America’s Heaviest Loss Since the Vietnam War

By Surendra Kumar

Since the horrific terrorist attack on the twin towers of the World Trade Centre on September 11, 2001 till the end of 2018, in its operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, the US has reportedly lost around 7000 troops. Joseph Stiglitz, former Chief Economist of the World Bank & a winner of the Nobel Prize for Economics & Linda Belmes of Harvard University maintain in their book Three Trillion War, that the total cost of the war in Iraq to the US economy was to the tune of US$ 3 trillion!

The US used Patriot & Tomahawk missiles in Iraq, carried our carpet bombing of Baghdad, destroyed key infrastructure and pushed the country back by 50 years. Eventually it dragged Saddam Husain out of a cave; he was hanged after a caricature of a trial. Last year, it succeeded in killing Abu Bakr Baghdadi, Founder of the IS in an air strike. Nonetheless, it is a living testament of the failure of the US policy in Iraq that notwithstanding it high tech military operations, Iraq has slipped under Iran’s unmistakable influence

In 2002, the US toppled the Taliban Govt in Afghanistan after fierce attacks against all possible Al Qaeda hideouts over a year, took dozens of its fighters to Guantanamo bay prison. At its peak, the US had 100,000 troops in Afghanistan under the UN mandated International Security Assistance Force (ISAF); NATO members contributed around 30,000. America has physically & politically protected Afghan Presidents: Hamid Karzai & Ashraf Ghani. However, today, it is anxious to reach an agreement with Taliban midwifed by Pakistan. It underlines the limits of the US military operations & failure of its diplomacy.

Though Osama Bin Laden was killed in Abbottabad, Pakistan by US Navy SEALs, Obama & Trump’s wish to bring back all American soldiers from Afghanistan still remains unfulfilled.

Vietnam is the only country since the WWII that sent back 58,000 American soldiers in body bags; the US Ambassador Graham Martin had to leave in an evacuation helicopter (Operation Frequent wind) from the roof top of its Embassy in Saigon on 30th April 1975. The Vietnam war lasted for 20 years; it left an indelible scar on the American psyche called the “Vietnam War Syndrome”. But before exiting, the US inflicted incalculable damage to life, infrastructure, flora and fauna in Vietnam; some after-effects of Napalm bombs dropped and Agent Orange used can be seen there even today.

         But Covid-19 is projected to cause over 150,000 deaths in America by June-end. Thanks to the lockdown, 35 million Americans have applied for unemployment cheques; the economy has virtually come to a halt facing the worst recession since the great Depression. Short of hospitals, hospital beds, PPEs, Ventilators and no vaccine in sight, bereft of a clear- headed & inspiring leadership guiding the public with professional advice, having to resort to mass burials of unclaimed bodies, the US is looking everything but the only superpower and the world leader! Millions of Americans stand in queues to get free lunch & dinner packets. How the Mighty have fallen in such a short time!

In the global fight against Covid-19, American leadership is conspicuous by its absence; it is struggling to save the lives of its own citizens. Insecure and worried about prospects of his re-election, President Trump accuses China of hiding the fact that the virus was developed in a lab in Wuhan, demands reparations of US$ 1 trillion, stops aid to the WHO charging it of pro-China stand in her cover up trail; talks of the bizarre idea of injecting disinfectants in human bodies. Understandably, he wants to end the Lockdown at the earliest. The stimulus of US$ 2 trillion might not be sufficient to put the US economy on the rails again soon.

America’s decline was visible to many analysts; Covid-19 has given it the strongest push downward. The Post-American World which Fareed Zakaria has been talking about for some years suddenly seems believable. The Pulitzer award winner American journalist Tom Friedman feels that the post Covid-19 world will be flatter than ever. He calls President Trump the worst possible President America can have who is both the arsonist and the fire fighter. Sadly, the most powerful nation on earth looks helpless against this foe: Covid-19. Friedman rationalises, “Mother nature as a foe is different …you can’t win against her. She rewards not the strongest or the smartest but the most adaptive.”

China in whose wet market/lab Covid-19 virus is believed to have originated has controlled the death toll, around 4600, through swift and sweeping clamp down. It is now trying to fill the global leadership vacuum by dolling out medical equipment to over 60 countries. The GDP of India and China is projected to grow at 1.2% & 1.9 % respectively while the rest of the world plunges in to minus growth. Chinese factories have started operating at 60% of their capacity. Will there be demand abroad when countries are facing deep recession?

In spite of shortages of PPEs, ventilators, masks, sanitizers, quarantine centres, India has, apparently, managed to contain the fatality rate. The countrywide lockdown has been announced by the PM with the tagline: Jaan hai to Jehan hai, social distancing, extensive use of masks and proactive campaign about Dos & Don’t have helped.

But there has been a huge spike in positive tested cases, so the government is converting hotels, stadiums and even trains in to temporary Covid-19 isolation centres.

But it hasn’t been without pain; millions of migrant workers and daily wage earners have suffered badly; the economy has come to a standstill

Subsequently, after PM’s video conference with the CMs, some relaxations in the lockdown were introduced though it has been extended till May 15 in containment zones.

Now, stressing, “Jaan Bhi, Jehan bhi,” PM advocates opening of some sectors of the economy in a phased manner. National unity, discipline, absence of recrimination and cooperative federalism displayed by the PM by consulting all the CMs /political leaders through video conferencing are welcome developments. Modi’s new 3 Ds: Democracy, Discipline & decisiveness and the spirit of caring & sharing shown by the society ought to continue in the post covid-19 period.

Only time will tell whether the 20 lakh crore financial package announced by the PM to spur industrial manufacturing, push infrastructure projects, promote MSMEs, will address serious stress in the agricultural sector, create millions of jobs, save the poor from hunger and starvation and make India Atma Nirbhar (Self-reliant) & bring about a paradigm shift in economic fortunes of India as did the economic reforms introduced by Narsimha Rao & Dr Manmohan Singh in 1991-92.

(Surendra Kumar is a former diplomat and author of many books, including Beyond Diplomatic Dilemmas. The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author.)

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