United States and the world: Victory in peace


War itself creates a pincer movement of its own. All along the call of war has seen the American commander in chief move forward. A war was signaled. Soldiers were deployed. A war has arrived. The path planned was a well-lit vision of "shock and awe," followed by rapid deployment of massive forces, regime-change and nation-building. The goal: to create a new mecca of democracy in the heart of the sultans. Time will tell if these visions were well founded. Great sacrifice and pain for many are always present in a war of this magnitude; while a growing suspicion rumbles of tremendous gain in wealth for others.

One thing is certain. As always in war, it is the innocent who suffer the most. Given the unrelenting intent by the Bush administration to eliminate the regime of Iraq's Saddam Hussein, the loss of innocent life is an unfortunate and deeply regrettable outcome. For many, such losses remain even more disconcerting given the fact that this is largely a strategic war. The case was proven that Saddam Hussein is a brutal and ruthless, mass murdering dictator. But the case that Iraq represented an imminent threat to the United States was never quite proven to the world before the fact of the war itself.

From inside, Americans are still supportive of their president. Once in a fight, American pragmatism demands a victory, the faster and cleaner the better. From outside of America, however, the news seems predominantly negative. It wears thin quickly on the world, to see bombs falling in cities that were quiet, even if violently repressed. American soldiers patrolling foreign lands, particularly in the heart of Islam, creates dangerous resentment. Even the war's strongest supporters worry about this after-game. Perhaps some goodwill will follow the relief of knowing the war is over. But, how long does an American occupying force have, before it wears out an Empire's welcome?

Whatever the merits of an all-out war on Iraq, whatever its final disposition - the isolation of America has intensified as a result. The world's lone superpower is lonely indeed (for the time being), as much of the world senses that America is in fact, fully unilateral, that its whole world view in foreign policy has shifted toward an overt expression of its military and economic power. Many who have long observed the unfolding of international relations are feeling threatened by the disregard for long-standing norms and agreements. The huge and long ship of state that the U.S. represents is now leaping forward, pronouncing threats hither and dither, scaring even some of its long-standing allies in several intensely complex and tenuous situations. South Koreans question why the U.S. ignores its primary opinion of how to handle North Korea; Iranian moderates fear the U.S. insults that strengthen the ayatollahs and the whole of Europe and most of the rest of the world wonders how the U.S. can ignore the science on global warming and climate change.

Although it remains very early in the war and subsequent process of rebuilding a free and preferably democratic Iraq, the U.S. may yet emerge victorious on several fronts. While much of the world's focus, in way of diplomacy and protest, has been directed at tempering American power, the reality of Saddam Hussein's depraved history may yet clarify global perception. This is, after all, the monster who in the 1988-89 Anfal campaign attacked Kurdish populations in the towns and villages of northern Iraq with chemical weapons, killing more than 5,000 civilians and injuring more than 10,000 in Halabja alone. The resulting genetic damage to the Kurdish people may well be suffered even by its seventh generation. Hussein's draining and poisoning of Iraq's southern marshes, in an attempt to eliminate opposition from marsh Arabs, caused severe environmental damage to the land and its wildlife. Villages belonging to the al Juwaibiri, al Shumaish, al Musa and al Rahma tribes were completely destroyed and its residents driven out. These two reasons alone should resonate with American Indians and others around the world, even though the list of crimes is much longer and more horrific.

Still, beyond Iraq and, yes, Syria and Iran and North Korea, there are many brewing trouble spots. Just within the Americas, there are the Andes, where a world of Indians and mestizos is increasingly militarized, check-pointed and criminalized. Violence and resentment and retribution cycles are spiraling out of control. There is Chiapas and the violence in the countryside of Mexico, where a cauldron of destitution and severe poverty is heating up and reaching desperation conditions. There are many others. These are not all of America's problems, but the sheer volume alone should suggest why America must always strive to lead for peace.

More than ever, we believe, the U.S. needs its traditional allies; and the world needs a vision of a just peace. The world needs, if there is to be one whether out of intent or merely circumstance, a benign and benevolent empire. Americans need a vision and an image of being a moderate force in the world; a force for good, based on many friendly deeds, and must not be represented predominantly by bombs and military might. Failure to offer hope, consistently and compassionately, leaves only force. It is as if instead of helping Israel come out of its isolation, America is joining in. An ongoing hostility could follow and become a thorn in the side of America's much-protected way of life. Military imposition becomes a way of life. It is dangerous to civilian and military alike. Sometimes, in that part of the world, the source of the epic religions, it seems hatred and violence might last forever.

"If we're an arrogant nation, they'll view us that way," George W. Bush once said. "But if we're a humble nation, they'll respect us." We agree. To the President's men and women we say act with conviction, and speak without hubris.

There is an old axiom that says: America wins the war and loses the peace. No doubt America will win its present war in Iraq; Saddam will be vanquished. In Iraq, however, as in so many other dark and even well-lit corners of the world, victory in peace might be the only good goal left. It will take a lot more humility to win that one.