The war from within

By the time the whole war business is over with, it won’t be just Iraq that will have suffered major damage

Thanks to a very narrow-minded view of world affairs, the Bush administration hasn’t seen — or refuses to see — the enormous amount of political and economic damage it’s causing on itself and its so-called allies. One just has to look at the performance of the stock market over the past few months to realize that the war Bush and company wish to launch might end up costing them more than what they will eventually get out of it.

Meanwhile, in Hungary, one of America’s so-called allies, the fallout from all the saber rattling has been apparent. As elsewhere, the stock market is down and the economy is on a steady downward slide. Yet unlike the US, most of the damage is political. Support for the US has put the government constantly on the defensive, while a lethargic public is slowly showing some signs of life, and is poised to challenge the authorities head on.

Without doubt, the ie of the Americans using a military base at Taszar, in the south of the country, is a nightmare that just won’t go away. Almost daily it makes the headlines, and the opposition have been using it for all its worth.

Ever since the end of January the area around the base as been on high alert. Around the base Hungarian police, border guards, and American military personnel have established multiple rings of security, stretching for tens of kilometers from the site. All cars passing nearby, but not necessarily in the direction of Taszar, are stopped and checked, with both driver and passengers scrutinized. In fact, the so-called "Schengen bus" is even used to determine right away if a car has been stolen or not. Immigration and custom officials help the police on the outer edges of this security ring, while Americans take part in patrols in and near Taszar itself.

As the Iraqi and Arab "volunteers" began arriving, the security measures have been extended outward. It will be pushed even further in the coming days and weeks as the clouds of war approaches.

The government has kept repeating that there is nothing to worry about and that the American presence doesn’t pose a threat. However, these pleas for calm have fallen on deaf ears, as many question why is there such massive security if indeed there was no risk and, above all, why is the activity of what’s going on so secretive. The fact that the Hungarian government has continually changed its story of who’s coming and for what purpose only adds to the concern.

The first batch of volunteers began arriving at Taszar on February 5th, the same day that Colin Powell gave an unconvincing presentation for a case of war to the Security Council. Only 58 arrived in a special aircraft that landed directly at Taszar. The so-called training session will begin once everyone has arrived. It’s expected that only about a thousand in all will come, which is much less than the Hungarian government’s initial projection of up to 5,000.

In order to fend off some of the criticism and to put on a show that Hungary isn’t a puppet run by the US, the Defense Ministry tried to demonstrate some backbone by claiming that it had refused the US permission to use Ferihegy airport, the main international airport on the outskirts of Budapest, for transport to and from Taszar. Apparently, the US wanted to have the volunteers flown in on regularly scheduled flights as civilians and then transported to Taszar by car. The government only relented as much as to allow the US military to use Ferihegy only if the base at Taszar was unable to accommodate air traffic for some reason or in case of an emergency.

Whether this request was genuinely made or is a little side show for propaganda purposes, the concern over using Ferihegy is clear; while not many people pass through Taszar, the fact that the Hungarian authorities would have to set up similar military and secret police security posts so close to Budapest and in general view of the public is something that would be tantamount to political suicide.

Aside from the political heat over Taszar, the Hungarian authorities are now also beginning to feel the prere from an unexpected corner: anti-war protesters. As in many areas of Central and Eastern Europe, anti-war rallies have been few and far between, this most in part due to low numbers and the overriding concerns of living in an increasingly stressful social condition. On some occasions, as in Hungary recently, protests have been planned but were subsequently banned by the police.

Yet anti-war protesters in Hungary are refusing to take no for an answer. More than 10,000 people are expected to attend a rally in Budapest organised by "Civilians for Peace" on February 15th, which is to coincide with similar protests around the world on the same day.

In a surprising counterattack, the group filed a complaint in the courts against the police ban, but will still protest even if the judges uphold the original ban. In this case, they plan to march not in the middle of the street but on the sidewalk.

Members of the group dismiss the police reason for the ban — that it would cause too much of a disturbance — as absurd, pointing out that a global march for peace would cause less of a disturbance than the war which the government supports. As Endre Simon, spokesperson of Civilians for Peace, noted: "The world’s second largest oil fields can be found there. What is likely to happen is that the conflict will spread, and inflame the entire region in such a way that we can’t imagine."

Already, a smear campaign against the group has begun along the lines that they support the Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. Naturally, the group rejects this feeble attack, pointing out that in an upcoming war it’s not the dictator who will suffer, but the people of Iraq.

All over the world, proponents of war, which are clearly in the minority, are finding themselves increasingly on the defensive. The latest revelation in the UK that a government intelligence report was actually plagiarised from the Internet only adds to the skepticism. Ironically, it was this same document recently recommended by none other than Colin Powell.

The failure of the Americans to convince the world of the need for war through Powell’s address at the UN only serves to give a further impetus to struggling movements like Civilians for Peace. In Moscow, people on the street were clearly unimpressed with Powell’s performance, noting that pictures and audio are easy to fabricate.

Not only this, but people are beginning to doubt America’s intentions in all foreign policy matters. Most believe that the US is simply after the oil, and now some have even suggested that their intervention in Afghanistan was also done for self-serving purposes, in that first a route was needed for the oil and now they are after the oil itself.

When one looks back to 9/11, it’s amazing how quickly the US had squandered its reputation and the solidarity it had forged in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks. The White House doesn’t realise how much damage it has already done or, if it’s aware of this, obviously doesn’t care. There is a lesson to be learned here, as Joyce Carey once observed in her work The Mass Mind: "How many dictators have been amazed when their rule, which seemed so strong, has collapsed in a few hours, without a friend?" One wonders how many friends George Bush will have when this is all over.