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The fairly obvious
U.S. may win the war but lose the peace

April 7, 2003
The Iranian

The war in Iraq is a huge gamble.  Both Saddam Hussein and George Bush have proved themselves to be addicted gamblers who should be perhaps sent to Las Vegas to gamble on their own money rather than on people's lives.  Saddam gambled twice in the last two decades by invading Iran and Kuwait.  He lost both times, but he continued to gamble by using and hiding his weapons of mass destruction. 

Bush also has embarked on a huge gamble in invading Iraq in a war with an uncertain outcome. Despite the wise opinion of military experts not to a commit U. S. troops on mainland Asia, the Bushites are now making the same mistake made in Vietnam.  To the Bushites, the war in Iraq appears as a war of liberation for the sake of the Iraqi people.  But to most Muslims and much of the rest of the world, the war looks like a colonial war.  Muslim historical memory views the Anglo-American forces in the light of a long history of British colonialism and American support of Israel and dictatorships such as those of the Shah, the Saudis, and the Muslim fanatics in Afghanistan.  

Saddam and Bush have succeeded for now to polarize the world. But reasonable people continue to see two clear alternatives facing the world.  First, we may choose to follow the Bushites and return to yet another era of power politics in which might makes right.  Second, and more sensibly, we may choose to build on the global cooperation achievements of the past fifty years by strengthening international rule of law and the collective security system under the United Nations Charter. Since the United States was the world leader in charting the latter course, it is sad now to see the Bushites breaking faith with the rest of the world. 

To the Bushites, the first alternative is favored, perhaps because - at least superficially - it seems to be a less complicated solution. The United States and its "Coalition of the Willing" have invaded Iraq to remove Saddam and attempt to rebuild Iraq and the entire West Asian region on a Western democratic model. To the rest of the world, that plan represents a fanciful design to legitimate the war.

That path implies "Pax Americana" in West Asia and possibly throughout the world, particularly if the Bushites continue in their pre-emptive strikes against two other nations that, with Iraq, have been declared an "Axis of Evil". Should the United States continue its commitment to this agenda, it may then act to disarm and change the regimes in both North Korea and Iran.  Other countries with weapons of mass destruction may then reasonably interpret such action as warning that the new Bush Doctrine of "pre-emptive attack" applies to them as well.

The costs and benefits of this alternative seem rather evident. Significantly, the cost side includes alienation of the major European allies, Russia, China as well as the Islamic world, increased   terrorism targeting Americans, an expanded US military along with the financial burden to "rebuild" Iraq.  According to Thomas Stauffer, a Middle East expert, the US taxpayers have paid over $3 trillion since 1956 to support Israel and to prop up friendly dictatorships in the region.  The Bushite strategy means greater financial burdens.  More tragically, it also will result in the diminution of American democracy in favor of a surveillance-police state.  Empires invariably mean domination abroad and repression at home. 

Significant costs are thus offset by somewhat meager benefits, which are, at best, temporary.  Most significantly and largely overlooked is the fairly obvious fact that the U.S. may win the war but lose the peace.  As Afghanistan demonstrates, American politicians have a remarkably short attention span concerning nation building in foreign lands.  And, Iraq is ethnically and geo-politically a far more complex problem than Afghanistan.  Governance of Iraq has been historically a nightmare for all occupying powers.  As cost of these adventures become better known to the American public, President Bush may find that his determination to be rid of Saddam Hussein costs him the 2004 elections.  As in Greek mythology, the gods may punish the Bushites by giving him exacting what they want: Iraq.

Reassuringly, an alternative strategy does exist.  The model proposed to achieve a peaceful resolution has as its foundation the structure that emerged out of the bitter experiences of World War I and World War II.  Although collective security has not worked perfectly at all times, it kept at least a precarious peace during the post-World War II period. Post 9/11 signaled the commencement of a new phase in world politics and with it the need for peacekeeping remedies that should evolve from the post-WWII model.  The nature of the new global networked society, accompanied by state and non-state terrorism, has created a dire need for new global institutions of legislation, adjudication and enforcement.

Pursuit of peace by means of post 9/11 structures requires: 

1. The creation of a standing United Nations Peacekeeping Force to prevent the international community from being held hostage by the interests of those states that take military action in the name of UN.  The Korean and Persian Gulf Wars demonstrated this point.  In both cases, military action in the name of the UN was taken to protect narrow national interests.  Unless the UN is equipped with a peacekeeping force, every country will continue to have the right and perhaps the obligation to defend itself unilaterally.

Should the United States choose to "defend itself" using unilateral action, other countries (i.e. India, China, Russia, Israel, and Pakistan) will feel forced to follow suit.  Increasing military aggression by individual states, each with nuclear capability, will provide added motivation for countries such as Iran, Iraq and North Korea to also acquire weapons of mass destruction. Global and national security will be diminished on all fronts, as the likelihood of accidental or intentional catastrophes will increase dramatically.

2. The universal acceptance of the International Criminal Court's authority by all states to deter the proliferation of tyrants and terrorists.  When tyrants and terrorists are brought before a legitimate international rather than national court, any claim they make for legitimacy will be much more effectively destroyed.   The Bushite withdrawal from the court is therefore a regrettable policy for America and the rest of the world.

3. The recreation of the United Nations not as an organization of states but rather as an organization of nations. To become truly United Nations, a Peoples Assembly - perhaps on the model of European Parliament - should be added to the existing chambers. 

The massive peace demonstrations in recent months have showed that all over the world responsible public opinion exists and needs to be heard.  This action, building on the momentum of by other people's peace initiatives (International Treaty to Ban Landmines, anti-WTO rallies), heralds the arrival of a new surge of popular participation.  Such peaceful protests - organized quickly and largely over the Internet - illustrate beautifully that, at an unprecedented level, it is now possible to mobilize promptly peaceful peoples and states. 

Wars represent tragic failures of human imagination.  The current war presents us with a challenge and an opportunity to think more creatively about global and national security.  Should we fail this test, we will live to regret it.


Majid Tehranian is Professor, School of Communications, University of Hawaii at Manoa, and Director of the Toda Institute for Global Peace and Policy Research in Honolulu, Hawaii.  His latest book is Bridging a Gulf: Peace in West Asia (London, I. B. Tauris, 2003).

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Bridging a Gulf: Peace in West Asia
Majid Tehrianian

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