Manish Tewari | Partisan politics shouldn't guide diplomatic agenda

Recent Moves Stir Tensions with Sri Lanka, Echoing Past Instances of Political Maneuvering

There are numerous examples around the world where leaders have found it expedient to use diplomatic and national security issues for partisan political purposes. More often than not the consequences are disastrous.

The classical example is the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 where domestic and ideological imperatives of the US & USSR, respectively, almost brought the world to the brink of a nuclear Armageddon.

President John F. Kennedy’s campaign for the United States presidential elections of 1960 underscored closing the “missile gap” of offensive nuclear weapons qua the Soviet Union. A majority of the Americans then believed that the Soviet Union had a larger arsenal of nuclear weapons than the United States. This had become a major domestic political question.

On the other hand, Nikita Khrushchev, general secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) and President of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republic, was a staunch Marxist-Leninist party apparatchik. Khrushchev and the CPSU ideologues were energised when a Marxist-Leninist revolution seized power in Cuba. Khrushchev was convinced that the failed 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion, in which US-backed exiles attempted to topple the “Communist paradise” in the Caribbean would surely be repeated and would stymie the spread of Marxism-Leninism to Latin and South America. His reasons for deploying the missiles to Cuba were, therefore, ideological and quasi-domestic given the commitment of the Soviet Union to the global spread of Communism. It was not to close the Missile Gap.

What followed were the most terrifying 12 days that brought the world too the brink of a nuclear apocalypse.

The most classical example of domestic imperiousness ideology driven foreign policy intervention of our times is the bogey of nuclear weapons that the United States of America used as an excuse to invade attack in 2003. The plan to topple the regime of Saddam Hussain by no means a paragon of virtue was conceived even before the Bush-43 administration assumed office in the January of 2001.

Much before George W. Bush entered the White House, and aeons before the September 11 attacks set the direction of his presidency, a group of influential neo-conservatives colloquially called the Vulcans who were Candidate Bush’s foreign policy advisers machinated to get Iraq rid of Saddam Hussain.

The Vulcans were proceeded by the Project for the New American Century, or (PNAC). Founded in 1997 it counted among its patrons three former Republican administration veterans, namely Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney and Paul Wolfowitz who were in hibernation during the Clinton Presidency.

In a set of recommendations just before the 2000 election that would bring George W. Bush to power, the group predicted that the shift towards a more assertive policy to oust Saddam Hussain would come about slowly, unless there were “some catastrophic and catalysing event, like a new Pearl Harbour”. That event happened on September 11, 2001. By that time, Dick Cheney was Vice-President, Donald Rumsfeld was secretary of defence, and Paul Wolfowitz his deputy at the Pentagon.

The morning after — before it could be ascertained who was responsible for 9/11 — Donald Rumsfeld contended at a Cabinet meeting that Saddam's Iraq should be “a principal target” according to Bob Woodward's book Bush at War.

What started as a philosophy in 1997 became official US policy in 2001 to decapitate the Saddam Hussain regime.

Twenty-three years after the al-Qaida attack of September 11, 2001, the United States is still involved in a war in Iraq that it started for all the wrong reasons. President George W. Bush was morbidly obsessed with the Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussain and deliberately misled the American people about who was responsible for the 9/11 attack.

In an article published on the Brookings website entitled “9/11 and Iraq: The Making of a Tragedy”, Bruce Riedel who was on the staff of the United States National Security Council had this to say. “On September 14, I was with Bush when he had his first phone call after 9/11 with British Prime Minister Tony Blair. Bush immediately said he was planning to ‘hit’ Iraq soon. Blair was audibly taken aback. He pressed Bush for evidence of Iraq’s connection to the 9/11 attack and to al-Qaida. Of course, there was none, which British intelligence knew. On September 18, a week after 9/11, Saudi Ambassador Prince Bandar bin Sultan came to the White House to see Bush. The meeting took place on the Truman Balcony. Vice-President Richard Cheney and Rice were there as well. My note says the President ‘clearly thinks Iraq must be behind this. His questions to Bandar show his bias’.” Bandar was visibly perplexed. He told Bush that the Saudis had no evidence of any collaboration between Osama bin Laden and Iraq. Indeed their history was of being antagonists.

Afterward, Bandar told me privately that the Saudis were very worried about where Bush’s obsession with Iraq was going. The Saudis were alarmed that attacking Iraq would only benefit Iran and set in motion severe destabilising repercussions across the region. The Saudis pressed Bush to come out publicly in support of a Palestinian state as he had privately promised Crown Prince Abdullah Al Saud.

On September 28, Bush received Jordan’s King Abdullah. The king pressed the President to take action to restart Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. He argued that the Palestinian conflict was the driving force behind al-Qaida’s popularity and legitimacy. But the President was focused on Iraq. The United States did go to war with Iraq soon enough. The Bush administration was eager to mobilise the anguish of the 9/11 attack to support the war. Despite the intelligence community’s unequivocal conclusion that Iraq had nothing to do with either 9/11 or al-Qaida, the administration let Americans believe the contrary.

It is, therefore, extremely unwise to create diplomatic or national security crises and use them for domestic political gain.

The NDA/BJP government has done something exactly similar by raising the Kachchatheevu issue unnecessarily for domestic political purposes, thereby, creating an unnecessary flash point with Sri Lanka. This is not to conflate that the Kachchatheevu issue with the extreme portentousness of the earlier two examples. However, this is not the first time the government has done it. The 2015 blockade of Nepal by the current government had similar domestic political overtones.

Next Story