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Bloodied Berlusconi, WMD and the Iraq Inquiry

December 14, 2009

Silvio Berlusconi, the Italian prime minister was attacked by a bystander when he was greeting people in Milan. The suddenness and the ferocity of the attack took his security men by surprise. A bloodied Berlusconi was bundled into a car with blood splattered face. The man insisted on coming out again from the car and show to the people and the press there as to what had happened to him. He was then driven off to the hospital, where it was reported that he has a fractured nose and has lost two teeth. This is the first time that a leader of a western nation has been attacked like this. There is a sense of shock in the western world. The 42 year old Italian man who attacked Berlusconi has been taken into custody and initial reports say that the man has a history of mental illness. That the attacker was mentally ill should not be a source of consolation for the security set up of western nations nor can this be taken as a one-off case. Remember, President Bush was also attacked by an Iraqi in the now famous shoe throwing incident.

This video image made available by RAI TG3 shows Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi after an attacker hurled a statuette at Berlusconi striking the leader in the face at the end of a rally in Milan, Italy on Sunday Dec. 13, 2009 leaving the 73-year-old media mogul with a bloodied mouth and looking stunned.

Silvio Berlusconi  after the attack

There is a lesson in this for all of us. The western world and other democratic countries take our leaders for granted. We lampoon them, we ridicule them and we love to run them down. That we have a right to criticize our leaders is a given. In democracy the right to free speech is a fundamental right and we love to exercise this right, as indeed we should. But sometimes in the process we tend to go overboard. The leaders of democratic nations learn to take criticism in their stride and many of them actually encourage such constant dialogue between the administration and the media and intellectuals from the society. Many a times we tend to criticize our leaders looking at the ‘facts’ that are before us. It goes without saying that those in power are privy to much more information than what the public has. The ‘facts’ as we see are generally not the whole story and because of reasons of national security those in power can divulge only so much and no more. The media goes hammer and tongs criticizing every decision made by those in power. The leaders have no option but to grin and bear many a times.

I am not saying that there should be a blanket ban on criticism of those in power. What I object to is the circus that we make in the name of criticism of our leaders and how we reduce them to a shadow of themselves by the constant badgering. It is the democratic countries that are maintaining sanity in this world and it therefore becomes incumbent on the free world to tred carefully lest we end up shooting ourselves in the foot. Here in India we did that to our leaders. Two of them lost their lives because of the misrepresentation by the media and the misperception created about these leaders. The Gandhi family was neither anti-Sikh nor anti-Tamils. Yet, because Indira Gandhi ordered forces to clear the Golden Temple of the ultras was construed in the media as an anti-Sikh posture by the Gandhi family. The lady was blissfully unaware of the threat to her life and never thought that any Sikh would ever harm her. She was unaware as to how the media had played up the whole thing. I am also not convinced that Rajiv Gandhi ordered the murder of thousands of Sikhs in the aftermath of Indira Gandhi’s death. That Sardar Manmohan Singh was made the prime minister by the widow of Rajiv Gandhi is a testimony to the fact that the Gandhi’s bore no ill-will against the Sikhs. Rajiv Gandhi’s murderers were  Tamils who saw in him a monster who had sent forces to northern Sri Lanka to clean up the Tigers. What the media failed to point out was that India wanted peace in the region and this was not an anti-Tamil operation – after all India boasts of a separate state of Tamil Nadu and Tamils have contributed so wholesomely in the development of the nation. India without Tamils is unthinkable, then how can the prime minister of India be anti-Tamil. But a perception was created and we lost a genuinely good person who may been a hugely successful prime minster after the elections which were due, when he was murdered.

In the west they have run-down most leaders including George Bush and Tony Blair. This is not an attempt to justify the Iraq invasion. But I was much surprised when I heard that there was an Iraq Inquiry instituted to look into the reasons for going to war and the subsequent events. In fact the Iraq Inquiry in Britain is looking at events from 2001 to 2009. The BBC has reported about this Inquiry as follows:

The Iraq Inquiry, headed by Sir John Chilcot is looking at events between 2001 and 2009, covering the decision to go to war, whether troops were properly prepared, how the conflict was conducted and what planning there was for its aftermath. Ministers say the terms of reference are unprecedented in their breadth and the inquiry will be free to apportion blame where it sees fit. But the opposition is unhappy the inquiry has taken so long to begin and that Parliament has had no say in its remit. It also wants more involvement from military figures and people with aid and reconstruction experience. 179 British service personnel were killed in Iraq between 2003 and 2009. Tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians died over the period, though estimates vary considerably.

