Knight-Ridder/Tribune Information Services, March 20, 2003
Many people are discouraged to see that the efforts of millions throughout the world have failed to prevent a great crime. With the vast majority of humanity against it, and without even the cover of UN approval, the Bush administration has launched an illegal war against a people who—whatever the pretensions of their dictator—pose no threat to the United States.
And it will be innocent, ordinary people—especially children—who are most likely to suffer and die from this war.
Some see this as the beginning of a "new American Imperium," with the United Nations reduced to irrelevancy as Washington wages war and tramples any nation as suits its purposes.
But this is very unlikely. First of all, there is a lesson that the American Establishment, including the Right, learned from the Vietnam War: never pick a fight with anyone who can fight back. Ronald Reagan set this post-Vietnam trend, standing tall while invading tiny Grenada, whose entire population could fit within the Rose Bowl stadium.
In the last Gulf War the US lost more soldiers to training and accidents (including friendly fire) than to actual combat. Iraq's military is now at a fraction of its 1991 strength and presumably more demoralized. The country is half-starved and economically ruined from 12 years of sanctions and the last war. So the Bush team is gambling on another easy rout, although things could go wrong—especially with the occupation.
But don't expect to see US troops or tanks rolling into Iran, North Korea, or any other country where fierce resistance would be likely.
More importantly, the last few months have brought about a change in international relations of truly epoch-making proportions. Never before have so many countries—large and small, rich and poor—stood up to Washington in this way. Not only France, Germany, and Russia, but Mexico, Chile, Angola, Guinea, and Cameroon held the UN Security Council from giving its approval to this war. They would not bend to Washington's threats of trade sanctions, aid cutoffs, and other retaliation.
Some of these countries had good reason to distrust President Bush's claims that he wanted to "liberate" Iraq. Chileans suffered through 16 years of brutal dictatorship after Washington helped "liberate" them from their democratically elected government. Angola lost more than half a million people in a needless and tragic civil war that was fueled and prolonged by our government (together with apartheid-era South Africa).
Much of the world has had similar experiences at the receiving end of U.S. foreign policy. But the miraculous thing is that so many have stood up to the bullying and the bribery, all at once.
This was due in large part to the mass participation of tens of millions of people, who mobilized as never before to bring pressure on their governments. This victory of democracy was especially profound in Turkey. There the parliament rejected by three votes the ruling party's plan—in return for a multibillion dollar bribe—to let the United States launch an attack from its territory on Iraq.
These genies are not going back in the bottle. The Bush team thinks they can use the "war against terrorism" the same way that so many previous administrations used the "war against communism" to justify a vast military build-up and any international crime that they wanted to commit. But history does not repeat itself so easily, no matter how much they may yearn for the McCarthy era at home and pre-Vietnam adventurism abroad.
Sooner or later Americans will discover what the rest of the world already knows: that our problems with terrorism are the result of US foreign policy, not the cause. That is true even of Osama Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda, who grew out of a movement funded and nurtured by our own government and its close allies.
For now, everything is going according to the Bush team's script: the broadcast media have become a virtual organ of the Pentagon, and the Democratic leadership—previously spineless—is even more cowed by the war. Insulated from criticism, Bush will see his approval ratings soar.
But that apparent victory masks a much more real defeat. The American century—the last one—is now really over. Regardless of the outcome of this war, history may well record this year as the beginning of the end of the U.S. empire.