The American people tried to wake President George W. Bush out of his fantasies with last November’s elections. The Democratic victory signaled our distress over Iraq, which has killed thousands of us and left tens of thousands wounded. The toll is even higher in Iraq, where hundreds of thousand of civilians are dead as a result of the pointless war.
However, Mr. Bush won’t give up his fantasy. With what amounts to a slap in the face of Congress and the American electorate, he is expanding the war by sending 21,500 additional troops.
The administration has advanced no rational argument suggesting that its Middle East endeavors will either bring peace to Iraq or help resolve the entrenched Israeli-Palestinian conflict. There’s no evidence that current policies will yield anything but a prolonged disaster in Baghdad, a new war with Iran and continued turmoil in Lebanon.
The Iraqi people have no more faith in these policies than we do. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki doesn’t want additional American troops in Baghdad. Indeed, he wants the United States out as quickly as possible. A September 2006 poll conducted by the Program on International Policy Attitudes revealed that 7 out of 10 Iraqis want the United States to leave within a year. Iraq’s infrastructure is in ruins, the environment, the water and sanitation systems are virtually destroyed, and violence between groups and within groups rage, exacerbated by the lingering U.S. presence.
U.S. citizens recognize their responsibilities to themselves and to Iraq. Though our own infrastructure is decaying, we must provide sufficient reconstruction funds for Iraq. The costs of ending the war now will be much less than continuing. In fact, Mr. Bush has requested an additional $93 billion for operations in Afghanistan and Iraq this year and will ask for $142 billion for 2008. His military budget request totals $623 billion.
We need to learn from this debacle. That requires that we reevaluate America’s role in the world. As a start, the United States should shift its policies 180 degrees in the United Nations and work to establish a program of economic and social development, in which the United States pledges to give between 1 percent and 2 percent of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for economic development, education and confidence-building measures between peoples and states.
The United States should also resurrect George Washington’s view of “No Passionate Attachments” to any particular nation. In the 21st Century, this entails a passionate attachment to all people, for that is the nature of human rights. Such an idea does not begin with armed conflict. It begins with a careful analysis of how the United States will operate in the world as one of many nations, rather than as the superpower that knows best.
Furthermore, the United States must avoid making more global messes. The nuclear option must be removed from the table, including threats of “preemptive” and “preventive” war. No one should feel secure in a command structure that gives any U.S. president the power and authority to use nuclear weapons in a first strike. Nor should one feel any more secure bestowing that power to any nation that has nuclear weapons, whether it’s India, France, China, Israel, Pakistan, Russia or others attempting to acquire them. Instead, negotiations need to go forward on general disarmament and real security, as envisaged by the 1975 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.
It’s also time for the United States to abandon the same tough talk used against Iraq leading up to the 2003 invasion. Two countries presently in the U.S. crosshairs, Syria and Iran, are homes to millions of people and they must be accorded respect by serious discussions leading to negotiations regarding Iraq, the Middle East peace process and Iran’s nuclear intentions.
A new course in Iraq and a reevaluation of America’s role represents a melding of realism with high aspiration based on cooperation, instead of fear and devastation. If voters can sustain their interest and if the Democratic Party succeeds at leading us into a new era of cooperation rather than conflict leading to wars, sound direction will be set for the next stage of the 21st Century.