The fairly obvious
U.S. may win the war but lose the peace
April 7, 2003
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
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
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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