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Limits of Hegemony

M.H. Ansari

By Prem Shankar Jha
Rupa & Co., New Delhi, 2004, pp. xiii 222, Rs. 395.00


Someone with knowledge of Iraq remarked  recently that Iraqis begin to fight after they are defeated! Several months after the invasion and conquest, Iraq remains a headache for the conquerors prompting the Washington Post to comment editorially on the “bloody and inconclusive conflict”. This, and the reopened debate in Washington about the wisdom of the misadventure and the motives of the adventurers, pretty well ensures that the question would continue to be analysed threadbare in terms of contemporary politics. Prem Shankar Jha however has reminded the reading public that the story has earlier and murkier beginnings, was willfully slanted, and was told to a gullible public by a media that had been coopted and “embedded”.       Great Powers love to play God, to be the Creator and the Destroyer on the chessboard of history. The United States is no exception to this rule. This reviewer was in Baghdad in February 1963 when the Baath party seized power in a bloody coup. It was common knowledge then that the move was part of an elaborate exercise by an external agency to counter trends in the domestic and regional policy of Iraq. All this is now documented and Jha has delved into the past to remind readers about the origins of the man whom many in India, and elsewhere, considered a paragon of many virtues! His fall from grace was to come later. In the end, Saddam Hussein brought misery to Iraq and to the region. The last decade of his rule also showed how cynically the Great Powers could manipulate world opinion and the UN itself to sustain a callous and unjustified regime of sanctions that in effect targeted not the government but the common Iraqi—men, women, and particularly children. In that period information on situation within Iraq became a political commodity. The frustration and failure of the policy of containment inevitably led to the war of 2003. There too, the policy objective of “winning the hearts and minds” has so far met with no success.       Chapters 4 and 5 ‘Manufacturing Consent‘ and ‘The Unravelling of Consent‘ are revealing. They indict unambiguously: “The price of being embedded was to get only one side of the story, which was what the US and UK governments wanted. Prolonged contacts with the armed forces impaired the objectivity of the embedded journalists”. This obviously resulted in episodes like that of Private Jessica Lynch, the coverage of the pulling down ...

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