On Native Ground
KEEPING PEACE HARDER THAN WAGING WAR
by Randolph T. Holhut
American Reporter Correspondent
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- So the gloating has begun.
The cheerleaders for Gulf War II can barely hide their gleefulness as they celebrate "victory" in a war that hasn't ended yet.
While the photo-op of the toppled statue of Saddam Hussein in downtown Baghdad on April 9 made for great theater, the reality is that the majority of Iraq is not yet under the control of U.S. and British forces.
There is still fighting across much of the country and the situation in the cities of Iraq can best be described as chaotic. Because the U.S. and British forces are still too busy defending themselves to act as a police force, there is widespread looting and lawlessness. There are shortages of food, water and medical supplies.
The joy of liberation is giving way to the realization that the biggest job is still ahead - bringing peace and prosperity to a nation that has been bled dry by three major wars in the last two decades.
Iraq will be better off with Saddam Hussein. But what will follow him? They only have to look at Afghanistan to see how the Bush administration loves to bomb things but doesn't have much interest in nation building.
We all remember the celebrations in Kabul in November 2001 when the Taliban were routed. But once the liberation party was over, the Afghans got stiffed.
After all the talk by the Bush administration about freeing the Afghans from the oppression of the Taliban and the promise of more than $1 billion in aid to help rebuild that ravaged nation, there was not one dollar of aid for Afghanistan in the fiscal 2004 budget. An embarrassed Congress had to come up with a couple of hundred million in stray cash to prevent a total catastrophe.
Victory was declared in Afghanistan, but U.S. troops are still fighting and dying there. The government put into place by the Bush administration barely controls Kabul; the countryside still belongs to the warlords. Opium production is back to pre-Taliban levels. And Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida are still on the loose.
Will the Bush adminstration's attention span be similarly short for Iraq? After all the trouble it went through to get this war - the lies and deceptions, the bullying of allies and the trashing of the UN and international law in general - there best not be a repeat.
Besides all the questions about what comes next in Iraq if and when all the shooting stops, there remains the rest of the fallout from Gulf War II that may linger for years to come. Because the invasion of Iraq has been more than just toppling Saddam or eliminating those elusive weapons of mass destruction that no one seems to be able to find. It is the first step in the Bush administration's desire to remake the Middle East.
"The administration is trying to roll the table - to use U.S. military force, or the threat of it, to reform or topple virtually every regime in the region, from foes like Syria to friends like Egypt, on the theory that it is the undemocratic nature of these regimes that ultimately breeds terrorism," wrote Joshua Micah Marshall in the April issue of The Washington Monthly.
"So events that may seem negative - Hezbollah for the first time targeting American civilians; U.S. soldiers preparing for war with Syria - while unfortunate in themselves, are actually part of the hawks' broader agenda. Each crisis will draw U.S. forces further into the region and each countermove in turn will create problems that can only be fixed by still further American involvement, until democratic governments - or, failing that, U.S. troops - rule the entire Middle East," Marshall wrote.
I don't think the American people realize this yet. They haven't figured out how much they have been lied to by the architects of this policy - Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz, et al. - about how the U.S. response to the Sept. 11 attacks morphed into a war with Iraq that some hope will serve as a catalyst for an expanded U.S. armed presence in the Middle East and reshape the region to suit U.S. interests.
Are there plans to invade Syria and Iran? Amid the cheering in Baghdad on April 9 came a story from Reuters with this quote from U.S. Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security John Bolton: "We are hopeful that a number of regimes will draw the appropriate lesson from Iraq that the pursuit of weapons of mass destruction is not in their national interest."
Bolton is the same man who promised Israeli officials in February that after defeating Iraq, "it will be necessary to deal with threats from Iran, Syria and North Korea afterwards." The lesson that Bolton hopes these three countries draw from the Iraq defeat is simple - do what we say or we'll destroy you.
This is the ugly political philosophy behind Gulf War II - the law of the jungle has replaced the principles of international law. The Bush administration thinks that destroying all the international institutions that were created after World War II is a wonderful development. But this Pax Americana philosophy will ultimately put this nation at greater risk of terrorist attacks by folks who don't necessarily see the U.S. as a benign liberator of oppressed peoples.
The U.S. and Britain managed to get away with circumventing the United Nations and embarked on an illegal and immoral war in Iraq. The total human and financial cost of Gulf War II has yet to be tallied, but it is already evident that the price is too dear to continue on the path of preemptive war against a long list of potential enemies.
Randolph T. Holhut has been a journalist in New England for more than 20 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books).