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Waging War Seldom Leads to Lasting Peace

18 September 2002

Those who advocate an attack on Iraq have short memories. Since World War II, the use of force by the United States has consistently failed to neutralize its adversaries beyond the short term. And in the Middle East, wars and covert operations have only produced further conflict.

When the United States tried to kill the Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi with air strikes in 1986, it killed instead his daughter and 37 others. The bombing of a Pan Am passenger jet over Lockerbie followed.

The U.S. cruise missile attack on Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan in 1998 killed 25 people but left bin Laden alive - and even more dangerous. When the United States destroyed a factory in Sudan the same year, it turned out to manufacture not chemical weapons but half of the country's medicine.

Israel's American-supported military victories against the Arabs failed to create conditions conducive to Israeli peace or to guarantee long-term American interests. Instead, these wars have generated sufficient hatred to transform people into human bombs.

Washington's logic of force has failed in the Middle East and elsewhere. All three major American wars of the last half a century - in Korea, Vietnam and the Gulf - ended in stalemate or defeat. Yet Bush administration officials reckon more, not less, force is needed in order to achieve America's goals. Contrary to international law, they are advancing a new doctrine of preemption that gives Washington the right to intervene anywhere it deems necessary.

By definition, however, unilateral actions are motivated by unilateral thinking and interests, and therefore do not produce universal solutions.

America's logic of preemption means Libya, Sudan and perhaps Syria are future candidates for American attacks. All have been labeled totalitarian seekers of nonconventional capabilities with a terrible record of aggression and violations of human rights. The Pentagon has already counted 25 such states and terrorist organizations in pursuit of weapons of mass destruction. So what to do about them?

In recent years, reflection on the many post-Cold War conflicts - which have already killed more than 4 million people, mostly civilians - have led to two American schools of thought.

The geoeconomic school says the dynamics of underdevelopment produce economic disparities that feed crime and terrorism. Western-imposed structural reforms in developing countries have led to contraction in social services, elimination of subsidies for basic foodstuffs and the dumping of foreign goods as protection for domestic industries ends.

Coupled with the failure of state-centered socialism, this has produced belts of poverty around Cairo, Casablanca, Tehran and other centers that have become fertile ground for local and international violence.

The other school underlines cultural differences as a source of conflict - fundamentalism versus free markets, jihad versus McDonald's, and eventually a "clash of civilizations." In a time of conflict, such fixed views of "the other" conveniently slip into dehumanization.

Hence, Islamists have become irredeemable and Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden constitute irrational menaces to human civilization. Never mind that these two were once Washington's allies against Iranian fundamentalism and Soviet communism.

The Bush administration has evidently adopted the second approach. Its objective is not to "dry the swamps" that foster terrorism but rather, in the words of The Economist, to "disinfect" them. In other words, we are in for a long-term strategy of "ending" uncooperative regimes and doing away with those who are not "with us."

Washington has lumped together Saddam and bin Laden, but Saddam is a product of the petro-military conventional wars while bin Laden is a by-product of globalization's transnational threats. In both cases, strict military or economic prescriptions are simplistic and dangerous.

America's ultimate power resides in deterrence, not the actual use of force. Power, especially when shared, is a source of stability, whereas force generates instability and humiliation. Only arrogance can explain the use of force with disregard to international law. Arrogance breeds enemies and leads to mistakes. No wonder most Americans think America should not act alone.

America's power doesn't lie just in its giant military. Its economy accounts for almost one third of the world's economy, and its generates 40 percent of the world's research and development. Its capacity, along with its allies, to improve life conditions, promote democracy and real development and hence reduce violence, is unprecedented.

A global response to Sept. 11 could usher in a new era of multilateral cooperation and revamped international law to deal with the new transnational threats. An attack on Iraq would do exactly the opposite. The immediate threat to world stability is coming not from the Iraqi dictator but rather from the democratically elected government of the world's superpower. Americans, the ball is in your court.

Marwan Bishara, Paris
© 2002 the International Herald Tribune

Stop killing the people of Iraq     'War on terrorism' index


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