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    Middle East
     Feb 7, 2007
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The Vishnu strategy meets its match

By Conn Hallinan

The Supreme Lord said: "I am death, the mighty destroyer of the world, out to destroy." According to the great Hindu text Bhagavad-Gita, Vishnu delivered that speech to Prince Arjuna before a great battle almost eight millennia ago.

Physicist Robert Oppenheimer paraphrased it in 1945 to describe the explosion of the first atomic bomb. The latest channeling of the Hindu god can be found in an Israeli commander's evaluation of last summer's war with Lebanon: "What we did was insane and

monstrous: we covered entire towns in cluster bombs."

The commander was decrying the way Israel, the United States and Britain wage war these days, which has increasingly become an exercise in mass destruction. In the past five years, Vishnu has visited Afghanistan, Iraq and Lebanon. The result has been death and ruin on a biblical - or more aptly, a Bhagavad-Gita - scale.

During last summer's 34-day war, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) dropped some 4 million cluster munitions on southern Lebanon. According to United Nations relief coordinator David Shearer, "Nearly all of these munitions were fired in the last three or four days of the war." At least a million of these unexploded bombs are still waiting in ambush for unwary farmers and children.

The IDF destroyed airports, harbors, water and sewage plants, electrical generators, 80 bridges, 94 roads, more than 900 businesses and 30,000 homes. Retreating Israeli soldiers systematically destroyed the infrastructure of villages and deliberately polluted water tanks and wells. According to the Lebanese government, some 1,189 Lebanese were killed, 4,399 wounded, and one-quarter of Lebanon's population - about a million in all - were turned into refugees.

Lebanon is hardly unique.

Since the Gulf War in 1991, according to Handicap International, the United States and Britain have dropped more than 13 million cluster bombs on Iraq and strewn the countryside with more than 500 tons of toxic depleted-uranium ammunition. A Johns Hopkins University study found that anywhere from 426,369 to 793,663 Iraqis have died since the March 2003 invasion. The war has also driven 1.8 million Iraqis out of their country and created 1.6 million internal refugees.

Since January 2006, almost 4,000 people have died in Afghanistan, more than 1,000 of them civilians. The United States has dropped more than three times the number of bombs on that country over the past six months as it did in its first three-year campaign against the Taliban. B-1 bombers routinely unload more than 8,500 kilograms of explosives during bombing runs, while AC-130 gunships, spitting 155-millimeter howitzer shells and tens of thousands of 40mm cannon shells, prowl the skies. In September, an AC-130 killed 31 shepherds.

Three of the most powerful armies in the world attacked countries that are only marginally in the same century as Israel, the US and Britain. Yet in spite of overwhelming firepower, Israel was fought to a standstill in Lebanon, the Americans in Iraq are in increasingly desperate straits, and British forces in Afghanistan, according to their former chief of staff, General Peter Inge, face the possibility of outright defeat.

Has the Vishnu strategy met its match?

There was a time when a handful of British regulars ruled the South Asian subcontinent, when a few brigades of US marines could keep Central America safe for the United Fruit Co, and when the IDF smashed far larger armies in a week of fighting. But the British faced mostly tribal warriors, and the marines were up against unarmed peasants. The Arab armies were big, but poorly led and technologically inferior.

All empires - whether they are based on colonies or economic domination - depend on uneven development. There was a time when industrial capitalism was all-powerful, and when the people it conquered often did not even think of themselves as "nations". When the people in one of those conquered countries did think of themselves as a nation, the maintenance of empire became a rockier affair. Tiny Ireland tied down more British regulars in the 19th century than did India.

Eventually the emergence of nationalism made it impossible for the colonial powers to retain direct sovereignty over Asia, Africa and the Middle East, though many of those former colonies are still economic and political vassals. The British withdrew because they suddenly faced hundreds of millions of people who were united in wanting them out and, if push came to shove, would fight to make it so.

The great powers retreated, but they always believed that their superior military power and their willingness to use the Vishnu strategy gave them a final vote in matters concerning their interests. For many, that illusion of superiority held even when reality demonstrated the opposite. Hence revisionists like US

Continued 1 2 

The Middle East is hopeless, but not serious (Feb 6, '07)

A massacre and a new civil war (Feb 3, '07)


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