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The World Calls
Published on Sunday, February 23, 2003 by The Free Press (Rockland, Maine)
The World Calls
by Joe Steinberger
 

I listened one recent morning to “Morning Train,” a talk show on Rockland’s community radio station. The host and his guest were agreeing 100 percent with each other about how it’s time we got in there and took out Saddam and the United Nations is a stupid waste of time and inspections are a joke and they’ve got ’em and we know it so let’s get ’em.

The nice thing about the show is it’s really local. Anyone can call in. The phone gets picked up right in the studio and answered with: “WRFR 93.3, you’re on the air.” So I called, and I was on the air.

“Do you think America should be the policeman of the world?” I asked. After a surprisingly brief hesitation the answer from the show’s guest, a staunch Republican, was “yes.” I pursued this in Socratic fashion: “To police the world we must control it, right?” This too, with slight hesitation, received an affirmative answer. “Shouldn’t control be based on democracy?” Agreed. “Then if the U.S. government is going to control the whole world, shouldn’t everyone in the world have a vote here?”

I was content to let the question hang, and we found a way to end the conversation on a friendly note. If the goal is peace, the highest logic is love.

Love is not much in the air right now. Does America so love the world that it is willing to send its children to police it? The world does not believe love is our motive and is saying, sometimes angrily, it doesn’t want the American police. It seems to me unwise to insist. The job of the policeman is a terrible one if he is not appreciated in the community where he works.

The world does need policing. America learned this eighteen months ago on September 11. We are not isolated from the world’s ills. We have further lessons to learn, though, if we are serious about building a world of law and order.

For the moment, President Bush has succeeded mainly in creating division in the world, and in diminishing American influence. With his threat to attack Iraq even without United Nations sanction, the world sees us not as upholding world order, but as flouting it.

There are many Americans who still believe Bush will prove himself right by unilaterally attacking Iraq and, with a great success there, show the whole world that we truly are its saviors. Immediately after Bush’s State of the Union speech two weeks ago I was convinced he would attack. Now I doubt it.

At the Security Council last Friday, the U.S. demand for war received a cool reception. Most nations spoke against it, the French and the Russians receiving rare applause. Colin Powell was on the defensive, and did not repeat Bush’s threat that we will attack Iraq without U.N. sanction. I believe he would have been booed if he had.

Over the weekend there were huge anti-war demonstrations around the world, with especially big ones in England and Italy, countries whose governments have supported the U.S. position but where opinion polls show that people are strongly opposed. Polls in the U.S. now show Bush’s support eroding, with two thirds of Americans ready for a war that has U.N. backing, but only one third supporting unilateral U.S. action.

With these indicators now suggesting a decreasing likelihood of war in the near term, stock markets around the world have staged strong rallies, suggesting that investors are more hopeful when Bush is not getting his way.

The Iraqis are now reported to believe that the U.S. government has suffered a big defeat. I am afraid they are right. The “credible threat” that Bush wanted to make is less credible now. Even if he might still be ready to commit the U.S. to attack and occupy Iraq without U.N. support, I doubt he could now get even the British to go along.

I am not happy to see Iraq gloating and the U.S. losing credibility. Containing Saddam, and helping the Iraqi people overthrow him, are important goals. For their failure, the President and his Congressional allies are loudly blaming France, and blaming all the people who have protested against war. “They are aiding the enemy,” is the complaint, but it is the Bush Administration that must take responsibility for aiding its enemies by taking a belligerent line that most of the world simply cannot stomach.

We have overplayed our hand, and the world has called. With our cards on the table, there is no clear evidence of imminent danger. The international community is not convinced that war is necessary. If we believe it is, we must be more convincing, not more threatening.

Our military power is useful, but not sufficient, for policing the world. An essential ingredient is legitimate international authority, one based at least on some form of democracy. Only the United Nations has that authority. There is no emergency now so great that we cannot afford to work patiently with the United Nations to build the international law enforcement mechanism we need to guarantee the world’s security for the long term.

When I called in to the radio talk show the other morning, I ended by asking “Are you really so afraid of Saddam Hussein right now?”

“Well, I’m not taping up my windows,” was the response, and there we were in complete agreement.

Copyright 2003 The Free Press Online

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