Requiem for the Peace Process

by Seymour Schechtman

We go limping away morally from the Alice in Wonder Land United Nations show of the last few months, forward to the world stage of a fully choreographed production of the demise of the evil dictator and his horde of evil weapons and manifest dire intentions, but with no visible evidence of the dreadful means claimed to perpetrate his malevolent intent. No smoking gun. It is not like twelve years ago, when Hussein had actually invaded Kuwait and seemed poised for the biggest prize of all next door---Saudi Arabia. And to pile consummate malice upon this bold evil aggression, after his defeat by the United States led coalition, in retreat he set fire to the Kuwaiti oil fields, causing great financial and environmental damage to the region. Then the call to arms against him was urgent and heeded by all, and the senior Bush US president rallied the country effectively, comparing a tyrannical despot with the democratic freedoms we have here.

Then, as now, however, the urgent call for the cleansing waters of democratic rule to wash away the stigma of tyranny and oppression has a somewhat hollow ring. The fact that Iraq controls one of the world’s largest oil reserves taints somewhat any claim to pure unvarnished idealistic democratic rule as the driving motive of change in Iraq. The control of Iraqi oil translates into great economic power and influence. The significance of this, and the fact of “no smoking gun” leaves doubt in the minds of many, especially those who inherently believe that inertia in foreign affairs is usually the best policy, a sort of “it’s not broke,so don’t fix it” attitude, that Saddam Hussein constitutes no danger to us, and that he can be contained with the ever more vigilant inspections that are now in place. Inspections that would never have been instituted if George Bush had not started our present very impressive military build up. Supporters of Bush’s position, and believers in his essential integrity, reply derisively with Neville Chamberlain’s “peace in our time!” triumphant declaration after his return from Munich and his agreeing to what soon became evident as one of history’s greatest betrayal of a nation’s existence--giving Hitler free entry into eastern Europe via the sacrifice of little, freedom loving Czechoslovakia.

So today, now that the war against Hussein has begun, many of us Bush supporters will be looking ardently into Iraq’s files and other records to shore up our hitherto unsubstantiated claims, that have been inferred or openly assumed, that he is actively accumulating lethal weapons of biological, chemical, and now, even nuclear mass destruction. Probably we will soon find many sites of such lethal material, but the cynics and anti war activists will still brim with righteous wrath and allege that this stuff was planted after the fact, that its legitimacy is highly suspect. But the pro war people will still be upheld, as long as the scenario of a short war with few casualties is retained. But looming over it all, the grim specter that haunts us all, is the doctrine now of preemption, which our president has solemnly vowed to pursue. And most of us in this country have somewhat tentatively signed on to, that the best defense is not to be a sitting duck and wait to be attacked, but to strike first---in self defense!! This credo is what derailed the last few months of futile United Nations negotiations, that made the United States position seem so arrogant and intransigent. French, German and Russian resistance may have been based partly on a jealous desire to counterbalance our vastly superior power, but they and their world supporters did not sustain all the deaths and billions of dollars of damages that the terrorists inflicted on the United States. And gleefully threaten to do again at the appropriate time of their choosing.

Preemption, of course, is the atomic bomb of diplomacy. It makes all the rules of negotiation hostage to the fact of military power, to “justice is the right of the stronger” that Socrates tried to vainly counter in Plato’s Republic with the doctrine of Love. Unfortunately mankind’s tortuous moral path till now seems to favor military power, that the winners of battles rewrite history, or as stated by that great democrat Mao Tze Tung, after slaughtering million of his opponents in China, that “history is made at the end of the barrel of a gun”. That is why we constantly need barriers--shock absorbers- to harness and depress these basic, evidently embedded aggressive instincts, that are part of our nature. Hence the United Nations, the prior failed League of Nations, the World Court and other international organizations, that can look beyond the nation state and its more limited, perhaps myopic viewpoint. And keep in play civilized discussion and negotiation on an international level: “jaw, jaw, and not war, war” as Churchill once put it.

But, just as this is a mournful piece about the abortive UN special Iraq session on peaceful Iraqi disarmament, so are there mournful overtones about the future of the UN as a successful arbiter of peace in international affairs. Especially if we now have to look beyond the nation state as the sole integral functioning unit of governance, as we do with the fact and danger of preemption as part of our political and diplomatic life At the Security Council level, where supposedly the five most powerful nations act as a balance wheel and counterpoise to the General Assembly of the other nations, serious imbalance has occurred. France a nation of only 60 million, must be replaced by any of the several more populous nations (India, Japan, Brazil, or Indonesia. and the United States, which pays one quarter of the annual budget should have the power to counter opposing vetoes in some manner. Indeed, as the sole super power still with the military ability to effectively use force on a sustained international level we must be able to act within the UN and be a part of its many humanitarian functions, and still be able “to carry a big stick and speak softly” a la Teddy Roosevelt. This time, perhaps we did not speak softly enough and so do not have the fig leaf imprimatur of the UN, but we believe our cause is just ---- as it usually is.

Remember, some of our citizens may indulge themselves in the ultra democratic luxury of protesting against their country even during wartime--treasonable acts in most other countries---but most of the world still votes with its feet when it can ----by immigrating, legally or illegally, to our shores from all over the world when they can.

In some limited way we will still supersede national boundary restrictions, as we always have, by the example of our achievements and aspirations of freedom, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. We will also have counterbalancing financial burdens in our added “Marshall Plan” for the rejuvenation of Iraq and the war torn middle east. The added oil revenues from that region will be of material help in implementing these goals, resulting in, -- miracle of miracles! -- a regional Pax America, the lion lying down with the lamb. As with Germany and Japan, former enemies now fast friends. And even the Israelis and Palestinians, hopefully, at peace.