PARIS -- 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,
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.
The writer, who teaches international relations at the American University
in Paris, contributed this comment to the International Herald Tribune.
Copyright © 2002 the International Herald Tribune