago. Col Blimp’s successors right upto Maggie Thatcher know how to exploit this Raj complex in our genes.

To think and act independently require as much vigilance as to be independent.

(Mainstream, April 19, 1986)

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