Tag Archives: politics

The Missing Analysis

In the current reporting and debates regarding the revolutions in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya, I find that everyone seems to be missing on analyzing one important fact. One important country rather. Iraq. Witnessing the mass uprisings in these autocracies, it is prudent to ask one question. If the Iraq war had not taken place, would both the “goals” of the war still have been achieved? The answer is undoubtedly, yes.

The Iraq war was first fought on the premise that Saddam was manufacturing Nuclear Bombs and hence had to be stopped at any cost. When it became clear that Saddam did not have any WMDs in his possession, the US administration quickly turned around and blew its own trumpet for sowing the first seeds of democracy in the region by overthrowing a dictator. They claimed it would set an example in the Middle East. Some Bush loyalists claim victory today over the uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia, arguing that Bush’s mission of establishing democracy in the Middle East has now been successful. Now, that is one big joke. Mark Zuckerberg has contributed more to these revolutions than George Bush, the US Army and the CIA combined. The democracy in Iraq is in tatters while democracy in Egypt and Tunisia has made a promising start.

But coming back to the question: What if the Iraq war hadn’t taken place? I assume that the following sequence of events would have happened. Saddam would’ve continued trying to build the bomb in vain despite international sanctions. In the meantime Iran races ahead with its own nuclear facilities. Saddam, unable to build a bomb because of sanctions and unable to sit in the sidelines and watch rival Iran progress, is then forced to terminate his weapons program in exchange for aid and military equipment from the West a la Libya. Hence, Iraq would’ve become a new proxy against Iran a la during the Iran-Iraq war. However, come 2011 and inspired by the Tunisian revolts, people in Iraq revolt against Saddam’s rule and he flees. Notice how the dictators deposed have been ones who had good relations with the US. These are the ones who refrained from the use of military force against their people to a large extent. Maybe because of some amount of pressure from the US, which supplied their major military hardware. Contrast this against countries like Iran and Libya where peaceful protests have been crushed violently. Hence, with Saddam being an ally of the west, it is safe to assume he would’ve come under international pressure to quit. And thus, both the goals of the Iraq war, elimination of WMDs and establishing of a democracy would’ve been achieved without firing a bullet. Im no pacifist, but anyone can definitely realise the large number of negative consequences of that futile war.

Maybe this sounds a little far fetched. But, then again, two months back, the idea of an overthrow of Hosni Mubarak through 18 days of peaceful street protests would’ve sounded very much far-fetched.


Al Qaeda, Adam Smith and the Arabian Revolutions

What is the connection between Al Qaeda and Adam Smith? Absolutely nothing, at first glance. While the former is a ruthless terrorist organization responsible for the deaths of countless innocent people, the latter is a highly respected and scholarly person who is widely considered to be the founding father of free market economics. But if we actually think about it, we realize that Al Qaeda has, inadvertently so, been following Adam Smith’s principles of a free market economy.

In the last few years, thanks to the relentless drone strikes and global pressure on terrorist havens like Pakistan, Al Qaeda has been significantly weakened. Being constantly on the run, without having any safe sanctuary except in the Pakistani Wild West, Al Qaeda has not been able to launch any successful terrorist attack on any nation. However, they have fostered a spirit of “entrepreneurship” among their radical followers. Like in a free market economy, there is not much “central planning” and “state/central intervention” in the “framing of policies”; rather the “center/state” has created conditions for the “blooming of private enterprise”. That is to say that, though there is no organizational level planning from the Al Qaeda central leadership with regards to terrorist strikes, their vitriolic messages of hate have encouraged and influenced a host of small time morons to take up arms for delusional causes. This is clear in the recent attacks: the Nigerian Underpants bomber, the Times Square bomber and the parcel bombs from Yemen. These were all low cost and unorganized missions put together by a bunch of wannabe terrorists. But it is precisely these kind of attacks that become hard to detect and will increase panic and unrest in an already scarred society. Eg: the TSA pat downs at US airports.

The only way to prevent such attacks is to remove the deep rooted causes that fuel such hatred. But this is easier said than done. Top on the list of grievances is the Israel-Palestine issue, which shows no signs of heading towards a peaceful resolution. Another major cause for concern in the Islamic/Arab world is the US and Western support for oppressive military dictators. These despots, hated by their own people, are staunch allies of the US. When they fall, as all despots eventually do, the people turn their resentment towards the global allies of the tyrants i.e US and Europe. This is what happened in Iran and indirectly influenced the Al Qaeda.