As said earlier, I have always been vehemently against the Iraq war. I have always maintained that the war was illegal and unjust and that the west had no right to go into Iraq and manage a regime change. I think that this whole concept of painting Saddam as a devil-incarnate was the fertile imagination of the west because the few thousand Iraqi’s that he killed over the decades was nothing compared to the hundreds of thousand Iraqi’s killed by the allied forces in these few years. The Iraq war was a mistake of the west and such mistakes should not recur. The way Saddam Hussein was treated and his family members including his sons were murdered was not something that the west can be proud of. It is only once the west withdraws completely that they will understand as to what a big mistake it was for the west to dislodge Saddam Hussein.

I think that the Iraq Inquiry is an effort at keeping up that famous British sense of fairness that flummoxes many. This is not an inquiry – this is a circus. What are they trying to prove? The facts are there for all to see. Did 10 Downing Street go to Iraq unilaterally? This was a bilateral decision between the US and Britain. How can this inquiry be fair and all encompassing if it fails to look at the American angle of the whole sequence of events? Does this inquiry have the jurisdiction to summon the American players in this sordid attack on a hapless people? How can an inquiry that is headed not by a judge but by a retired bureaucrat come to any conclusive proof? And why is the inquiry limiting itself to the period from 2001 – 2009? The western posture vis-à-vis Iraq was consistent since the early 1990’s. Debilitating sanctions were imposed on Iraq by the international community initiated by the USA and actively supported by Britain and the rest of the world. Thousands of Iraqi’s died because they could not get basic medicines and things of daily use because of the sanctions. Were these international sanctions any less of a crime against a people? Why were these sanctions thrown at a people who were not an enemy of the west? The fact is that the west supported Iraq in its war against Iran. The American president Bill Clinton ordered bombing of Baghdad during his tenure. These attacks were not sanctioned by the Security Council and were wholly illegal. Must we not take into account these ferocious attacks on a people who could not even retaliate? The Iraq story is a long drawn one and cannot be condensed into a period of a few years. It must be looked into in totality. Obviously the British are in no mood to look at the Iraq war in its entirety. There is an anti-Tony Blair sentiment in the UK and that mirrors in this ridiculous Iraq Inquiry. ‘Crucify the man’ cry ye in unison!!! Tony Blair was just being honest when he said that he would have gone ahead and ensured a regime change regardless of whether Saddam had WMD’s or not. The reasons for the Iraq war were way too compelling for Blair or Bush not to do what they had to do. The reason was that they had to have the ‘strategic resource’ (read oil) that they said cannot be denied to the west. The war was set in stone. Bush and Blair only carried it out as best as they could. Had there been any other president or prime minister (including Nobel laureate Barak Obama and His Holiness Gordon Brown) they would have done exactly the same as Bush and Blair did. For that matter how much has Obama deviated from the Bush doctrine except increasing troop levels in Afghanistan. They have still not withdrawn completely from Iraq and my hunch is that it will take the US longer than they anticipate to exit completely from Iraq. The bad news for the west is that the west may not be able to lay their hands on the one ‘strategic resource’ that they went into Iraq in the first place – because it is clear that there is going to be complete chaos once the west withdraws completely from Iraq.

The Iraq Inquiry may be an attempt at making sure that the highest in office know that they can be called up to explain their decisions but this gives a very wrong impression to the rest of the world. People see in Bush and Blair men with no conscience and with a convoluted sense of justice. To put it straight – they see them as villains. A silly inquiry like the one instituted by the British only tends to give the leadership a bad name. And then when the leaders of western nations are attacked we wonder as to what has become of this world. Democracy with all its limitations is still the best bet for mankind. It is the democratic free world that has given us so much and that is so different from the hell that is the alternative system. It is the democratic, free world that has induced the kind of growth and welfare that is unprecedented in history of human kind. While those in power must be made to account for their actions, there is also a need for the free world not to crucify our leaders in the name of accountability. Here the press and the media need to be more responsible. We must make sure that our leaders are given some space to maneuver. My hunch is that Tony Blair turned Catholic out of compulsion and not out of faith. The man knew he would be hounded and therefore he turned to the Church for succor. The Iraq Inquiry must be folded up forthwith and we must let history judge our leaders who have tried their best in some very difficult situations. Would Margaret Thatcher have faced an inquiry had Britain lost the Falkland war? Looking at these developments I am forced to believe that perhaps she would have.

