Striking a military blow against a country we now see as closely allied with our new enemy, terrorism, appeals to our instinct for vengeance for Sept. 11. But it will only make a bad situation worse.
A military response does not address the many causes that brought the world to this new and dangerous juncture. By treating terrorism not as a symptom of an urgent set of diseases but as the disease itself, we are only strengthening the forces of global disintegration and chaos.
Look at the new name given by the Pentagon to this military operation: Enduring Freedom. But freedom for whom? Does it mean freedom from hunger, from disease, from a life of desperation in a growing number of refugee camps? Does it give hope to a world in which inequality has steadily increased over the past decade?
We need to hear the voices of the billions of people living on less than $2 a day, 1.3 billion on less than $1 a day. We must understand that what President Bush calls our American way of life is closely linked to this deprivation and despair. Where does the gasoline come from that we put into our cars? Who grows the bananas that we feed our children, the coffee we drink every day to keep up the pace of our hectic lives? What is the human cost associated with our pattern of consumption to these people living in faraway lands? We might not care, but our unwillingness to listen is at our own peril.
The Founding Fathers created the U.S. political system of checks and balances, understanding that absolute power corrupts absolutely. We need to understand that the corrupting influence of absolute power also prevails at the global level. We like to congratulate ourselves on being the sole remaining superpower, but we have systematically blocked attempts of those less powerful, less rich, less visible, to create structures of dialogue with us. The United Nations is one of the few international organizations in which smaller and less powerful countries are given a voice, with messages that we often don't want to hear. Kofi Annan's award for this year's Nobel Peace Prize reflects that world opinion stands behind the United Nations as an instrument of global dialogue and cooperation.
But how do we treat the United Nations? The United States is perennially behind in paying dues to the United Nations and arrogantly insists that the organization pay more attention to what it wants. When small and poor countries called for a new international economic order in the 1970s, the United States crushed that effort. When, just this year, people who feel disenfranchised by the legacy of colonialism, slavery and racism came to Durban, South Africa, to discuss grievances, the United States sent only a minor delegation that departed early.
We also pulled out of the Kyoto Protocol on global warming, although we are the world's largest emitter of greenhouse gases. We undermined efforts at a U.N. conference this summer to gain control over small arms that kill and maim untold numbers of people around the world every year.
The point is not that we are automatically wrong and most of the rest of the world is always right. It is that we are an arrogant power, secure in the geographic safety of our borders and trusting in the might of our military. We vastly outspend all other countries; in fact, we spend more on our military than the next eight big spenders combined. Our Navstar Global Positioning System operates 24 satellites that can emit continuous navigational signals to our military forces anywhere in the world.
Part of our anger, our insecurity, comes from knowing that our past approach to guaranteeing safety has been a failure. Feeding the military-industrial complex is clearly not the answer, yet this is exactly what our response has been so far. The simple truth is that a world so profoundly asymmetrical in its distribution of wealth, power and resources will never be secure or free. We want to believe that this "new war" is a war between Islam and the West. It is not. It is the predictable result of a massive failure of the West to support freedom, democracy, justice and economic development with anything other than lip service.
Communism collapsed because the citizens inside these countries had enough of the double-speak, of the promises, the lies, the deception. It is not enough for our government to speak of freedom but ensure it only for ourselves, to speak of the American way of life but only for ourselves. If we want peace, we have to make sure that there is enduring freedom for all inhabitants of this planet. And that means listening rather than shooting, supporting economic development rather than feeding the Pentagon and understanding that our present way of life is unsustainable.
The international political and economic order systematically empowers and enriches the few while ignoring the needs and aspirations of the majority. That, at least, is how much of the world sees it, and as the tragic events of the past few weeks have shown, we ignore the voices of the disaffected at our own risk.
If we indeed want enduring peace and freedom, we must find new structures of dialogue and cooperation rather than following our reflex of resorting to military action. By strictly adhering to international law, we will show a disaffected world that death and destruction are not acceptable ways to handle fundamental disagreements.
By adding to death and destruction ourselves, we do not contribute to a more peaceful world. In fact, we have just contributed to an escalating spiral of violence and despair.
Brigitte H. Schulz is an associate professor of political science at Trinity College in Hartford, Conn. She wrote this article for the Hartford Courant.
© Copyright 2001 Star Tribune