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desperately seeking a reason for war

  1. As the 2000 Presidential Campaign drew to a close, the Bush Campaign confidently promised a foreign policy that would call upon seasoned veterans of the diplomatic corps, many of them old hands that had served back as far as the Nixon/Ford Administration. Things were going to be different. No more of those ill-defined "nation building" or "peace keeping" missions in countries we'd never heard of.

    The grown-ups were going to be back in charge of foreign policy.

    What we've seen so far is a foreign policy that is stunningly reckless, one which may yet cause the United States, the nominal leader of the free world and sole remaining super power, to become an international pariah. The Administration's "won't take 'no' for an answer" stance on war with Iraq will damage our standing in the world community for a generation – and that's only if we somehow manage to avoid an invasion. War with Iraq could have dangerous repercussions.

    The Bush Administration dug its own grave in many respects. It started by rejecting the Kyoto Accords on the global environment and by repudiating the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty that the United States signed nearly thirty years ago. The Administration also rejected an international ban on land mines, a pact to limit the sales of small arms in Third World countries, and the International Criminal Court.

    Even a momentary flood of international sympathy for the United States after the World Trade Center attack couldn't erase the basic belief among our allies that the Bush Administration was going to go its own way. Signing treaties and cooperating across national boundaries were not a priority for the Bush Administration.

    When the West Bank erupted into violence in the fall of 2001, the Bush Administration did nothing. It wasn't until the body count had reached levels too high to ignore that Secretary of State Colin Powell made a belated – and completely ineffectual – visit to the region. Since both sides knew that the Bush Administration was not going to spend political capital on finding a peaceful solution, it was time to lock and load the minute Powell's plane went wheels up from Tel Aviv.

    The most telling moment in the Bush Administration's foreign policy came when the UN Human Rights Commission voted to boot the United States off the panel. The U.S. was restored to the Commission the following year, but only after the Bush Administration threatened to withhold a quarter billion dollars in funding from the perennially cash-strapped United Nations.

    And now we're going to invade Iraq because Saddam Hussein has violated the will of the international community?

    The push toward war in Iraq reveals the full scale of the Bush Administration's ineptitude. We should go to war, the Hawks argue, because Saddam Hussein's military is a threat to the region; but when confronted with demands from peace activists to know casualty estimates from an invasion, the Administration replies that casualties will be insignificant. If the Iraqi Army is so incapable of defending itself, then by what definition do they constitute a military threat?

    We should go to war, the Hawks argue, because Iraq's store of biological and chemical weapons pose a threat to its immediate neighbors; but for some reason none of Iraq's neighbors are calling for unilateral military action by the United States. Saudi Arabia has flatly refused to allow the U.S. to launch invasion from its soil if there is no U.N. Resolution supporting it. And Turkey acquiesced only after receiving some $30 billion in U.S. foreign aid.

    We should go to war, the Hawks argue, because we have a moral obligation to free the long-suffering people of Iraq from the hands of a brutal dictator; but the Administration then says that it won't rule out the use of nuclear weapons. It shouldn't take a genius to figure out that if a nation is fighting a war of liberation, it wouldn't be planning to vaporize the very people it's trying to liberate.

    All of this goes a long way to explaining the opposition to war in Iraq both in the United States and abroad. It's not because Saddam Hussein isn't a vicious dictator (he is) and it's not because other nations are afraid of confronting the Iraqi Army (they aren't). It's because this Administration has defied world opinion so frequently that the world now must decide whether George W. Bush or Saddam Hussein is the more disagreeable unelected leader of a nation with weapons of mass destruction.

    Far from seeing the grown-ups back in charge at the White House, this Administration resembles nothing so much as a half-drunken fraternity boy whose (still sober) best friend is refusing to let him get behind the wheel. The Bush Administration is talking way too loud and making way too many threats against its allies, and even conservatives are alarmed at what they see as a government – our government – desperately casting about for a reason to start a war.

    It seems that finally, belatedly, Democrats in Congress are abandoning their "duck and cover" posture when it comes to opposing the Bush Administration and its plans for liberating Iraq. That much is encouraging, but it will require continued pressure from all corners, both in the U.S. and abroad, to create enough political counter-force to halt this pending human catastrophe.

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