"I am scared," said a friend, discussing Iraq. So am I. And sick at heart.
Under the cloak of fighting terrorism and Saddam Hussein, George Bush is making a catastrophic --- perhaps irreversible --- change in US foreign policy. That change will affect not only the United States but also countries and innocent people throughout the world. It is one of the most serious, far-reaching foreign-policy moves in decades.
The media are focused narrowly on Bush's plan to attack Iraq, and certainly that's the immediate crisis. The public and Congress are going along with Bush with little more than a whimper. Our previous war against Iraq wiped the horrors of Vietnam from our memory. World War II's gruesomeness, laid out in Saving Private Ryan... well, that was just a movie. Besides, World War II was long ago. We fight high-tech wars now. Quickly, cleanly, and from above.
But Desert Storm didn't spare Iraqi citizens and soldiers. And it didn't remove Saddam Hussein. The coming war, many experts predict, is likely to be long, expensive, and bloody, requiring American troops on the ground. There will be Americans dead. Brits dead. And thousands of innocent Iraqis dead.
Saddam has been restrained until now by the threat of US force. Once we start this war, will he unleash biological and chemical weapons on his own people, on our troops, on nearby nations --- Israel, for example?
Even if we succeed in removing (whatever that means) Saddam, this will be no in-and-out operation. We will have to stick around, for years, and help build a new nation. And protect a new government from warring tribal leaders. (Note Afghanistan after the Taliban.)
What about our "war on terrorism"? Do we no longer need the cooperation of other countries? Do we not care that much of the rest of the world opposes our Iraq plan?
What about the war's direct impact on other nations? "Are we prepared," asks a Nation editorial, "to cope with the outbreaks of anti-American protest and violence that... are sure to erupt throughout the Muslim world, jeopardizing the survival of pro-US governments in Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia and further inflaming the Israeli-Palestinian crisis?"
And what about Pakistan, where President Musharraf has a tenuous hold? "If a wave of public anger helped Islamic radicals unseat" Musharraf, writes William Galston in The American Prospect, "we would have exchanged a dangerous regime seeking nuclear weapons for an even more dangerous regime that possesses them."
Even worse than Bush's planned attack on Iraq is what it signifies. It is the first eruption of the United States' dangerous new foreign policy of pre-emption: war as a deterrent. No longer will we work with other nations toward world peace. No longer will we give at least lip service to international law. No longer will we rely on a policy of containment.
If the president of the United States decides that another country poses a threat, we will attack. And we will go it alone if need be.
We will no longer try to serve as an example of democracy and diplomacy. Instead, we will be the world's model bully, using military might to get our own way.
"A global strategy based on the new Bush doctrine of pre-emption," writes William Galston, "means the end of the system of international institutions, laws, and norms that we have worked to build for more than half a century."
"We must ask how the new norms of international action would play out," writes Galston, "as nations around the world adopt them and shape them to their own purposes. (And they will; witness the instant appropriation of the United States' anti-terrorism rhetoric by Russia and India, among others. It is an illusion to believe that the United States can employ new norms of action while denying the rights of others to do so as well.)"
Echoes Richard Falk in The Nation: "Far more menacing than Iraq is the danger of a war between India and Pakistan, which could easily be triggered in the aftermath of an attack on Baghdad, with Islamic militants taking power from the West-leaning General Pervez Musharraf and India responding with its own version of pre-emption."
"The planned US invasion of Iraq," writes Seumas Milne in The Guardian, "will increase the threat of war throughout the world. By legitimising pre-emptive attacks, it will lower the threshold for the use of force and make aggression by powerful states more likely. It will encourage nuclear proliferation, as states rush to get hold of some protective deterrent. It will damage the fabric of international law and multilateral treaties. It will encourage terrorism by pouring oil on the flames of anti-western rage."
This is dangerous stuff. And the danger will extend long after our next war against Iraq. If you haven't already contacted your US senators and representative, do so now.
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