I was all set to write this column about the rise again of the celebration of macho in this country until I opened up the latest edition of The Nation and found Village Voice executive editor Richard Goldstein’s piece on just that topic. It’s better researched and more compelling than anything I would have hacked out, so it’s just as well that I didn’t write it. Plus, President Bush made it difficult to write about anything other than Iraq when he delivered his ultimatum to Saddam Hussein on Monday.
As you read this, war is likely being waged on Iraq. Stories will emerge soon of errant missiles and civilian casualties. Later, accounts of contaminated rivers and annihilated water treatment facilities will trickle out of Iraq and we will learn of the thousands of people who will die as a direct result of the U.S.-led bombing campaign. We will hear the threats of terrorists with convictions steeled by war.
Today, CNN and Fox News correspondents will solemnly or breathlessly – depending on whether they are sitting at a desk or in front of a digital camera – tell us how incredibly smoothly the war is going. They will be calling today Judgment Day or the Moment of Truth, and it will be both of these and much more. The judgment and the truth, however, may not be what they envision them to be.
Today, we usher in a new era in world history. Post-Sept. 11 now becomes post-war, and Saddam Osama. Today also sets a dangerous and awful precedent. Saddam’s removal will be welcomed, but along with it will come a radical departure from U.S. foreign policy. The United States could never really claim to be a non-aggressor, but it still has managed to get away with doing so because we have never actually declared war on the countries in which we’ve intervened. Now that we have so brazenly ignored the will of the rest of the world in order to launch a pre-emptive strike on Iraq we can no longer make such a claim. We have ignored even Ronald Reagan, who 20 years ago told the nation, “The defense policy of the United States is based on a simple premise: The United States does not start fights. We will never be an aggressor.”
A year and a half ago, Bush counseled Americans that we must be patient, that a war on terror(ism) would be protracted. Those warnings are conspicuously absent today. We are not being tempered for years of involvement in Iraq, nor are we being warned that a bungled operation in Iraq could mean the deaths of thousands and thousands of people across the world and a crisis situation that will fester for years to come in a volatile Middle East.
Victory seems so certain that people are taking bets as to when the war will be over. Meanwhile, the administration has neglected to define what a “victory” would entail and how it will be achieved. And this for a very simple yet significant reason: leaving “victory” so vague allows the administration to declare as proof of its success in Iraq the simplest of all the operations the United States must now undertake in Iraq over the next decade. Billions and billions of U.S. dollars must now be earmarked toward Iraq. Without it – and without U.S. aid to the region – history will record that Bush’s military victory destabilized the region rather than create the foundation for lasting democracy.
In making its final justification for waging war, the Bush administration invoked the moral imperatives of war in Iraq. This should not surprise us. When rational debate undermines the president’s ends, he bisects the debate cleanly into distinct categories, good versus evil, and circumvents the discussion. But here very few war actors are simply good or evil; most are somewhere in between. Today, we are not righteous warriors, Christian soldiers, saviors. We are aggressors. The moral imperative is not ours.
Oftentimes, during times of crisis, it is the personal stories that most affect us. Here is one: The closest friend I have is in Germany right now doing missionary work. During the 10 months she’s been there, anti-American sentiment around the world has had me latently worried about her safety. Now, as war’s repercussions loom, I am frightened for her well being. By acting unilaterally, with utter disregard for the will of the rest of the world, Bush has turned Americans abroad into vulnerable targets. We must hold him accountable for any harm that might befall them.
Honkala can be reached at email@example.com.