The free world must avoid painting our leaders in colors that are not complimentary. Bush and Berlusconi have been targeted. Soon a situation will come when no world leader will be able to make public appearances and meet people face to face. I know that the Italian prime minister has a very colorful life but that does not give license to anyone to physically hurt the man. The media is as much to be blamed for these attacks as those who have carried them out. We are no saints and we cannot expect our leaders to be saints either.

Addendum: Those conducting the Iraq Inquiry (and that includes one lady of Indian origin, Baroness Prasher) I am sure must be aware of the huge success the Iraq operations were for the British. The British were based in the south, in and around Basra and they managed their area of operation so well that after a time the Americans wanted to know as to what they were doing differently that they had so few casualties. The British forces lost only 179 personnel while the Americans lost more than 4000 men and women in uniform during the operations. It is true that the American area of operation was much larger and they had a much bigger force. Even then, the professionalism of the British stood out. The British understood the importance of engaging the local population from the very outset and keeping an ear to the ground. The Americans used brute force initially and that backfired. And then they used private agencies like Blackwater (now Xe) that had men who were trigger-happy. I am sure the Iraq Inquiry will look into the right things that the British forces did  much as inquire into lacuna, if any. It is as important to know as to what right things were done and to reinforce those into the system as it is to point out the glitches.

When one reads into the transcript of the ongoing Iraq Inquiry, one finds it amusing that there was a sense of competition and sometimes, one-upmanship between the American and the British forces. They were looking at how much turf each was controlling. It will be interesting to know as to how much oil the victorious American and the British forces pumped out of Iraqi oil fields during their time in Iraq. They were like two envious brothers, keen on out doing the other. The British also resented the fact that they were working under the American command.

30.01.2010 Tony Blair at the Iraq Inquiry: The much awaited deposition of the former British Prime Minister Tony Blair was conducted yesterday. At the onset it was made clear that this was not a ‘trial’. But the way the proceedings were conducted amounted to little else. There were these wise men and one wise women who sat at a podium and down below was the former Prime Minister. At the back were the audience which constituted mostly the relatives of those killed during the Iraq war. Outside were protesters with placards that read BLIAR etc. etc.

That Tony Blair is a consummate lawyer came out clearly. He was sharper than his interlocutors and stood his ground. The gruelling six hour long deposition could have exhausted the best of the best. Tony Blair looked remarkably fresh even at the very end and after a point of time, I thought, was rather enjoying the ‘conversation’. He maintained that he would have taken the same decisions again were he in a similar position. He equated the 5,000 odd deaths in Halabja with weapons of mass destruction as chemical weapons were indeed used at that time. He was also remarkably uncritical of either the Americans or his colleagues during his stint at that time. I guess the man shone during those critical six hours. It is not yet clear as to what will become of this enquiry and how the findings will be used. The groans from the relatives of those killed in the audience from time to time did not deter Mr. Blair at all. It is facetious for the relatives to make a fuss now as their kin had joined the army knowing very well that the country could go to war and they will be called to fight. The British went to war, and that was about it. Not that I have no sympathies with them, but these men and women brought glory to their nation and they should be proud of them. They did their duty and died fighting.

I think the Iraq enquiry is dealing with superfluous issues and many gory details will never come out. And, perhaps they should not. Not once was oil mentioned either by the Iraq Inquiry panel or Prime Minister Tony Blair. Many other gory details about the war have been put in cold storage. In that this Inquiry is a farce. They are trying to show the world as to how transparent their system is. The thinking public is not impressed or amused.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. December 14, 2009 3:13 pm

    I’m surprised that Berlusconi ventured out into such a rowdy crowd; it seems like no major world leader should do that in any case

    • sharma24 permalink
      December 15, 2009 3:25 am

      True, but not too long ago leaders would go out and meet people, and it was perfectly fine. It is only after the information explosion in the last decade or so that it has become dangerous for leaders to meet people and that is not just about terrorism.

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