The president of New School (a New York-based university) and former senator, Bob Kerrey was in Mumbai to meet leaders in finance, policy and education. A former governor of Nebraska, and a member of the 9/11 Commission, Kerrey spoke to DNA about Indo-US relations, the Iraq war, and India’s emerging role in global politics
Post-nuclear deal, how do you see Indo-US relations shaping up?
The deal is a good thing — for India, for the US and for the world as well. I think it’ll help India develop a better energy policy, help the US tackle the problem of nuclear proliferation, and as a consequence, it’ll boost the amount of foreign investment in India.
As a Vietnam war veteran, do you see similarities between American involvement in Vietnam and in Iraq today?
It’s the same in that you are fighting a war inside somebody else’s country. But Iraq is different because, firstly, there have been four military efforts in Iraq in the past 20 years: first, the Kuwait war, the second was a UN-sanctioned military effort to enforce an embargo, the third was to overthrow Saddam Hussein which is complete, and the fourth — and this is the most ill-advised, in my view — is to occupy the country till the Iraqis are in a position to govern themselves.
But the problem is, occupation produces resentment among the very people you try to help. This fourth war that is going on now in Iraq is in some ways more like the Vietnam one.
But in Vietnam we had none of the sectarian violence of the kind we’ve seen in Iraq between Shias and Sunnis and Kurds. And there is nobody comparable to Ho Chi Minh in Iraq today.
Why do you think the American media was so slavish in its reporting of the Bush regime’s Iraq policy in the run-up to the war, to the extent that the New York Times felt compelled to issue an apology to its readers?
I don’t think it is unique for the press to rally around the commander-in-chief when a nation-state goes to war. That’s what happened in this particular case. Also, as a consequence of lack of access to Iraq after 1998, it was difficult to know. I supported the war but I never thought there were weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) in Iraq.
How do you see India’s role in emerging global politics?
India’s got a huge role to play. Given that it’s the world’s largest democracy, the world has more at stake in India’s success compared to any other nation-state on earth, because functioning democracies are better than non-functioning democracies.
How do you explain the growing anti-Americanism across the world today?
It’s largely due to two things. One is the Iraq war, and secondly, it’s also to do with the American way of doing things. There is a certain brashness about the way we behave that can be very off-putting, culturally offensive and make people feel that they are inferior.
At the same time, when people travel in the US they tend to like the US and like Americans. I’ve always said, if you’re really trying to improve the way people think about the US, then increase the number of visas and tourists in the US, because a lot of perception about Americans is different from what people discover when they visit the country.
Is the United Nations becoming irrelevant for conflict resolution in the post-Cold War era?
The challenge before the UN is to become relevant to the developing world, as I think the developed world generally sees the UN as having been beneficial. I think the developing world is wondering whether the UN is anything more than a space to go and debate international issues.
If I am a citizen of a developing nation, I’d be much more concerned about the WTO, IMF and the World Bank than the UN. The UN is a forum and it performs very important social functions, such as how to protect human rights, etc, but I would not look to the UN as a primary way to resolve serious military conflict.