In 1953, a US supported coup brought back the ousted Iranian Shah to power, much to the chagrin of the Iranian people. When the Shah was ousted in 1979, the Iranians fearing another US coup attacked the US embassy and held the diplomats hostage for 444 days. An incensed US supported Iraq in the following Iran-Iraq war, funneling weapons and money to Saddam Hussein. A power hungry Saddam then attacked Kuwait in 1991. The US intervened and threw him out of Kuwait, but stationed troops in the Arab countries as a counter to Iraqi imperialist ambitions. This presence of US troops and their support for the autocratic Arab regimes gave fuel to the newly jobless Mujahideen created by another US backed dictator: Zia Ul Haq.

As we can see, this has been a vicious cycle of violence. To win this war on terror, we can’t just be content with dismantling one or two organizations. Al Qaeda is still a dangerous if somewhat diminished threat. The world needs to make a cohesive effort to address the root causes that make educated urban youth in US, UK and even India to propagate violence against innocents. The recent revolutions in the Arab world has left the US and the western world in a bind. Should it support its dictator friends for the sake of stability or support the people and risk radical fanatic political parties coming to power? I think the world needs to support democracy and the freedoms of people in the Arab world. Only this would lead to stability and peace in the coming century.

Movie Review: Peepli [Live]

Aamir Khan has the “Midas Touch”. This phrase has been so often repeated, in newspapers, blogs, television etc. that it threatens to become a cliche. But the cerebral star has done it once again, pushing the boundaries of commercial Indian cinema with Peepli Live. Aamir has an uncanny knack of spotting potential in the most unlikely places, be it with “Jaane Tu…” or “Peepli Live“. Both movies were helmed by newbie directors and were filled with a fresh but talented bunch of actors. Yet, against all odds, as the producer of both the movies, Aamir managed to transform these low key affairs into box office hits.

As an actor too, Aamir has constantly rewritten the rules of the game. He has torn down barriers and taken leaps of faith to reach the status of being the most bankable actor in Indian cinema today. In the formula-driven hindi film industry he has re-arranged the variables, eliminated the constants and turned traditional logic on its head. It seems laughable to compare him to his contemporaries. Its clear that his only competition is with himself. The rustic Bhuvan vs the suave Akash Malhotra. The starry eyed DJ vs the poignant Ram Nikhumb. The beastly Sanjay Singhania vs the peppy Rancho. He has done it all and then some.

To cut a long story short, Peepli live is an intelligent satire about phony politicians and a manic media. A debt-ridden farmer, Natha, decides to commit suicide to claim compensation for his family so that they could be free of debt. His threat of committing suicide is a bandwagon on which politicians and the media go for a free ride. Instead of seeing the rot in the system which causes destitute villagers to commit suicide, local leaders see an opportunity in Natha’s threat to play a game of political oneupmanship. If the political class is blinded by the upcoming local elections, the national media is blinded by TRPs. In their quixotic quest of making a poster boy out of Natha, the media fails to see the sufferings and hardships of the villagers. In the end, it is a disillusioned local reporter, Rakesh, who realises that the political system and the media can not be depended upon to confront the malaise of poverty and destitution rampant in the villages of India.

Filled with witty dialogues and dark humour, Peepli Live boasts of a brilliant ensemble cast with each actor leaving an imprint on your mind; be it the manipulative elder brother or the slimy politician. Famous news reporters are good humouredly lampooned and the indian bureaucracy is shown as what it has often perceived to be: elite, lazy and disconnected. The background score blends in perfectly with the rustic setting of the movie. For once in mainstream Indian cinema, we have a realistic portrayal of a village minus the happy-farmer-singing-and-dancing-in-lush-green-fields stereotype. A definite must-watch, Peepli Live is surely one of the defining films of the year.

If a small no-frills movie like Peepli Live can receive so much critical and public appreciation, then it would behoove messrs Aditya Chopra and Karan Johar well to rethink their strategy of blowing up exorbitant sums of money on big stars and stylish movies whose plots are all fizz and no substance. With their access to seemingly bottomless pits of money, they could do Indian cinema a whole lot of good if they had the courage and conviction to make more sensible and intelligent movies like Peepli Live.