July 15, 1999


The war in Kashmir between India and Pakistan seems to have calmed down for the moment, but it could still present rich opportunities for the United States to do the wrong thing. President Clinton casually – almost cavalierly? – meddled at an early stage of the conflict without creating serious problems or making new commitments. But the conflict could flare up at almost any moment and the temptation to insert the United States into yet another ongoing local tussle could prove almost irresistible. Michael Moran of MSNBC has written a column urging President Clinton to consider the conflict as a part of the world where he might have a chance of creating a positive legacy.

Alan Bock is Senior Essayist at the Orange County Register and a weekly columnist for WorldNetDaily. He is the author of Ambush at Ruby Ridge (Putnam-Berkley, 1995). His exclusive column now appears every Thursday on Antiwar.com.

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I talked to my friend Muazzam Gill, editor of the National Educator magazine. He was born and raised as a Christian in Pakistan, held responsible news posts but quietly (and legally) left the country as it became increasingly obvious that the future for non-Muslims in the country didn't look especially promising.

The relatively recent seeds of the conflict were sown in 1947, when predominantly Muslim Pakistan declared independence from India as the British were relinquishing colonial rule. A bitter and bloody war followed, which left Pakistan separate from India and Kashmir as a disputed buffer between the two countries. Pakistan and India have fought two wars since then and relations are perpetually tense.

But "you have to remember," said Muazzam, "that most Muslims on the subcontinent remember that Muslims ruled virtually all of India for 800 years [these were the Mogul rulers] and still think they did a better job than the current government does. Meantime, most Hindi in India still bitterly resent the creation of Pakistan, believe the subcontinent should be united and think many of the current troubles can be blamed – correctly or not, it's the perception that matters – on the division. So it doesn't take much for these resentments to flare into conflict."

Now both India and Pakistan have nuclear weapons, developed at least to the degree that they have been tested successfully. Will the nuclear standoff remain a standoff, as was the case between the United States and the Soviet Union and the doctrine of Mutual Assured Destruction? (I still think the doctrine was morally and strategically defective and was not the main reason the U.S. and the USSR never had a nuclear exchange, but it's hard to attribute cause-and-effect as neatly as we might like.) Or will something trigger a nuclear attack?

The notion that Bill Clinton or Madeleine Albright, neither of whom has any particular special knowledge about or demonstrated interest in the Indian subcontinent, are likely candidates to step in and defuse these tensions, deftly negotiating the historical resentments and soothing feathers all around strikes me as utterly unlikely. (Some say we shouldn't personalize these things, that we should remember there are institutions with access to specialized knowledge, but it's Bill and Maddie who would ultimately decide how to use whatever advice they got from experts and their track record is not reassuring.)

But I'm afraid it would be all to easy for the president and secretary, helped along by courtiers in their office and flattering courtiers in the press, to convince themselves that their special abilities are indispensable to the resolution of this conflict.


It was fascinating to see the piece from the Anchorage Daily News on Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens's surprisingly candid and honest comments on the bombing campaign in Kosovo. "We had 780 million people (in the NATO alliance) attacking 20 million people, and they finally came to their knees after NATO forces bombed for four months. What's the precedent out of that? There's no precedent out of that," said the good Senator. "But defeating 20 million people the way we defeated them, I don't think that's something we should go around holding our head in the air about and saying we're superior."

The comments are fascinating because Ted Stevens is not exactly anybody's exemplar of a bold dissident in the Senate. To be fair, I knew somebody who worked for him when I was in Washington in the 1970s, and he said Stevens had a welcome streak of Alaskan cussed independence. Well, he has shown some independence, but for the most part he's been content to make a record of getting as much pork and as many projects for Alaska and voting as a moderate to conservative Republican. He's more an example of Mr. Get-Along-Go Along in the Senate than a thorn in any leader's side.

And yet he can make these remarkably candid comments. Maybe we shouldn't write anybody off.

Of course, part of the context for the comments, was in the course of making the case, as chairman of both the Senate Appropriations Committee and the Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, for a larger Army than 480,000, and to train at least a portion of it specifically to be "peacekeepers." The U.S. trains people in the Army, said Stevens, "to be warriors, and we end up putting them at intersections at Haiti, the Balkans, Kuwait and now Kosovo. Let's train some people to be peacekeepers in the sense of being able to carry light arms and defend themselves on the streets."

What Sen. Stevens is really advocating, albeit in somewhat different words, is that the United States admit it is a world empire and that some of its minions need to be trained not for conquest – hardly ever a real issue anymore – but as imperial garrisons in remote outposts, just as the Roman Empire used many of its legions more in political and diplomatic work than in military activity per se.

Is there a chance that Sen. Stevens and others in Washington, if the issue is put to them as starkly as that – "you're fooling yourself when you talk about peacekeeping, it's really imperial policing" – would have a second thought or two as to whether they really want to aid and abet in the establishment of a global American Empire? Sen. Stevens has little doubt that the federal government is incompetent to set and implement sane policies for Alaska. Could he be brought to wonder whether it really ought to be trying to micro-manage Kosovo or Nepal?

I don't know. The nice thing about living in a post-communist world is that you can talk about an American Empire without being written off as a crazed Leninist. But few people in the government or the country yet think about our foreign policy in terms of empire-building. They'd rather think in terms of being kind and humanitarian and responsible.

If we could nudge them to viewing the matter in imperial terms, I think fewer Americans would automatically support whatever adventure the president has in mind at a given time. But it's uncomfortable to think of our country, which we want to believe is the freest, most wonderful country in the world, as an imperial power that pushes less powerful folks around to maintain and demonstrate its power.

If we can get most Americans thinking in and using the jargon of empire rather than disinterested humanitarianism, I think we'll be a long way toward winning the public opinion game. But it won't be easy and it won't happen overnight.

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