The Bush Administration has launched a war against Iraq, a war that is unnecessary, unwise and illegal. By attacking a nation that has not attacked us and that does not pose an immediate threat to international peace and security, the Administration has violated the United Nations Charter and opened a new and shameful chapter in US history. Moreover, by abandoning a UN inspection and disarmament process that was working, it has chosen a path that is an affront not only to America’s most cherished values but to the world community. The UN did not fail; rather, Washington sought a UN imprimatur for a war it had already decided to wage and scorned it when the Administration couldn’t get its way.
To justify the war, the President has invoked the doctrine of “preventive” war, under which the United States is to be the sole judge of that doctrine’s legitimacy and application. Thus, the war is about more than Iraq; it is about the character of our society and the international order in which we live. The Administration hopes that a quick victory will not only silence critics and confer an ex post facto legitimacy on the war but also give momentum to its larger political agenda. But even if there are minimal casualties and devastation, that will not justify overturning international norms developed over sixty years. Nor can it legitimize a worldview that will make Americans the target of international outrage and make the world less secure.
Americans will soon be forced to confront the question of who is to pay for what is about to unfold. The White House has withheld from Congress and the American people the true political, humanitarian and economic costs of the war and of the occupation that is to follow, but even by the most modest estimates, they will be staggering. In addition to lost lives in Iraq and ruptured friendships around the world, they include grave domestic damage; by adding $200 billion or more in war-related costs to the cost of his tax cuts for the wealthy, Bush has signed a death warrant for many social welfare programs and damaged our society for years to come. The costs also include the renewed threat of nuclear proliferation from countries, including North Korea, fearful of leaving themselves without a deterrent to US aggression.
Another issue that must be confronted is the postwar agenda in the Middle East. Already hawks are arguing that the United States should use a conquered Iraq as a base for increased military pressure on Iran and Syria, with the goal of further “regime change.” If the Administration chooses this course, it will put the lie to its rhetoric about bringing democracy to the region. Instead, it must work cooperatively with the European Union, Russia and the UN to dismantle Israeli settlements in the occupied territories and bring about a viable Palestinian state.
If we are present at the creation of a new American empire, we are also present at the creation of another superpower–the largest, most broadly based peace and justice movement in history, a movement that has engaged millions of people here and around the globe. In America, in the weeks and years ahead, this movement confronts several historic challenges. In the long term it must build an alternative foreign policy and sustain its dedication to a nonimperial future. In the short term it must organize to remove the Bush Administration from office and elect new leaders dedicated to international cooperation and peace.