Rejoice? Pride just might precede a fall
Consider the words of the North Korean Foreign Ministry this week: "The Iraqi war shows that to allow disarmament through inspections does not help avert war, but rather sparks it." It concluded with unerring logic that "only tremendous military deterrent force" can prevent attacks on nations that America dislikes.
This is the lesson for other rogue states: arm to the teeth, develop nuclear weapons and spurn the Non-Proliferation Treaty. Then the US may desist from invasion.
Compare the US's circumspect treatment of North Korea with its war against Iraq. North Korea has nuclear capacity; Iraq co-operated in a process of disarmament. The world does not need more weapons of mass destruction. But tragically this could be the ironic result of the US victory in Iraq.
It is far too soon to gloat. As Saddam's statue toppled, people cheered around the world. A tyrant was gone. But if television had at that moment brought us images of Baghdad hospitals, the hellish scenes of mangled bodies and dying children may have tempered the exuberance.
Iraqi civilians have paid in blood and it is much too soon to know if the price was right. We may never know how many thousands of Iraqis died - civilians and the unlamented soldiers - to forge a new regime peopled by American generals and Iraqi crooks like Ahmad Chalabi, lassoed out of 45 years of exile.
It is obscene to gloat. No one in their right mind doubted a US victory in the shortest possible order. When the US military, the most technologically sophisticated in history, took on a Third World country broken by 12 years of economic embargoes and disarmed in advance, victory was always assured.
The main doubt was sown by the Bush Administration, which raised the spectre of chemical and biological weapons being used against its troops. The issue was not whether the US would prevail but whether it should have gone to war without just cause.
It seems our politicians may have lied to us. And this is no mere peccadillo in a democracy. We were told the raison d'etre for this war was to rid Iraq of weapons of mass destruction that posed a threat to world peace. The UN inspectors did not find them. But President George Bush and his advisers knew better. They may yet turn up. But the Iraqi regime did not use them at its most desperate moment. If the major reason for launching a pre-emptive strike turns out to have been an utter falsehood, we have been conned. And even if regime change proves a success, the lie will haunt the "coalition of the willing", including John Howard who subscribed to it, for years.
Gloating is foolish. It is a cliche, but winning the peace is the real challenge. We can only assess the US military triumph in light of what comes next for the Iraqi people. Forgotten Afghanistan is a cautionary tale. Outside Kabul, the warlords are back, the economy is in a shambles and women face Taliban-style repression. "The US has never been able to translate is superior arms into political success," writes Professor Gabriel Kolko of York University, Toronto, a pre-eminent historian of modern warfare.
In Iraq the situation is extraordinarily complex. For example, if its hitherto oppressed Shiite majority decides to pursue a closer relationship with Shiite Iran, it would be a nightmare scenario for Washington. It would be foolish to underestimate the challenge ahead. Japan is the only example where democracy was imposed from the outside with any modicum of success.
Gloating is unseemly. The US has torn up international law and damaged the UN, NATO and its major alliances. It does not believe it needs allies. In Kolko's words, "The war with Iraq is only the first step in the United States's astonishingly ambitious project to recast the world."
The US has Syria, Libya, North Korea and Iran in its sights. Last September, Bush proclaimed the US's commitment to fighting "pre-emptive" wars against rogue states that have weapons of mass destruction or harbour terrorists. Chaos lies ahead if governments wage wars to change regimes they don't like, or against those believed to harbour evil intent. Wars can only be justified in self-defence.
It should be simple. One tyrant less in the world should be cause for rejoicing. The world rejoiced when Filipinos overthrew Marcos, when East Germans tore down the Wall and when South Africans found their way to democracy.
The overthrow of Saddam is different. It is a product of US foreign policy, achieved through military might and for unclear motives. It may yet be a cause for rejoicing. Or the start of an era of war without end. We live in a new world order in which US might is right. Until the ramifications are clearer, it is much too soon to gloat.
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