Fight for core values doesn’t take a sword
By Jack Perry
When democracies decide to build empires, the lack of support from the people is no serious obstacle. Popular support was lacking in the creation of the modern French and British empires because many understood that imperialism benefited the few, not the country as a whole
I fear that we are going to suffer a great defeat in our war in Iraq. Not a military defeat: I assume that we shall have our military victory. I mean a defeat of the America we might have been, the America of our ideals.
We were given the gift of stupendous power at the end of the Cold War, as the Soviet Union and its empires collapsed. We found ourselves close to supreme in the emerging world order. If America were to fight all the rest of the world combined, America would win.
With this astonishing ascension to unrivalled power came unprecedented opportunity. And danger.
If we used our power wisely, we might pursue the dream of Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Roosevelt and other visionaries. Dreams of leading the nations into a new world order dedicated to justice and freedom for everyone, based on collective security and on law. We were strong and rich enough to do it. But we might also choose to use our power to dominate, to remake the world in our image, to pursue what some call a global American empire.
Which path do the American people wish to follow?
Most of us, I believe, dislike the goal of empire — of being the worldd’s policeman and power-broker — and cherish a picture of America as a nation among other nations, pursuing security and well-being not through military superiority but through global cooperation under the rule of law..
But when democracies decide to build empires, the lack of support from the people is no serious obstacle. Popular support was lacking in the creation of the modern French and British empires — except when colonial wars rallied the populace to the flag — because many understood that imperialism benefited the few, not the country as a whole.
But the empires were built.
So, too, with us. Lack of the people’s support has not kept us from inexorably expanding the global reach of our military power since 1945. The sun never sets on the Stars and Stripes. Eisenhower’s prophecy of the ‘‘military-industrial complex’’ running the country has come abundantly true.
The danger before us is not control by the military, but the militarisation of our own thinking and of the way our whole system is organized. All of us — the executive branch, Congress, the press, public opinion — are prisoners of military thinking. Look at the Pentagon budget and shiver.r.
We turn away from moral issues to issues that we can address in battle. We have even persuaded ourselves that we can defeat terrorism by gunfire. If you were asked to name the greatest challenges before our country and the world, what would you say? Where would the government of Iraq rank in your list?
Looking at America, I would put the state of the economy high up, as well as that of the healthcare system. Schools and the gulf between rich and poor would be on the list.
My list would focus on all the human hurts that people in Washington, D.C., seem ready to ignore when getting ready for war. Looking at the world as a whole, I would list the increasing poverty of much of our planet’s population and the terrible health challenges that go with it. I would list a whole series of political crises, beginning with the poisonous Arab-Israeli conflict. I would put threats to the global environment high up. I would include the frightening spread of weaponry, including nuclear weapons in the hands of a broadening range of countries.
Certainly I would place terrorism on my list in capital letters.
In short, I would portray a sick and wounded world that cries out for healing — a world whose abundant ills cannot be cured by warfare. I can imagine the United States leading the nations in unmilitary combat against these ills. Our people would support it, if well led..
While this different combat may sound idealistic, for the long-term health of the planet it is solidly practical — and within our power as a mighty nation. But it would require a change of heart among many, both people and elected leaders. It would require the humility of servanthood, the suppression of pride, a rediscovery of sacrifice in the cause of peace..
Our men and women in uniform are willing to make sacrifices, even the supreme sacrifice. Honour to them. But that way of warfare is the not the road to the world we want. That can come only through dedicated sacrifice of us as a nation and as a people, not through gunfire. I fear that the war with Iraq will prove to be not only a detour from the path of wisdom, but a turning onto another road entirely, a way that supposes military victory is the answer to everything.
I fear we are going to win the war and suffer a great defeat. —The Miami Herald
Jack Perry is a former US ambassador to Bulgaria